You’re Never Too Old For Your First Trip Abroad

Today’s guest blogger, Christine Marcial, is a dear childhood friend. We met when we were 9 years old and while life took us down different roads, “Chris” has always been such an inspiration to me. She is a phenomenal mother and talented high school teacher.  Through the years, she has heard about my time living and traveling abroad. Chris headed across the Atlantic for the first time in her life, days before her 40th birthday.  She was so profoundly moved that upon her return to the US, Chris sent me an email in the middle of the night and simply wrote: “I get it! I understand what you’ve been saying about traveling all of these years!”  She had truly caught the travel bug and was so incredibly moved by her experience abroad, that I asked her to share her thoughts of going abroad as a mother and first time traveler.

The yearning to travel has been a part of me since I can remember.  As a child from a small town, I could only dream about someday traveling to exotic places and learning about other cultures and ways of life.  But, for years I could only dream about exploring these intriguing destinations around the world.  Life was taking me on a different path: college, graduate school, career searching, marriage and children.   All of these events were life changing, self-discovering snapshots and helped me mold into the adult that I am today.  But, yet, I still needed to paint my canvas with the bold colors of travel.  Sure, there were plenty of vacations with my family when the children were younger.   My husband and I stayed domestic as we traveled with strollers, diaper bags, and children.  The early years were spent on trips to the ocean, Disney World and visiting relatives across the country.  We instilled in our children the love of their country as we visited historic Boston and Philadelphia.  But, the hidden energies to study other cultures remained burning inside of my soul.

Finally, two years ago, my husband and I decided that our three children were old enough to travel abroad.  Our youngest had just turned seven.  As educators, we decided to travel with a plan to educate ourselves, our students, and our children.  Our first destination had us arriving in Rome, traveling to Pompeii and sailing on the Ionian Sea to Greece.  Nothing can describe the feeling of seeing The Pieta on my fortieth birthday or feeling the water of the Trevi Fountain as I ate true Italian gelato for the first time. The roads of Pompeii led us on an educational journey as we entered the house of one whose life was lost on that fateful day in 79 A.D. , yet, whose bed remained untouched.  As we journeyed across the Mediterranean Sea to Greece, we witnessed the captivating blue waters.  Our next destinations included Olympia, Epidaurus, Mycenae, Athens and Delphi.  We felt the wrath of Zeus in Olympia as a bolt of lightning came from the skies while we were running on the first Olympic track.  We witnessed true clay urns being made from a local craftsman.  We touched the walls of the mighty Parthenon and watched the sun set on the breathtaking isles of Greece.  Our final destination led us on a venture around the Greek Isles.  It was here that we fell in love with the white houses with blue roofs, swam in hot springs from ancient volcanoes, visited ports in Turkey and felt the strength of Christianity as we toured the house of the Virgin Mary and walked the steps of St. Paul and St. John on the streets of Ephesus.

We returned home that summer in an euphoric state.  We had traveled to exotic places.  We had walked the roads of our ancestors, and of those who made western civilization what it is.  We had felt our connection with our world.  As an educator, I had explored the great Roman empire; I had heard the words of our founding philosophers Thales, Archimedes and Pythagoras. I had seen the awe that many had for Zeus and the gods of ancient times.  I had witnessed the beauty of the Sistine Chapel and felt the move of Christianity in its earlier centuries.  I had tasted the rich dishes of other lands.  I had made the connections between history, music, philosophy and art.

The bug for traveling never left us.  Two years later, we found another opportunity to travel abroad.  We were able to visit Germany, Austria, Northern Italy and Switzerland.  Once again, our minds were opened to new, vast ideas and cultures.  This time we arrived in Munich and were able to walk the Marienplatz, once the intersection of medieval trade routes.  Our best surprise was renting bikes and exploring the vast Englischer Garten with its abundant flowers and beautiful trails.  While in Munich, we paid our respects to those who suffered at Dachau.  This memorial museum was both horrifying and humbling and put meaning and feeling into the mind of our thirteen year old son who loves studying History.  After Dachau, we traveled to Ludwig’s fairy tale castle, Neuschwanstein, and then to Venice via Innsbruck.  We were able to smell the air of Venice as we rode the gondola through the waters of the Grand Canal.  A pleasant surprise for our family was our visit to Doges’ Palace and the stroll over the Bridge of Sighs.  After Venice, we rode through the majestic Alps to the Lucerne region and felt the inspiration for Wagner’s major works.  Of course, before we arrived in Lucerne, a stop in Verona led us to the balcony of Romeo and Juliet.  It was here that our fifteen year old daughter pledged her love to the wall of Juliet.  Our travels then led us to the heights of Mount Pilatus and then to the  rush of the thundering Rhine Falls.  Our final destination landed us in Heidelberg where we were able to take in Germany’s oldest university city and were able to see Heidelberg’s enduring beauty from the walls of the 700-year-old castle.

Once again, we returned from our destination with an eagerness to learn more and travel abroad in the near future.  We saw the beauty in nature at the Rhine Falls.  We felt the fervor for learning in Germany that the great Carl Friedrich Gauss must have felt.  We felt the history unfold as we walked the path of St. Mark’s Square.  Our trip abroad gave us energies, imaginations, life.  We learned of other cultures that have molded our American culture.  We witnessed glass blowing and lace-making in Venice.  We viewed farming and university life in Germany.  We felt the despair and humility of Dachau.  We saw the greed of Ludwig and the power of Venetian dukes.  Personally, these experiences have molded me into a better educator.  I am blessed with the ability to make better connections with the cultures around me.  I am able to make historical connections in the classroom.  I encourage everyone to visit abroad to not only learn their roots, but to feel, to taste, smell and touch their roots.  My personal travels have enhanced the colors of my canvas as I continue on life’s journey.   I hope that I have given my own children the gift to seek, find, explore and imagine other worlds, cultures, times and philosophies.

The Marcial family in Germany, Summer 2010

About the Author: Christine Marcial is a Mathematics Educator at Delaware Valley High School, in Milford,  Pennysvlania, USA.  She received her BA and MAT from Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York and is the very proud mother of three kids who have the travel bug!

  • Anne Marie Chemi

    Nice post, Chris!
    One thing I would like to point out is that this blog denotes an actual travel transformation. I recall sitting in the hot tub with both Missy and Chris the year before Chris’ first trip. Chris sounded really scared to travel abroad, and almost upset that her awesome husband had booked the trip. We had all grown up in a small town, and Missy was the one with wings. For me, reading this post, I want to cheer for Chris for not only overcoming her travel ambivalence, but for embracing the experience as life changing. This is an amazing gift to share with your family… and all of us.
    Thank you!!

  • i love this – it is proof, you’re never too old to learn or explore! bravo to chris for getting out there – and keeping on traveling – AND, giving the travel bug to her kids. that’s a life-changing, extraordinary gift.

  • It is the best gift you can give to your children – the gift of adventure, knowledge, exposure to different people and places, empowerment, humility, flexibility … and of course “real gelato!” 🙂

  • How about Asia next?? I take a group to India every year to immunize children against Polio. Let me know if you want to see another truly amazing culture.