A chance encounter in Italy
A chance encounter brought three small town girls from Panora together on the other side of the world during a recent overseas adventure.
Elly and Grace Arganbright, daughters of Tom and Page Arganbright of Panora, were touring Italy together over the Thanksgiving holiday when they ran into Allison Schafer, daughter of Jeff and Karen Bump of Panora, who is studying abroad in her final semester at the University of Iowa, along with her husband Dakota.
Grace Arganbright said checking her Instagram account while on the train toward Pompeii, an ancient Roman city near modern Naples in Italy, she saw that Allison and Dakota Schafer were also in the ancient city, but never imagined they would have any luck running into them.
“The ruins of Pompeii are very, very extensive,” Grace said. “It’s an entire town from the Roman age. You could spend all day walking around and looking at everything. I think Allison, Dakota, Elly and I could have been there all day and easily not have seen each other.”
The Arganbright sisters say they had been in Pompeii for about an hour, aimlessly walking around and turning down random streets attempting to navigate their map, when they surprisingly spotted the Schafers.
“We waved at them, hoping they wouldn’t think we were a couple of crazy people,” Grace said. “It was great seeing a familiar face all the way over here, it felt like a little piece of home.”
The Panora travelers were able to talk for several minutes and share a few stories about their adventures before going their separate ways.
“It was quite a surprise and still hard to believe that we all randomly met up in Pompeii of all places, but pretty cool,” Elly said.
Schafer was just as surprised to run into the Arganbright girls.
“I’d seen on Facebook that both Elly and Grace were in Rome for the past week, but it’s far enough away from both Milan and Pompeii that it was a little unrealistic to expect to meet each other,” Allison said. “Even within the ancient city of Pompeii, with the winding streets and little alleyways, it’s really incredible that we were able to just run into each other.”
Elly Arganbright graduated from Panorama in 2010. She earned degrees from Iowa State University, where she was a member of the Cyclone women’s basketball team, and now works in Uganda with an organization called Spark MicroGrants. The company is headquartered in New York, but works mostly in East Africa -- Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi -- partnering with rural communities to design and implement social impact projects of their choosing, within their community.
“I work in our Research, Evaluation, Learning and Monitoring (RELM) department, so generally our role is to gather data to monitor the delivery of our program, to evaluate the impacts of our program, and continually learn from that data to inform program design,” Elly explained.
Elly said she feels lucky to have the opportunities she’s had to explore and travel.
“They’ve been such great experiences,” she said. “There’s a lot of learning that happens when you step outside the world you’re used to, and chances to experience life in new ways and meet people with different perspectives and different ways of knowing and living,” she said. “To me, that’s exciting and important and also a lot of fun.”
Grace Arganbright graduated from Panorama in 2016 and is currently in her sophomore year at Iowa State University, majoring in Spanish and International Studies. She is in Cáceres, Spain, just about to finish up her semester of studying abroad at the University of Extremadura.
“I have absolutely loved every second of it here and have had incredible opportunities to travel around Spain and Europe,” Grace said. “And of course, I have learned so much Spanish, thanks to my host family and professors. I’m a little sad thinking about leaving my host family in a few short days.”
Allison (Bump) Schafer graduated from Panorama in 2014 and is currently finishing up her final semester of college at the University of Iowa in Milan, Italy. She is a journalism major on the Engaged Social Innovation track with a minor in rhetoric. She is studying abroad in her final semester to complete her final, a “capstone project” for the Engaged Social innovation track.
“The ESI major track is essentially a “build-your-own-major” track where students choose a social issue they’d like to address, and take classes and build experiences to help address that social issue,” Allison said.
The topic she chose to address centers around the fact that many young people from rural and small town Iowa don’t travel, or really don’t see travel as an option for them, she said.
“To help address this issue, I did a full-time internship in Milan, Italy where I interviewed Iowa study abroad students studying in Japan, France, and Italy to hear their stories and why study abroad has been such a valuable experience for them and why other Iowa students should see the world as well,” she said. “I am compiling the interviews into a video that can be shared with Iowa high schoolers.”
WEEK IN ITALY
Grace Arganbright had a fall break and knew she wanted to spend her time off from studying with her older sister, Elly.
“I really wanted to meet up while we were both on the same side of the ocean,” Grace said. “She’s been living and working in Uganda and I hadn’t seen her since May.”
The sisters decided Italy would be the best and cheapest option and also allow them to spend Thanksgiving together. They met in Rome on November 17 and spent the next couple days visiting The Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and Pope Francis. In the middle of the week they took a train to Cinque Terre, a region on the northwestern coast with five small towns that are connected by hiking trails and trains.
“We spent those days hiking through vineyards, trying the local wine, and soaking in the incredible views,” Grace said.
They returned to Rome and spent Thanksgiving day touring the Vatican and eating pasta and gelato. They Skyped their family back home in Panora to celebrate.
With a final day in Italy on their schedule, the sisters decided they’d make a day trip to Florence. But after looking at train tickets, they discovered it was cheaper to go to Pompeii, so they booked tickets and left the next morning for what was supposed to be a three-hour trip.
“Due to issues in the Naples train station, we were re-routed and had to wait on the train for three hours until we could finally go to Naples,” Grace said. “Elly and I really weren’t sure what was going on the whole time because everything was in Italian. For a few minutes, we were almost positive we had gotten on the wrong train and literally got off at a stop to switch trains until we confirmed with the conductor, who spoke a little English, that this was in fact that right train.”
An hour after arriving in Pompeii, they ran into their hometown friends.
“It’s crazy how many little things had to line up just right so that we all ran into each other,” Grace said.
APPRECIATE GREAT THINGS IN IOWA
Working on a project that encourages small town Iowa kids to get out and see the world, Allison Schafer said she was overjoyed bumping into old friends from her hometown in Italy.
She had visited Pompeii right after she graduated high school, and it was such a cool experience, she says, she wanted her husband to have a chance to see it.
It was their last long weekend during their study abroad trip, so they decided to take a train south and spend some time exploring the ancient city.
“I was so happy to see some of my old friends from little ‘Ol Panora not just vacationing, but having real cultural experiences where they’re helping change the world,” she said. “I think seeing how other people live and putting our own culture in perspective makes kinder, more empathetic global citizens. Even if someone travels the world and it reinforces the fact that they want to settle down in Panora, the experience abroad can absolutely make them appreciate all the great things Iowa has to offer.”