Coming from New York City, you get used to tourism. You learn to swerve and dodge the tourists with their big maps, huge book bags, cameras, 1000 questions, foreign accents and their tour guides leading the way. “What’s so exciting?” you ask yourself. “I see these monuments every day.” But you realize, as soon as you leave your own country, how exciting a new location can be.
I was 17 and in the big city, and no, I’m not referring to the Big Apple. I’m talking about Florence, Italy. A city so full of fashion and culture and amazing food, it was honestly hard to leave. I was happy to be a tourist, but I also realized how scared and frustrating it can be.
It was a rainy day and my two friends and I had an hour to meet back up with the group. We knew the cathedral was our meeting place after our free time, but we had no idea where we were. Our shopping and cheese tasting and bread smelling had gotten us so lost.
“Excuse me,” I kept asking strangers over and over again in my broken Italian. Our teacher had given us some basic phrases, and I had them on a cheat sheet with me, but I was getting nowhere with the language. Person after person kept walking past me. After getting blank stares from three strangers, I hoped the next person would be kind enough to me and my two friends. I pulled out my big map of Florence and pointed to the small picture of the church, hoping that she would understand where we were trying to go. “Cathedral,” she said. Then, she opened her mouth to give us directions and it all poured out in Italian. I smiled and said “Grazie”. Now I was one of those same tourists I used to swerve and dodge. Maybe I’ll have more patience the next time a tourist asks me for directions, I thought.
“Are we ever going to get back?” we all worried. We put our heads together; we had been in this country for a week so by now, we should start thinking like Italians. Italians were resilient; they did not give up. Again, we pulled out our big maps and began on our way to meet back up with our group. Remembering what the Italian lady had said to us, we looked for key monuments and realized we knew exactly what she was talking about with her Italian directions. It was almost like we had no choice but to understand the language in that moment, and those directions echoed in our minds with each turn we took. When we came to a bakery, we immediately knew to turn left; when we saw a statue of David in front of us, we all remembered to stay straight and walk through the square. We were naturals.
I will never forget that day, navigating my way through Italy. How we met back up with our tour guide and group is still a mystery to me. Luckily for us that Italian woman didn’t swerve and dodge around us in an attempt to avoid the tourists. After that day, I vowed to never do the same.
About the Author Terri Thomas 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 Terri discover the world, and how you can make a difference with a contribution through Donors Choose.