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My first experience abroad
My first experience abroad was going to Italy (I grew up in the Detroit-area, went to school in New Jersey and have been in Chicago ever since school) in 1996. I was going through a really rough time in life, treating people badly and all-around just being miserable in all areas of life (work, partnership, friends, etc.).

My friend Zoe invited me to go camping in the south of Italy with the Humanist Movement from Milan. I was so down emotionally that it never occured to me to be scared. On the airplane I had a moment of panic hearing people speak Italian to each other. "I don't speak a word of Italian. Not 'Yes.' Not 'No.' What have I gotten myself into?!!"

I managed to get myself by bus from the airport to Zoe's flat, napped and spent a couple of hours exploring Milan before our overnight train to Briatico in Calabria. The sights, sounds and smells on that train were totally amazing. People sleeping everywhere made navigation to the washroom an adventure!

Camping itself was also really amazing and nothing like what I'd experienced in the US. There were hundreds of tents pitched quite close together within short walking distance from the Mediteranean. Lots of time at the beach each day, kicking the soccer ball around, throwing a frisbee, swimming or just relaxing. The evenings hours were taken up by a luxurious dinner cooked right there by one humanist team each night. For $9/night/person between 60-100 people ate a 4 course gourmet meal that took hours outside at our camp.

All week long it generally took about 5 or 6 Italians at a time to have a conversation with me because though I'd picked up a few words, I was totaly useless in Italian and that's how many people it took to collaborate on their side with translations back and forth. What an amazing experience to envy the 3 and 4 year-olds at the camp who "spoke perfect Italian!"

What I remember most about this trip was the human spirit of all those humanists at the camp. They were all so full of life and so encouraging of me and my personal journey, to transform myself into the person that I really wanted to be, who could act in the world to make it a better place and develop meaningful relationships along the way.

I came back to the US and joined the Humanist Movement right away and to this day see my work in the world as a work of humanizing the earth.