Unfortunately for myself and three others in our group, our May 31, 2015 began with great stress and anxiety.
The four of us were headed toward the small town of Riva San Vitale, Switzerland to begin our two-week study abroad program with Virginia Tech's communication department. Riva is a small town nestled in the mountains near the Italian border. We would ultimately be meeting with the remaining seven other members of our Virginia Tech group in Riva. First, we had to get to Milan, Italy, the closest major airport to Riva.
At 12:01 a.m. on May 31 we were likely somewhere over the Northeastern United States, probably Maine or Vermont. This was not supposed to happen this way. At this time, we were supposed to be six hours into our flight, almost to our first stop in Milan.
Unfortunately, we were subjected to a five-hour delay due to a mechanical problem with our American Airlines Boeing 767 aircraft. After switching gates and airplanes at New York's Kennedy Airport, we were finally up in the air at 11:20 p.m.
While an inconvenience, this delay provided our group of four to get to know each other, as we would be spending the next couple of weeks learning, eating and living together in Riva. Our group exchanged stories of our summers thus far and what we expected and wanted to do while in Europe. We also bonded over securing the coveted outlets in JFK's Terminal 8.
This eventually put our quartet in Milan at 12:50 p.m. local time, about four hours later than scheduled. According to our pilot, had we not gotten out at 11:20 p.m., we would have been forced to spend then the night in New York, thus missing the first day in Riva with the rest of the group.
We drudged off the planes like zombies. Even with most of us sleeping on the flight over the ocean, we were still weary as we dragged our bags, Hokie Bird pillow pets, and anticipation with us to the passport control area.
Upon arriving in Milan, we found our professor, Mr. Jenkins, and two other members of our group and rendezvoused with our van driver. We finally arrived in Riva about an hour later, greeted by our energetic host Daniella Doninelli.
Shortly after settling in, seven of us walked about a mile down the road to a local winery and wine tasting event held in Riva. Gialdi Vini Brivio, the owner of the winery, gave a free tour to all students from Virginia Tech who were part of our group. The tour was extremely informative as students could see first-hand how wine is made and produced.
Shortly after arriving back at the Villa Maderni, the entire group of 11 students all convened in Riva for the first time together. Students shared travel stories while eating dinner as some had taken small trips around Europe before finally arriving in Switzerland. My group of four, which was the last to arrive, was feeling the drag of a day of travel and catching up to the time zone. Knowing we had class at 9 a.m. the next day, we crawled into bed, excited for the great opportunities that lay ahead in the next 13 days in Riva and Europe.