This is a question I have been asking myself constantly throughout my study abroad time. I think what I have begun to realize (obviously pretty late in the game) is that there won’t be just one big vocab word that will be able to sum up my experience. Just like my summer at STP can’t be encapsulated in one short sentence, neither will my experience here in Europe. Right now, I’m beginning to understand that lessons, growth, and change of ideas are not always obvious, but still happening.
I haven’t updated what’s been happening in a while, so here is a little of what I have learned in the places I have been able to visit.
Masses of tourists make things expensive and good authentic food harder to find. Also, Pisa is the most hyped of building ever. It’s just a leaning building people!
During the trip in the Italian Alps (Domodossola), we stayed with a couple who have started up an organization, Canova Association. The association works to rebuild ancient homes that people can live in but, at the same time, makes sure to preserve the stone architecture of the time and create sustainable homes. Kent, the husband, used the term “historical continuation” in describing how they help to rebuild houses. He stated that he feels more like a custodian of his home because of all the different stories and lives that had happened in the home before him. For the people that we met, their definition of home is definitely different than a way I think of home. I realized that I approach my home as a place of convenience, while many of these homes, which are part of the Canova Association, aren’t convenient. I was out of breath walking up all the steep stone steps to Kent’s home; I can’t imagine the walk in the winter. Their respect for the old structures, people, and environment around them is commendable.
During the trip to Poland we traveled to Krakow, Torun, and Warsaw. Sadly, we spent a lot of time traveling so we didn’t have that much time trying to enjoy and understand each city but I really enjoyed the atmosphere of each city. The most impactful part of the trip was visiting Auschwitz. While I am still trying to sort through things, this is what initially struck me during the trip.
Driving toward Auschwitz, I was oddly reminded of driving toward both Pulse night club in Orlando and the DMZ separating North and South Korea. Driving toward North Korea to visit the DMZ will be an experience I will never forget. As you get closer to the border, you can see and sense, a change in your surroundings and the atmosphere. Rice patties surround the road and bridges are built as obstructions to prevent tanks from being able to drive deeper into South Korea from the north. Once at the DMZ, I saw how the officers acted and saw the mountains of North Korea barren from the overharvesting of trees. All of these things gave me a sense that things were not how they should be.
When driving to Pulse, however, I was struck by the fact that it didn’t feel eerie or abnormal. It felt like a typical place, with typical people, living (you guessed it) typical lives. Driving toward Auschwitz, and being there, the experience was kind of in the middle. I expected some high intensity, but instead was surprised by all of the tourist activities.
What shocked me the most was the reminder of how recent this horrific event occurred. Living in Italy for nearly two months now, I have seen buildings that are thousands of years old. Heck, the buildings the Canova Association are helping to rebuild had intact roofs that were more than a thousand years old! In history class, I always had the impression that the Holocaust was in this world’s very distant past. I naively believed such a catastrophic event had caused the world to never repeat this sort of action ever again. Instead, I am disheartened to realize that similar sorts of devaluing of humanity are happening on a daily basis, whether at a large or small scale.
Umm, well, it’s definitely the most crowded place I have ever visited! While I definitely haven’t gotten used to living in Bologna (and as someone only living here for a short time and not knowing the language, I understand it will never become normal for me), I have enjoyed how authentic the city of Bologna is with very few tourists. So Rome was a place I wasn’t accustomed to but, I have to say, it was easy getting around because of the masses of English speakers! I made a day trip to Rome (it’s about a two-hour train ride from Bologna) to see a very tiny Pope Francis from his apartment window during his Angelus Praying & Papal Blessing, so the trip was worth it just for that experience alone.