As I sit in a classroom writing this one last blog post, I can’t help but reminisce on Cultural Routes 9. Scrolling through the photo albums and reading past blog posts, it is so hard to fathom that it actually happened. For almost four weeks, I traveled western Europe with seventeen incredible people. We saw beautiful sights, ate delicious food, and learned more than I could have ever asked for. Did I mention that we went skydiving in the Swiss Alps?
When people ask me, “How was CR?” or, “What makes CR so great?”, it is tough to answer. Not because of the lack of memories or experiences to point to but because of the abundance of them. For me, I think what made CR so meaningful though was the opportunity that Dr. P gave me to solidify my European experience.
As I mentioned in previous blogs, I spent five years living in Wassenaar, Netherlands during my childhood. Living in Europe was really all I had ever known until I moved back to the United States. I was able to go back several times to Europe but never to the extent or length that Cultural Routes offered.
Cultural Routes was personally so impactful because I was finally able to come back and immerse myself in a culture that had meant so much to me as a child. A culture that from a young age enabled me to be curious, open-minded, and a learner.
Having never lived longer than five years in a single place, one question I have always wrestled with is, “Where are you from?” A simple question for many but a complicated one for me. I would probably tell you Kansas City because that is where my family is living now, but I don’t believe that to be genuinely home. Chicago and Decatur, Illinois are both great places as well, but I do not see those places as truly home either.
Through my time on Cultural Routes, I felt like I was fully able to appreciate Europe for not only its beauty, rich history, and culture but also as for where I called home for five years. Europe is where I am always most excited to return to and also where I find my most growth and development. Cultural Routes provided the opportunity to go back and fully comprehend that Europe is a place I will always cherish and be a part of me.
What I loved about Europe when I lived there, visited in the past, and on Cultural Routes is that it brings out the best in me. Characteristics like collaboration, curiosity, and adventure are all things that I have learned through abroad experiences including CR.
One specific growth was my ability to contribute in a group dynamic. I was able to better develop those skills through the groups we were placed in on the trip. One example was our first few days in Berlin, I had decided to assume the role of navigation. It soon became pretty clear that Matt was far superior in his navigation skills than me, so I let him take charge. I instead turned to other ways in which I could contribute to the group and help our team as a whole. Being adaptable in my role and aware of what was needed of me was something I learned to do much better on CR.
As I look back on my blogs, it is blatantly clear how much my curiosity comes across. The beauty of this program was that it was an educational program that did not have the academic pressure of exams or finals. Cultural Routes offered the opportunity to explore what I desired and ask as many questions as possible. One example of this was a notebook that I kept in my back pocket. I used this notebook to jot down thoughts, ideas, and questions.This was a very intellectually freeing exercise. It allowed my curiosity to wander and has inspired me to continue to learn and intellectually explore in my life back in the States.
Finally, adventure was an easy theme to find throughout Cultural Routes. I sought adventure through taking risks and saying yes to all opportunities presented my way. Whether it was an innocent risk like asking what the waiter’s favorite option on the menu was all the way to deciding to go skydiving on twenty-four-hour notice, the risks I took on this trip led to meaningful experiences that shaped my time in Europe on this program.
I am so grateful and thankful for Dr. Pitcock and the opportunity he gave me when he offered me a spot on Cultural Routes 9. I am also incredibly thankful for Mollie who was such a strong anchor for sixteen college students. A huge thank you to the fifteen life-long friends that I had the privilege to spend a month with on a crazy adventure through Europe. These seventeen individuals have taught me so much in such a short amount of time, and this experience is nothing without them.
Finally, Cultural Routes 9, you gave me incredible experiences, unforgettable moments, and life-long relationships. And for that, all I can say is thank you!