Better Go with the Backup – Italia, Summer 2015

Posted by Preston Butler


“Griesa, stop eating that!” She glanced up from the green grapes in the vineyard to look at me with her defiant stare, conveying what I can only describe as goat-like stubbornness. This is probably because Griesa is just that—a goat. I was taking her for a walk around Schloss Brunnenburg, a castle in the Italian Alps where I spent several weeks of summer.

Griesa and me.

Before I settled on studying literature in Brunnenburg, I had big plans for summer 2015. I had gotten an interview for a program in a Manhattan hospital! I was also looking into some really interesting medical internships in the Dallas area! As a premed student, analyzing literary texts was not one of my top priorities. However, when plans A and B fell through, I finalized an itinerary to embark on a five-week tour of Italy. This was my first lesson in the value of back-up plans.

Leaving straight from Washington, D.C., where the 2014 class of Scholars had been on a leadership retreat, fellow Scholar Elyse Mack (’14) and I flew to Naples to meet Kathleen Alva (’13) for a weeklong study of Renaissance art and architecture. After exploring Pompeii, Herculaneum, Rome, and Milan, I traveled to Schloss Brunnenburg, the castle where American poet Ezra Pound spent his later years, studying literature and anthropology. Brunnenburg also serves as an agricultural museum and an organic farm and winery, so I had ample opportunity to explore these operations, too—hence the goat walking. At essentially any time of day, I could feed animals and explore the beautiful grounds. The castle sits up on a slope over a massive valley, and I swear, the view changes every day. Between taking pictures of our wonderful Italian meals, my travel companions and I got some amazing shots of the Alps.

Due to bookend trips before and after Brunnenburg, I went two months without sleeping in the same bed for more than three nights. I lived out of a backpack, traveling from hostel to hostel, staying at the castle only for class days. With so much traveling, things often went differently than originally planned. We missed a train one day, I booked the wrong dates for one of our hostels, and we missed the World Expo in Milan, arriving two minutes after the ticket booth closed. There were many more wonderful mishaps, but we made it through every unexpected challenge. This trip taught me a lot about my own sense of self-confidence and independence. I pushed my limits, and I discovered that I am capable of much more than I expected of myself.

Although traveling to Italy was not my first preference (first world problems, I know), I had an amazing experience that helped me grow incredibly as a person. In both creating my summer plans and in designing my travel itinerary, I could not rely on everything to go as planned. The most important step I took in preparing for my summer was to explore plenty of alternate plans before summer even began. Thus, when plan A fell through (and it did…more than once) I could still make the best of my opportunities.

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