The Watermelon on Top

To put what CR has truly meant to me into words is simply impossible, but I will try my best!  

In Riomaggiore, Daniela and Piedro cooked us a traditional Italian meal and engaged with us in conversation.  At one point, Daniela compared Cultural Routes to the cherry on top of freshman year, but said we needed a bigger fruit to do it justice.  That’s when I suggested a watermelon.

During my first year at TCU, I met friends who are some of the most spontaneous, fun-loving, and caring people I know.  I learned to be independent and self-sufficient. And, I became absolutely excited and passionate about my major and career path.  My first year at TCU was simply the best experience of my life. 

Until CR.

The experience of a lifetime is an understatement because most people will not experience anything quite like CR in their lifetimes.  Spending a month with such incredible people in such incredible places was an experience like no other – an experience that allowed for personal growth, important conversations, lots of laughter, shared memories, and lifelong friendships.

Cultural Routes was truly the “watermelon on top” of the best year of my life.

Lessons I Learned on CR:

  1. Be intentional in everything I do.
  2. Joy can be found in any situation, even exhaustion.
  3. Being positive and being negative are both choices.  It is always a good idea to choose to be positive because wallowing in negativity will get me nowhere. 
  4. No one is truly a stranger.
  5. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn from the people and places around me.
  6. When I am unsure of where I stand on an issue, engaging in conversation with people who have different perspectives is so beneficial. 
  7. Be all-in in everything I do.
  8. Always say yes to new adventures.
  9. Expectations are often different from reality.
  10. The importance of dedicating time to self-growth.
  11. Assessing the way I was raised, the people I have surrounded myself with, and influential life experiences can help me to discover why I am the way I am today. 
  12. I want to live a life today that I will be proud to tell my future children about.  
  13. Attaching emotions to experiences helps to create vivid memories.
  14. The importance of finding my worth in God.
  15. Love deeply and love always.

The Cities:

Berlin taught me how important it is to remember history in a way that honors the past.  Munich taught me to be proud of who I am just as the Bavarians are proud of who they are.  Interlaken served as a reminder to appreciate the beauty of the natural environment that surrounds me.  Riomaggiore taught me the importance of learning from the people around me and the fact that no one is truly a stranger.  Florence allowed me to learn how to appreciate the beauty of art. Rome taught me that evidence of faith can be found everywhere, even in a city thousands of years old.  

The Familia:

Brent Hewitt: Brent is authentic, intelligent, a lover of dad jokes, and someone who is not afraid to ask hard questions.  There was never a conversation I had with Brent where I didn’t learn something new. Brent challenged me to figure out where I stand on important issues and that open conversations, even with people who have a different perspective than me, can be so beneficial.  I have no doubt that Brent will succeed in his future while positively impacting the people around him.

Chloe Creed: Chloe is someone who in this crazy world we live in is not afraid to be her genuine self (who else would have a Sharknado themed birthday party?).  Chloe is caring, easy to talk to, not afraid to express emotion, and someone who I feel like I have grown even closer to even after CR has ended. Chloe brings a sense of intentionality to everything she does.  She is careful in the way she spends her time and the way she speaks. When Chloe talks, people listen. I cannot wait to see how she changes the world around her.

Claire O’Connor: My whole life I have been looking for a friend like Claire.  God truly blessed me by putting her a few doors down from me last year. But, what I appreciate so much about our friendship is that we decided to go into CR trying to become just as close to the other members of the familia as we already were to each other, and that was the best decision we could have made.  Claire is someone who is confident in who she is, and by spending time with Claire, you naturally feel more confident in yourself. Claire leads in a way that causes other people to want to follow. She truly tries to understand both those she is close with and strangers, which she views as potential friends. Claire is a changemaker, and is an absolute blessing in my life.  I honestly don’t know what I would do without her.

Connor Nolan: When I think about someone who is passionate, Connor is one of the first people that come to mind.  But, what makes Connor unique is that he has the knowledge to back up his passion. No matter where we were, I could ask Connor about the structures around us, and he would explain with a sense of appreciation and awe how the structures function effectively.  Connor is also a leader, but he leads in a way that is different from others. He leads in a calming way and always is sure to incorporate everyone’s ideas – a true example of a team player. Connor is someone who is always open to talk about anything, whether that is entertaining stories he created on the spot or deep conversations about the world around us.  I cannot wait to see all of the lives Connor impacts in the future.

Cooper Gollier: Cooper is a prime example of someone who not only speaks of her faith, but also lives it out on a daily basis.  She always found the joy in the little things around us, whether that was train chocolate or six minute hugs in the BMW factory.  I have never left being with Cooper without a smile on my face. She is someone who listens attentively and always gives the best advice.  Being friends with Cooper is such a blessing because she truly invests her whole self in those around her. I know Cooper will be there for me to celebrate exciting times and to help me through hard times.  Cooper is a true friend.   

Emma Kight: Emma lived down the hall from me this year, and every time our paths crossed, I laughed.  So, I knew Emma was funny, but I didn’t quite realize how funny she was until I spent 26 days with her rooming with her often and spending lots of time in small groups with her.  But, Emma is so much more than funny. She is extremely intelligent. No matter where we were, Emma always seemed to know some piece of history about the place, and she is filled with fun facts.  Emma is also dedicated and can do anything she sets her mind to, which she proved to all of us by eating 30 scoops of gelato to become the CR record holder for most scoops of gelato eaten in 24 hours.  Without a doubt, Emma’s authenticity will take her far in life!

Gabby Douthitt: Throughout the entirety of Cultural Routes, Gabby was never afraid to be herself whether that meant sharing all of the weird and hilarious things that popped into her head or having honest conversations about the beauty around us or anything she was struggling with.  I felt like Gabby was the glue that held us together. Gabby is such an inclusive person, who never let anyone feel left out. No matter how interested Gabby was with where we were, she found ways to appreciate the location and encouraged others to do the same. To have Gabby as a friend is incredible because I know she will continue to push me to grow into the best possible version of myself.  I wouldn’t have wanted to scream bloody murder in the middle of the night with anyone else.

Griffin McPherson: Griffin is adaptable, a good listener, a calming presence, and a friend to all.  Throughout Cultural Routes I never heard Griffin complain, and he never put his own needs before others.  Griffin uses his talents to appreciate the world around him. His photos and videos creatively captured the emotions we felt throughout CR.  My favorite part of Griffin’s personality is that he will be silently appreciating the world around him and then all of a sudden say or do something absolutely ridiculous, which cracks us all up.  Later, I realized to expect these unexpected comments or jokes because they are a part of Griffin’s personality. Griffin realizes the importance of everything around him while simultaneously not taking life too seriously.  I felt like throughout CR Griffin and I learned a lot from each other. I learned how to listen more effectively because of him.

Harris Podell: Harris is personable, logical, easy to talk to, and has a strong moral compass.  He is calm, cool, and collected, but then would crack the most hilarious jokes. And once Harris started laughing, everyone started laughing.  After reflecting on the ways I grew while on CR, I realized that lots of my growth stemmed from conversations I had with Harris. Some important conversations we shared included advice on how to say no in a thoughtful way, allowing silence to not be awkward, the importance of choosing friends who push us to grow, and how to make certain words more meaningful by using them less frequently.  Harris also did such a great job of understanding me. There were times when I tried to explain what I was thinking to our small groups and it would come out making no sense, but for some reason it always made sense to Harris. He would then rephrase what I was trying to say and it would make sense to everyone else. I am so thankful to have had Harris as a part of many of my small groups because he was essential to my growth during this experience. 

Kevin Crump: Kevin is a considerate, joyful, and selfless person to those around him; however, internally he is such a deep thinker. Every time I thought I understood Kevin, I would learn something new about him.  Kevin was someone who really helped me to understand why I am the way I am today, and helped me to learn so much about myself. From the outside, Kevin and I are very similar, but after learning more about Kevin we view the world so differently.  Ever since I met Kevin, he treated me like someone he had known forever, which I am so grateful for. He understands people like no one I have ever met and has the ability to get them to open up. Kevin makes the people around him feel valued and truly cares about them.  When he asks others “how are you?” you know “good” is not the answer he was hoping for. Kevin treated us all like familia from the very beginning. Without having a sister, he knew how to treat me like one.

Kynnedi Rone: Kynnedi is someone who will be honest with you no matter what, sticks up for what she believes is right, and has the ability to analyze people like no other.  I admire Kynnedi because her strengths are very different from my strengths, so there was so much to learn from her. Kynnedi knows what she believes and cares deeply about what she is passionate about.  She is also such a people person. She can carry on a conversation with anyone about anything. Kynnedi also knows her worth and does not let anyone else try to diminish it. Kynnedi is an optimistic person and someone who lights up any room she walks into.  Kynnedi has the potential to change the world for the better, and I cannot wait to see her do just that! 

Madelyn Hicks: Madelyn and I were friends throughout the year because we had many of the same mutual friends, but on CR we really got to focus on the friendship solely between us.  Getting to know Madelyn on a deeper level after knowing her all year was incredible. Opening up to each other and sharing such crazy memories with each other on CR, really added a layer of depth to our friendship.  Madelyn has an incredible voice. Instead of hiding her talent, she shared it with all of us, which helped to create special environments for memories to be made. Madelyn also loved to ask deep questions and engage in fruitful conversations.  She is someone who always had a positive attitude and brightened so many of my days on CR.

Peter Donaldson: Peter is a person of character and a natural leader.  He holds himself to high standards of honesty and compassion. Peter always looked out for all of us during CR and made sure we were always all there.  Peter is someone who stands up for what he believes is right, even when it is hard. What surprised me most about Peter is how goofy he can be. I have so many funny memories of laughing so hard with Peter.  Peter is a go-getter, and I cannot wait to see all he accomplishes at TCU and beyond!

Sarah Covell: Sarah is a bubbly, fun-loving, and deeply emotional person.  She was truly present in all of the moments during CR from giving it her all on the dance floor to crying tears of joy when arriving in Switzerland. She was truly all-in on CR.  I never heard Sarah complain about anything, she truly tried to make the most out of this incredible opportunity. Sarah became someone who I loved spending time with on CR! Time with Sarah was filled with lots of laughs, lots of love, and conversations about appreciating the world around us. Getting to know Sarah on a deeper level was incredible because we were able to compare our lives and find similarities between them.  One important thing Sarah taught me is the power of having a voice, and how speaking up can make all the difference. I cannot wait to see our friendship grow over the next three years at TCU!

Taylor Harville: Taylor is courageous, selfless, and a leader.  Going into CR not knowing most of the people she would be spending the next month with takes courage.  Taylor faced this challenge head on and totally made the most out of her time on CR. Seeing how Taylor’s mind works was so extraordinary.  She was a map wizard, always getting us exactly where we needed to be. When we needed someone to step up and lead us, she was always there.  When Taylor exuded joy or shared her sweet smile, it was absolutely contagious. With her sharp mind and kind heart, I have no doubt that Taylor will succeed wherever life takes her and face any challenges head on.

Bea: Bea taught me so much about being a strong woman in today’s world.  Bea is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in. She is confident in who she is and always stays true to herself.  Bea was never afraid to challenge our beliefs and make us think not only about what we believe, but also why we believe it.  I appreciated how Bea was open with me and willing to truthfully answer any questions I had for her. Sharing a conversation about our faith lives, helped me to honestly assess my current faith life.  Bea helped me to realize that God has the power to bring anyone to the faith. Talking with Bea about how important life experiences shaped who she is today allowed me to process my life and do the same.  Bea is such an important part of the familia, as she brings a unique personality and perspective.

Dr. P.: Knowing how much work Dr. P put into making CR happen and all of the sacrifices he made for us, truly inspired me to make the most of this incredible opportunity.  Dr. P modeled for all of us what it truly meant to be all in. He taught me some very important lessons throughout CR, including how to think deeply, how to take advantage of every learning opportunity, how to be intentional in everything I do, and the importance of being who I am no matter what anyone else thinks of me.  I am so appreciative that Dr. P set up Cultural Routes to be different. Because of Dr. P, Cultural Routes is not a 3.5 week trip to Europe, it is a life-altering experience that helps students learn important skills to propel them through the next three years at TCU and beyond.

The familia is filled with the most extraordinary people I have ever met.  They are authentic. They are passionate. They are intelligent. They are absolutely hilarious.  They are caring. They are leaders. They are global thinkers. They have strong moral compasses.  They look for the best in others. And, they are not afraid to face new challenges head on. They will undoubtedly impact TCU and the community around them.  I cannot wait to see all that they accomplish in the next 3 years at TCU! Anyone who has the opportunity to get to know Brent Hewitt, Chloe Creed, Claire O’Connor, Connor Nolan, Cooper Gollier, Emma Kight, Gabby Douthitt, Griffin McPherson, Harris Podell, Kevin Crump, Kynnedi Rone, Madelyn Hicks, Peter Donaldson, Sarah Covell, Taylor Harville, Beatriz Gutierrez, and Dr. Pitcock is truly blessed.

While the 26 days I spent with the familia in Europe has come to a close, CR has not.  Cultural Routes is ongoing. The familia will be important people in my life in the future.  Keeping in contact with these incredible people throughout the summer has allowed me to continue to learn more about them and about myself, and I know I will continue to learn from them during my next three years at TCU and beyond. 

Thank you to everyone who encouraged me to apply for CR.  It was truly as incredible as you made it out to be.  

Thank you to all of the past CRs. You helped shape CR into the extraordinary experience that it is today.  

Thank you to Sydney Galloway and Davis Donaldson.  CR11 could not have happened without all of the work you put in.  

Thank you to the Pitcock family for recognizing the value of CR and allowing Dr. P to leave you for a month each year.  

Thank you to Bea and Dr. P, our fearless leaders and members of the familia.  You truly made this experience unforgettable.

Thank you to Brent, Chloe, Claire, Connor, Cooper, Emma, Gabby, Griffin, Harris, Kevin, Kynnedi, Madeline, Peter, Sarah, and Taylor.  You taught me so much about myself, and I wouldn’t have wanted to travel through Europe with anyone else.

We walked into CR as a group of hot mess acquaintances, and 229.1 miles, 751 floors, and 502,386 steps later we walked out as familia.

I can’t wait to see you all so soon and to give you all big hugs!

Sending endless love from wherever life takes me,

Lauren Klingemann

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