When I was 20 years old, I won an opportunity to have an audience with the pope and unknowingly, to be invited to join a member of an ‘extra- Catholic’ organisation.

For months, I was so excited to go to Italy which was my first time to go to Europe. At the same time, I was worried that my family couldn’t save enough money for the trip.

When my mum bought my plane ticket, I bought a pink corduroy peacoat with horses on them from an op-shop under EDSA and 2 pairs of tights — this was for my 2-week trip.

When I got to Rome, I was overwhelmed with the sights, sounds and tastes that I didn’t make enough contact with my parents, but I bet they understood that it was in a gelato craze.

I absolutely love food so I was in gastronomy heaven – pizza by the inch in Rome, porchetta rolls in Assisi, seafood risotto in Venice, coffee in Florence – and of course, gelato every day!

It was heaven – until it was not. When I was in Assisi, taking in the feeling of freedom, the porchetta roll and how the Tuscan sun hit the hills, I decided that I wanted to buy my parents a souvenir to thank them for the trip. Not everyone can travel when they’re twenty and meet the pope (from afar).

The teachers who were on the trip with us were furious that I had skipped afternoon prayers to enjoy the afternoon. I naturally felt bad because I always followed instructions but after seeing a hundred churches in Rome and not understanding a word of the mass, I just wanted to explore.

It was months of saving up for the trip and months of writing the paper that won us a spot in the trip. So I felt like I earned the right to have fun.

Side note: When you go on a school trip with this extra-Catholic organisation, you live in a centre or a convent/ school and have very simple accommodation and food. You have a schedule to follow – mostly prayers during the day, going on trips to see the headquarters or the ‘centres’.

In the tail end of the trip, in Venice, my room buddy who is a member of this extra-Catholic organisation, invited me to join the organisation, I just said ‘No.’

After that incident, I stayed out late in Venice and walked around to look at the bridges and the glow of the moon on the canals. I stood outside the cafe Ernest Hemingway dined in (I was taking Mod Lit at that time…I was fan girling). I ordered what I really wanted from the menu and not what was cheapest from a local restaurant (everything before that, I got from a food cart), and I was just happy to be there to get a taste of what the world had to offer.

In a way, this trip shaped me – it taught me not to pass up good opportunities, to celebrate wins and life, and most importantly to not care too much about what others think of me.

In life, there will always be that person who thinks I may not pray hard enough or take things seriously – so, I’m just trying to enjoy the trip.