When an American Girl Meets an Italian Samaritan

Story by Jolaade Okanlawon, Study Abroad

After spending four months attending a study abroad program at John Cabot University, I decided to pursue my own passion of traveling solo for a couple of weeks and with my visa ending on May 22nd, I still had the liberty to do so. On May 5th, I hopped on a plane from Rome to Palermo, Sicily, the capital of the Italian island. The island was beautiful; but I knew, given my passion for adventure, that a trip to another city was inevitable and highly necessary. Therefore, on May 17th, I took a train from Palermo to Catania in the hopes of visiting the beautiful volcano, Mount Etna. Once I got to Catania, I knew that my train back to Palermo would leave at approximately 5:30 p.m., giving me roughly five hours to explore the city, culture, and the prestigious volcano.

As an active stratovolcano on the east coast of Sicily, Mount Etna had always been on my travel bucket list. However, I did not have any idea how to get to the summit. With the trusty help of TripAdvisor, I eventually found my way; there is a train that makes its way around the volcano, offering picturesque views and a connecting bus to the summit. When I finally arrived to take the connection bus up to the summit, one of the conductors informed me that the buses were no longer running. My heart dropped, knowing that I wasted over two hours on a train in hopes of seeing one of the most active volcanoes in the world. What seemed like a great idea at the time turned to disaster when I realized that I had missed the last train to Palermo. Stressed and concerned, I had no idea what to do. Not only did not I not make it to the summit, I was unsure how I would return to Palermo. The other downside of my misfortune was that I inadvertently did not bring my travel adapter with me; with my portable charger out of juice, I knew my phone would surely die any instant. At least on the train ride back to Catania, I was able to capture some Instagram-worthy pictures of Mount Etna through Trenitalia’s glass window, making the whole misadventure worthwhile.

When I arrived at Catania’s Central Station, I approached the woman at the ticket booth and asked if there were any trains to Palermo departing that evening. Before I could even finish my sentence, she sharply replied “NO, NO and NO.” I found myself in quite a quandary on what to do next. Fortunately, the woman informed me that there was another train leaving at 5:00 a.m., and so I had to buy new tickets. Luckily, purchasing these new tickets wasn’t an issue but finding a place to sleep with a dead phone in my pocket proved to be a challenge. I approached the woman at the ticket booth once more to ask if there were any hostels nearby, but since her English was limited, she couldn’t provide me with much information.

Feeling hopeless, I spoke to a couple of bus drivers outside of the train station to see if they knew where I could find a hostel or hotel to pass the night. Luckily, one of the drivers quickly uttered that there was a hotel right nearby and offered to escort me there. Relieved and excited, I walked with him towards the hotel hoping to finally find place to sleep. I entered the lobby, giving the receptionist my biggest smile and asked if there were any rooms available for the night. Unfortunately, without giving it a second thought, the receptionist said “no we’re all full.” My heart dropped; I just couldn’t stand the thought of facing rejection everywhere I looked. Feeling sympathetic, the bus driver outside offered to drive me in his car to Piazza Duomo where I would be more likely to find somewhere to stay. Although getting into a stranger’s car as a foreigner was the riskiest decision I’ve ever made, in my circumstances I didn’t have much of a choice.

When I got dropped off, I walked around the piazza for hours looking for a place to rest my head. After stopping at six different hotels, my hope was nearly gone; without a place to stay, I could possibly end up spending the night on the street. Luckily, as I stood by a Sicilian Restaurant, the most unbelievable thing happened! Great Samaritans do exist: in this case, Federica was mine. She saw me standing outside of the restaurant and asked me if I was okay; I told her what happened, and without a second thought she consoled me. In fact, through the warm kindness of her heart, she told me that she had a spare room in her apartment for me to spend the night till my train back to Palermo the next morning. My heart was overjoyed and I couldn’t thank her enough; without realizing it I knew I just witnessed a miracle. If you’re a student looking to study abroad don’t let the foreignness scare you; who knows…someday you too may receive a random act of kindness by a local.