Summer vacation storiesA dream trip through Mediterranean Europe

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BECKET — With support from working a couple of jobs, holding some fundraisers and getting a generous amount of support from family members and friends, Mt. Everett Regional School junior Emellin Pineda got to go on the summer trip of her dreams, through Mediterranean Europe.

The 19-day tour took place in late June through early July, through People to People International Student Travel Programs which, Pineda said, she was invited to after taking and her PSAT exams.

"Travel is super exciting to me," said Pineda, who marked her first trip outside of the country without her parents.

"I want to have more of a worldwide experience and not just be secluded in the Berkshires," she said of her lifelong goals.

Pineda said that she and her family, through a program at Mt. Everett, has previously hosted a couple of exchange students from Hong Kong, but, she said, she wanted to have a travel abroad experience of her own.

So over the course of some 19 days, she and a group of approximately 33 peers between the ages of 14 and 18 years old, from across the United States, traveled together with their tour guides, enjoying stays with host families as well as in the region's hotels. The tour took them to nine key cities in Spain, Monaco, France, Italy and Vatican City.

"It's nice because you get to meet new people and you get the opportunity to stay connected with them over time," said Pineda. "I already have plans to visit some friends from the group."

The plans also include a reunion to visit the now-infamous Bas lica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Fam lia, which has been under construction in Barcelona for more than a century, outliving its famed Spanish architect, Antoni Gaud .

"It's amazingly breathtaking," Pineda said of the dozens of spires and cavernous sanctuary she saw.

Her group also got to visit some American sites of historical significance, including the Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial in France. "It was interesting to the see the connections. I love history," Pineda said.

Another highlight, she said, was experiencing the June 23 celebration of the festival of La Noche de San Juan with her host family in the Province of vila, outside of Madrid.

"It was almost Fourth of July-like, with firecrackers and bonfires everywhere," she said.

She said she got to enjoy a "huge barbecue" with the family and their relatives and friends, and practiced teaching them English while also conversing in Spanish.

But not everything was all idyllic and touristy. Pineda also recalls being stunned by a large crowd of protesters while on a scavenger hunt with her group members in Rome. They all carried yellow signs, a signature of the campaign against Italy's controversial mandatory vaccination law enacted earlier this summer.

Because of the language barrier, however, Pineda and her friends didn't get to learn much about the cause.

Instead, they enjoyed the lighter side of Italy, taking in the sights, and of course the food. Pineda says she's now a gelato aficionado, and discovered she has a palate for fresh seafood.

But the best part, she said, was coming home to the Berkshires, "knowing I'll always have a group to remember these things with, and to visit. If there's anything I learned, it's that I'm definitely a people person."

Are you a student who has a unique summer experience to share? Contact education editor Jenn Smith at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6239, before Sept. 22.

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