Hello! My name is Ariah Alba, and I am your 2017 International Teen. I am very excited to share with you the International Queens’ experiences on our expense paid trip to Italy, Greece, Montenegro, and Croatia. I am beyond thankful that International Junior Miss has given me the opportunity to travel the world, learn so many lessons, spend time with my new sisters, and to share with all of you. I hope that this Travel Series makes you feel like you are traveling the world by our side, and creates in you and newfound desire to visit a foreign country, or better yet, inspires you to compete at an IJM pageant so that maybe, one day, this will be you!
To kick off the beginning of our trip to Europe, all of the International Queens met up at the JFK Airport in New York City, so that we could fly together to Milan. Our NYC meetup day was on a Thursday and our flight wasn’t until 10:00pm that night, so we all arrived at different times depending on if we had school or work. Khloe and I flew together from Austin to New York, which was a lot of fun. Having her by my side made the early morning travel, so much more enjoyable- even if I was completely knocked out on the plane and left her to stare out the window by herself.
After landing in New York around noon, we soon after met up with Haley and her mom for lunch and spent the next few hours relaxing. Being the busy students we are, Haley and I spent a majority of our “relaxing” time doing school assignments and reading class books- super exciting stuff! A few hours in, there was growing concern for our travel situation. Our sister queen’s were experiencing multiple flight delays. Were they going to make it in time for our flight later that night? What would happen if they couldn’t make it? Do we fly on to Italy without them? Were we going to be those people running down the boardwalk with our 32 suitcases frantically waving our ship passes in the air and screaming for the cruise crew to not close the doors and sail without us? We had no clue.
But, by the grace of all things great, Mrs. Nikki, Mrs. Jess, Fallon, Sullivan, Ava, their moms, and all of their luggage made it to New York on time, and we successfully boarded our flight to Italy at ease knowing our whole group was together.
A few crossed time zones and 7 hours later, we found ourselves in Italy. I-T-A-L-Y! No matter how many times we tried to rub the sleep from our eyes, it was so hard for all of us to wake up enough to fully comprehend the fact that the incredible international trip we’d been waiting for had already begun. After our surprisingly short trip through Customs, we got on our very own bus that took us to our hotel for the night. On the bus ride, we got to see some of the urban Italian countryside. There were a lot of oddly shaped buildings and colorful, autumn-kissed trees lining the highways that made for perfect window daydreaming. The jet-lag soon caught up with all of us though, and soon enough, the smooth bus driving put us all to sleep. All of us except Sullivan and Fallon however, who stayed up talking about anything and everything you can think of. They even roped Mrs. Nikki and Mrs. Jess into their conversation and kept them up with their funny stories. Meanwhile, the back of the bus looked a lot like this:
Once we got to our Italian Hilton, we all went up to Mrs. Nikki and Mrs. Jess' room. As we anticipated our room assignments of which sister queen we would be roomies with, we took in the beautiful views of Italy. Every time we travel, Mrs. Nikki switches the rooming list around so that each of the queens get to spend the night with each other and have chances to bond. I always love finding out who I get to room with because I love learning new things about my new little sisters. This time, I was roomed with our International Miss, Haley Pontius. Haley and I became close instantly, so any moment I share with her is a fun one. She really is like my long-lost big sister that I’ve always dreamed of. I couldn’t thank IJM enough for bringing us together.
After we were all checked into the hotel, we left and walked around the outskirts of Milan near the hotel in search of lunch. We hadn’t eaten since on our international flight, so we were some very hungry queens. After a bit of searching, we stumbled upon this very cute restaurant with a nice outdoor seating area which, with the beautiful weather, we took advantage of. Surprisingly there was one employee who spoke English and he truly was our hero in that moment. He was super sweet, helpful, kind, and energetic in handling 14 crazy, exhausted, non-Italian speaking Americans. I commend any of our waiters throughout this trip because it surely couldn't have been easy to serve a group of our size and dynamic. I’m talking 6 highly energetic, spontaneous girls and their mothers who passed said genes down to them at one table, all hungry, all excited, all totally new to the language and culture. Crazy! But, our waiter took on the challenge and was extremely accommodating which made our first international dining experience easy-going and enjoyable. Our food was authentic Italian, so some of our dishes came as surprises.
I really liked this lunch trip in particular because I got to share what I knew about the Italian and European culture from a World History class I took with the girls, and gave them some insight on what they should expect from the people while we were there. I love learning about other countries and their ways of life. Culture is fascinating to me, as well as language, as each is so vibrant and full of history. I think that learning a new language or visiting a new country gives one a new, broadened, perspective on life that they can’t get from the confines of their own homes, and I am so thankful that IJM gave me and the girls an opportunity to do just that. We got to try first-hand how cooking styles in Italy differ from those in the States, and we even tried Italian soda! You wouldn’t think their Sprite or Coca-Cola would taste differently from the ones sold back home, but if you ask Khloe, “that was definitely not Sprite”. I personally loved the taste of the italian-version soda.
Towards the end of lunch, I went to a nearby shop where the owner knew English and I asked him if he could pretty please call four taxis for our huge group because I didn’t know nearly enough Italian to call the taxi company on my own. Without hesitation, he said, “Yes! Of course!” with the biggest, warmest smile. Our first two encounters with Italian people were both so pleasant because of how kind, understanding, and helpful they were. One of the reasons why we all loved Italy so much was because of the people. They had no reason to help us and could have easily said “We don’t speak English” and waved us away. Instead, every time we needed help, they would go out of their way to find someone who could help us, or explain things in the easiest way possible so we could find where we were going. It was heartwarming to see that even if we didn’t speak the same language, our humanity made us similar and was put before the fact that we were foreigners in their land.
After everyone finished eating and paying their bills, we grabbed the four taxis, and made our way to the Duomo di Milano, or, the famous Milan Cathedral. This was another nerdy moment for me because I learned about the Cathedral in my history class a few years before, and seeing the it in person was jaw-dropping. The outside of the Cathedral was some of the most exquisite architecture I have ever seen, and the inside was even more stunning. The stained glass on the inside was so beautiful and intricate that I couldn’t stop staring. It was like in the movies where you walk into a big, gorgeous building and you are walking around with your mouth agape from how astounded you are. That’s how I felt. In order to pay respects to the church, we weren’t allowed to take pictures on the inside, but it allowed us to really live in the moment and take all of the details in. There were statues lining the walls, depicting different aspects of life and religious stories. Since I’m Roman Catholic, I lit a candle in honor of my family, and prayed at a pew for a while, thanking God for blessing me with the most amazing opportunities in life, especially being the International Teen and being able to travel the world. Visiting the Cathedral was a humbling reminder of how in contrast to the bustle of tourism outside, inside the walls there was this timeless feeling of existence and appreciation for life. I was inspired, to say the least.
After we spent some time at the Duomo di Milano, we went over to the nearby square and did some shopping and exploring. The energetic, crowded, streets, reminded me a lot of an Italian “Times Square” which was really interesting, and also slightly comforting for the little ones, since they didn’t feel too far from home. Just like the Cathedral, the buildings in this square had a lot of intricate detailing that you don’t see a lot anymore. There was this antique feel to the area, which was combated by the modern, name-brand stores, and fashion-forward boutiques. Speaking of that, Milan really is the fashion center of the world. The girls and I went into this five story mall that had the most exquisite pieces of clothing and accessories (with very exquisite prices too. Lot’s of digits = lot’s of window shopping) and it was so cool to see all of the trends and styles in person. We also got to see a lot of Italian art, which was all so beautiful. If we had more time, I’m sure I would have spent hours just admiring it all. Being the booknerd that I am, I made sure one of my stops was a bookstore. I definitely could have stayed in that store forever. But, I restrained myself and ended up walking out with a book of Italian poetry. I’m super excited to translate it and get a little more insight into Italian art. If you were to go to Italy, what is something special that you would walk away with?
Eventually, it was time for us to go back to the hotel to prepare for our early morning train ride to Venice.
Lessons of the Day:
- If you know that you will be gone for an extended period of time and will miss a lot of work or school, use your time wisely and do work whenever you can. Even though you’d rather be doing anything else but work from home, if you can afford to, do it. Your future self will thank you when your pile of makeup work is significantly less.
- Traveling to a foreign country means foreign people and a foreign way of life. Always be willing to try new things and to keep an open mind. Doing so will guarantee you the best experience possible with the coolest stories to tell. But remember, things won’t be the same as it is in your hometown, so always be kind, be generous, and be understanding.
- Just as you saw with us in Italy, you will meet nice people wherever you go. Treat others the way you want to be treated and your time will be pleasant. Remember your "please's" and "thank you’s"!
- Take lots of pictures and videos, but always make sure to spend time in the moment and make memories! Sometimes, a moment is best spent without the camera flash in everyone’s eyes.
- Write about your trips or experiences right after they happen so that you can remember how you felt and the small events that might seem unimportant. I promise you’ll be so happy to look back at your writing.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read about our time first day of International Travel! I hope that you enjoyed reading about our time in Milan as much as we enjoyed being there! Make sure to follow us on social media so that you don’t miss the next part of the IJM Travel Series and where we go on our first Greek adventure!
Always remember to “Spread Love, and Choose Happiness”
IJM International Teen 2017