I lived a normal life in Harlem, New York unaware of the vastness of the world and unaware of different cultures. When I was given the opportunity to go to Italy, I took the chance without a bat of an eyelash. Before Italy, I had never been out of the United States. Italy — the experience of seeing and being in a different country — was priceless. The night before my flight, let’s just say, I felt as if I had drunk 400 cups of coffee mixed with another 400 cups of energy-drink. Words cannot explain how excited and nervous I was. I felt like I was a knight going on his first grand adventure to fight the evil dragon and save the beautiful princess. My heart could not handle all the mixed emotions I was feeling that night, but I somehow managed to fall asleep. To this day I don’t know how I was able to do it.
The day of my flight I looked over my bags 100 times to make sure I had everything I needed. I was only going to stay for a week, but I just wanted everything to be perfect. I even packed extra toothbrushes just to be on the safe side. My two cousins, Rhina and Laura, arrived; they were the ones who were blessed with taking me to the airport. When we left, I don’t know why, but for some reason it was so hard to say goodbye to my family. I knew I was coming back, but it was just hard saying goodbye for the first time. I finally packed all my things in the car; it was raining, but I didn’t mind. All I was thinking about and looking forward to was getting to Italy.
While my cousins and I were walking through the airport to meet my teacher, Mr. Doyle, I noticed the building’s smell; it brought back memories of when I had last been in an airport, almost 8 years ago. We found Mr. Doyle, and at that time we were the only ones there. I was about to travel to Europe for the first time, and not only that, but that I was going to visit Italy - a country so rich with history. I stood there and closed my eyes and took a deep breath, but when I opened my eyes I felt as though some momentous feeling I should have had was still missing.
As everyone came, I started to say goodbye to Rhina and Laura. Before they left they asked me to recite the three rules that I absolutely had to follow. “Bring back the camera in one piece, stay away from girls, and stay away from shiny objects,” I answered. Of course I was going to take care of the camera, and I’m not one for expensive things, but the girls…the girls; white lies never hurt anybody. When I said goodbye to my cousins, that missing feeling from the moment before finally came over me.
Finally everyone had arrived. We went to the waiting area and waited…and waited…and waited. This was the longest wait of my entire life; it was as if time was moving like a snail just to mock me. Really, it was only an hour, but it felt like years. I tried to entertain myself by reading, but I could not read because of how excited I was. Then, I tried to listen to music, but I still could not contain myself. It was as if I was a balloon with too much air, ready to pop.
Finally, after the hour passed, our flight was called. I jumped up as if there were snakes on my chair, grabbed my things and got in line. When I finally found my seat on the airplane and sat next to my close friend, Nikki, I was able to calm down a little because I talked to her about how excited I was. She felt the exact same way, so we were both able to vent out our excitement. The plane ride was long. I only slept for about an hour out of the eight because of my excitement to get to Italy.
We finally arrived in Italy, and the first thing I did was look up at the sky and let the sun hit my face. I felt the warmth of the sun warm every fiber in my being. I took a death breath and let the air fill into my lungs, and I can say up to this day that that was one of the freshest breaths of air that I have ever taken. Before we were able to leave for Venice, we had to wait for the other group of students coming from Boston who would be taking the tour with us. After about an hour, the Boston kids joined us and we were ready to go. At this point, I was exhausted. As soon as the bus started to move, I fell asleep alongside my friend Nikki. The driver slammed on his breaks, and I woke up to see that we had arrived at our hotel. I got up and stretched like a cat that just finished taking a long nap. We were quickly given our room assignments and keys. My four roommates and I ventured off to our room, luggage in tow. I knew I would have a good connection with these four guys after this trip was over, I just knew it.
We all settled in; the room was not five-star, but it was manageable because all that mattered to me was seeing Venice the next morning. We enjoyed a great group dinner. The girls from Boston, the kids from Brooklyn, my classmates from Thurgood Marshall Academy of Harlem and our respective chaperones sat and ate at tables spread about the large hall of the hotel. After dinner, we hung out in the hotel den and sat talking. Three quarters of the people in the room were strangers to me, and that’s when I realized just how good I am at meeting new people. New York has prepared me for such situations. I’m a very social person and I get along well with others — that bit of New York I was able to bring overseas.
The next morning, we all had breakfast together. Doyle reminded us that we had only thirty minutes to eat. I was so tired, it was so early, but I did my best to eat quickly. After I scarfed breakfast down, my roommates Dillon, Hakeem, Abduli, and I went back to the room to prepare our bags for Venice.
The road to Venice was surprisingly short. I fell asleep on the bus again, and my dream was just starting to develop. The next thing I knew, we were getting off of the bus and walking to the boat. The boat ride was cold – wet and cold. While docking, I noticed what looked like a sort of parade — some people dressed normally, others in masks. It was as if I had traveled to Medieval Italy; the laughter, the smiles, the costumes were all so impressive. I could not believe my eyes; Carnevale di Venezia — I will never forget you.
Everyone got off the boat and walked toward Mr. Doyle, who was standing with our guide. She was holding a flower she called Mario, or as she said in her thick Italian accent, MAAHRREEOH. Mr. Doyle gave us a few instructions and told us to meet back there at three o’clock. That’s when I realized that we were about to have three whole hours to ourselves to roam around Venice and eat and buy whatever we wanted. All of the students — I mean all of the students — hightailed it on the teacher’s word. Our once densely grouped circle spread about to explore Venice.
The first thing I did was find my friends Nikki and Maiyah. We held hands so as to not lose each other and made our way through the large crowd. We walked to the center where all the stores were. Our first stop was a little bakery where we bought a few pastries to hold us over from the trip we had just taken. We took them out of the shop and started to walk, eating the treats we had just gotten along the way. We had a map, but did not care to use it. All that mattered was seeing Venice. So we just walked and took all of Venice in.
The streets were narrow and crowded. I made sure to hold on tightly to Mayiyah and Nikki’s hands to keep close to them. It was exciting to see such a different culture. The girls saw a shoe store and asked if I wanted to go in. I saw a few of the guys from the Brooklyn group, so I told the girls to go on, and I then joined the guys. Like I said, I was excited to see such a different culture, not shoes.
The guys from Brooklyn and I found ourselves at this bridge. The view was something I will never forget. The bridge connected one side of the street to another. It was not very big, but what was special was the amazing view it gave its visitors; it showed all of Venice from this one incredible vantage point. I took a few pictures, but for the most part I stood and focused on the great expansive view. It made me think of all the possibilities this trip had in store, and for a while I was stuck in my head and in this view until one of the guys called out to me, “Osiris, let’s go!” I took one more picture and followed them away.
We decided to go to the gondola. For some reason I was very excited to go on a gondola ride because I had heard so much about it. It looked so beautiful. I was so thrilled in anticipation. The girls from Boston were waiting for a gondola as well. After paying for the trip (which, by the way, was very expensive… a little too expensive), we were put into groups of five and put into boats. I picked a good spot on the small thin boat, and then the gondolier pushed off the dock and the boat began to move downstream. It was a bit scary because I do not know how to swim, but I somehow convinced myself that I was safe.
The view on the boat was amazing. The most memorable part of the gondola ride was when we passed under a bridge. It was dark, and on the other the other side was a vast port. I felt small in this grand watery space. The sun-bathed buildings of Venice surrounded the boat on all sides. Sitting in the boat made me realize how excited I was — I was actually in Italy.
By the time we got off the gondola, it was nearing three o’clock, so we hurried to get to the meeting place. On our way, I noticed a guy with a sword. I looked at his costume and realized who he was. “SAUSKE!!” I called out (Sauske is a famous anime character from the anime Naruto). I asked him to take a picture. He nodded with a smile. My friend took my camera and took the shot. As we were walking away, I looked at the picture, and it gave me my first sense of nostalgia for the small city of Manhattan.
At the meeting place, we all boarded the bus, and Mr. Doyle told us we had to sit next to someone we did not know, so immediately what crossed my mind was sitting next to one of the girls we had just met at the gondola. I was tired, but I was excited to meet someone new. It didn’t hurt that she was pretty. To say the least, it made the bus ride an enjoyable one.
My day in Venice truly set the tone for my Italian exploration. I became comfortable with my surroundings and found a new sense of confidence. The winding streets and new foods, combined with meeting new people from all over the world, gave me the desire to continue exploring. We continued south in Italy for six more days. When it was over, it was hard to leave my new friends — both American and Italian — behind. I know I will be back though, and not only to Italy. I am ready to see as much of the world as I can.
About the Author Osiris Rosario is a graduate of Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City.
Please click here to learn more about how teacher James Doyle and the Kids ‘n Culture initiative at at Thurgood Marshall Academy help students like Osiris discover the world, and how you can make a difference with a contribution through Donors Choose.