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I learned of EF Educational Tours’ Global Citizen Award from the morning announcements at my school. The opportunity to travel to Europe for free seemed too good to be true, but I inquired about it anyway. Little did I know this would be the first step of a life-changing experience. I picked up the form, wrote my essay, and sent it to EF Tours.
Despite a long wait to learn I was one of the winners, summer break and the time to embark on my journey finally arrived. We would begin in Switzerland, travel to Italy, and end in France.
Being in Europe with some degree of independence was eye opening. There were structured activities with EF tour guides, but there was also a good amount of free time in which we could explore the cities we visited. Managing my own money and meeting the EF group at specified times were the least of my concerns as I learned to become more responsible for myself.
I quickly became friends with my other fellow Global Citizens, and besides learning a few things about myself, I also learned a few things about the world. Our first stop was in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. I had been studying German since the 4th grade and did not find it too challenging to communicate. Even though my German was not perfect, nor was it the dialect that is spoken in Switzerland, my effort was tremendously appreciated. I particularly remember the reaction of an employee at our hotel. I asked her where I could rent a bike in order to tour the Swiss countryside. She was surprised that I had posed the question in German. She was more than willing to help me and was happy that I was at least attempting to speak her language. “It’s always good to try to speak the language when you are visiting a foreign country,” she said.
For a while, I had been mulling over whether to study German in college. I had always enjoyed the language and hoped to become fluent. Whenever I mentioned this to someone, I was usually met with the response, “Well, what are you going to do with that?” And for a while, I could not answer that question. I could not see how my passion could be relevant to the workings of the world. While actually using German I realized that there were countless opportunities for a German major. I realized that I loved communicating and interacting with people, especially when I could implement both German and English. I could be a translator, tour guide, international businessman, foreign advertising executive.
I had been told numerous times that the best way to learn a language is to go where it is spoken. We spent about a week in Italy, and I learned more Italian in that short time than I did from the books I used for cramming sessions before the trip. Little things like reading signs or newspaper headlines taught me new words and hearing native Italians speak helped improve my accent.
The EF trip provided me a “sampling” of the Europe I had only read about in books. But the most important thing that I gained from my EF Global Citizen experience was a greater understanding of other cultures. This sounds high and lofty, but it is completely true. Culture is a hard thing to describe. It is more than just the famous artwork or music, or structures for which a place is known. I find culture, in a modern sense, to be defined by the little things in the way one lives. For example, what Italians eat and drink on a daily basis is just as big a part the culture as the Coliseum.
EF’s Global Citizen Scholarship is an annual video, digital media project, or essay contest that encourages college-bound high school seniors to think about their roles in local and global communities, as well as about how their actions affect people around them and people around the world.
2015 update: 14 winners now go on a 2-day visit to Davos, Switzerland.
Navid Pour-Ghasemi was born and raised in Lexington, KY, where he graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. He served as president of his class throughout his high school career. Navid was awarded the Jim Varney Memorial Scholarship, which is a 4-year full scholarship to UCLA.