Tougher Than The Rest

As we prepare for our Pecha Kucha presentations, reflecting on CR10 as a whole has been such an incredible process. Just like the experience in Europe, the time of reflection has been a roller coaster of emotions. Even looking at the picture above, team Alpha’s debut, is sentimental; I am so blessed to have grown close to the people on CR, and to think of the first real day we all had together is bittersweet.

At first glance, Cultural Routes is a fun, exciting, study abroad trip. While it is fun, exciting, and we did study abroad, it was certainly not “Eurotrip 2018,” as Dr. Pitcock put it. I think the hardest thing about telling people about CR is that it is way easier to talk about the novelties we experienced since that is what most people expect. Yes, we went skydiving in Switzerland. Yes, we saw the Colosseum. Yes, we ate gelato by the sea in Riomaggiore. Yes, we hiked to the top of the Swiss Alps in Chacos. However amazing and unique these experiences are, they are not what makes CR great, and they are not the focus.

John Mark McMillan, one of my favorite artists, put what I am trying to say very beautifully at one of his concerts when he was talking about his favorite love song, Tougher than the Rest. Though it was a love song from the 80’s, it differs from the other 99% of love in that it was not written about the novelty of love, but about the intimacy of love. He put it this way: “It’s fun to explore the mountains, to go to Brazil and see the big Jesus statue. Exploring new things is really exciting, but something that some people never understand is that intimacy is way better than novelty. The problem with intimacy is that it’s hard, and it takes work, and sometimes it’s a little painful, and sometimes to get from novelty to intimacy, you have to be tougher than the rest.”

Dr. Pitcock did a great job of picking people who are tougher than the rest. Jake Lynn and I were talking about how different the trip would have looked had the group been composed of people whose excitement was found in something like clubbing every night. The fact that everyone was present and invested in each other, excited to learn and grow as individuals and as a team made all of the difference, and it could not have been done by people who did not have the strength to endure days like the one after the night train, or to open up about our emotions after seeing a concentration camp. These days don’t really make for great pictures, but the significance far transcends that.

Cultural Routes is awesome, and I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience something like it, but the best part is definitely getting to spend time with people who are invested in each other and eager to learn; this is not unique to CR.. That is the amazing thing about college: I get to live with wonderful humans who are constantly pushing me to be my best self, while also encouraging me in my current state. CR just took that idea and dialed it up to a ten, and I’m so grateful for the experiences that I was able to share with all of those wonderful people. So why would I only think about this one month of my life, however great it was, and miss out on the amazing people around me right now?

I don’t want to live in the past and only think about what I got out of this honors exploration; I see it as our responsibility to be constantly reminded of all the tragedies we learned about in these cities and work to be inclusive, loving people so as to prevent those tragedies from happening again in the future. That’s the difference between novelty and intimacy. Novelty is always looking backward at the joy we had, whereas intimacy is taking that joy to the dark places of the world to show compassion. I thank everyone on CR10 for being tougher than the rest, as that is no easy task, but I’m confident that everyone who traveled with me can rise to that challenge.

Regards,

Kyle

A 2000 Year Old Wall

One of the coolest things in Rome, in my opinion, is the Basilica di San Clemente. What appears to be a normal church – at least normal by the standards of Italian churches – turns out to be the location of a part of history quite unique to the city. Rome is the lasagna city, as the new Rome is built on top of the old one. This is why there’s no subway system: every time they dig, they find some 2000 year old ruins and have to call the archeologists and stop the excavations. Another name for it is the eternal city, as it’s history has been preserved so well.

This basilica models this theme perfectly: it is built on top of an older church, which is built on top of some aristocrat’s house where they held cult meetings during ancient Roman times. So you can quite literally walk through time and see how Rome has progressed through the years in its architecture, theology, culture, artwork, etc. It’s truly amazing. Jake Lynn and I walked through most of the ruins together and spent most of the time trying to understand what the cult believed in. We’re still lost, but that’s okay. The rest of the time was spent trying to wrap our heads around how old the stone we were standing next to was. Our conversation looked something like this:

*touches the wall*

“Dude, this Stone is literally as old as Jesus.”

“Yeah, like when people lived here, Jesus to them was some guy from Nazareth.”

“2000+ years ago…”

“Wow… what does that even mean?”

“It’s 100 times as old as us.”

“It’s 10 times older than the founding of our country.”

“It’s almost 150 times as long as we’ve been in school.”

We stood there with our hands on the wall for a good 10 minutes going back and forth about ways we could understand what 2000 years meant. We probably looked like idiots to the rest of the tourists – but what tourist has ever looked like a rocket scientist? Once we finally felt like we had a good grip on what something that old meant, we realized how much history had been going on before that house was built. We didn’t even try to wrap our heads around that. The realization we came to was we are playing a role in a story so much larger than our own lives, and that was humbling and empowering at the same time.

We’ve seen a lot over the course of the last month. We’ve learned about how to respect the memory of those that are oppressed and how to maintain the knowledge of what can go wrong based on what has gone wrong; we’ve seen how even the biggest castles can’t defend us from Gods plans; I jumped out of an airplane and experienced one of the most beautiful places on Earth; we climbed to the top of the Alps, we felt the gentleness of the breeze on the sea and the peace of Riomaggiore; we learned from some of the greatest minds in history about art and its significance to the world as well as how generations can change and shape a culture, enjoyed world class gelato in the countryside of Tuscanny; and our experience came to a close in Rome. It’s amazing how much we have accomplished on this experience: it’s more than words can really convey.

But very little of that matters to the majority of the world. Few people are going to care that I skydived, or ate a bunch of gelato, or went in a bunch of museums. What matters is that we spent the last 3.5 weeks getting closer to each other and figuring out ways to relate to people who would have no connection to us from the outside. The reality is, we are all human beings, and human beings have been around for a while. And since everyone had to come from somewhere, there’s a good chance we all have a connection to every single person on Earth through the history of humanity and its struggles.

I have no idea who walked through that ancient Roman ruin when it was in its prime back in the day. But I do know that they were human beings, that they had families whom they loved, kids they were trying to raise, bills to pay, and a job to do it with. Something some random dude in Riomaggiore told me was that his son had just finished traveling around the entire world, and the one thing he learned was that it doesn’t matter where you are, or how far from your house you stand. People are people. They all have so much more worth than any adjectives can prescribe them.

We have this shared humanity that spreads across time and space, and it’s necessary to recognize the intrinsic value that we all hold. When you think about all of this, it’s hard to treat anyone with anything other than love and respect.

So as Cultural Routes 10 comes to an end, I feel all of the same bittersweet emotions as everyone else. And I think that we all recognize how powerful the knowledge we’ve gained is, and how much influence we can have in helping the world out by working together.

Out of Chaos

One of the most spectacular things to see in Florence, perhaps in the world, is the statue of David, sculpted by Michelangelo. The location of the sculpture is in the Academia museum, sort of in the back. The rest of the museum is filled with lots of paintings of the saints and of Madonna and Child. In fact this was one of the museums that made Madonna and Child a meme on CR10. Any painting we didn’t understand of a woman instantly was labeled as “Madonna and Child” by our group. But I can talk about CR10 memes in another post.

Once we emerged in the hall with David at the end, our jaws dropped. This was it. This was the masterpiece. But there were several other sculptures on the sides of the hall. These sculptures are less famous, probably because they’re incomplete. However, I enjoyed them as much, if not more than the actual statue of David. These incomplete sculptures allowed us to see how Michelangelo’s vision was transferred into marble, how one single slab of rock could be turned into a man. They show humans emerging from the stone, rather than the finished product.

Once we made it to the feet of David and he stood towering over us, we understood how Michelangelo transferred his vision to the piece of rock. It’s amazing how the story of that statue relates to our own lives. Michelangelo was told time and time again that the slab of marble he wanted to use was worthless; that it would never become anything beautiful. But he saw David inside that rock, and new he just had to carve it out.

How many times in our lives do we believe the lie that we’re not good enough? That we won’t reach the beauty we are striving for? I know in my own life, it’s really easy to fall into that trap. But I believe that there is a master sculpture out there that takes one good look at the mess I’ve made of my life and carves out a work of art. I recognize that not everyone believes the same things I do, but isn’t it nice to know that our most disgusting messes can be cleaned up and made beautiful with no more than the vision of that beauty? That’s a thought I find comforting, and the I think that museum was set up the way it was to show us exactly that. We don’t have to be perfect right now; no one expects that. But we all have the potential to be great and to make a lasting impact on the world, even if everything else tells us otherwise. Something spectacular can be made out of the chaos of our lives.

Two Beauties

Within 48 hours I was immersed in these two views:

The top of the Swiss alps

And the top of a hill next to Riomaggiore

There is a stark contrast in the beauties presented by Switzerland and Riomaggiore, but they are both remarkable and truly difficult to process. It was almost a challenge to make myself fully aware of the wonder around me, as it was so much to take in. Photos don’t do a justice; In Riomaggiore (where the second picture was taken), you couldn’t see where the sea ended and the sky began, and both were a deep, calm blue. The diverse array of colors in the flowers around us presented a rich landscape that is usually found only in paintings. The valleys of interlaken were also rich in their colors, but the white mountain tops presented a more rugged, dangerous beauty. One showed God’s power, and the other showed God’s peace.

The top of the Alps was breathtaking. Everything around us was white with snow, and everything beneath us was a warm summer green. The mountain air was brisk and fresh – so brisk that we were able to bust out the micro d fleeces. I never would have thought I’d be able to have a snowball fight in May with 15 of the most amazing people on Earth, but here we are. I also think it’s worth mentioning that we had an amazing meal at the top of this mountain. We ate at an all-you-can-eat, American style buffet and we Americans went crazy with the croissants. Few things in life last forever, but those mountains are going to be there for a while, and so will the memory of sharing a magical meal on top of them with the familia.

As I mentioned in a blog post before, a stereotype of Americans is that we are extremely loud and obnoxious, so we usually have to be extra cautious with how loud we laugh at dinner, constantly shush each other, and look over our shoulders to make sure no one is giving us an evil look. However, when we were at the top of this mountain, we could talk as loud as we wanted and no one would bat an eye. We needed that desperately.

Here are some more pictures from that day to put a smile on your face!

48 hours after being at the top of Europe, we found ourselves sitting on top of a hill next to Riomaggiore taking in the sight of the sea. There were vineyards surrounding us, flowers blooming all over, a gentle breeze, a hot Mediterranean sun beating down on us, and a beautiful city at our feet. I sat there for a while and journaled some. In my journal, I jotted down notes about the beauty we get to experience here on Earth. The crazy thing is in both Switzerland and in Riomaggiore I thought to myself, “this could be what heaven looks like,” but the reality is that I believe that heaven will blow those locations away with its beauty. I wrestled with that though for a while and felt a rush of joy and appreciation for the majesty of life and the plan of the Lord.

Here are some more pictures of what we saw, but just know that they don’t even come close to doing a justice.

We all felt like we could just sit by the church at the top forever, except for the fact that we got hungry. It took a hike and a half to get to the restaurant Dr. P wanted us to experience, but it was so worth it. The seafood was so fresh, and the view didn’t cease to overwhelm us. The whole rest of the day was filled with taking in the sights and enjoying the peaceful cinque terre, or five lands (we only saw like 2 of them though).

While this post isn’t the most insightful one on this site, I think that was part of the point. We spend so much time looking for deeper meanings in everything all the time, which is good, but sometimes you just have to enjoy the gift of the world that’s around us. There’s so much to appreciate in the world, and all of it is unique. But the most profound thing in all of this is that God created all of those mountains, valleys, hills, and the sea, and then He deemed Man the pinnacle of creation. How loved we are is unimaginable, and I think that these locations are evidence of that.

What A Day

So Marat woke me up this morning exactly 2 seconds before my alarm went off to head downstairs to do a quick morning worship sesh. After spending sometime in 1 Peter, I realized time had flown by and I didn’t have much time to eat breakfast. So I hurried to the breakfast table and was blown away by what was there.

They had real Nutella.

I know right? How could this day possibly get better? Well it did. I scarfed down my breakfast, checked out a beach towel – these hostels don’t like customers taking their shower towels on their adventures. A van picked our group up, and we headed to our first adventure of the day. We put on our wetsuits, grabbed some sketchy water shoes without ankle support, and a helmet with a funny name on it. Of course I went for the Frodo helmet, since we’re about the same height.

The end result looked like this:

Yeah. We’re tough.

What could we possibly be doing in all this gear you might ask? Well… I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s called canyoning. You kinda have to experience it to understand, or watch a video on YouTube or something. The best description I’ve heard is “white water rafting without the raft.” We slide down several chutes in a river, rappelled down a big rock, flew like Superman into the current below us, and almost slipped serval times. But most of all, we had a great time. The entire group was grinning ear to ear (except for Taylor because she cut her finger). We had three guides: Stef (a Swiss native), Nina (from Germany), and Matt (from New Zealand). I’m pretty sure Matt secretly hated Indigo and me for constantly saying “amazing” in an Australian accent, but we weren’t going to have it any other way.

Once we made it to the bottom and got back to the base, I had some coffee – the caffeine was needed for the rest of the day -, took a hot shower, and got suckered into paying for a highlight video from the trip. Ah Who am I kidding? There was never a shadow of a doubt in my mind that I was going to buy the video.

Don’t worry the day didn’t end there.

The next activity consisted of getting a kebab just down the street. If you think that sounds boring, that’s because you just read about canyoning. The kebab was a fantastic experience. It was food, and in the words of Dr. Pitcock, “this is the hungriest CR yet.”

But wait! There’s more!!

After some down time, 11 of us met in the lobby to go to the land of Myth known as “drop zone.” We were all extremely excited and ready to go, but the van picking us up got stuck in traffic, so the hype was kinda lulled. Don’t worry though. We didn’t even know what hype was until we were almost at the end of the activity. I debated ending the post there to keep you in suspense, but then I realized that other people are probably going to post about it anyways.

So we got to the runway, took some sweet pics (see below), and tried to contain our excitement for what was about to happen. Here are some of the pictures of us before we got on the plane.

(Sorry, Mom. I didn’t position myself correctly in the jumping picture so you can’t really see me, but I promise I’m in it)

What followed was an unforgettable experience. I free fell from 13,000 feet out of an airplane, did a barrel roll and a back flip, and then fell through the cloud of a storm that came out of nowhere. I don’t know how many people reading this have been to Interlaken, but it truly is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and the beauty from that high up as you plummet towards it is impossible to explain. Also I definitely screamed like a pre-pubescent teenage boy when I jumped. Unfortunately, I won’t have the pictures for a few days, but when I do, they’ll be all over the Insta and I’ll update this blog post! I know the blog has been pretty heavy lately, and we’ve definitely been feeling that weight as well. Today was a much needed break from the emotional limits we’ve been pushing on this experience, and I hope you can see that from the smiles on our faces (and from the irony of the “serious” pictures).

The Sun Will Come Out

When team Hohenshwangau was in the Residenz museum in Munich, we met a nice guy who worked there. We must have looked totally lost because he asked us, “Ausgang? Exit?” After a bit of small talk, we told him we were going to Dachau the next day. He warned us that weather conditions feel more extreme there. A bright, sunny day becomes a smoldering hot day; a cold, raining day becomes a freezing day.

Dr. Pitcock proceeded to tell us it was going to rain, so prepare for the cold. So naturally I wore chacos, shorts, and a T-shirt. While my mom would probably freak out if she saw me walking out into the cold in what I had on, I’m so glad I made the choice to not dress warmly. Even when being in the physical location of such atrocities and injustices, it can be hard to wrap your mind around what went wrong. It’s hard to understand the reality of what happened. And while I may have been shivering, I don’t think being comfortable in a concentration camp would feel appropriate. One of the ways the SS would torture prisoners was by making them stand outside in the elements. That’s it. They would stand there and endure hours of role call as a form of torture. That’s how horrible the conditions were: even standing outside was unbearable to them because they weren’t properly clothed, fed, and were constantly on their toes to make sure nothing they did would get them killed.

Standing in the location of where Roll Call occurred was difficult, but I’m so glad I took the time to stand there and absorb the environment around me. Just beyond the walls of the camp were trees, a flowing creek, and the beautiful nature of Germany. It reminded me of how often we take naturally beautiful things and pervert them into dangerous and painful places filled with hatred.

I decided it was time to move into the building with the sort of museum portion of the camp inside to give myself a break from the rain. This museum was the culmination of everything we had learned from the last two cities. I was able to see the Nazi’s rise to power, the persecution of anyone who posed a threat to or disagreed with the Nazis, and the torture the Nazis put their prisoners through.

The Nazi ideology viewed Jews as objects without rights or dignity, or intrinsic value. Every nasty joke was met with applause, every bit of indecency was met with vile laughter. Health care was a joke, the only viable explanation for how the medical system worked inside the camp was “the more Jews that died, the better off the Nazis were”. Life became savage for the prisoners. A spoon or a plate could be the difference between life and death, and they were valued much more than we could ever imagine. Punishments ranged from whipping, to tying a human’s arms behind their back and hanging them from their wrists, to executions. Nothing was too inhumane for the prisoners because the prisoners were not viewed as human beings.

Human beings are not tools; and whipping them does not change their physical capabilities. A certain guard asked a prisoner to operate two machines at the same time. When they told him it was not possible, he replied with “then I’ll just write a few reports – after a few of you get whipped, the rest will work.” Everything the Nazis did was to achieve death of Jews: either in spirit or in body. Prisoners were not allowed to seek shelter during bombings, medical tests were conducted on them to see which organs fail first during hypothermia or how malaria affects the body, the list goes on and on.

Eventually, the Nazis realized that the conditions were so bad for the prisoners that they were not going to be able to achieve the work they were counting to win the war. Imagine that. Conditions were improved not because of some great revelation that what they were Doing was objectively wrong, but because they needed the labor of their prisoners.

They eventually had a reward system set up for the humans inside the camp. What crushed me was that the highest reward a prisoner could receive was a visit to a brothel. Labor trafficking thus fed into sex trafficking during this time. Nazis were rewarding their prisoners with more brokenness.

It took me about four hours to get through the the building. Needless to say, my spirit was crushed after reading everything I read in the building that many of those atrocities took place in. But as I opened the doors, something remarkable happened: the sun came out. The cold and the rain disappeared, and the air was warm. I didn’t understand at first what God was trying to tell me, and I still don’t think I fully understand it, but I think it has to do with the fact that human beings are seeing this information and being hurt by it. That hurt allows us to remember what happened and stop it from happening again. The purpose of visiting a concentration camp is not to feel sorry for all of the pain and suffering that happened to all of those people. The purpose is to pass down the memory of injustice so the small things like racist jokes, sexist comments, bullying, and a lack of empathy can be stopped before they take root and become something much worse.It’s on the people who have walked in the footsteps of the oppressed to remind the world that “it has happened, so it can happen again.” The sun came out when as I exited the building because the informed can bring light to the darkness and warmth to the cold by having empathy and heart.

Dinner With Sam

So we just arrived in Interlaken, but I still have a ton to talk about with both Berlin and Munich. Here’s one of those things from the first city. So way back last week in Berlin, we had dinner one night with a tour guide from the UK names Sam. I had met sam before on Frog Camp, and he remembered me because of my stylish glasses. He didn’t remember Ryal though.

Anyways, we were enjoying our meal, asking intellectual questions, stuffing our mouths with schnitzel, and chugging still water. Sam was super interesting to talk to and had a ton of great insight into cultural differences in politics, religion, the whole nine yards. We all were enjoying his insights and wisdom, but there two questions I really wanted to ask him, and one quote we had to share with him.

So I just went for it.

“Okay Sam. So I know you drive on the left side of the road, but what side of the sidewalk do you walk on?”

He paused for a moment, and we finally stumped him. He didn’t really know. I had succeeded in intellectually challenging a European tour guide. After much thought and clarification about what I meant by that, he came to the conclusion that he naturally tended towards the left side of the sidewalk. He also explained that they started driving on the left side because it was safer for horse riders to be on the left side so they could protect themselves with their sword arm (their right arm) against threats on the road. I don’t buy it. I think they’re just wrong.

The next thing brought up was the American Revolution. I know I know, but we were just that comfortable with this guy. Plus Ryal brought it up, not me. Sam quickly responded with “oh yeah I’m so hurt by the fact that you guys one a wars 200 years ago that I had nothing to do with. Also how’s your health care?” Basically, he just started roasting the US, so I had to ask: what do are the stereotypes of US citizens in Europe? Here are the notes I took:

Loud

Loud

Loud

Enthusiastic

Badly dressed

Religious

Gun loving

I will admit, most of those are pretty true. You could here us coming towards the U-Bahn station from miles away – or should I say, kilometers away? He also explained to us how there is a difference between the type of people Americans root for, and the type of people Brits root for. Americans love the people who are good at things. We’re really quick to praise success and idolize the people who have done well, or who have been dealt a good hand in life, whereas British culture typically finds it hard to do that. They would much rather see the underdog come out on top than we would. While I don’t think either one is inherently more correct than the other, as the latter may bring up problems with perpetuating success and the former may cause exclusivity, that simple conversation revealed just how much people of different countries can learn from each other.