If you’ve ever seen the movie “Roman Holiday” — or even if you haven’t — there’s one iconic scene that everybody knows: Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck riding a Vespa through the streets of Rome. Now, I’m no Gregory Peck, but just for today, I was him. I rented a Vespa… in Rome! It was the moment I realized that my summer would be much better than I had thought it would be.
It’s day four of my solo backpacking trip through Europe and the last day at my first stop: Rome, Italy.
If you know me at Georgetown, I’m not the most extroverted guy. I stick to my friend group, and I do things at my own pace. I’ve never been much of an explorer.
But in a moment of self-reflection last May, I realized that I didn’t branch out as much as I had wanted to during my first year of college. I needed more experience interacting with new people, so naturally, I set a goal for myself to be more social during this trip. And the Vespa could not have come at a better time.
As I was packing for my 2 p.m. train, two strangers from my hostel randomly suggested we rent a Vespa. My first response was no — I had a train to catch, and I wasn’t going to have some strangers derail me from my original itinerary. But I started thinking about my goal for the trip: to become more extroverted and hang out with more people. If I turned down my first opportunity to spend time with other travelers, I’d be taking a step in the wrong direction.
So I thought on a whim: “Forget my train. I’m here to enjoy life and not get caught up on logistics.” Not long after, there I was, riding carefree on the cobblestone streets of Rome.
On the surface, this might not seem like the most life-changing experience. It was just a scooter ride in a foreign country. Some might even say it was a poor decision, wasting the money that I had spent on the missed train. I say the opposite. The Vespa was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made.
“Why?” you may ask. This little experience taught me two lessons.
One: Embrace detours and spontaneity.
I took a detour out of Rome, spending a little more money and a lot more time than I had anticipated. Previously, the uncertainty of not following my plan would scare me, but when I look back, none of the uncertainty or fear is left. Instead, I thought about how improbable the chances were of the Vespa ride happening. It couldn’t have happened without three things: my encounter with the strangers, their brilliant idea and my spontaneous yes. Whatever the odds of all three happening, they were in my favor — and only good memories are left from that Vespa ride.
It gave me the romantic experience of feeling like a movie star. It gave me the chance to explore parts of Rome I hadn’t visited. And most importantly, it gave me two new friends who had been simple strangers mere moments ago.
This leads me to my second realization: People are more connected than I thought.
I’ve often thought that people are very individualistic and isolated, and it seemed the case at Georgetown as well. People get caught up in cliques, friend groups and clubs, which I wrote about last spring in a call to restore a sense of community.
When the moment is right, however, people share an improbable connection that can’t be put into words. Many don’t realize it, as they are often consumed in their own lives and their own ways, with little notice of the strangers that surround them. But in the end, connections aren’t complicated. Friendships happen because we’re all human, regardless of personality or looks. Everyone is simply a catalyst away — or in this case, a Vespa ride away — from new friends and new connections.
Let’s go back to the movie “Roman Holiday.” The real stars of the show were my two new friends; they started dating not long after our encounter in Rome. I may have been part of the side cast, maybe even a third wheel.
But it doesn’t really matter. The Vespa left me with two life lessons and two lifelong friends. So say yes to that Vespa ride, whether it’s a trip to Europe or another day at Georgetown. Sign up for that random club, say hi to that person in class. The most absurd, spontaneous moments can be an opportunity to expand your horizons.
Everyone is one detour, one crazy adventure away from that beautifully strange experience. Once I realized that, life became so much easier.
Haan Jun (Ryan) Lee is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.