Abstract:This semester taught me lots of things about the world we live in. I’ve met so many incredible people and seen so many beautiful places! Join me as I recap my semester and share with you what I’ve learned so far.
I really can’t believe I spent four amazing months in Europe. Can you? A year ago, I would never have known that I would be spending this much time around incredible people seeing beautiful cities and learning so much about the world we live in. These four months might have been the best four months of my life. I’ve traveled and seen so many new things in such a short amount of time. I’ve also learned about the languages, cultures and daily lives of the people I lived with and around.
By visiting many different places, I was able to learn a lot about our world and each other in general. Read on to learn more about the highlights of my trip!
My first trip to Milan, Italy showed me the fast-paced, elegant style of European city-living. This city’s citizens really know how to look great and live! But I also learned that even city dwellers make time to sit down with friends and family by taking part in the traditional siesta between 5-7 pm. Going to a restaurant or café before dinner and snacking on delicious appetizers for a few hours with loved ones is an experience that brought me closer to my friends. Italians are seemingly very close with their families and like to stay together and spend time with other people.
Going to Venice, Italy also taught me a great deal about how humans can adapt to their environment! Since the city was built entirely on a lagoon surrounded by water, the citizens had to make sure their houses wouldn’t sink. They also had to find a new way to travel within the city. Throughout history, Venetians did what most humans have been able to do everywhere in the world. They use the environment to their own advantage. They built strong foundations for buildings so they wouldn’t sink, and they also made many boats that could help them get from home to work, school, etc. Even today, there are no cars found in Venice. Not only has this kind of environment protected Venetians from invaders, but also made Venice a very historic and touristic city!
My spring break in Istanbul, Turkey was the highlight of my semester. It opened my eyes to the idea of coexistence. I learned about how lots of different types of people, ways of thinking and ways of life can live side by side. Istanbul is an incredibly diverse city with a very diverse history. Conservative and liberal Muslims live together as do other people such as as Turks, Kurds, Arabs, and Greeks. Many people might think that a country that is mostly Muslim cannot be modern, but going to Turkey made me believe otherwise. On the street, you can find beautiful and grand mosques right next to tall banks, shopping malls and restaurants. Many don’t see Turkey as being European, either. But being in Istanbul for a week showed me just how modernized Turkey is, while keeping its traditions!
My road trip throughout the Balkans (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo) let me understand how different people are able to live together. Twenty years ago, people in this region, Christian Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks and Albanians lived side by side. They weren’t identified by their religion or ethnicity. They were simply known as Yugoslav. They were united under one government. But around the early 1990s, the governments of the different provinces didn’t get along, and they wanted to inspire hatred amongst people. After a devastating civil war, the idea of peaceful coexistence between different religions and ethnicities had almost failed. But we can also learn that living amongst each other, no matter how diverse we may be, is possible! The Yugoslavs did it for a very long time before the war. To continue doing so, we just have to remember that we are all the same deep-down inside.
Visiting Germany showed me that even though a country and its people’s history can be dark, the future doesn’t have to be. Throughout two World Wars in Germany, millions of people died and Germany was at the center of both conflicts. At first, relationships between countries were strained, but slowly they supported Germany through mutual understanding. Today, Germany is among the most diverse, prosperous and successful countries in Europe and the world. It was impossible for me to believe that less than a century ago the country went through a devastating war. You really can’t always judge something by its past. Its future can be so different!
Berlin, the capital of Germany also showed me that the will of a people is always stronger than anything else. After World War II, Berlin and Germany were divided in two different parts. There was a Soviet sector in the East and an Allied (French, American, British) sector in the West. Germans living in the East could not go to the West and vice-versa, even if their families lived in another part. The Berlin Wall was built to make sure no Germans would cross the borders between Eastern Germany and Western Germany. Many people died trying to cross the border throughout the decades after the Second World War. In 1989, the wall began to fall. At that point, the Germans had had enough and wanted to be reunited. They protested and brought down the wall! They knew that Germans could not be divided any longer!
Of course, living in France taught me the most about the way people live and think in Western Europe’s largest country. Staying in Menton and visiting cities like Nice, Marseille and Paris taught me what the French think of their country. Most French people value their country above anything else. The country was built upon the principle that the country is supposed to unite everyone living in it by the sole role they play as French citizens. No matter if you are Muslim or Catholic, you are supposed to be known as French first. Not everyone agrees with this system, however. Many immigrants want to keep their original identities while being French, but many people don’t see how this can work.
Seeing grand monuments and beautiful parts in every city of France also showed me the reason the French are so proud of their country. In history and even today, France was known to be among the most powerful countries with an empire that stretched from Indochina in the east to Quebec and Louisiana in the west. Today, the French remember their past through national monuments like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
While these travels have taught me a lot about many different types of people and cultures, I ultimately learned that it’s impossible to stereotype or generalize and say that one thing applies to everyone! Living amongst so many diverse people taught me that not everyone is the same, even if they come from the same country or region. Before coming to France, for example, many people told me that the French are somewhat rude. I was a little afraid of talking to the French and becoming friends with them. But living in France for four months and learning the language helped me understand that the French are not always being rude, but have a different understanding of being friendly. Unlike Americans, the French are not always “artificially” nice when serving you in a shop, for example. This just means that when they are actually friendly, they really mean it.
It’s important to remember, however, that you can’t think any one type of people as the same. Many people think that Parisians are rude, but I met many Parisians that were very nice and helpful. In the end, it depends on your experience, cultural knowledge and how much of the language you know that will affect your interactions with people. Speaking to French people in English can sometimes result in different reactions than speaking to them in their own language. Nelson Mandela once said, “”If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
So what can you do to understand this beautiful world we live in? It’s easy. You don’t have to go to the other side of the world. Meet new people in your neighborhood, school or community center, and keep those you already know close to you. Talk to others. Ask them about their religion, language, family or home. Share how different or similar your experience is with others. I believe that as humans, we tend to be afraid of what we don’t know. If we know about each other and accept this diversity, we are more likely to get along.
But also remember that St. Augustine said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” When you get an opportunity to see a new place, take it. Do well in school to not only be able to get scholarships to go to college and to study abroad, but also to learn about other places and cultures at the same time.
Lastly, I wanted to thank you guys for following my journey! I appreciate Mr. Jackson and his classes for your great questions and giving me the opportunity to learn about other cultures by sharing my experiences with you. I would also like to thank Justine Lyons, Alice Jacques and Kristen Lahoda from Reach the World for their hard work, patience and assistance throughout this semester. You have helped me become a much better writer! Finally, I want to recognize the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program for awarding me with this opportunity to see the other side of our world and read many other pages of this book.
Thank you to everyone that I have missed and thank you again to those mentioned above. Without your help, none of this would have been possible. I encourage you all to follow your dreams no matter how impossible they may seem. I remember seeing a sign in Albania that said, “Impossible just takes time”. Remember that it also takes hard work! Don’t give up on your dreams. Now, it isn’t time to say adieu (a-dew: goodbye) but rather au revoir (aw re-vwar: until next time)!