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Students enjoying ‘flavor’ of Italy

Students enjoying ‘flavor’ of Italy

Posted: Thursday, June 24, 2010 9:07 pm

By GLENDA CAUDLE
Special Features Editor
Not to be critical of their native country, but Obion County’s high school travelers to Europe say they have discovered a product superior to ice cream in the good ole USA. It is called gelato and it is a staple of life in Italy.
Alton Alexander, son of Travis and Laurie Alexander of Hornbeak, was the student with the phone Wednesday. He told his parents he and his fellow travelers were playing UNO while relaxing before bedtime in their hotel room in Venice after a busy day. And he praised the “flavor” of not only the classic Italian dessert but the city itself.
Water taxis have been the order of the day in the floating island known as Venice, where the “streets” are actually canals. A not-to-be-missed gondola ride had been part of their activities Wednesday, as had a visit to the “gorgeous” St. Mark’s Basilica.
Shopping in a flea-market atmosphere of the square around the cathedral had also occupied the group’s longest stop in Italy. They were to leave today for Florence and then move on to Rome, with their trip ending Sunday when they board a plane there and head for Memphis, with a short stop-over and plane change in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Alexander, who attends classes at Obion County Central High School, is one of nine Class of 2011 students from the three high schools in Obion County selected by Union City Rotary Club to enjoy a free educational visit to four European countries on a 12-day Cosmos Travel tour.
Joining Alexander are South Fulton High School rising-senior Jacob Cleaver and Union City High School students Kassadie Mullins, Cameryn Fishel, Megan Hickman, Trey Maddox, Chase Bowling, Jasmine Davis and Lakevius Turner. Their chaperones are Clark and Joanna Wisener. Mrs. Wisener is an English teacher at UCHS.
The group began their travel-bonding experience when their names were announced in November, following an application process that included an orientation session with students and parents, the filing of requests to be considered for the trip and individual interviews conducted by the Union City Rotary Club trip selection committee with about 30 students who finally applied for a spot on the trip roster.
Since their selection, the students have completed research papers on the countries to be visited (England, France, Switzerland and Italy), submitted verification of their 30 hours of community service and attended several Saturday and after-school study sessions. In these classes, led by University of Tennessee at Martin professor and seasoned traveler Dr. Stan Sieber and his wife, Sarah, and UCHS art teacher Hilary Webb, the students learned about art and architecture they would encounter, good travel manners, currency they would be using, languages they would hear spoken, the history and culture of the countries they would pass through and safety and packing tips.
The local Rotary Club initiated the free travel opportunity last summer and was so pleased with the reports brought back by the eight UCHS  students who made the trip that they decided to add students and broaden the scope to include the other two high schools in the county this year. The effort is a unique one and, so far as can be determined, is unmatched in its generosity by any other Rotary Club or group.
In addition to arranging for and covering the cost of travel abroad through Cosmos Travel and Linda Aaron of Travel One offices in Union City, the club helps students apply for passports and pays those $100-plus fees; provides two distinctive gold Rotary-emblazoned shirts to wear on the trip to Europe and back again, so that the students can easily identify each other in crowded airport situations; gives each student a travel journal for recording the once-in-a-lifetime experience; helps them secure debit cards — provided free of charge by First State Bank — to access the necessary foreign currency during their travels; places “extra” money in those travel accounts to cover meals not provided by the tour company, bonus opportunities to explore the places they want to visit beyond the tour-established selections, tips for the tour director and bus driver and any transportation necessary within the cities they visit; and handed out distinctive Rotary-emblazoned backpacks for their carry-on luggage; and security carriers for their passports, travel documents and debit cards and currency.
Students are required to leave their cell phones and computers at home to avoid the high cost of usage in foreign countries, to prevent loss or theft of their equipment and to encourage them to focus on the travel experience rather than on communication with friends at home. However, realizing that families will be anxious to keep in touch, the Rotary Club also arranged a daily contact session, with a different student phoning home and detailing the day’s activities each afternoon. The calls are made on a cell phone the chaperones keep in their possession for the duration of the trip that is provided by Wood Communications Cellpage of Fulton, an authorized Verizon retailer. Parents have established a “calling tree” and alert each other when calls come in each day. They also share their students’ reports with The Messenger.
Alexander’s call, which took place around 3 p.m. locally Wednesday, but some seven hours later in the day from his location, included the information that the group had also witnessed the art of Venetian glass blowing. Italy has impressed him tremendously, but his favorite part of the trip, so far, has been London, where the group began their adventure. It is possible, however, that the wrap-up in Rome might alter his choices.
After all, each sunrise on the 12-day excursion represents the opportunity for another adventure in foreign territory and surprises abound around the corners of each ancient building the group visits in Europe’s most exciting cities.
Mrs. Caudle may be contacted at glendacaudle@ucmessenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 6.24.10

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