Previous CR students reached out to me before I left to remind me of their support because they understand that this experience is emotionally difficult. This in itself stressed me–how could exploring Europe, a dynamic, beautiful, unique, and rich compilation of cultures and landscapes, take this much out of me?
I know now, after experiencing all of Berlin and Munich, that the emotional challenge provides opportunities for immense growth through vulnerability and sharing, the speaking of struggles and ambitions.
I look forward to dinner each night because no matter who I happen to sit by, I am engaged in discussing the passions, struggles, pasts, and other intricacies of the people who are rapidly becoming some of my closest friends and biggest role models. Each CR student dreams big without fear, works hard to reach goals, and desires to pursue paths that will positively influence those around them. I will say it again–I am in the company of people who will do great things in this life.
So, each day, I journal not only about the beautiful landscapes or the revealing monuments, but about the conversations I have participated in. Discussions of pasts and passions and formative experiences. I have heard of others’ families and shared of mine. We have talked about favorite books, favorite movies. We have talked at length about relationships, how we have grown and hope to grow through this experience or in the long run. The emotional climate, alertness, weather, and activities provided different bonding settings in both Berlin and Munich, and these cities helped us experience each other increasingly.
In Berlin, we were placed in small groups. These groups got to know each other by fully experiencing a city together. My group made mistakes navigating, explored interesting sights along our paths, tried new foods, and mostly laughed a lot together. We had just arrived in a new city 5,000 miles away from home. Berlin taught me to quickly jump at any chance to learn something new–about those around me, about places, etc. Berlin provided full days with plenty of instances to recognize someone’s personality and quirks.
We arrived in Munich on the fated night train. For CR students, the night train is legendary. For us, being confined as a group of sixteen in a room meant for six and staying up late with a knowledge of the early morning ahead provided and opportunity to act weird, laugh, sing, and avoid the stares of our conductor. The next day, arguably because of our reckless avoidance of sleep, was rough. The lack of sleep in Berlin, emotional exhaustion, and the rainy cold culminated to make Munich a challenge. But, in Munich, we saw some of the most beautiful sites. My peers reactions to the castles with their vast surroundings, the Residenz with its rich history, and impressive plazas with Bavarian architecture taught me about what they love. This emphasized the variety of passions that result in a truly complex but cohesive group. Also in this city, we began to ask harder questions and unpack the struggles we had been prepared to share. One of my peers shares of her excitement to see how close we are after the experience is over, and I know that if we grow as we did in Munich, we will leave with lasting encouragers and allies.
The most ironic friends I made are the ones with whom I attended Frog Camp last summer. About a year ago, we all hopped on a plane to Argentina and came home with a few acquaintances. Just over a week ago, we arrived in Germany and began an experience built for meaningful friends that provide accountability and support. For us four, it has taken traveling the world twice to become friends and confidantes. How grateful am I for Sarah, Harris, and Connor, and that I have been given a second chance to know them!
Also in my journal, I write a few things each day for which I am thankful, a habit I have practiced for a couple of years. I have many journals filled with short phrases or longer paragraphs of the people, things, and situations that remind me of goodness in life. On this trip, these phrases are especially grateful because they remind me constantly of the amazing opportunity I have. Most days, the first thing on my list is “in Europe!” Also in my journal, one can find gratefulness for a healthy body that has carried me to see something beautiful, for the ability to remember the horrors woven into history, and for the surprises along the way.
Learning to give thanks in the midst of challenge allows us to reflect on our refining confrontations with discomfort and hopefully reinforce our growth. Thus, every day I am most thankful for the emotional challenge those CR alums told me about.