147 Days Later…

A year ago, I was in the process of writing my application for Cultural Routes and making sure I attended the Pecha Kucha presentations. I still remember walking in and being asked what my spirit animal was, to which I answered sea otter only because three other people had put my usual answer, dolphin. In reality, we decided in Florence that it’s actually a penguin. A year ago, I wondered what it would be like to be on the other side of those presentations, talking about the experience of a life time, and now, 147 days after landing in Atlanta from Rome, I get to do so. Among the five categories my Pecha Kucha will touch on, knowledge, flexibility, curiosity, skills, and growth, the three that stand out most include knowledge, curiosity, and growth.

CR gave me knowledge on levels I had never expected. Learning becomes a deeper experience when you’re standing in front of Brandenburg Gate, looking at the bullet holes from multiple wars, when you’re walking through Treptower Park, remembering the Russian soldiers in a way you’ve never been taught, or when you’re sitting down in Dachau, unsure of how such terror could have occurred in that very place fifty so years ago. I grew up with a fascination for Berlin’s history, but being engulfed by it heightened my learning to encompass all five senses. When I touched the Berlin Wall, I realized that during the Cold War, I would have been touching the border to freedom. When I tasted and smelled boiled pork, I learned this cooking method stems from the East Berliners who boiled their food because of the lack of condiments during the communist era. When I saw Karl Marx Allee, communism suddenly gained a clearer meaning. When I heard the voices of Holocaust survivors in the museum to the Memorial of Murdered Jews, I held back the tears as my heart skipped a beat, hearing their stories. I discuss many of these moments in my blog, “Berlin and its Storytelling,” and due to the complexity and sobering qualities of the subject, I wrote an entire blog about Dachau called, “Defy the Feeling of Insignificance,” to which you can turn to for greater detail. The knowledge you gain on CR is not like that of a textbook, it’s all encompassing, and you carry it with you as you return to the United States.

My personal curiosity on Cultural Routes increased as I sauntered. The theme of sauntering sets the stage for my Pecha Kucha because it allowed me to develop the curiosity to seek out the little things I wouldn’t have noticed if I walked too fast. By taking a second to embrace all of my surroundings, I noticed the details in a sidewalk, I created meaning for paintings in the Uffizi in Florence, I witnessed life lived differently in each culture, and I saw how religion plays a role in Italy, even on a hike. As I walked through Berlin, I began noticing little golden stones in sidewalks right in front of apartment doors, placed there as memorials to the Jewish people taken out of their homes right in that very place. Having studied Spanish art, I gained a small ability to interpret art. With that small ability, I asked myself and my friends questions about what certain paintings might mean as we walked through the Uffizi. Sure, we didn’t have the facts, but we could create our own curious reasoning for why certain people were portrayed in certain ways by artists. Then using that, we could make assumptions about history to go research later. I highlight this and more of our interpretations in my blog, “Social Media in the 1400’s.” I also noticed the details of daily life by stopping to eat fresh fruit from a street market in almost every city, by talking to a little Italian girl on a train then seeing her walk through the streets of Riomaggiore to class, or by hiking through the vineyards in Cinque Terre and understanding how different their vegetation and agriculture is from our own. By sauntering, I stopped to look at the little plaques on a hike to a church in Riomaggiore, realizing they were the Seven Stations of The Cross and understanding how deep of a role faith plays in Italy. I discussed this in further detail in my blog, “Just a steep incline…” Curiosity allows you to actually gain a worldly perspective because the little things you notice when sauntering give you a new and real understanding to the place you’re in.

Overall, these themes led to my own growth as an individual. In my Pecha Kucha though, I end by discussing the people who I shared this experience with. From the start, Dr. Pitcock told us he does not select individuals, but he selects a team – a team which becomes familia. If I had only taken my own individual learning into account on this trip, sure, I would have grown, but not to the extent to which I did by learning from the people around me. I owe my own growth on this trip to the people with me who pushed me to make the most of every experience, and in turn I hope I did the same for them. They taught me the lessons I have used here on campus as a sophomore. Alpha, my team in Berlin consisting of Sarah, Cassidy, Cole, Josh, and myself, taught me about teamwork and patience, a lesson I will surely need in the business school. Kendall taught me that sometimes you don’t need to console a person but just be there in the struggle with them, which I think speaks wonders to the meaning of friendship. Davis challenged me by asking hard questions, whether they be about a museum or my own life, and pushing me to think deeper about subjects. In our conversations, I learned to also appreciate how he processed everything we learned differently than I did. Appreciating others’ perspectives is also a lesson I use weekly at TCU. Dr. Pitcock helped me realized sometimes you don’t need to lead at the front of a group, and you can contribute in your own way while still leading. I could thank each person on this trip for a lesson they taught me which in turn allowed me to grow, but unfortunately 20 slides aren’t enough to do so. I attribute my growth on CR, which pushes me to think differently now, to the people surrounding me encouraging me to be the best version of myself.

While my theme for my Pecha Kucha revolves around sauntering, which Dr. Pitcock tells us not to do, there’s a time to saunter and there’s a time to sprint through train stations to catch your train to Munich. There is also a time to be all in, though, and that is 24/7. In the 27 days abroad, CR pushes you to fully immerse yourself in the experience because rare are the chances to learn the way you do on Cultural Routes.