A Cord of 18 Strands is Not Easily Broken

Operating in units of 2 to 16 to 18 presents a variety of challenges. I’ve come to acknowledge that there are major differences displayed as we travel, between ourselves and the local people, between religions and politics and studies, and even down to the minute differences in how people walk and figure out a map. On a global scale, collaboration truly is necessary in the modern age. It will be interesting to see how long any nation can isolate itself from an intricately intertwined global world. However, none of us are global leaders (yet) addressing the issues of climate change and immigration on a mass policy scale. What we do have is each other, 18 of us to be exact. In our daily exploration and long distance treks, it’s impossible not to grow after collaborating with such a group.

Groups have different needs. If you were to ask me to rank the importance of everyday tasks performed by the average American on a daily basis, you would not find coffee on the list. I never liked the taste, and don’t believe in medicating myself with caffeine. However, I’ve come to realize that perhaps I am an outlier in that regard, and in a group of college students, coffee is almost a necessity. I can recall planning our day in Munich with the gang, and apparently we were scheduling things around a “coffee break,” a concept completely foreign to me. Not everyone functions the same way or at the same level at the same times. I learned that sometimes as a group member or leader, you must be mindful of your group’s needs that you may even be blind to. I’ve never needed it and don’t really believe in it, but coffee gives life for some people, and I ought to be considerate and accommodating of that fact.

Coffee correlates directly to physical pace. As some individuals have longer or shorter legs than others, it can be difficult to maintain a comfortable pace for everyone that still accomplishes goals. The daily exploratory itinerary of Florence was much more relaxed than those of Munich and Berlin. I came to realize that although we were all excited and mostly energetic to tackle the day ahead, experiencing Europe for some means marching on to the highlights of each city, while for others it means strolling and laying low in a cafe. I acknowledge the merits of both and though I probably lean towards the more high-speed of the two options, balance is always key. In Berlin and Munich, we had longer distances to travel and more people to learn alongside in our groups. My personal response to this challenge is to work to get things done (which was still difficult at times), you’re only in Europe so many times, right? In Florence, it was much easier to meander through the streets and even take a shaded nap in the park. The team needs sprinters to keep us moving and progressing. The team also needs saunterers to non-verbally remind us sprinters to slow down and dance in a public square. (I had a wonderful time dancing to Canon in D, Con Te Patiro, and the Beauty and the Beast song which earned applause from onlookers at restaurants). One of my biggest struggles in life is stagnation. I like to keep moving in some way or another. I don’t want to look back on my time in Europe and know that I missed something. However, all my concern is redeemed by knowing that time spent alongside good people, is never time wasted.

You can’t go through Europe in a group without collaborating in the same way that you can’t go through life alone. Collaborating involves thought, compromise, and careful planning, but it is also interesting to notice the roles that individuals play in a group setting. Sometimes a group needs direction; that’s why we have leaders. Sometimes a group needs a little laugh; that’s why we have clowns. Sometimes a group needs an interpretation in a sculpture; that’s why we have art experts. Sometimes a group just needs a touch of love; that’s why we have huggers. Sometimes a group needs protection from bicyclists, cars, or anything that could happen late at night; that’s why we have guards. (Davis saves me from bicyclists in the silly Munich bike lane, Christian ensures Kate doesn’t get hit by cars, and I try to keep Cole alive). No one can play every role, but everyone can play more than one. It has been valuable to see how quickly roles can change as circumstances arise. I find myself surprised at how drastically my role evolves in a group as the day goes on.

This brings us to a summative point: everyone and every role is valuable. Some roles may seem more trivial than others, but they all contribute to a group dynamic that looks out for each other, grows to love one another, and allows us to learn as sister and brother.