A Life-changing Homecoming to Italy

by Kathryn Blanco / Sep 17, 2012 / 1 comments

Spending time in a foreign country can be a life-changing experience. Seeing a whole new part of the world, beautiful nature, fascinating history, interesting cultures, and meeting new people who live their lives differently than your own can change  the way you think and inspire you to do great things.


For this assignment of interviewing somebody on their travel experiences, I chose to interview my grandma, Barbara Hawes, on her travels. She has traveled to many places in Europe and North America. Her most recent trip abroad has been with my family to Italy, Paris, and London. But this interview will be focusing on her first vacation abroad, to her family’s home in Ortona, Italy - and how her first international experience changed her life and the way she viewed the world.


What foreign countries have you visited?

Italy, Vatican City, France, England, Portugal, Bermuda, Canada


What brought you to one of your most memorable trips?

My first trips when I was very young, my parents brought me along (to Italy) to meet my father’s family and to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. It was also the 100th anniversary of the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, whose relics lie in the cathedral of St. Thomas the Apostle, in Ortona-a-Mare, Italy [where our family is from].


How did you feel initially about it?

I did not want to go.



I did not want to leave my friends. I had a boyfriend.


Did you feel differently afterward?

I most certainly did.


What caused that change?

I just discovered that a whole other world existed that I just had no concept of. It’s one thing to read about something, it's another thing to experience it. I was at an extremely impressionable age. Wherever I traveled, I was greeted with such enthusiasm. I was an American, I was young, everybody thought I was pretty. How could you feel? You just felt wonderful, special. And then you just felt overwhelmed with the natural beauty and the realization that this whole other world exists. For me, it was magical. Even the boat crossing. I cried for ¾ of a day. Then by evening I discovered a whole bunch of other people my age, from all over the world, and we just bonded like glue.  And we had so much fun. When it was time to leave the ship, I didn’t want to leave. I cried. For 9 days on board the ship I was thrilled, we played games, silly games, we danced, we sang, in every language. When we left we took all our names and addresses and we vowed to write to each other, which we did, for about a year. When I was a child, I went to school, did my prayers, played my violin. If we traveled, it was to Rhode Island, or maybe Atlantic City to visit family. But it was a small world for me and all of a sudden, it was just a whole other world.

When the cruise liner left, there were balloons and confetti, and when the boat did all her big toots, then the band would begin to play, and everybody was clapping and cheering. My mother was at the railing, everybody was at the railing. Her dream was coming true. All her life, she’d wanted to go to Ortona, see where her father had lived, her mother had lived, where her aunt, my grandmother Concetta’s sister, was still living. I remember she had just bought a beautiful white bonnet for the day and as we sailed past the statue of liberty, she said to my father “Tom, it’s really happening. We’re going to Ortona!” And she just put her hand to her beautiful new bonnet, and flung it right into the ocean!


Over your various travels, did you have any difficulty adjusting to other cultures, experiencing "culture shock"?

Absolutely none.


Did your family's cultural background prepare you for the Italian culture in your travels?

Yeah. Definitely.


In what way?

It was language it was food, it was history, it was stories. Shared experiences, visitors from foreign countries.


What people have you met in your travels that stick out in your mind?

The Captain of the ship was a wonderful man. A very consciences man. Very intelligent, respectful, and elegant. He brought us through a hurricane and he had to make these really quick decisions.


Have you maintained contact with any of these people?

We got to know Don Ettore, the chaplain of the ship, very well. He actually went on to become the arch bishop. He worked for the Vatican and he worked for the United Nations. He did a lot of work for the poor. He remained a very close friend of ours until he passed away about four years ago.


Have you ever had a pen pal?

Not in the true sense of the word. I wrote many letters abroad, but not a specific pen pal.


Who are some of these people that you communicated with abroad?

It was Don Ettore, all my cousins that I had never known. All the friends that I met aboard the ship. We were pen pals for about a year. Some of the boys, I met, they would write to me all the time.


What did you learn from it?

How wonderful it was to know people from different parts of the world, how we were all similar although we would appear to have been different, we were all one heart, had the same wishes, you know. It was wonderful to make that discovery. People tell you that but to experience that was entirely different. To like people for who they are. It was wonderful, it was just wonderful. 


How have all your international experiences changed you and your life?

They taught me to be who you are, to like yourself, to be confident in yourself. To know that the differences didn’t divide us, they united us. All the places we’ve visited, it was new, it was different. I loved every one of them; I just couldn’t wait to see what was around the corner.


If given the opportunity to do more travelling, where else would you like to go and what would you like to do?

I would love to go to Austria. I want to tour the entirety of Italy, from the boot to the top. And then I want to go to all of France, I want to go through all of England; I want to go to Wales, I want to go to Scotland, I want to go to Ireland. And then I would be happy, I think I would have done everything I want to do.


Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I have been blessed with wonderful memories which gave me a good foundation to understand the world in a different way and gave me self confidence.  It made me appreciative of everything I have. I just was very fortunate, I really was.



Unfortunately, no pictures of my grandma’s earlier travels were available to be uploaded online, but here are some pictures of her on her most recent international travels with my family.


Trip to Italy


Trip to Italy


Trip to Italy



Kathryn Blanco is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program


All photos courtesy and copyright Kathryn Blanco




Comments (1)

  • Stasia Lopez

    11 years 5 months ago

    Kathryn, this is a wonderful recollection of memories that were brought to life. Your grandmother's travels will resonate with so many people and I know I did. International experiences are truly life changing!  :)

    Anastasia R.D. Lopez

    Global Education Editor, Wandering Educators

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