At the age of 20, Melissa participated in a month-long art history study abroad course in Europe “It was to immerse ourselves in religious history and art history because they are so closely tied together. So, in these places we were going to see a lot of museums, a lot of cathedrals and basilicas, and places where art had been recorded for centuries, but around there, there’s all this immersion in the food you’re eating and navigating through the city becomes such a big part of it.” She told me about how she found out about the program and then made it happened. “I had learned about the trip when I was going to school at BYU-Idaho. I was taking a class and one of the professors was going to go on the trip and he was starting to talk about it with people and let them know it was going on and it was still 2 or 3 semesters away from happening. The first time he talked about it, I got up after class and said ‘I want to do that. How do I do that?’ and so from that moment I was planning and preparing to go on the trip. I worked while I was going to school, but I actually took off a semester so that I could work and save money for the trip. I worked 2 jobs. One of them was semi-part-time, it was almost full time and the other one was full time. That’s all I did was work and sleep and barely that. I felt like it was amazing because I knew that the things I was going to see and do, like, I had made that happen. Do you know what I mean? Nobody else made that happen, I made that happen. I look back on it, and it’s one of those things where it’s like ‘that was me’.
“Hands down it was one of the best experiences I have ever had… We were gone for just over a month.” When asked about the details of the program, Melissa explained to me that the program began with 3 weeks on campus at BYU-Idaho for the classroom portion of the course, then moved onto the month-long study abroad through Europe. “[During the 3 weeks on campus] We went to class all day as a group. There was a total of 50 people. I think there was a total of 30-something students, then the professors, a lot of times the professor’s wife, and then if they had, their children. There was probably like 6 or 8 kids that came with us and the rest of us were adults.” For the month-long study abroad experience they started in Rome, Italy, then traveled to Florence, Venice, Padua, and Ravenna all within Italy. They then drove through the Alps, in and out of Slovenia and Slovakia, then onto Austria, Poland, Germany, and then back to Austria. Along the way, they stopped in other smaller countries like Luxemburg and Lichtenstein. Following that, they spent a few days in and just outside of Paris, France including a trip to Mont Saint Michel, along the beaches of Normandy, took a ferry from Caen to Dover, and then on to Canterbury and London. When describing her time at Mont Saint Michel, Melissa says “Victor Hugo, he said the tide would go out like a galloping horse, so it would move really fast, so it used to be really dangerous to move back and forth between [the island and mainland].
“I showed up for the first day and I realized one of my old roommates from my first semester of college was going. And it was awesome because I hadn’t seen her in a long time. She’d gone on a mission and it’d been several years since we’d really been in each other’s lives on a daily basis, but we were able to pick up and then that was the only person I knew. Every other person was new. I sat down, and I didn’t sit by anybody I knew but by the end of the class, I mean, some of those people, I probably will be friends with the rest of my life. There’s others that I wish we’d kept in touch, but for a big part of my life, we were really good friends…A lot of the time, even though we’d go somewhere in this big group, but it hardly ever felt like we were moving in this big group. The only time I ever felt like that was when we were getting on and off the public transportation ‘cause were would be like ‘Oh no, so-and-so’s still standing there’. The rest of the time, you were with 3 or 4 people. They kind of broke us up into these group and that’s who you were with most of the time. But even then, like the Louvre, it’s ginormous, and there’s so much to see and I think the majority of the time, I was with 1 or 2 other people. So you kind of start to feel like ‘I’ve got my support group’, so you feel really brave, and it doesn’t matter if you speak the language. And so, like I said ‘Oh, ya, I can definitely speak French or German’, so you try, and it’s fun because sometimes you’re totally shot down ‘like I don’t know what you’re saying and you need to stop’ and other times they’re just so happy that you’re trying that they go out of their way to help. I never really felt like the stereotypes [were true for the whole country] like, ‘Oh the French are standoffish’. I think there’s always people that are going to prove the point, and there’s always people that are going to stand out in the opposite way. I felt like even though we were Americans, we were silly, and we were loud and had big smiles, we were still welcomed into all of these places, and I felt like I wanted to go back. I never felt turned away. I guess that’s something I’ve tried to take home with me too; You never know somebody’s story, you just don’t want to turn somebody away, because you just don’t know.”