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My experience with the Lion’s Youth Exchange program began on the island of Sardinia, in a city called Sassari. I ran into the language barrier pretty hard at first. It knocked the breath out of me and left me confused for those first few hours navigating Italy.

Fortunately, I ended up meeting Caroline, Sandra, and Saurabh, three of the other students from the camp, on the plane, and we managed to make it together.

We met up with some of the Lion’s Club organizers and were all taken to different host families, with the exception of Saurabh, who was from India; a Georgian boy named Vato; a girl from the Netherlands named Larissa; and myself, who stayed in a Bed and Breakfast for the week. Although most the members of the youth camp were living apart, the fifteen of us met up every day and were taken around to visit the island’s attractions. Stintino has got to be the most beautiful beach in the world. The host families took turns taking us on these day trips, and I really enjoyed getting to meet all of them. The children of the host families, Andrea, Julia, Federica, Laura, Agnes, and Antonio, were really great and hung out with all of us for most of the week. It was a lot of fun. I’ll never forget the experience, and I still talk with many of the people I met on the island. I hope to see them again someday.

The second week was spent in the Umbria region, often referred to as the green heart of Italy. We stayed with host families in the city of Perugia. I was hosted by the Sfrappa household, an amazing family who were a pleasure to meet and live with. Every night they took me out to some kind of event, whether it was a wedding, a birthday party, or the world famous Umbria Jazz festival (I’ve never seen so many people in one place). Their son, Lorenzo, and I became especially good friends. Out of a crazy turn of fortune, he actually came to Sedona with the Lion’s Club and stayed with my family and I in my parents’ home just a few weeks later.

During the day, the members of the youth camp traveled together to see the many cities of the region. We met early every morning to board the bus, and saw amazing churches, museums, historical landmarks, and restaurants every day. The amount of history was overwhelming. Most of what we saw was a great deal older than the USA. It really put things in perspective for me. During this week, we really got to know each other. It was such a great experience to meet so many people from so many different countries. I was struck not only by how different we all were, but also by how similar. It helped reinforce a conception of humanity that has been circulating in my mind for a long time now, that all people, no matter how different in their walk, share some essential uniting aspects. It’s a comforting
thought.

The third week was spent in Rome. We all stayed in a Holliday Inn by night and saw the city by day. This was actually my second time in Rome, but the experience was just as great. We saw many of the major sites, like the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Vatican, and the Spanish Steps, as well as a few nearby cities. There was so much to see, to eat, and to live. Our days were completely full with all of it, and yet there was still the sense that we were only brushing the surface. It would be impossible, I think, to see it all in one lifetime. Being together all of the time, we grew a lot closer as a group. Meeting and getting to know and being with everyone in the camp was the highlight of the trip for me. It was really hard to say goodbye at the end of the week. I still talk to many of the others, but the feeling of “goodbye“ is powerful. I’ll never forget something that Simonetta, the woman who organized everything for us, said at the end. The last few of us were standing in the parking lot of the hotel, watching as our friends were taken away in cars. She saw the looks on all of our faces and gave us a solemn smile. “The first time is by chance,” she said, “the second is by choice.” 

The fourth week, those of us who were from outside of Europe stayed with different host families. I stayed with the Vitale family in the city of Terni. They were great hosts, and spent a lot of time showing me around the area and taking me to events. They had a little daughter named Maria Sofia, 12 years old, who was a lot of fun to talk to. I especially remember visiting a city called Narni, a little to the West. It was the city that inspired the Narnia series written by C.S. Lewis. It was a beautiful place, tucked into the side of a green mountain, with a castle overlooking it all. I could easily see how it inspired such a great work of fantasy. The whole country was like that, actually, and my whole experience. It was magical. That’s really the best word for it. I don’t think there is anything as important for growth as seeing the world and meeting its people. It necessitates the cultivation of empathy, something we all need.

I’m so appreciative to have been given such an amazing opportunity to do so.
Alan Myers from Sedona

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