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CULTURAL EXCHANGE OPPORTUNITIES

by Joellen Flores Simmons

My father, Col. Joe B Flores, (retired) celebrated his 80th birthday this week, after an interesting military life. I was one of five siblings. Along with my mother, we all thought our army lives turned out well. Considering that Dad came from humble beginnings, as a farm boy from Texas, who made it to West Point, we are so proud of him!

Of course we hated losing our friends and moving from school to school. Each of us profited from the cultural exchanges, which resulted in great careers for all of us.

When I was 19, during our assignment to Heidelberg Germany, I was lucky to find two "brats" (brother and sister), who wanted me to go with them back-packing around Europe. Mother was reluctant to allow this, but after lots of promises to keep in touch, the three of us took off. We were elated.

We rode the trains and lived on $5 a day. It was exciting, educational, and an opportunity I look back on, in "awe." One of our goals was to avoid the "ugly American persona", and really get to know the locals. We wanted to be good ambassadors for our country.

We used the popular book, "Europe on Five dollars A Day", to guide us, nearly starving ourselves and staying at youth hostels. I have several interesting stories about what happened to us, as we navigated the trains as well hitched rides. I will share one with you here.

In those days, it was so safe to explore and travel. We mostly used the train but occasionally when we wanted to detour, we hitched. We came in contact with our one and only big scare, a green sports car with two "middle aged" men. When they stopped to ask us if we wanted a ride to see parts of Italy, something gave us pause. Surely with our male companion, along with us, we thought nothing would happen. When we had gone only 30 minutes they made it clear they wanted more from us by displaying a suitcase full of money!!! We were lucky to have escaped their clutches as they were very angry with us for not agreeing to stay overnight with them.

Some years later, I recognized one of them being arrested, with a Mafia title. Unfortunately I lost contact with the two brats that packed with me all over Europe when they went on to Greece and I took off for Spain. I hope they will recognize themselves and try to contact me through this story. We could of course write a book about our adventures, and maybe we will, yet!!!

 

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