Dichotomy of Life

My life is now cut into a clear dichotomy–before CR and after CR.

OK, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but there is a distinct difference in who I was before my familia and who I am after my familia. I look back on CR and still am trying to fully comprehend everything that we did in those three and a half weeks. And as cliche as it is to say, the one thing I remember so prominently isn’t the places or the events, but the people, my familia. They change me for the better, they help me reach my greatest potential. They are a rock in my storms even though I don’t tell them that nearly enough.

You may be asking now, so how are you actually different as a person before CR versus after. Let me tell you.

First and foremost, I am now more intentional about being open to cultivating friendships with people who seem to be so different from me. This is our familia in a nut shell! We are all so different, coming from different backgrounds, home lives, majors, yet when it comes down to it, we all work together as a unit, so cohesively. I was never expecting to engage on such a deep level with some people in our familia; I was close-minded, living in my tunnel-visioned social bubble. Yet, on the experience, I made deep relationships with people I never envisioned having a deep relationship with. The familia is a beautiful thing because we all bring something special and unique. The same goes for friendships in our day to day life, everyone brings something fresh and individual, I no longer seek friends who are just like me, I seek friends who will bring a positive newness to life.

Secondly, my once long, flowing hair that I had my whole life was cut short after CR. Big changes, I know. Pre-CR Olivia was scared of the smallest, most minute things, cringing at the thought of her long hair being vandalized. I was terrified to bring change in fear that I would miss the old. What CR taught me is to welcome change, not run from it; on CR we pushed our comfort zones everyday. By welcoming change and pushing my comfort zones, I have learned to light-heartedly look at life. I no longer fear small, trivial things (like a haircut). I excitingly chopped my hair after CR, laughing at the scissors swishing across my once-prized possession, this was my big risk taking. CR taught me to just do it, just cut the hair.

Lastly, my value set changed singlehandedly because of Cultural Routes and my familia. I accredit so many of who I am today to this experience. Before CR, I was stuck in the college mindset, going out, having fun, cultivating a myriad of meaningless relationships. CR showed me something so much different. It showed me love in its purest form. It showed me people who genuinely care about my personhood. It showed me mentors who see the good in me even when it may be so hard to find. It showed me adventure and excitement juxtaposed with knowledge and learning. It showed me hands-on learning that brings words on paper to life. It realigned my values, it realigned my life.

As CR fades into a memory, I will always look back and see pre-CR and post-CR as two different eras in my life. The dichotomy of Olivia Chambers lies in this: Culture Routes 10, I will never forget you.

 

 

 

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To All Artists, I Love You

If you haven’t been able to tell in my blogs yet, I love art, literature, and most things that reside in the creative world.

That being said, I have basically died and gone to heaven with our venture into Italy. From Florence to Rome I have lived out my long-awaited dream of seeing Renaissance art not just through a screen or pictures, but with my own two eyes. Lucky for me, art lives in every corner and crevice of these cities. And let me tell you… it has not dissapointed.

I see art—visual, linguistic, auditory, theatrical, or anything in between—as the only form that truly explores the human condition. With a mere stroke, or sound, or click on a keyboard, art can open a multitude of doors. Renaissance art, for example, reestablished the faith in humanity, with a unique juxtaposition of knowledge, religion, and nature all in one form—it essentially shaped the era. The art and literature from those centuries evoked prominent change that altered the course of history. Paint did that, chisels did that, words did that. No matter the medium, art has power and the Renaissance is the quintessential example of that.

For a long time, my favorite Renaissance painting has been Raphael’s The School of Athens for many of those exact reasons. It offers us a glimpse of the minds and intellects and hearts and opinions of the people of that century. Knowledge was rising, the desire to learn and understand was alive and well. The famous fresco depicts men like Aristotle and Plato and Ptolemy and Pythagoras all in one scene, gathering to share ideas and learn from one another. It was a long awaited dream of mine to step into the Raphael Rooms and finally see The School of Athens. And I did.

Being led by a lovely tour guide through Vatican City, I was trying my best to stay in the moment, stay calm, and stay focused on the walls around me, yet my mind kept wandering away to this one fresco. I was going to see it, be in its presence. Every corner we turned amped up my excitement. And with our final steps into the Raphael Rooms, my excitement hit a peak and I was overcome by one emotion.

Awe—I felt awe-struck standing in the Raphael Rooms, mouth agape and eyes wide. Surrounded by inspiration and knowledge and culture, I was in shock, overwhelmed, I didn’t even know what to feel. ART. DID. THAT. This man, Raphael, a seventeen-year-old kid from a small Italian city created paintings in the 16th century that still have the capacity to evoke emotion in people today, to evoke emotion in me today. Creativity outlives eras while exploring humanity in its purest form; it’s one of the few things on this earth that never goes old, but always has something to teach. Raphael took philosophy and science and mathematics, and juxtaposed it with beauty and creativity. This birthed a combination of logistic learning and creative endeavors. Additionally, the sociological beliefs of the Renaissance are being SCREAMED from The School of Athens; the people’s ideals and emotions and very lives are being illuminate by strokes of paint on a wall.

Why does this all matter? What’s the point of learning about art? Because art unites people and cultivates an understanding of all kinds of people. Raphael’s paintings show me what its like to be a person in the 15th or 16th century. They show me rationale on their way of thinking and the reasons society acted the way they did. They show me how schools of thought changed through the years and how values shifted and how our world came to be what it is now. Yet also, his paintings show me that I have so much to still learn about people, so much to learn about the walks of lives of people distant from me. These notion expands to every artist of every kind, not just Raphael. Art has the unique ability to show us how different our worlds may be, yet how similar we still are.

Eventually, I walked out of the Raphael Rooms and finally processed what just happened. It was beyond my wildest dreams. Rome’s art has quite literally fulfilled my dreams and outlived my expectations. I never thought I would become teary-eyed in a room of frescoes or gawk at a ceiling far above me. All the things I’ve learned in a classroom or on paper have come to life and, now, I can appreciate them all the more.

Here’s a pic that I forced Abby to take of me geeking out in the middle of the Stanza della Signature. Enjoy.

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The Chambers’ Debate: Transportation Edition

Preface: My mom, the wonderful Catharine Chambers, was a military brat and went to High School in Vicenza, Italy. Cool, I know.

Hearing of our two options for Sunday travel away from Florence, San Gimignano or Venice, I was torn; which way was I to go? So, naturally, I texted the expert: my mama. Right away I got a response back, “OMG!! You’re so lucky. Venice. It will be very worth it.” Decision made, train ticket bought, and group organized, the adventure was locked in. Venice, here we come.

Venice lies only 30 minutes from where my mom went to high school. Being in Italy has already given me a small glimpse of what it would have been like to be living in her shoes as a teenager. I have had the opportunity to eat the combo of lemon and chocolate gelato like her, go shopping on cobblestone streets like her, and last but certainly not least, take trains to fun places like her. The stories she told always left me engaged and in awe. Yet, throughout my years, I have had a special ability of twisting these adventures back on her. Whenever my mom didn’t let me go out in high school, I predictably pulled one card: “When you were in high school, you would to go to other cities and countries with your friends on weekends, mom!”

Of course, this was always combatted with her go-to line: “that’s very different, Olivia. You’re not driving tonight. End of story.”

Needless to say, she always won. And now, as a wise, sagacious, enlightened 18 year-old, I finally see her side of the debate. Train-travel (and foot-travel for that matter) is game-changing and America really needs to take note for the sake of the high-school Olivias out there. Here is a mental list of the benefits I have conjured up:

1. Train-travel eliminates the problem of drunk drivers at night. Trains get rid of the risk for inexperienced teen drivers (like me) being on the road, in the dark, with other more reckless drivers. If I could of hopped on a train to make it to LA, instead of hopping on the 101 to the 405 in Friday night traffic, I bet Catharine would have been much more at ease with my outings.

2. Trains facilitate the exploration of other countries and cultures. With the ease of buying a pass and hopping on a transportation system with a flexible schedule, they offer an easily accessible opportunity to learn. Just by traveling, young adults (and anyone for that matter) has the opportunity to become more cultured and respect the ways of other places. In America, by contrast, it’s not so easy to just hop in the car and see another country.

3. Trains give a sweet time for some reflection. As we were making our departing voyage from Venice back to Florence, I realized one monstrosity of a problem—my phone was dead. That meant that I had to sit in dreaded silence for a two-hour train ride, yet I learned that it’s ok to listen to myself, be in my own thoughts. Just by sitting there, I allowed my soul a time to reflect on everything CR has been and where I wanna go after the experience. I learned that sitting in my own thoughts isn’t such a bad thing, and maybe I should have my phone die more often.

4. (This one combats Catharine Chambers’ biggest fear for me and my friends) Train travel eliminates the problem of a group of young girls breaking down in a car on the side of the road in the middle of the night, being stranded on the side of the freeway. Although this has never actually happened to me, I have heard the hypothetical one too many times from my mother.

5. Train travel is a real bonding experience for everyone involved. We have had some funny train stories, but the greatest of all is the triumph our group felt as we successfully made it to Venice and back with no train debacles. It made us feel independent, yet also humbled us, as minds as we saw the stress firsthand train days are to Dr. P.

All in all, after our adventure to Venice, I feel more connected to my mom by seeing her teenage arena, but also by seeing her side of the recurring transportation argument. America is much different than Italy; it’s like comparing apples and oranges, you just can’t do it. So mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry that sophomoric Olivia argued with you weekly about the contrasting transportation styles of our high school adventures. You win.

Bird Can’t Fly in the Cage

Remember Ausgang?

Well, I did the ultimate Ausgang yesterday.

I jumped out of a plane voluntarily.

Before the ultimate leap, our group spent what felt like an eternity at the Skydive Switzerland warehouse, waiting and watching. Every time I saw that small plane make its ascent into the vast sky and release miniscule specks one by one that were barely visible to the naked eye, I became increasingly trepidatious. That speck was the lives of two humans and that speck was free-falling.

But, if I want my life to be a wild, crazy adventure, then I just had to step out of my sphere of comfortability and take leaps (specifically out of airplanes). So, suit on, harness tightened, and expert-man behind me, I stepped into that sketchy airplane and refused to look back.

I did look down though.

And as I looked down I saw the city of Interlaken from the eyes of the birds. I saw the peaks and valleys and houses and businesses and clouds and sun all in one frame. The Creation stunned me; the earth was pulsing with life. And what was I thinking about in this very moment, as I peered down? my tenth-grade English class.

This class was agonizing to sophomoric Olivia. We had to deal with the devil of all elements of English for a whole school-year—poetry. The horror! (Little did I know, I would end up being a writing minor one day and actually enjoy poetry.) Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to appreciate Hopkin’s, “God’s Grandeur,” back then. Luckily, I am able to appreciate it now.

“God’s Grandeur” is a 19th century poem that talks about the earth and its relationship to the divine. It also talks about humanity’s negligence of that. As humans, we are exploiting the earth at a fast rate, but seeing Interlaken from 10,000 feet up, I was reminded that the whole earth is coursing with God’s vivacity. As much as I fangirl over the artwork nature is, God is the painter, and a painter cares about His creation more than a mere fan.

Fast forward to today, I was reminded yet again of Ms. Issac’s laborious English class. As we were exploring the Swiss Alps, I was only in more awe of the earth, of the sphere we were given. “The world is charged with the glory of God.” That one line kept repeating in my head. “The world is charged, the world is charged, the world is charged.” I felt it—the charge. Nature has a way of doing that. No matter how much man depletes the earth, God’s hand is still pulsing over the ground; He still prevails. No matter how much beauty man can artificially make, there’s still something unique in the natural beauty in our world. The Swiss Alps confirmed that for me. So, thanks Ms. Isaac for forcing us to meticulously dissect “God’s Grandeur.” I finally get it.

 

Art Amid Chaos

Through the plethora of boards plastered with words and topics and knowledge in the museum at Dachau, one stood out among the rest in my eyes—Poetry in Dachau.

Why did a seemingly minute title (among much other heavy, important topics) stand out so heavily, so prominently?

Because of the glimmer it gives into the rebuilding of humanization amid a time of extreme objectification. The Jews and the Homosexuals and the Roma’s and the Sintis and the Disabled and the people who stood their ground, opposing political overtaking, were subjected to a malignant torture having their right to personhood ripped away from them.

The people in these camps were no longer people. They were given verbs and adjectives that should only ever belong to animals or objects, never to humans who embody skin and bones and contain a real, live soul. The Nazis had an ability to degrade the enslaved to a point of their own identity and personhood becoming lost along the process; this was all part of their psychological torture.

Yet, despite all this, as I read this small board tucked in the corner of a big museum, I saw livelihood again; I saw rebirth after death. A resurrection of “who” after being a “what.” Art has the ability to awaken: I firmly believe that. Nevis Vitelli, a sixteen-year-old prisoner, wrote in a journal that amid “suffering lies the song of poetry, like a hymn that liberates and penetrates to the bottom of truth.” Poetry requires vulnerability; vulnerability reminds us that we can feel, that we are something more than mere flesh and bones.

I am a lover of words and put my heart where my mouth is when it comings to writing. I find something so special in the way words have the ability cultivate both joy and hope, yet also sorrow and suffering. Funny as it sounds, I have lived by a personal mantra when it comes to my own writing:

“Making sense of my mind by marrying letters into words that birth itself art.” 

By simply using words to craft art, these prisoners were reminded of their realness, reminded that they still have blood pulsing through their veins and a heart that could feel truly and deeply.

Roman Gebler, a prisoner at Dachau, described it best saying, “In the camp, I made a meaningful discovery; No power exists in the world that is capable of destroying humans as spiritual beings.” As much as their spirit was crushed, art was one of the few things that could still preserve the little bit of life that remained in them. A quiet savior came down to bring life to some of the brokenhearted and lift up the crushed in spirit— that savior was poetry.

Confidently Lost

By the time we made it through what seemed to be the hundredth doorframe and stepped into another ornate room displaying ostentation at its finest, Team Hohenschwangau’s minds (and attention spans) were at a bit of an overload. Clocking in at hour two of embracing architecture, tears of laughter welling in Olivia’s eyes, she suddenly squatted down on the ground next to yet another grey and red plaque. Now you may be asking, “why is this girl finding such humor in one of the great halls of Kings and Queens of the 17th century?” One word—Ausgang.

If you didn’t know, I am not a professional German speaker. Shocker. I have still yet to master the spelling of our own team name and have difficulty in pronouncing all the unique U-bahn stops. Lucky for me, there are a handful of words I’ve grasped with ease this week in Germany. My repertoire is wide and diverse and flourishing with unique colors of language. Ok, maybe not. The whole of my repertoire includes: Hallo, Danke, Hauptbahnhof, Eingang and the infamous Ausgang.

Ausgang has followed our team everywhere we have gone. Like a constant companion, Ausgang was with us in Berlin, as we reflected upon the memorials and fueled up in the restaurants; it is with us in Munich as we navigate the U-bahn transportation system and as we wander around the grand Residenz. Ausgang is like the seventeenth member of CR10, a member we cherish and appreciate (and can’t seem to get rid of).

I first saw the unique combination of letters at Victory Column in Berlin. The joining of the A to the U and the S to the G and so on catalyzed a multitude of questions in my mind as it pointed to the corridor at the bottom floor of the column. What did this word mean? I needed to find out. Finally, as time advanced and experiences were accumulated, our team figured out the conundrum— Ausgang means exit.

The Residenz is the former royal palace of Bavaria and encapsulates beauty in each and every detail whether it be in its architecture or its arts. Also, It’s HUGE. Upon walking into the Residenz, I had no idea what to expect. They put great effort into helping the toursists, like ourselves, navigate this monstrosity of a home with signs that display a nice, big red arrow pointing which direction to go next. Easy enough! Yet as we got deeper in the Residenz, the signs began contradicting one another leading us on what seemed to be a wild goose chase. What do you do when two arrows point to one another!? So, deep in the grand Residenz of Munich, delusional from the Renaissance and Baroque overload, lost and confused, Olivia sat. And as she sat and took a minute to release the laughter, our journey was saved by the reminder that there’s no problem in being lost because you can always exit.

Ausgang has been our escape through it all. Lost in a museum for two hours? Ausgang! Attention span diminishing? Ausgang! Awkward moment? Ausgang! And now, as we approach our grand Ausgang out of Munich, I hope to bring our 17th member along with me in all the cities to come. It stands as the reminder to appreciate the journey and don’t fixate on the destination. Team Hohenschwangau has made rad memories making every moment an adventure; and if we ever get lost, luckily, we have Ausgang to help us out.

Perspectives

Holy moly, am I glad I slept well last night, because today was a whirlwind. When Dr. P said we were hitting the ground running today, he was not lying.

Today, our group had the opportunity to discover Berlin in the eyes of its remembrance and tribute toward their doings in the Holocaust—an event that is not so far removed from today, and rings too true to key themes we as humanity ought to remember. Visiting the Memorial of the Murdered Jews and the Typography of Terror and walking among religious spaces that were vandalized and damaged for their viewpoint, had our group really asking one prominent question: How?

How did this happen? How did things escalate to such an extent that over a million people would attend a celebratory ceremony for Adolf Hitler and think it was complete normalcy? How was no one able to stop it before they did? Seeing firsthand pictures and hearing real, genuine stories rattled me. I, personally, have Jewish heritage and members of my close family who are Jewish. As I heard the stories and read the quotes of dealing with the terror and the horror and the brutal dehumanization of the Jews, it was almost impossible to not replace the names of those people with names of my family members whom I know and love. The people in my family have souls that offer vivacity to our world and if they weren’t given human rights, the world would be severely missing out. Nowadays, everyone grows up learning about World War 2 and the Holocaust, yet it is still so easy to forget the rawness and realness that lies in the statistics. Those numbers of people who were murdered are people, with names and a story to tell. Small tears stung my eyes as I read of men and women who lost hope—lost their faith in the goodness of humanity.

Yet also, I couldn’t help but to think of the other side, the people in whom joined the Nazi Party. How sad to be so brainwashed, so programmed to think that oppressing the life of someone simply because of their race or religious belief is anyone near ok. These people who supported the Nazi party must be so low, so broken to join a movement that screams out hate at its finest. My heart hurts for the people who endorsed a movement that they had no idea would cultivate into a monstrosity of hate.

I look upon both sides of the story, the good and the bad, and there’s one thing that wells up inside me—empathy. I mourn for the ones who lost hope because of the heritage they belong; I mourn for the ones who merely lack light, lack sympathy in life, and join a movement rooted in hate; I mourn for the ones caught in between, knowing the right way to go, but letting fear drive their footsteps.

Living a life viewing other people as not worthy of existence is one of the saddest lives to live. That is important to never forget; never forget that people are people, good or bad or somewhere in-between. We grow together, we laugh together, we learn together. Think of all the poets and doctors and athletes and thespians and writers and engineers and scientists and mathematicians that existed in those millions of Jews murdered. May we, today, be people who truly, deeply humanize one another, remembering that everyone around us is three-dimensional, with a soul and feelings. The more empathy we cultivate as a society, the less hate will permeate our sphere. Man against man will never result in the unification of a nation, but in order to grow we must look past one another flaws and differences and notice how similar we all truly are.