The Education First Program offered by Paso Robles High School is an educational opportunity for students to take in the allure and culture of a new land

In March of 2017, Paso Robles High School’s Education First Program allowed me an amazing opportunity to visit and tour Florence, Italy – the heart of the Renaissance. This was just days before riding a gondola in Venice and exploring the most important sites in Rome; the Colosseum, Vatican, Trevi Fountain, plus so much more. Mount Vesuvius smirked at me as I roamed Pompeii, and I made pasta from scratch in Assisi. These places were certainly great, but they paled in comparison with the life lessons learned from raising money, exploring the culture, and meeting people along the way.

Courtesy photo
Alex Withers, Gabriella Shuster, Katheryn Varian, Emanuel Angeles, Brook Metcalf, Aaron Cantrell, Spencer Anderson, Kat Dickenson, Alycia Doucette, Dylan Fiel, and Joe Cantrell in Florence.

My phenomenal AP Literature teacher, Mr. Cantrell, spearheaded the trip, showing those interested how to effectively fundraise. With skills learned in the PRHS music program, I taught piano lessons and played jazz on the streets. In ceramics class, I created and sold pottery. With fellow fundraising friends, whom I otherwise may have never met, I made and sold tamales. Community organizations like the Paso Robles Rotary Club helped by making my fundraising mission heard, and generous donors truly made my Italian dream a reality.

Once we arrived in Italy, the first thing I discovered was the American tourist precedent that millions of my nationality had set before me. As I walked into a leather store, the owner said “Hello, good morning” with an uncharacteristically monotone voice for an Italian. With my simple response of “Buongiorno, Come Stai”, he lifted his face and we proceeded to have a part-English/part-Italian conversation about everything from his sister-in-law from San Francisco to where his leather comes from. I left with a Vera Pelle belt marked down 15 euro ($17.82 in US dollars) because he enjoyed the good company. It’s amazing to me what happens when a little bit of effort is put into learning and appreciating a new language and culture.

Another observation I made was the beauty in breaking away from the crowd. As thousands of people waited in line to go through a Florentine cathedral, a friend and I ran in the opposite direction until we couldn’t hear any more English on the tight cobblestone streets. We found ourselves in a small, quiet Chinese restaurant/house. Since my friend is conversational in Mandarin, we ordered our meals in an empyrean mix of Mandarin, Italian, and English. The mother took our orders and returned to hanging kimonos on a clothesline in the visible backyard. The father cooked our food, and the kids ran around our table as I ate a still-wriggling tentacle. Twelve blocks from Michelangelo’s David, that restaurant wasn’t as grand as the Sistine Chapel, nor was it constructed in the 1300’s, but I was one of two Americans who got to be there, and it was magical.

What did I learn from this incredible educational opportunity?
• I learned that taking the time to learn a language is well worth it, and that the locals really do appreciate the effort.
• I discovered lifelong friends while traveling on the other side of the world, even though we’ve lived in the same town for years.
• I realized how dedicated my teacher really is. Giving up his vacation to ensure that his students have the experience of a lifetime; and how selflessly our community supports the next generation.

Never, in such a short period of time, have I learned more about myself, about culture and about the world outside of Paso Robles. I will always cherish the friendships that I have made and the many experiences that I have enjoyed. The educational experience to travel abroad has changed my life.

By Spencer Anderson, PRHS Senior

To learn more about study abroad opportunities offered
by the Paso Robles High School Education First Program, please call 805-769-1500.