In the year 2008, as a sophomore, I traveled to Austria with the school music department and the US International Tour Company. It was one of the most amazing and enlightening experiences I have ever had the chance to be a part of. On our tour we stayed a night in Munich at the Mercure Hotel (http://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-1374-mercure-hotel-orbis-muenchen-perlach/index.shtml), 4 nights in Vienna (http://www.wien.info/en) at the Arcotel Wimberger and 4 nights in Salzburg (http://www.salzburg.info/de/) at the Renaissance Hotel. The country was beautiful, the culture was deep, the food was different, and the people were surprisingly similar in their hopes and dreams, but yet so very different in their language and culture; and along the way, I was able to learn a valuable lesson. I learned that the world is much bigger than my narrow views of the world in which I’m living.
There was a woman and a man with whom we were well acquainted with by the end of our tour, she was our tour guide, Gerti, and he was our bus driver, Hans. The first thing I remember hearing him say was his warning to us, that his name was not pronounced “Heinz” like the ketchup. Gerti’s first warning to us was to watch what we said because the people remember and were part of the horrid history of World War II only 60 years ago. She told us that many students she’d encountered from America referred to tough teachers as “Nazis”, but that in Austria there are still real Nazis.
Being in America, of the generation that I am, I hadn’t realized how much of an impact history really had; it’d never really affected me directly. Being naÃ¯ve I had always believed WWII only still affected text books and the history channel. I’d believed that 1940 was too long ago to still have such an influence on the present. Being in Austria forced me to realize how much history still impacted the world. Reflecting upon all this reminded me that the history of Europe runs much deeper than that of America. America is only just over 200 years old. Europe is thousands of years old.
In Austria I was able to walk around a corner in Salzburg and see a church that was built hundreds of years before the founding fathers of America were born. I also realized how much the American culture is impacted by European cultures. Many Austrians haven’t seen the movie “The Sound of Music”, but there we were in Salzburg walking through the sites where it was filmed. Cinderella’s castle was based upon a castle in Austria called Neushwanstein. Because of its deep history, the culture of America is very much based upon the cultures of Europe. I realized that the history and culture of areas as old as Europe aren’t just things found in text books and talked about by teachers. They have a lasting, tangible impact upon the world and American culture as well.
While in Austria we were able to see dozens of churches older than our own country, listen to the music of Beethoven while paying our respects to his grave at the Cemetery of Composers and meet children our age who wanted the same things we did: friendship, and success. I learned that I need to be aware of history. That it does have a lasting impact, that it is important to reflect upon, and that it can change a country’s culture permanently. In realizing this I believe I made the most of my journey and was able to expand my own horizons.
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