World-traveling students return home with memories that will last a lifetime
Posted: Monday, June 28, 2010 10:09 pm
Special Features Editor
Sunrise, Rome; sundown, Union City.
And, in between, lots of travel time.
Families and friends began to gather on the parking lot of Union City High School around 9 p.m. Sunday, watching for the big yellow school bus that would bring their European travelers home from a 12-day all-expense-paid trip to London, Paris, Lucerne and Rome, courtesy of Union City Rotary Club.
The conveyance rolled into view around 9:15 and nine students and their chaperones — weary from racing the sun through multiple time zones — climbed down and fell into the arms of those who have been waiting to get first-hand reports of their trip for almost two weeks.
Jasmine Davis, Kassadie Mullins, Lakevius Turner, Trey Maddox, Chase Bowling, Megan Hickman and Cameryn Fishel from Union City High School; Jacob Cleaver from South Fulton High School; Alton Alexander from Obion County Central High School; and chaperones Clark and Joanna Wisener, a UCHS English teacher, were suddenly surrounded by the sights and sounds most dear and most familiar to them in a world that has been filled with new sights and experiences since they arrived in London early on the morning of June 16.
The group were the recipients of a Union City Rotary Club offer to provide a free trip to England, France, Switzerland and Italy for a group of rising seniors at the three high schools in Obion County. It was the second such year for the trip — which last year had a slightly different European itinerary but no less excitement.
Stories of the students’ adventures have been filtering home since they boarded the Union City School System bus on a blazing hot June 15 morning and headed for the Memphis airport. From there, they flew to Minneapolis-St. Paul, boarded a larger plane and turned east toward London’s Heathrow Airport.
On June 18, after two nights in London, they made their way through British countryside in a Cosmos Tour Co. bus which rolled onto a large ferry for the trip across the English Channel and on to Paris.
With adventure to spare recorded in their Rotary-provided travel journals to that point, they moved on June 20 to beautiful Lucerne, Switzerland, and spent two more nights.
By Tuesday, the group was rolling across the Italian border and then trading their tour bus, temporarily, for the novelty of Venetian waterway travel.
When it was time to leave the area Thursday, they could still look forward to Florence, Pisa and — finally — the splendor of Rome.
It was from that final stop that they headed home again Sunday, decked out in the bright gold Rotary-emblem shirts provided by the club so the group would stand out in the airport crowds as they left and returned to the U.S.A.
Many of the travelers still had the identical Rotary backpacks and security document holders for their passports, currency, airport paper work and special debit cards, provided free of charge by First State Bank, slung around their shoulders as they stepped off the bus. Most of the bank accounts that the club had “stocked” with extra spending money for meals not covered by the Cosmos Tour, for entrance to some “extra” events the students were able to choose and for travel expenses within the cities they visited and tips for their tour guide had been fairly well depleted, however. And that was just as it should have been, according to the local club, which wanted to provide the adventure for a group of students who convinced them of their urgent desire to experience travel in foreign places and their own personal financial inability to undertake the journey.
The students were selected last October after they and their parents had attended one of two orientation sessions to learn about the trip and the commitment of time and study the students would be expected to make to get the most from the amazing educational opportunity. Students who were still excited about the possibility of travel — even though they learned they would have to leave cell phones and computers at home for almost two weeks, complete 30 hours of community service, write a research paper on the sites featured on the trip, commit to attending a series of Saturday and after-school learning sessions before ever leaving Obion County and agree to record their travel impressions with photos and travel journal notations for sharing with their classmates, Rotary Club and other groups that might want to hear their stories — submitted applications. Then they were called individually before some members of the Rotary Club trip committee for in-depth interviews. Ten students were originally selected, but nine actually undertook the journey.
“One of the things we stressed was that students must commit themselves to the welfare of the whole group and must agree to respect the authority of the chaperones on every issue. This is a tremendous responsibility for the chaperones, and if a student gives some indication that he cannot be relied on to abide by the rules and contribute to the positive experience of the group, we have to withdraw our offer,” said a Rotary Club trip committee spokesman.
Students already knew quite a bit about facts and figures that would influence their journey before they left Union City, thanks to Dr. Stan Sieber and his wife, Sarah, from the University of Tennessee at Martin. The couple are experienced travelers who frequently serve as chaperones and “study” guides for university-sponsored trips. They attended the Saturday and after-school sessions and discussed issues as diverse as the monetary systems the students would encounter and the best way to handle their finances on the trip, appropriate and comfortable dress, simple foreign phrases they might encounter, safety precautions, experiences in dining (and how to do so with the least strain on the pocket book), packing tips to allow space for bringing home souvenirs and gifts and the geography, history and culture of the countries they would be traveling through. UCHS art teacher Hilary Webb also added a session on art and architecture they would encounter and Linda Aaron of Travel One, which handled the trip arrangements, spent time with the travelers and their families explaining the nuts and bolts of the trip.
The classes and the research assignments that marked the start of the adventure could not compare to the actuality, however.
Throughout the past few days, Messenger readers have been able to share some of that excitement as students took turns calling home on a cell phone provided by Wood Communications Cellpage of Fulton, an authorized Verizon retailer, and through occasional opportunities to use Internet cafés at their hotels.
Jasmine Davis, daughter of Latoya Davis of Union City and Eric Johnson of Georgia, reported to her mother, who then contacted The Messenger, late Friday afternoon local time. For the travelers, it was seven hours later — or 11:30 p.m.— and they had already experienced a full day.
“They started the day off with breakfast at the hotel in Florence,” said Jasmine’s mom. “They left there around 8 a.m. and stopped around 11 in Pisa. When they were there, they saw the Leaning Tower, which is beside the cathedral and baptistery.”
Because time was limited, they were not able to go inside and explore at their leisure, but they did find time for a quick lunch at the Roman version of the Golden Arches.
“Jazz said a six-piece McNugget meal was six euros.” (Given the currency exchange rate, that meant even those with dainty appetites were paying a hefty price for a mid-day meal — another eye-opener for students who had been advised that food and drink would be very expensive but who had to experience sticker-shock first hand before it became a reality.)
“They went along on their journey and arrived in Rome around 3 p.m. (Rome time.) They enjoyed looking at the fountains and Jasmine said the people seemed friendly, but it was crowded and they did a lot of bumping into each other in Rome. The weather was sunny and hot (a change from the chilly temperatures they had encountered in the mountains of Switzerland only days before) and they walked to a restaurant for a formal-type dinner. She said there was singing, guitar playing and flutes. Her favorite event, so far, has been going up into the Eiffel Tower. Even though she was a bit frightened when she got there, she knows it was an experience for a lifetime. Overall, Jasmine is having a wonderful time and is really glad she got to go.”
On Saturday, the last trip report from a foreign locale came in from Rome through Cameryn Fishel, daughter of Eric and Camille Fishel of Union City.
“I heard from Cameryn this evening in Rome,” her mom told The Messenger. “They were in the hotel playing UNO after a long day. She was packed and ready to head out in the morning (Sunday). They started out this morning (Saturday) at 8 a.m. at the Vatican museum and after they spent time there, they saw the Sistine Chapel and then went on to St. Peter’s Basilica. She said that was the most beautiful place by far.
“Then they boarded a bus to the Coliseum and had a guided tour of the ruins. Next, they walked around the Forum and then the bus took them back to the hotel. It’s been amazing and everyone has had a wonderful time together.”
Mrs. Wisener added: “Clark and I feel so blessed to have been given the opportunity to experience this wonderful trip. All of the parents, Rotary members and our community have every reason to be proud of the nine students whom we accompanied. They were respectful, responsible, punctual and appreciative of all they were given. They received many compliments from the other members of our tour group, and I was so proud of how dependable and helpful they were. They were also a lot of fun to spend time with, and we laughed so much on this trip! I think the trip definitely opened their eyes to differences that exist between our small town and the rest of the world. As they enter their last year of high school, I believe they will appreciate the comforts of home while eagerly anticipating what awaits them in the future. They all have different favorite parts of the trip and would often discuss what they liked best. For some of them, the list of favorites was changing with every new experience. Although we all missed family and friends (and American food), none of us wanted to miss out on a minute of this adventure. I know all of us will always be grateful to Rotary.”
Contact Mrs. Caudle at glendacaudle @ucmessenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 6.28.10