DISCLAIMER: I wrote this blog three weeks after CR ended. Since this summer though, a lot has changed. This school year, I’ve learned more than I ever expected to about how to honestly and openly be myself and love others without my own agenda in mind. A lot of that growth is thanks to what Cultural Routes and the months after have taught me about the complexity of people and the danger in desiring to be loved by my friends above all else. So while this blog may be a little retro, I think it really captures what the trip meant to me right when it ended, and highlights how much I’ve grown as this post has sat in my drafts.
My phone is a 16 Gigabyte phone, a fact which has often inconvenienced me. I’m constantly deleting texts and re-downloading apps, not to mention clearing my phone of unnecessary pictures. Earlier this week, after hundreds of “Manage Your Storage” warnings, I decided it was time to delete some of the pictures of Cultural Routes 9 from my photo library.
As I sat at my computer downloading and then deleting about 3/4 of my photos, I pored over some of my favorites. I’m not a huge fan of posed pictures, which is why I made an effort to take lots of candid shots to help me remember the little moments of CR once those whirlwind 25 days had ended. Sure, I love all the cute pictures we took in front of the snowy alps or with a perfectly placed Neuschwanstein Castle in the background, but the photos that matter more to me are the ones I quickly snapped to help me keep track of all our goofy little moments. Like this one: which is of a few of us singing our original song entitled “Bratwurst”, completely unaware that in mere moments we would be sprinting to our subway train, almost losing Jacey in the process. Or this one:
which I took from inside the dog pile we made on the first night in Rome after we opened up as a group about our struggles, but then discussed our commitment to each other in spite of them.
For me, pictures like these capture what CR9 meant more than anything else. It was about exploring the new cultures around us and learning from them, but the way we did that was by also learning from each other. I never would have dared to stop in the middle of a plaza and start dancing without Josh Witkop, I wouldn’t have learned half as much about World War II without people like Andrea and Davis who were so knowledgeable about it, and I certainly wouldn’t have appreciated getting to see some of my favorite artists as much without friends like Will, Kate, and Riley beside me who were so excited to ask me questions about them.
Before coming on this trip, there were people I didn’t think I could possibly get any closer with. After spending 9 months exploring the new frontier of college in close contact with so many of these 15, there were a few in the group I was confident I wouldn’t learn anything new about. In some ways, I was right. There were people on this trip that didn’t really tell any stories I hadn’t already heard or that I caught myself discussing topics with that we’d already discussed a thousand times. But what really surprised me was this: even though I already knew these people so well, I now feel like I more deeply understand why they are the people they are, the people I know and love so much. And of all the things Cultural Routes gave me, I think that’s the most important one. All 15 students, whether I came in knowing them well or barely at all, are people that I now understand. I got to see why you all are the way you are, and understand the combination of beautiful and broken things that has molded each of you into the incredible person you are today. And at the same time, I feel like all of you understand me more deeply than I ever expected you to. Having that level of closeness with so many people is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and I don’t plan on taking it for granted.
In fact, that was the most challenging part of the trip for me: not taking things for granted. Receiving validation from the people I care about is important to me, and often I’m so busy looking for proof I am loved that I miss the ways the people in my life are already showing that they love me. As the trip went on I saw more and more of the unique ways that people cared for each other, and how different love could look from friendship to friendship. And on the 25th day of CR, I realized I didn’t feel the need to search for validation the way I had on the 1st. I understood that love isn’t something you can manufacture, and there’s no checklist to prove whether you’re receiving it or not. Every person in your life will love you in an unique way, and that’s something to be thankful for, not try to control.
As I sat at my computer this morning looking back at all of our adventures and deciding which photos to keep on my phone, I was reminded of how that idea of unique love really resonated throughout this trip. We all learned to love each other so well, both as individuals and as a whole. And of all the photos I have from those three and a half weeks, there’s one that I think really captures that love, my favorite candid that I took. It’s this picture:
which is from our second to last night in Rome. I know it’s not the most high quality photo or the most scenic one, but it’s one that reminds me of the part of the trip I found most special. I loved the conversations I had as we walked in a big group from place to place, whether I simply chatted with some friends about their day or had a deep one-on-one talk that forced me to look at things differently. During those conversations I would look up and see views like this, views of my friends having their own discussions with each other and pouring into one another wholeheartedly. Looking at this picture reminds me why I’m not sad that CR9 is over–I wouldn’t give up the relationships we built and the memories we made to go back to the beginning even for a second. I wouldn’t want to risk changing moments like these. I think we did CR right, from the tedious miles walked to the late night Vance Joy sing-alongs to the near train misses to the many, many jokes about breaching contract. I wouldn’t trade a second I spent with anyone, and there’s nothing that made my trip more special than getting to see what makes each and every one of you such wonderful and captivating people. And if at any time over the next three years you ever think you’re anything less than wonderful or captivating, come find me. I’d love to go grab a bavarian pretzel with you and tell you why you’re wrong.
After three weeks of processing this trip and what it meant to me, that’s all I have left to say. So I guess this is it. Goodbye CR9, and thank you. Thank you for everything.