It is unreal to think that I am writing a final blog for Cultural Routes 9. It honestly feels wrong to be writing a blog for CR while I sit in BLUU2, rather than typing this out on my phone while on a train throughout Europe.
As I have reflected over the three and a half weeks spent in Europe, three things have continually stuck out to me: I was able to understand the importance of balance, I was able to realize my curiosity in how other cultures operate, and I was able to begin to comprehend the history that makes up this unique world. Among other things, I learned the importance of reflection and thinking further upon what I learn, and I have been able to take this into my sophomore year of college.
In my Pecha Kucha, I mention that I learned about balance in Berlin. However, I can attest to the fact that I learned about balance throughout the entire experience in Europe. I especially learned the importance of balancing intellect with humor and productivity with relaxation. And, I was able to learn this balance as I adventured through some of the most beautiful and historic places in the world.
On Cultural Routes, all 18 of us were able to embrace our inner nerd. We had multiple opportunities daily to learn and to soak in as much information as we possibly could: from the different museums, to monuments, to people we met. Whether it be the Topography of Terror in Berlin, the Residenz in Munich, or the Vatican in Rome, I was able to learn more than I would in a classroom. I was able to obtain immense amounts of information while simultaneously immersing myself in each culture. Coupled with such intense learning, I also had the opportunity to spend every waking moment with 15 friends; friends that I will call friends for quite some time. It goes without saying that when you put 16 friends together in any scenario, laughter and humorous moments are bound to occur. And they did. Many times. I don’t know if I had laughed so much and so hard in my life before Cultural Routes, and it was good for my soul. I am a relational human who loves to add levity to any situation, so I also especially loved the humorous aspects of this experience. I admit that at times I took my excitement and gregariousness too far. However, I can confidently say that I learned to balance being intellectual with adding levity and enjoyment to every moment.
On CR, we also were all-in, 24/7. Dr. Pitcock always says that Cultural Routes is not for the faint-hearted, and he is indeed correct. We were constantly moving; we walked over 250 miles throughout our 3.5 weeks. We sprinted through cities to make it on trains, we went on late-night adventures until 2 a.m., and we engaged in tough, intellectually stimulating conversations. It was intense, and we were extremely productive with our days. Even though we were always going, I was able to find rest and relaxation through my time on Cultural Routes. On trains, I learned the value of reflecting. In Cinque Terre, I was able to take time for myself to sit and think. In Florence, we learned the importance of “La Dulce Vita” (the Sweet Life). As a result of this, I learned the importance of balancing productivity and relaxation, which has been incredibly valuable as I have transitioned into a much tougher sophomore year of college. I am so thankful for the opportunity to learn the importance of accomplishing tasks coupled with leaving time for myself to relax and reflect.
In my Pecha Kucha, I also mention various individuals with whom we encountered on CR. In each city, we were tasked with embracing each culture and interacting with locals. And I was given many opportunities to get to know different people, some of whom were from different places than the countries we visited. One person that continually sticks out to me was Kurt, a man with whom I, along with the rest of Team Hohenschwangau in Munich, had the ability to talk. Kurt was an older man who was a volunteer at the Deutsches Museum. Kate, Riley, and I first began talking with him, and we were able to talk with him about his life. Kurt was originally from the Munich area, but he was a genius, and he attended MIT in Massachusetts for college and worked many years in Huntsville, Alabama as an engineer. I remember asking him about his perception of Munich compared with Berlin, and it was so unique hearing his perceptions of the cities in Germany. Kurt was such a kind man, and I aspire to be like him someday.
In a blog I wrote about Cinque Terre I mentioned that I also had the opportunity to sit next to two little girls on a train. Their names were Eloise and Chloe, and they were sisters who lived in Cinque Terre. As we sat on the train, it was not me who initiated conversation, but rather it was Eloise and Chloe. They began asking me questions. They asked me my name, where I was from, what I was doing in Italy and more. All in English. They were Italian. I was blown away by their ability to boldly converse with a stranger in a language that was not their primary language. I learned so much from Eloise and Chloe about the importance of attempting to connect with people, even if they are strangers who may not have much in common with myself.
Lastly, in my Pecha Kucha I mention various places with which I found extreme value in visiting. On Cultural Routes, I was thrown into each city and tasked with embracing each culture and learning about each’s history. I was given the personal responsibility to seek to understand how each culture was different, yet similar, to one another, and how each connected back to my life. The ball was on our court to take the learning to the next level. Dr. Pitcock was not holding our hand every moment of every day. Rather, we were on the forefront of the exploration of each city. We were the explorers and the pioneers. We learned to navigate the transportation systems on our own, and we mastered them (even if we didn’t use maps…). We read about history and worked to comprehend various monuments and exhibits, and we worked to connect those things back to our personal lives. For example, I wrote a blog in Berlin about what I learned at the Topography of Terror, one of my favorite museums of the 3.5 weeks. After visiting this museum, I was able to connect my thoughts of what I had learned to material I had learned about previously that semester in my Political Science Class. My group in Berlin, Charlie, had some very thought-provoking conversations about Germany’s history and how they have managed that in the 21st century. Truthfully, their humility in embracing their horrific past is quite respectable, and it is something that I wish the United States would do more often.
Coming into the trip, I was not confident in my ability to discuss complex, intellectual ideas with individuals. However, the conversations that I had with these 17 individuals taught me to have confidence in my knowledge and my abilities. Each person brought such a unique perspective to the table, allowing me to understand the world and myself much better.