It is 9:51pm and this blog is due in 12 hours and 9 minutes. This is the fourth time in the past week that I have tried to sit down and write this, and now here I am, and its crunch time, and I have no other choice but to accept that I am sitting here typing out the words of my final blog. I think one of the reasons I have struggled so much to write this is because I am honestly still in shock that it all happened, and along with that, I am overwhelmed by the number of things I could say right now. I am disgruntled, and maybe a little relieved, that no combination of words I can put on this page will ever be able to justly explain Cultural Routes, how the experience changed my life, or the love I have for the people who I went with. Although I want to say everything about everything, for now I am going to focus on the concept of my Petch Kucha, which was based on the things I did not see coming on CR, and how those said things led me to the richest moments of learning I experienced on CR.
One of my most favorite moments that I did not see coming on CR happened during our first morning in Cinque Terre. That morning I sat down with my four roommates and indulged in the best breakfast I have ever had. I would like to note here that when I say, “best breakfast I have ever had”, I mean it in the full dictionary meaning of each of those words, it was that good. But anyway, this was not even the best part of the unexpected moment, the best part happened when, mid-bite of a lemon crepe that had actual candied lemon from the coast in it, a woman sat down at the table next to us, started reading the newspaper, and then received a meal she did not order a few minutes later. Simultaneously to this moment, something that only added to the unexpectedness and greatness occurred. A group of school children came stampeding down the street, and then slowed down right around where the café was. They popped their heads into the surrounding stores where they were saying hi to their parents, they were grabbing a kiss and then hurrying on their way, for their parents had work to do. I will never forget the feeling that consumed my body after witnessing these two moments – I was not at all expecting to get so close to the very real life of the locals, so close that I felt as though I was intruding. I realized how great of a privilege it was to be sitting there eating with the locals, and I learned so much about Italian life that day because I was getting to actually live it. Like I said, I could talk forever on this, and if you would like to know more about what this moment taught me, you can take a look back at my Cinque Terre blog, but the message now is this: I had no idea that CR would immerse me as deeply as it did. I am so grateful that it did though because through the wildly intimate encounters we got to have with new cultures and people, I got to learn in a way that went beyond facts and figures, I got to learn about the local’s human nature and day to day life. Now that is the rich and life changing knowledge that I will forever carry with me and crave more of.
I had no idea that CR was going to change me as much as it did. I had no idea that I was going to return and change my major, add a minor in a subject I had previously loathed, and have a strong appreciation for just seeing where life takes you. I didn’t know that I would return and be more self-confident than I was before CR, a result of getting to be relentlessly myself for 25 days and yet still affirmed in my abilities and character by those who genuinely loved and cared for me. I am getting to continue to grow in all of this too because I have returned to the same group of people who are still constantly loving me for me and supporting me as I continue to evolve. I had no idea that CR was going to teach me so much about the world to the point where I was going to get to have a conversation with some fellow CRiners that started with the biographies of some of the disciples, morphed into current day politics, and then into our attempts to realistically brainstorm ways to work toward world peace. This conversation itself was another one of my most favorite unexpected moments because of the way it exemplified our individual and group growth over the course of the experience. I had no idea I would be so confident using many of the travel skills we learned. For example, I think we as a group have seen the worst that train travel can offer, and yet we adore it, and look forward to the next time we will just barely be able to make it on a train. It is fascinating getting to look back on my blogs and on the Petch Kucha because I am able to see how they both exhibit so many examples of personal growth and change because of the adventures, people, and overall experience of CR.
As much as I am deeply grateful and pleasantly surprised by the impact CR had on me personally, this really is not about me. If I had to pick one word to describe CR it would be people. Yes, CR changed my life, but more specifically, it was these people who changed my life. It was their insight, passion, encouragement, leadership, and love, that made CR impact me the way that it did. It was Dr. P’s vast knowledge and sense for knowing the key ingredient that we each individually needed to grow, Mollie’s openness and genuine care, Matt’s upbeat spirit and fearlessness, Kate’s relatability and ability to come along one’s side, Sarah’s drive and resilient nature, Cassidy’s lighthearted joy and deep care, Lance’s sense of humor and thirst to know more, Will’s encouragement and steadfastness, Jacey’s bubbly joy and fantastic listening skills, Josh’s perfect questions and respect, Andrea’s simile and gentle leadership, Davis’s intellectual inspiration and playful spirit, Kendall’s love and dedication, Riley’s selflessness and unwavering kindness, Cole’s vulnerability and commitment, Madeline’s passion and dedication to finding what is real, and Christian’s depth and well-rounded character, that made CR everything it was and more. These traits are only one bit of the massive impact that each one of them had on my personal and learning experience. Every single person challenged me to think about the world in some new way and inspired me to try to better myself. I look up to and deeply admire each one of them. I knew we would all become close, but I was not expecting to return and be able to seriously call them each one of my best friends. I will never forget the impact that each of these individuals has had on me, let alone the impact that they create together, an impact that can only be described by the word familia.
It is now 11:50 pm and I am sitting in my dorm room with tears streaming down my face. My heart is overcome by how grateful I am for the opportunity to have experienced something so influential and special. Like I said before, my love and passion for CR, and all that it led me to learn, cannot be put into words, but I hope that by expressing to you a few of the unexpected blessing that came my way, you were able to come a little closer to understanding the deep impact that Cultural Routes 9 had on me. I will end with one final thing I didn’t see coming. I didn’t expect CR to keep getting better once returning home, but in typical CR fashion, of course it has. The reflection and day-to-day friendships that have occurred after returning to TCU are continuing to enrich the lessons that I learned in Europe and they are a huge blessing to my daily life at TCU. My love for and closeness to the CR community, and appreciation for what I have learned and how I have grown, has only increased and become even more special to me as the day count since that last day in Rome has gone up. So now as I type my final words on an experience I am still shocked and thrilled that I got to go on, I am comforted in knowing that this is not the end but in fact a new beginning of applied global knowledge, deep friendships, and a lifetime of unforeseen greatness.
With all my love,
Chandler Webster, CR9