It’s difficult to put Cultural Routes into words. Conveying the vast sights, experiences, and emotions connected to each city was a challenge, and now finding a way to summarize the experience as a whole seemed almost impossible. Looking for guidance, I went all the way to the beginning- the first question of the CR application.
The question was “what are your expectations of an honors learning experience?”. Reflecting on what I had observed from CR alums and my personal hopes, I wrote about my three expectations: to explore, to make strong connections with my peers, and to expand my understanding of the world around me. Now, weeks after the completion of CR, I can confidently say that all three of my expectations have been totally exceeded.
Never before have I felt a sense of adventure like I did during Cultural Routes. From day one, we were sent out to explore completely foreign cities, with only ourselves and a city map to rely on. I remember sitting in a coffee shop in Berlin with Bravo as we mapped out our UBAN and SBAN routes for the day, wondering how we would tackle our stacked itinerary. However, after finding confidence in our ability to navigate the city, our days turned into adventures, all completely driven by our own desire to learn and explore. In one day alone, we spent hours learning about the Holocaust in the Memorial of the Murdered Jews and the Topography of Terror Museum, found a slide in the Berlin mall and rode down it with five people at once, took a group nap in Tiergarten park, and had dinner in the dark.
There were times when I felt my boundaries being pushed. Eating mystery food in complete darkness with German people trying to scare me was something I was completely anxious about, however it resulted in one of the craziest, funniest, and most memorable nights of the experience. Going outside my comfort zone became one of my favorite things to do, and in Interlaken I went hang gliding through mountains, canyoning into water rapids, and ran into a freezing cold lake, came out shivering, and then jumped right back in.
In Riomaggiore, I explored in a different way. When I got the chance I would take time to walk through the small town by myself, looking through shops and bakeries and observing the way the locals interacted with each other. While not as exhilarating as Interlaken, this form of exploration made me feel fully immersed in a new culture, something I had been craving since submitting my CR application.
Before coming on CR, I struggled with the meaning of being “CR 24/7 all in”. Each CR alum will give you a different answer, but I think that shows how personal the mantra can become. For me, it represents finding an adventurous side within myself to where I actively seek out opportunities to push my limits. Most of the adventures I had in Europe were things I’m not sure I ever would have done, but there is something about CR that imbues you with a magical, adventurous spirit, and suddenly you are willing to try anything.
2. Strong Connections
I could write forever about how much I adore all of CR 11. Each person brought a unique skill and perspective to our team, making for diverse opinions and views on everything we learned and experienced. However, we shared a common love of learning and desire to get to know each other. As a result, the people of CR 11 are some of the smartest, kindest, funniest, and most interesting people I have ever been lucky enough to meet. In each person on CR there is something I admire, and I know I learned so much just from being around them.
Bea showed me what it means to push others to become better versions of themselves. I saw Bea challenge the members of CR to reflect on why they did things or thought the way they did, and as a result we all were exposed to new perspectives and learned to be more aware of the impact of our actions.
Brent has such a wealth of knowledge, and I always enjoyed getting to hear his perspective on what we had seen each day. From random history facts to the basics of soccer, I learned a lot from him, plus his energy, jokes, and willingness to help others always made me happy to be around him.
Claire is all around energetic and exciting, and she never failed to bring the group together around a memorable moment or quote. However, I also saw a new side of Claire that is serious and reflective, and I viewed her as someone I could talk to about anything. During some of the most magical moments of CR, I could turn to Claire and know that she fully matched my awestruck appreciation, leading to tons of “movie moments” (especially if a boat was involved).
Connor’s sense of leadership is something I really admire, as he is able to take control of situations in a calm way, making sure everything gets done while allowing everyone’s opinions and ideas to be heard. He is willing to be vulnerable in a way that makes everyone around him feel more comfortable expressing their thoughts. He can also come up with a bedtime story involving hispanic animals on the spot, tragic endings only.
Cooper is someone who makes me grateful for the power of CR, as we both admitted to each other that we weren’t sure we were going to get along during the experience, but by the end she was one of my closest friends. Cooper is kind, selfless, and motivated. I admire her ability to connect with people, and her thoughtful questions were always able to bring the group closer together in a new way.
Emma is unlike anyone else, and throughout CR she was never anything less than 100% Emma Kight. She is always ready to jump into new challenges, like breaking the all-time CR gelato record. She is bold, smart, and funny, and never afraid to make her voice heard, which is something I admire in her.
Gabby’s passion for learning and reading is something that drew me to her early on in CR, and from there formed an amazing friendship based on all of our shared interests. Gabby is strong, goofy, and so intelligent. I admire her vulnerability, independence, and how open she is to growth, especially during our time in Europe.
Griffin brought such an amazing perspective to CR, with his artistic abilities always being shown through his photography, videos, and fashion sense. I loved being constantly surprised by his ability to transition from witty comments into a deeper discussion of poetry, music, or religion. Griffin is creative, thoughtful, and hilarious, plus he has the best first kiss story ever.
Harris is a true friend to everyone around him, which he consistently demonstrates through his kindness and selfless attitude. He is caring, genuine, and is always intentional in his conversations with people. I loved getting to see his confidence grow throughout the experience, both through his roles as a leader and his killer moves on the dance floor.
Kevin is someone I ended up spending a lot of time with on CR, and I couldn’t be more grateful that we got to know each other in a new way. Kevin cares deeply about people, and as a result is an amazing listener and friend. I admire his willingness to always dig deeper and get to know all of us in our most authentic sense.
Kynnedi is someone I look up to in a lot of ways. She is the ultimate people person, and is so skilled at both listening to and understanding other people’s feelings. She is always honest to herself and others, but never aggressively so. I admire her empathy, next level communication skills, and fun-loving nature.
Lauren has the biggest heart in the whole world. One conversation or hug from her would brighten my entire day, and I know myself and others relied on her constant positivity to make it through the tougher times. There is nothing about Lauren that is inauthentic. When I think of her, I think of sunshine.
Madelyn has an incredible curiosity for the world around her, which is infectious and would always cause me to look closer or think deeper about certain subjects. Traveling through Europe with her led me to notice and appreciate the simpler things in life. She is outgoing, bright, and so talented! I admire her devotion to learning more about the subjects that fascinate her.
Peter is a true leader, which is something that really stuck out to me over the course of CR. He is always willing to step up when help is needed, especially to navigate the group through crowded train stations. However, he also put so much effort into learning more about each of our lives. I admire his integrity and steadfastness.
Sarah made me laugh probably every single day of CR. She is hilarious and fully herself, which always made me want to be around her. Sarah also embodied the spirit of gratitude and appreciation that we all felt, and beyond the laughs I got to see her be vulnerable and completely open to growth and new experiences.
Taylor is one of the bravest people I know. She taught me what it really means to get to know the “why” behind people, which is one of the most impactful lessons CR taught me. I admire her strength and her willingness to take control over situations. She is kind, sweet, and insanely smart.
Dr. Pitcock is the reason I got to to have this once in a lifetime experience, which makes me eternally grateful to him. He has so much knowledge about people and places which he shared each step of the way. He knew when to challenge us and when to let us enjoy the moment, and as result helped us all grow into better, more informed and developed versions of ourselves. There is simply nothing else like Cultural Routes, and that is due to the guidance of Dr P.
These people have changed the way I think about the world, friendship, and myself. This is just a piece of the lessons I have learned and the qualities I admire about each and every one of them. I set out to CR 11 looking for strong connections, but instead I found life long friendships, which is more valuable than anything.
3. Expanding My Understanding
With my limited travel experience before CR, I knew that I was basically a blank slate, ready to be changed through cultural immersion and new experiences. What I didn’t know was just how impactful that change would be. With the combination of an adventurous spirit and strong connections with the rest of the familia, I learned more in 3 1/2 weeks than I feel like I ever have before.
I explored the details and history surrounding World War II in Berlin, and witnessed how a nation publicly acknowledges and remembers tragedies that can’t risk being forgotten. I walked through the depths of human suffering in Munich. I soared through the skies in Interlaken and ate real Swiss fondue with a real Swiss yodeling choir. I lived amongst the locals in Riomaggiore and experienced the tranquility of life on the Italian coast. I was awestruck by the beauty of Florence and saw historic masterpieces with my own eyes. I had my perspective on history changed while exploring the two thousand year old layers of Rome.
Each city showed me something unique and impactful, which I tried to convey in my city blogs. However, here are a few lessons that encapsulate my new understandings from CR:
- Life in Europe is vastly different from life in America. Food, architecture, language, transportation, etiquette, and the pace of life are wholly foreign and exciting to experience.
- However, it’s not as different as you think. Wether in Fort Worth or Berlin, a group of strangers can bond through doing the Footloose line dance.
- Leadership in America affects the world around us more than we may realize. As a result, our American identity led to us being stereotyped in a way we weren’t always expecting.
- It’s okay to slow down sometimes. Take the time to read everything in a museum, or have conversations at dinner that go on for hours, or simply appreciate your surroundings.
- Friendships shouldn’t be surface level. If you put in effort to get to know people on a deeper level, the results will be so much more valuable.
- Always, always, always be excited and motivated to learn something new.
Even though our time in Europe together is over, CR is forever. I know I will keep the lessons and memories with me for the rest of my life. I now have an amazing familia that I get three more years with at our second home, TCU. When I first answered that application question and turned it in, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But now, almost a year later, I know what that application really was- the best decision of my life.
Thank you to the familia and everyone else who made CR11 possible. This experience meant the world to me.
All my love,