I realized that I've been posting a lot about the details of my trip without having ever given the broad picture. I'd like to fix that now, so this post will cover how I ended up going to Europe in the first place, and my next post will give a broad overview of where I went and what I did while I was there. Then I'll go back to posting about the details, because those stories and pictures make up most of what I really want to share.
I ended up in Europe through a series of coincidences and tremendous luck, or rather through one stroke of tremendous luck. My junior year in high school a teacher handed out an application for a program called the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship. The short description mentioned that it was a month-long international relations program held at Wakeforest University and funded by the State Department. Forty students would be accepted, and thirty of them would be from across Europe and Central Asia. The main goal of the program would be to connect youth across the Atlantic.
That sounded really exciting, and for the first time in my life I actually applied for something. I had to work fast because applications were due one week from when I'd gotten the flier, but I had some teachers kind enough to offer to serve as references, and I managed to write the required essays and fill in the required forms.
I got accepted. And during the first year, in North Carolina, I found out that there would be a second year of the program: a reunion somewhere in Easern Europe the following summer. And now I had friends all across Europe.
In January, BFTF announced that the reunion would be during the last week of July in August, and the flight costs of the American participants would be paid by the State Department. Then they told us that if we wanted to travel before or after the conference, we could, and the State Department would still pay our airfare to and from the continent but we would have to pay for the traveling in between.
And that was my stroke of luck. I couldn't quite believe it was real.
I mentioned this to my friend N., and he said that he'd be saving up money from his job, and that he'd come and travel with me if I wanted the company. By April, I realized this trip was actually going to happen, and N. and I laid out a rough plan for our trip while we were at a Model UN conference together. I also planned some other travel with friends from BFTF. By the end of May, I had arranged a six week trip across nine countries, with the BFTF reunion conference in the fifth week.
It was great. It changed my life and didn't. I'm glad I went, someday I'd like to go again. I can't thank the State Dept. enough. If you thought that the US government never did anything for ordinary Americans, I am living proof otherwise.