Ich liebe dich. That may or may not mean anything to you, but to those who speak German it means ‘I love you.’ This summer, I had the opportunity to travel as a People to People Student Ambassador to several European countries where I was able to explore their histories, embrace their culture, and make new friends. On this adventure I also became more aware of the differences in the global community, changed as a person, and learned many interesting things, such as that German phrase.
I traveled in a delegation of 35 students and 3 leaders arrived in Rome on June 12th, there we met our delegation manager and embarked on a journey that would lead us to the Vatican City, Florence, and Venice in Italy; Vienna and various towns in Austria; Berne and Lucerne in Switzerland; and finally to Paris, France. We saw remnants of ancient civilizations right next to places of real, living power. We walked along crammed city streets made long ago while passing people that still call it home. Needless to say it was an amazing journey.
It was amazing to hang out with an Austrian girl my age in her hometown of Friestadt and to find that the two of us, who are from vastly different environments, histories, backgrounds, cultures, etc. could be so similar. She, like me, went bowling, played games on her last few days of school, checked her Facebook and did lots of other things that I like to do. While at my home stay, I was able to eat their foods, live out their day, and learn interesting things, such as the phrase Ich Liebe Dich. It’s incredible, I think, that a string of sounds can seem like a bunch of nonsense to some people, but mean something so powerful to others.
I was also intrigued to find the many small cultural differences held between each country. One of the funnier things that were quickly noticed by everyone on the trip was the presence of a bidet in the bathrooms of Italy. If you’re not sure what that is then you should certainly investigate. Imagine walking into the restroom and finding there to be two toilets, one doubling as a sink. Speaking of bathrooms, it was also a challenge to remember which countries accepted which names for the same thing. In Italy the bathroom was the toilette, in Austria the WC, and in France toilettes again.
We took many tours in many places from heavily accented English-speaking guides. (When I could understand them) they taught me a lot of new things like how Michelangelo painted his rival into the Sistine Chapel’s ‘The Last Judgment’. They also managed to bring history to life. It is much more than simply stories about something far away in space and time, but stories of real people in real places. While in the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, we beheld Michelangelo’s David. While walking down the hall past his unfinished sculptures, our guide told us of how he had shut himself inside with a slab of rock that was extremely difficult to sculpt and emerged three months later with David standing in its place. Even as she told us that they aren’t completely sure how he was able to do it, I was imagining him climbing up and down the rock, years ago and softly, delicately removing David from it.
My journey that made me new friends, here and there, built up my confidence and helped me to see the beauty of other cultures made by their own distinct histories.
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