The opportunity to travel across the Atlantic Ocean shortly after graduating from Grand Canyon University seized the attention of Krista Mainard.
“I had never been to Europe before,” said Mainard, whose previous international travel was limited to Canada. “I wanted to see as much as I could see, because who knows if I’ll ever be able to come back.”
Thanks to the Office of Alumni Relations' European Discovery trip for GCU seniors, Mainard treasured her 13-day adventure, which took her to seven countries and a lifetime of experiences. The 2022-23 school year was the first time the department offered travel to seniors and alumni, with 58 alums participating in separate trips to Europe and Greece, according to Kaitlyn Nicol, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations at GCU.
"It's a way to kick off their career, and our way of saying 'Thank you for being here for four years,'" Student Program Specialist Lexi Noble said of the senior trips in a recent GCU Magazine article. "It allows them the opportunity to experience life and create memories before they hit the ground running into adulthood."
“There were so many points throughout the trip where I would say to my friends, ‘Guys, we are literally in Amsterdam right now,’ or ‘Guys, we are literally on a gondola in Venice right now,’ and they would just laugh and pick fun at me,” Mainard said. “But I was being so genuine. I was just in shock that we were in all these bucket list places, and that it was all real.”
Mainard, who earned her bachelor's degree in hospitality management, immediately put a down payment on the trip after receiving an email in October. Any financial strains were alleviated when she was named as a recipient of the David R. Landau Hospitality Scholarship, awarded to a student in the program in memory of the late professor.
The European trip featured one- and two-day visits to London, Amsterdam, the Rhine Valley, Munich, Tryol (Austria), Venice, Rome, Florence, Lucerne (Switzerland) and Paris.
Mainard appreciated the freedom on her trip that enabled her and her friends to travel in small groups before returning in time for transportation. One day in Paris, Mainard said she and two fellow travelers bypassed a two-hour stop at the local hotel so they could spend time at the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe before returning in time for dinner.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the trip was the quality of the food sampled by Mainard, who described herself as a “super picky eater.”
“Amsterdam had some of the best food; arguably better pasta than Italy and better crepes than France,” Mainard said. “However, Venice had the best spaghetti I had ever had.”
The last night in Paris featured a three-course meal, and Mainard sampled a small dish called escargots de Bourgogne (Burgundy snails).
“It was shockingly good,” said Mainard, who elected to sample the dish because it was her last night in Paris.
But the sights remained etched in her mind, from the Eiffel Tower sparkling at night and causing her and her group to gasp with an abundance of emotion. They also saw several cathedrals, particularly in Italy.
“It was also crazy to see the Colosseum (in Rome) in real life and to see where all the gladiators fought,” Mainard said.
Two places that stood out to Mainard were the statue of David and the Anne Frank House.
“It (The Frank House) was definitely very sad to see where she lived knowing what happened to her, but a good reminder that our history isn't just a story, but something that really happened that we need to learn from, so we don't repeat the same devastating mistakes,” Mainard said.
The transition from international traveler to first-time, full-time worker was tough for Mainard, who is a sales and banquets intern at a lodge and spa in Snoqualmie, Washington. Attending church and Bible studies help her retain interactions with hometown friends.
But the bonds created during the European trip left an everlasting impression.
“It was easy to make friends knowing we would all be about the same age and already have common ground and similar life experiences we could bond on since we all went to the same school,” Mainard said.
“I miss them already. It was sad to leave because we were all graduates, so it was very unlikely we would all see each other again. Tears were definitely shed during the goodbyes, but the memories made on the trip were some of the best in my life.”
Senior writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]