Unapologetically Me

To start this blog post honestly, I thought writing a final reflection on CR would be much easier than this. I just can’t seem to find the words adequate enough to completely describe all that is Cultural Routes and how it changed me for the better. One thing I know for sure is that CR would not be the same had it not been for every single person chosen for CR10. I was a little nervous coming in because I didn’t know many people initially, only some slightly familiar faces from Milton. I was nervous I was going to have to put on a mask and change my personality in order to fit the group dynamic. But as early on as our very first meeting, I quickly realized that feeling out of place would never become an issue with these amazing individuals. After we all landed in Germany to embark on our 3.5 weeks together, I started to see glimpses of the “Familia” that those of CR past had gushed about. As we hit the ground running in Berlin, there were already connections being formed. I realized I was already letting my guard down and knew that I could fully be myself.

 
But it wasn’t until we reached Italy that I realized the true meaning of Familia. As we handed out our awards at our final dinner, I realized how incredibly lucky I was to be surrounding by the most genuine and caring people I had ever met. I realized that the next morning, we all would be flying home and our time on CR was coming to a close. But I had realized that these individuals were so much more than friends, they were family.

 
The experiences I had this past summer were only shared with my fellow CR10-ers and can never be replicated (as much as we all want to try to crash CR11). I would never trade these experiences for the world and I wouldn’t want to have experienced a single moment of it without my Familia by my side.

 
My CR family constantly laughs at my jokes, no matter how terrible or poorly timed. My CR family never fails to put a smile on my face or laugh until I cry. My CR family is there for me anytime I need to lean on them. My CR family never lets me take a single moment for granted.

 
CR wouldn’t have been the same without Lauren’s radiating joy and Brittany’s amazing vine references and the ability to always uplift someone’s mood. CR wouldn’t have been the same without Kyle’s contagious smile and laugh, Marat’s calming spirit, and Indigo’s amazing voice that left us all in tears. CR wouldn’t have been the same without Jake’s ability to grow deep relationships by always knowing exactly what to say or without Ryal’s ability to be an incredible fearless leader. CR wouldn’t have been the same without Abby allowing me to be fully myself or the Olivia’s being able to always leave everyone dying of laughter. CR wouldn’t have been the same without Emma’s inviting spirit, always having her arms wide open, or Brooke’s ability to allow us all to think deeper about the world around us. It wouldn’t have been the same without Jacob constantly having all of our backs or Nishu with his booming laugh that is enough to make anyone’s day. And CR would have not even happened had it not been for Dr. P and his constant dedication and support or Lindsey choosing to spend half of her summer with all of us.

 
Lauren, Brittany, Kyle, Marat, Indigo, Jake, Ryal, Abby, Olivia W, Olivia C, Emma, Brooke, Audrey, Nishu, Jacob, Lindsey, and Dr. P; Thank you for letting me be unapologetically me.
For the final time,
Taylor Long

Veni. Vidi. Vici

Rome. A city rebuilt upon itself. Layer upon layer of ancient history, stacked on top of more ancient ruins. Not to be too stereotypically Italian, but it really is like a homemade lasagna with its layers of pasta, ricotta, and sauce, layered again and again over hundreds of years. Walking through Rome, it is so easy to just stumble upon old ruins. What I found to be most interesting was that some of those ruins didn’t even have a plaque explaining its significance. It is simply an uncovered piece of history laying between a few contemporary buildings. Its beauty was almost too much to comprehend. On our final day in Rome, my small group stopped to take a look around a church. On our walk back, Brittany said to me, “I love how we are just taking a casual stroll by the Colosseum.” She was so right! It almost becomes too easy to take all of this majestic history for granted after all that we have seen and done in the last 3.5 weeks.

As our time in Rome comes to a close, I realize how much I will miss this city. I will miss strolling through the ancient Forum where an entire civilization used to “hang”. I will miss making wishes in the Trevi Fountain. I will miss learning so much within the walls of Vatican City. I will miss standing outside Russell Crowe’s hotel, waiting for a gladiator sighting. But most importantly, I will miss our evening walks past the Pantheon headed straight for Giolitti’s.

More than missing Rome and the gelato, I will miss Europe as a whole. Traveling has allowed me to examine the American culture from a distance. I found plenty of differences between our culture versus the Europeans, some negative and some positive. One thing I certainly appreciate about the Europeans, especially Italians, is the way they take a nice long time to sit and enjoy their dinner. So often in America, we barely sit down to scarf down our food before we run off to our next task. Forget having time to converse with family or friends. The dinners of CR were one of my favorite parts of the day. They would often linger on for 2-3 hours. During this time, we would share with each other every aspect of our day and the interesting things we learned about the city and ourselves. I think Americans could learn a great lesson on the tradition of coming together at the end of the day and having great conversations over a meal.

But what I will miss most is not spending every waking minute with the CR familia. I could probably write an entire blog post over each individual on CR and how they impacted my experience and how much their friendship means to me. Writing this blog now, I am suddenly aware of how close we have all become. We could laugh, cry, or make the silliest jokes, all with full confidence that another person would be right there in the moment with us. While CR has come to a close, I am so eager to see what the future holds for CR10. But what is most exciting is that we still have three years together to strengthen our relationships and build on top of what we have started.

CR10… We came. We saw. We conquered.

Veni. Vidi. Vici.

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Firenze by Day, Venezia and Pisa by Night

Well… not exactly by night. Day trips to be exact.

 

Right as we got off of the train and had arrived in Florence, I knew that there would be amazing things in store. On the walk from the train station to our hotel, we casually passed by the Duomo which was breathtakingly gorgeous. But day 1 in Florence did not stop there. Dr. P arranged a gondola down the Arno River and we floated down under the Ponte Vecchio bridge accompanied with fruit and sandwiches, as if the experience wasn’t already perfect. This ride down the Arno was truly a moment I will never forget. We all laughed and talked while taking in the city from the best perspective.

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But the good times in Florence did stop there. We were then split into our groups for the city and were given our new set of tasks. The city did not stop impressing me the entire time we were exploring. Every corner you turned, something beautiful appeared. We explored the Uffizi Gallery and the Galileo museum. Even though many members of my group, myself included, would not consider themselves scientifically inclined, we can all agree seeing Galileo’s finger made it worth it. My favorite thing we saw, however, had to be the statue of David, and not just because of the jokes that have arisen (sorry Ryal). We had seen other replicas of the statue, but none would compare to the original David. I sat looking at the stature trying to comprehend how Michelangelo managed to carve a 17 foot statue out of marble while making the features look so real. The veins on his arm and the way his muscles were flexing were extremely realistic to a human body, so to imagine him chiseling this by hand blew my mind. Not to mention that Michelangelo was only in his early twenties when he sculpted David, further emphasizing his true genius.
Next came the day trips. Our first was to Pisa. Pictures don’t do the dramatic tilt of the building justice. We climbed all the way to the top of the tower and, of course, took some very cliché photos.

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The next day trip was a favorite of mine. Venice. I had always wanted to Venice and had no idea I would get the opportunity to visit. Plus when I found out the city is slowly sinking, I knew it was now or never. A group of 7 traveled to Venice. We made our way to the train station and purchased our tickets and, surprisingly, we weren’t late for our train. After we made it to Venice without a hitch, we navigated our way throughout the city without ever having to buy a map. I loved how the group took the day slowly and wandered around the streets without a real plan. We would take about what the group would want to do next with no stress at all. We had amazing pasta, stopped for gelato, and of course, took a gondola ride.

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As we arrived back in Florence, we met up with the rest of the group and headed to Piazza de Michelangelo to say our goodbyes to the city.
Florence brought some of my favorite experiences along with it, and while I was sad to see it go, the memories that were made were absolutely amazing. From gondolas to eating at Fabio’s restaurant multiple times, we did Florence right.

Never Say Never

From the moment we all arrived in Interlaken, we all had extreme sports on our minds. We excitedly ran to the lobby to sign up for all of our adventures. But there was one activity that didn’t exactly me. Canyoning. I had heard it described as “white water rafting but without a raft.” This absolutely terrified me and I knew one thing. I knew that I would never go canyoning. Ever.

One event led to another and before I knew it, I had signed myself up for the one thing I said I would never do. This sounds crazy to willingly face your biggest fear, but I didn’t want to go through the rest of CR with any “what ifs?” and I wanted to face what I was scared of head on. I was now signed up to canyon in the morning and skydive in the afternoon. I was one million times more nervous for canyoning than skydiving, which again sounds completely backwards.

Before I knew it, we were all getting into our wetsuits and beginning our climb up to where we would enter the canyon. For the next hour and a half, we were diving off of huge rocks and sliding down rapids all in freezing cold water. I would like to give a massive shout out to the other 7 members of the familia who were in my group for canyoning. Without them I don’t think I would have dove head first into the water; literally and figuratively. They lent helping hands during fast currents and were incredibly encouraging when I didn’t think that I could ever jump off of the rock. Will I ever go canyoning again? Probably not. Was I glad that I did it?Heck yes! I had done something that was completely out of my comfort zone and something that I never thought I could do. The next adventure was skydiving. After making it through canyoning alive, I knew that there was nothing that I couldn’t do. Without the involvement of water, skydiving did not terrify me nearly as much as canyoning. In fact, it excited me! That isn’t to say that I wasn’t a little nervous to free-fall out of a plane, but composted to canyoning, the fear was minuscule. We were all hyping each other up as we got into our suits, which helped to calm my nerves. Truthfully, I don’t think that I had entirely processed the fact that in mere minutes I would be jumping out of a plane in the Swiss Alps. The minutes flew by, and the next thing I know I was strapped to my instructor, Craig, in a tiny plane getting ready to jump. I will never forget the moment when I saw Emma roll out of the plane, as she was the first to jump. That is the exact moment that it hit me. A minute later, I was free-falling. To say this was the coolest feeling ever would be an understatement. The parachute was released and then we were just floating over the mountains. Below me, I could see houses and roads and all around me were the most beautiful mountains I had ever seen. I never wanted this come to an end. I proclaimed to my instructor mid-flight that this would not be the last time I would skydive. I’m so thankful for Interlaken and CR for allowing me to break through my comfort zone, all in the presence of 17 other amazing individuals.

Dandelions

 

“There are other things you can eat. First there are dandelions. You simply pull out the whole root, shake off the soil and stick the whole thing in your mouth. Unfortunately there are only a few of them at our work site.”
-Jean Bernard, prisoner in Dachau concentration camp from 1941-1942.

 

I have never been one to take a lot of pictures within a museum. Occasionally I will snap a picture of the room as a whole if I find it striking, but not usually many individual pictures of boards, paintings, or even sculptures. But this time was different.
We arrived at Dachau concentration camp early in the morning and rain was in the forecast. We all split off on separate paths and entered the gates of the camp. The museum was to our right, which contained artifacts and the history of the camp, and the barracks and crematorium to the left. I chose to enter the museum first. The museum was located in the old maintenance center of the concentration camp. When I entered the building, I felt a physical weight fall over me. Learning about concentration camps at home and now actually being in one are two vastly different things I came to find out. I wandered through the rooms, trying to put myself into the shoes of the prisoners, although I could never even come close to understanding, who would first enter the camp through the exact room I was standing in. I read every bit of information I could, trying to process all that was being thrown at me. Halfway through the museum, I read a quote on one of the boards, not a rarity seeing as I was reading literally everything. But for some reason, I felt compelled to take my phone out and take a picture of this quote; the only quote I took a picture of out of the entire museum. It was in simple black and white font, and barely took up any space on the gigantic wall. If you weren’t looking closely, you may even miss the quote completely. But this is the one I chose to take a picture of.

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I continued walking through the museum and when I was done I walked outside into the center of the camp, feeling almost numb to all the information I had just read. I sat on a step right outside and my gaze was focused on the ground, reflecting on the museum. I got up and was about to make my way across the main center to the barrack, but I stopped when I noticed something. Dandelions. Tons of them. The sign of hope for hungry prisoners was once nonexistent within the camp and now there were dandelions scattered everywhere throughout the grass surrounding the camp. I felt a feeling of fate as the only picture I had taken within in the museum was a quote about dandelions. Chills went up my spine. What touched me the most was how it comes to represent hope. Those trapped within the concentration camp had to hold on to any sign of hope they could, and today hope remains. The hope is that something this hateful and atrocious will never occur again. But there is also fear in that hateful things consistently occur/are said in the world today. As I looked around, I observed everyone else visiting the camp. I had hope that everyone there was educating themselves to ensure that history does not come full circle. I had hope that everyone there respected the horrific acts that had occurred. What terrified me was the amount of people who showed blatant disrespect for the grounds of the camp. It sent a different kind of chill up my spine, the chill of terror, that the Holocaust may be disappearing in the minds of some. I walked along the dandelion filled grounds and walked in the barracks and the crematorium, which was extremely difficult to say the least. But everywhere I looked dandelions, my new sign of hope, was scattered where I walked.

 

After the we left the camp, we all sat in silence not knowing exactly how to put our feelings into words. But there was a comfort in simply being together, even without words being spoken. This shows exactly how bonded we all have become. Munich in general has definitely been a turning point in the relationships built on this trip. Even Dachau created so much conversation regarding religion and salvation and how it is often in conflict with the Holocaust. These are the exact conversations that create bonds that simply cannot be recreated. There have been hard and (very) hangry days, as well as days filled with laughter and spontaneity. My team in Munich, Hohenschwangau, even jumped into a freezing cold river with quite a swift current. Waking up that morning, I could have never seen myself jumping into a freezing river in Munich, but that is exactly where I ended up. My team was absolutely incredible and exploring Munich would not have been the same without them.

 

Hope is everywhere. It is in our everyday lives, relationships, and even the unexpected.
Munich, you were absolutely amazing.

The Infamous Night Train

“You have to exit the train in 2 minutes!!!!!”

This is what I woke up to after riding the night train from Berlin to Munich. I had heard from past CR members that the night train was one to remember, but I honestly didn’t imagine it going quite like this. Our cabin had fallen back asleep and was completely oblivious to the fact that our stop was up next. We woke up in a panic to our (very angry) conductor aggressively telling us we had to leave the train as soon as possible. Bags went flying and coffee and tea were spilling everywhere as we chaotically ran off the train looking anything but graceful. It was truly a wonderful experience. So far, this has been the only transportation mishap while on CR, aside from getting on the wrong U-Bahn once or twice, so I would say we aren’t off to a bad start. While our group worked together to find our way around Berlin by using the transportation system, we were met with a few challenges (hence getting on the wrong U-Bahn). We knew we had to work together to overcome the language barrier and figure out a system that was foreign to us at first. But part of the fun of exploring the city is navigating and also getting lost and finding your way back to your destination.

Just a mere 12 hours before we boarded the infamous night train, we were wrapping up our time in Berlin! We began the day by all visiting the Reichstag, now known as the Bundestag. Visiting this at the end of the week allowed me to truly value its importance, because I had been learning about its history from the moment we got to Berlin. The German government has built a clear dome on top of the Bundestag to represent transparency with the government and the people, which Berlin should be commemorated for not turning its back on its history. We then had a few hours before boarding the, still incredibly infamous, night train.

Some of my favorite moments in Berlin have been the East Side Gallery and Treptower park, both visited on our second to last day in the city before moving on to Munich. East Side Gallery I enjoyed because Berlin has turned the Berlin Wall, which once represented something so ugly, into something beautiful while still remembering the wall and the history surrounding it. Treptower park was a favorite because I realized how naïve I was regarding the Soviet Union and its ties to Germany. The memorial in the park to honor fallen Soviet soldiers was extremely powerful and taught me a lot about history as well. There are many memorials to Soviet soldiers who were killed by the Germans, and yet the German government funds the upkeep of these memorials. Berlin continues to amaze me with its outlook on its history and their ability to face it head on.

But aside from my favorite sites in Berlin, the standout so far has been connection. Connection with those around me and building new purposeful relationships. While the wakeup on the night train was frantic, the talks we had before falling asleep were ones that I know brought us all closer as a team on CR. I am so thankful for everyone on this trip being unapologetically themselves!

*P.S. As a clarification, we made it off the train in plenty of time and have already decided our conductor was conspiring against us.

Bravo in Berlin!

We have now spent a full (and I mean full) 48 hours here in Berlin, and it has been nothing short of amazing! Berlin is quite an interesting city, with a rich culture as well as a tumultuous history. But what I find truly amazing about Berlin is that it doesn’t try to hide or cover up its history, it embraces that it happened and memorializes it to ensure that history does not cycle back around. The history of the Holocaust and Berlin Wall can seem so far away when learning about them in school back home. But now that we are here, the weight of Berlin’s history has become so much more impactful.

Day 1 in Berlin first consisted of CR10 navigating our way to meet Dr. P at the Brandenburg Gate. We were then divided into our small groups! Abby, Ryal, Lauren, Marat, and myself all make up Team Bravo! We then were left to our own devices, consisting of a road and subway map, to navigate our way to certain locations within Berlin. We learned how to navigate the infamous U Bahn and truly began to connect on a deeper level as a group as the day progressed. Our group spent the most time at the Berlin Wall Memorial and the German History Museum (and prioritized snacking on some chocolate too). Throughout this day, I realized how much I had to learn about German history and I loved being able to connect what I saw within the museum to the actual historical sites as I saw when I was walking around the city.


Day 2 was met with much more emotion from our team. Our day was completely centered on the Holocaust. We started at the Memorial for the Murdered Jews, which consists of an entire city block filled with concrete slabs. This serves as a blunt reminder to the city of the atrocities that occurred. We ended up visiting this memorial at night, and I found that experience to be even more moving than when we visited this during the day. While this memorial along was incredibly powerful, what lies below the memorial is where our group shared extremely meaningful moments. The museum is what lies directly below the memorial. This is truly the most moving exhibition I have ever encountered. It consisted of photos and biographies of the lives that were lost in the Holocaust by displaying their personal journals. I took a moment to reflect towards the end of the exhibit and was overcome with questions. How could this have happened? From a psychological standpoint, why did everyone believe that Jewish individuals were the enemy? A particular moment that left an impact on me was a journal entry from an officer who carried out mass executions on the Jews. He had little to no remorse for the situation which literally sent shivers down my spine and allowed me to formulate so many more questions. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that a man would carry out mass executions of innocent people, and then return home to his family as if nothing horrific had just occurred. Our group really connected within our discussions following this museum.


The second day of exploration also allowed for growth as a team, as well as personal growth. The first two days of Berlin have been moving and breathtaking. Day 3 has some high expectations that I’m sure it will surpass, just as the days going forward will be met with more growth, connections, and true exploration!