Cultural Routes is absolutely insane. Every part of it defies common sense. We meet up in Berlin rather than travel there together. Our daily routine involves getting lost in some of the largest cities in Europe, and nobody in the group speaks the native language. We scramble to make trains between every city and somehow still make it everywhere on time. We have ridiculously good meals nearly every day. Every year, CR is absolutely incredible, in part, because of the chaos rather than in spite of it. The chaos is perfectly balanced in such a way that the students have room to operate and grow, and at the same time, the schedule and framework of CR are never jeopardized. I’d like to give a huge shout out to Dr. P for putting in endless work to make CR11 happen and for finding the right amount of chaos that makes CR what it is. CR is different because it defies logic. It is no ordinary trip, rather, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create deep relationships and experience personal growth in Europe.
Here’s a breakdown of what makes Cultural Routes so special and something to treasure for a lifetime. It is a simple yet beautiful combo of two aspects
- The people
- The places
Let’s begin with #1.
As Dr. Pitcock frequently tells us, everyone on CR is there for a reason. Personally, I loved learning about the different mindsets and perspectives that everyone brings with them to Europe. Here are some gems I picked up from the incredible people who hopped across the pond with me.
Lauren – If you truly believe in your values, nothing anybody says will compromise them.
Emma – Headstrong and ambitious leaders are the ones who grow a following.
Kynnedi – Sometimes it only takes a brief moment to learn something significant.
Connor – There is always a higher level of thought and planning behind even the simplest of things that isn’t always apparent.
Chloe – Good humor is a sign of a high intelligence. Most jokes are funny because they are also true.
Taylor – Bravery isn’t about not having fear. Bravery is displayed when someone has fears, but acts despite them.
Claire – When you feel 100% comfortable being your true self around someone, you know you have a real friend at your side.
Brent – Surround yourself with interesting people who challenge you. They are the ones who can help you to maximize your life’s potential.
Peter – No matter how close you think you are with someone, there is always more to learn about someone if you can ask the right question.
Sarah – Rapid personal growth occurs when you are intentionally trying to improve yourself. There is no excuse not to maximize your life’s potential.
Gabby – Every relationship worth having requires effort, trust, and sacrifice, especially in the relationships that are most important to you.
Cooper – Unconditional kindness is a trait few people possess, but it is contagious and has the potential to change lives for the better.
Griffin – Nothing gratifying is ever easy. When you put love into your craft, your talent will shine.
Kevin – Companionship doesn’t mean you have everything in common, but it does entail appreciating and celebrating the differences.
Madelyn – No matter who you are, life will give you thunderstorms. You might as well learn how to dance (or sing) in the rain.
Bea – The inequities of the world are not set in stone. It takes action to correct the mistakes of our culture.
Dr. P – Perspective is the lens through which you see life. If you can learn how to see through the lenses of others, eventually, you will reach 20:20 vision.
Let’s move on to #2.
Europe has layers. Somewhat similar to a good lasagna (If you know, you know). One of the most incredible things about Europe was just thinking about who has stood in particular spots or what had happened in the places where we were standing. Considering the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, the Dachau concentration camp, the Duomo in Florence, the Pantheon in Rome, the Vatican City, and so many other landmarks that have been in existence for hundreds of years, we were in the places that the history books discuss, which was humbling and awe-inspiring.
Each country that we visited had distinct cultures, histories, and reasons for us to visit. Each country is also very distinct from the United States, and there are some aspects about each place from which the US could learn a lesson.
In Germany we visited Berlin and Munich. Some of the highlights of Berlin include the Brandenburg Gate (see above), the Reichstag, a few different war memorials, as well as many other landmarks. Some of the places we visited in Munich include the BMW museum, multiple castles, and a weirdly great surfing spot. Germany is a passionate and detail-oriented country. They love their soccer, their culture, and their home. All the trains are on time. The cities, for the most part, are well-kept and orderly. They know their history well and make sure the mistakes of the past are not repeated. There is much Germany can teach the United States about accountability, especially considering both nations’ histories. Both have some rather horrific spots, but Germany does a much better job of taking ownership of theirs and doing their best to correct their mistakes and memorialize the victims. A great demonstration of this accountability can be seen in the Memorial of the Murdered Jews in Berlin.
This memorial lives in the space of an entire city block of prime real estate in downtown Berlin. People drive past it every day as a reminder of the past. Germany knows what has happened and honor the memory of the Jews who died during the era of Nazi Germany.
Interlaken, Switzerland was our rest stop. It is a place of natural beauty, pure relaxation, and adrenaline rushes. Although we were only here for a short time, Interlaken was a place of exploration. On the first day, a small group of us walked multiple miles to a random lake just to wade in, notice it was freezing, and then come back. We hiked through meadows, in caves, and up mountains, and we even saw Piz Gloria on the peak of Schilthorn where a James Bond movie was filmed. I also threw my body out of a plane and over waterfalls.
Something I noticed about Interlaken was that it had the perfect balance of leaving the surrounding environment intact while still having a successful city where people can thrive. In this era of technological advancement and globalization, it is very easy for society to forget about the earth on which we build. Part of the reason Interlaken is so beautiful is because of how those who live there preserve the world around them. The US could take this lesson and use it to preserve all the natural beauty that is left in the United States and to try and repair what damage has been done. Yes, it is true that the population in the US is much larger than that of Switzerland, but there is still something to be said about a culture that has the safety of the environment in the forefront of public thought.
In Italy, we saw the hidden gem of Riomaggiore, the artistic beauty of Florence, and the layered city of Rome. While Switzerland was the most relaxed country, Italy was the most lax as well as the most expressive by far. A perfect example of this is the streets of Rome. Rome felt like the New York City of Italy. There were tons of people walking, a crazy amount of traffic, even crazier drivers, and a healthy amount of swearing for when you almost get hit by a car or when someone is in the way when you’re driving. It depends whether or not you’re behind the wheel. However, with all this outward expression, art has a place to thrive. Art includes the visual, the auditory, as well as the culinary. The Italians are more known for their pasta and paintings rather than their well-timed public train system.
What the US could learn from Italy is how to enjoy both the large and small joys that life provides. Whether that means a view of the ocean from your backyard, an incredible bowl of pasta, the history of the Roman Empire just down the street, an incredible sculpture standing outside, or a street artist playing the guitar, the Italians stop and smell the roses. As a business major, the corporate culture in the United States worries me. It is so easy to overwork yourself and let decades slip by unnoticed in the pursuit of more money. Italians know how to balance work with life, and they know how to enjoy as much as possible along to way.
Despite the above breakdown and descriptions, there is still something missing from this reflection. The essence of CR that is so hard to describe can be summed up by three words.
Mia san mia.
I know it may not make much sense, but those three words capture the soul of CR. They describe what CR is and how it impacts those who are part of the familia.
I’ll close my final CR blog with some advice for CR12 (if it happens) and all CRs of the future.
Cultural Routes is not a trip or a vacation. It is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to travel across the Atlantic and experience cultures that you may never have seen before. It is an opportunity to get to know those who travel with you on a deeper level than you could possibly expect. It is an opportunity because it requires effort to make CR worth your while. Every CR is different, so there’s no need to try and copy what CRs of the past has done. There is no magical fairy dust to CR. Just because you’re in Europe, that does not mean you suddenly are enlightened about the lives of everyone else with you. It is difficult, tiring, and taxing both mentally and physically to get to that next level of understanding. There is no fairy dust because your CR experience is completely in your own hands. Shape it as you will. Have fun, learn as much as you can, and treasure every moment you have in Europe because the ride will end as quickly as it starts.
Mia San Mia.