“The journey starts here, not in Europe.” These interesting words demonstrate the powerful ability of Cultural Routes’ impact to extend well beyond 3.5 weeks of temporal lineage in addition to spanning two continents and 16 young minds. One of my favorite speakers, Jim Valvano, believed that there are three places that matter in life: where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going. With Cultural Routes occupying the forefront of my mind in recent weeks, I easily focus on where I am going…
Germany has always fascinated me. From the Dark Ages, to the Reformation, to world terror, to economic leader of the European Union, I believe there is much to be learned and reworked inside my cultural mind. I wonder what the German populace thinks of the nation’s historical past, if the people feel a sense of personal accountability for their ancestors’ actions 75 years ago. Will I see a similarity to how our nation remembers Vietnam, and the not-so distant War in Iraq? I anticipate that I will embrace a sense of fearlessness in engaging with the culture around me, while still harboring a slight anxiety. I hold to a preconception that other nations are slightly disillusioned with Americans. I will be interested to investigate how other nations view our individual people on a microscopic level in light of our nation’s actions on a macroscopic level as I in turn study the people that compose their nation.
If all the excitement revolves around May, why then, does the journey start here? Here is where I am. Here is now. To be quite specific, here is America. While still in the United States, exposure to Cultural Routes alumni has inspired me to wonder what about leaving this nation, and seeing another, creates such a metamorphosis in a person. Now, I try to take advantage of the opportunities to interact with those who have gone before me for the value of practical knowledge (wouldn’t want to forget to bring shoes) and the less measurable value of more experienced advice. One of those very influential individuals is Taven Sparks. The blessing of meeting Taven last July was definitely a factor in my pursuing of Cultural Routes. I saw a man, merely three years removed from me, who embodied everything I wanted to be when I grew up. Taven is by no means perfect, but shows kindness in combination with his intellect, leading with vision and passion while still taking time to acknowledge someone young and progressing, me. Beyond what I observe in Taven, it’s what I hear that excites me more and more for Cultural Routes. Hearing Taven say that part of the man he is today resulted from this experience intrigues me. I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to grow and become better, though it may be challenging, like this role model that I so deeply respect. Here I am in America, learning from Taven and others, but still wondering what is so significant about the journey starting here. For my analytical mind, I step back and look at the large international picture. What does it mean to be American? I hope that my concept of citizenship and identity morph throughout this trip. I think this will be one of the culturally challenging aspects of the trip for me: to see people who are so similar to me, yet so different. Are we Germans and Americans, or in this modern interconnected, interdependent world, simply global citizens?
Arriving at this pre-trip limbo of hope and anticipation was truly exciting. I understood that as a biochemistry major, it may not be easy to take a traditional semester abroad. Therefore, I kept my eyes open for any opportunity that sparked my interest. Back in August, I started hearing about Cultural Routes around campus, but what separated CR from other abroad experiences was the growth surrounding it. I hadn’t heard of anyone who returned from Cultural Routes feeling completely the same as before they left. I am always seeking to improve myself, but this is more than that. This experience embodies everything that the TCU mission statement stands for. I ended up where I am today because the stories I heard, and the cultural attitudes shaped, made me want to change. If hearing about CR second-hand made me seek to become better, I can’t wait to see what the actual experience entails. I am completely enthralled by going on CR, and even though I’ve settled into a more homeostatic state of steady anticipation, I still approach every day with gratitude for this future period of discovery and growth.
A steady theme throughout the idea of where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going is that you have to grow. Growth is not always an easy process, which makes me slightly uneasy. CR may involve some forced stretching of my mind and heart as we examine some of the darkest parts of world history. Additionally, I find contentment in being in relative control of what is going on around me. The spontaneity of Cultural Routes will push me to adapt and become more capable in potentially pressuring situations navigating places I truly do not know, and have no sense of control over.
To grow, I must first establish firm roots. By absorbing all I can form CR alums and actively contemplating what this experience will entail, I am preparing the roots from which I can grow.