Wow! This is actually happening. I still cannot convey first how grateful I am to have been selected for CR9 and second how excited I am to walk the streets of Europe with some unreal people. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Seriously, when else am I going to have three and a half weeks to travel Europe and learn the intimacies of its culture and history while being surrounded by some of the greatest people and led by one of the best professors?
Looking back upon my discovery of the Cultural Routes program, I believe the way in which I found out about it is very telling of Cultural Routes itself. Some of the people that I looked up to the most when I arrived on campus also happened to have been participants of past CR trips. For me, listening to these individuals’ experiences, stories, and their growth as well as attending the CR informational meeting made my decision easy that this was the program I wanted to apply to.
Out of all of the places we visit, I am most excited about visiting Germany because of its history regarding WWII. I can’t say I am some sort of WWII buff, but I have always found the war itself extremely interesting especially after reading the book Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand this summer. I look forward to hearing people’s stories about the war, and also how WWII affects their lives today. The dynamic of the German perspective on WWII will be intriguing because of the shame they must feel from the War but also the high likelihood that their parents or grandparents were participants or bystanders in this despicable system.
Besides expecting all Germans I see to be wearing lederhosen and eating bratwurst, I don’t have many preconceived notions about Germany or Europe in general. I want to be very open-minded throughout this trip, and I don’t think it would be to my benefit to expect a place or a group of people to be a certain way. Also, I am fortunate enough to have had an extended European experience that gives me some familiarity about the European people which prevents me from having some typical preconceived notions.
Like I said, I was able to have had a European experience that wasn’t just a typical vacation. For five years, I lived in the Netherlands. Hopefully, my experience living overseas will allow me to bring a different perspective. I expect that I won’t fully understand how my time in the Netherlands will impact this trip until I am actually in Europe. I ask though of my fellow friends that will be joining me on CR9 to not expect me to be some sort of voice of reason because I lived in Europe when we become lost in the middle of Berlin. I am as directionally incompetent as the next person, and I assure you we will be in this together.
After hearing that we will be walking well over 200 miles during our three and half weeks in Europe, my roommate Will Beasley and I will be starting a strict P90X regiment while maybe throwing in some Pilates or spin classes. On top of the obvious physical challenge of backpacking Europe, I believe I will be tested mentally and culturally. The grind of giving everyday your full attention and engagement will challenge me mentally. Culturally, I’m excited to hear how the opinions, culture, and history of Europeans will challenge my own beliefs and perspective. Probably the biggest challenge for me will be the everyday social interaction. I tend to become mentally drained when I am constantly interacting with individuals, so I believe it will be important for me to recognize this on the trip and to not overdo myself.
I am excited for so many reasons to be going on this trip, but most of all, I am eager to solidify my European experience. Living overseas has directly impacted me in so many ways, and I always desired to go back and cement that experience. Spending the most time in Europe since I left the Netherlands and the opportunity to submerge myself in the culture again is what makes me most excited about CR.
Even though I have so much excitement for this trip, I am still nervous about some aspects of it. I have enjoyed meeting so many people through CR and hearing their amazing stories about their past CR experience, but I fear most that I will try to compare my experience to theirs. Every trip is their own, and for me, it will be important not to compare trips but just appreciate what I am experiencing in the moment. Also, this group of people will become my family, and like all families, they will become frustrated with one another. I hope we will develop empathy and patience among each other. This is not in order to avoid arguments or frustrations because those are inevitable but to have the capability to grow closer after we argue.
The idea that I will be going on Cultural Routes still has not completely set in. Honestly, it will probably won’t set in until I board the plane and reach Germany.
Who knows what will happen? Who knows what we will learn? I am just excited to be a part of this crazy adventure that I can’t wait to start.