In the summer of 2009 I found myself caught up in a whirlwind of adventure—the trip of a lifetime! Every two years, an organization called Nebraska Ambassadors of Music takes high school band, choir, and orchestra members on a trip to Europe to perform all across the continent over the course of three weeks. Naturally, I signed up the moment I learned of this incredible chance. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a thirst for travel, a yearning to see new things and taste the wonders our world has to offer; and here was a golden opportunity! Three weeks in Europe as a Nebraska Ambassador of Music? How could I resist?
Not long after, I found myself sitting on an intercontinental airliner touching down at Heathrow Airport just outside of London, England. From there began one of the greatest experiences of my life. How can I describe to you how incredible it was? England, France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Greece: we traversed a continent; performing in castles, churches, and parks older than the United States witnessing sights most people only ever read about.
I couldn’t tell you what country I loved most. I slept in London’s Thistledown Barbican Hotel, a short walk from the alleyways stalked by the notorious Jack the Ripper. I gazed upon the White Cliffs of Dover while listening to the song “White Cliffs of Dover” on my iPod. I climbed every one of the 710 steps of the Eiffel Tower and gazed upon the “City of Love.” I stared up at the legendary Notre Dame, oblivious to the pouring rain. In my mind I heard its famous bells and whispered “Sanctuary, sanctuary.” I stood on a mountaintop less than two miles from the Matterhorn and tried my hand at yodeling. I flirted with German girls after getting lost among the cobblestone streets of Rothenberg and having to ask for directions to my hotel. I explored ruins in Athens that had stood for five millennia and swapped jokes with a Greek waiter over a plate of gyros. I did all that and more, and I had barely begun to scratch the surface of all there was to experience.
That trip changed me. It wasn’t the history steeped through every mile we traveled. It wasn’t the exotic flavor everything held for this Midwest boy. It was just the opposite, in fact: for me, this trip was a lesson in what humanity has in common. Here in America we romanticize distant lands; as kids we daydream of Europe’s castles and chivalry; and when we’re older, we gush over its exotic cultures and languages. Europe is not only everything we imagine it to be, our imaginations fall short! Paris is indeed the “City of Love,” Swiss chocolates truly are divine, Germans really do drink shocking amounts of alcohol—but the most powerful thing I learned was this: we are all citizens of the world. Once you’ve travelled the miles to those distant lands, you look around and realize…it’s a small world after all. Language and culture change, but they have hopes and dreams the same as we do, whether they’re Italian or Swiss or Greek or American. They go to work, they party with their friends, their children daydream about the American West, they dance to music, they wonder what the future holds. They live. They love. They laugh. They work and play and hope for a better tomorrow. At the end of the day, there is no Us and Them, only a We—and We are much more alike than anyone suspects.
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