A Most-enlightening Experience

It’s a luxury to return to a computer. For several weeks, I wrote chicken-scratch notes in an undersized notebook while traveling throughout continental Europe. Hand cramps and half-legible prose were the results of this “old school” approach, but I am thankful to report they are the most salient points of dissatisfaction with my journey.

In contrast, I handled the language, monetary, cultural and gastronomic gaps just fine. Moreover, I returned to the United States in good health and with an unrevoked passport (not that I was worried). Now I am left with the uneasy task of recounting the things I’ve learned.

First, I learned the truth behind an old cliché. Since arriving at UST, I have been bombarded by a multitude of people extolling the virtues of international travel and study. Such people often would exhaust listeners with their tales of enlightening experiences and unforgettable memories. At some point, I tuned them out – probably because I was envious. But in any case, I think it’s clear now that their message was accurate.

This is because our world has grown increasingly interconnected. News stories from the Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic (my ports of call) often affect our lives significantly more than events taking place in, say, Minneapolis. Take, for example, the abundance of news coverage springing from the recently attempted terrorist attack on Dec. 25. In the days following this averted catastrophe, I followed frequent international news reports detailing additional security mechanisms in Amsterdam and the United States. Ironically, I happened to return to the United States on the same flight from Amsterdam to Detroit that the young Nigerian attempted to destroy with explosives concealed in his underpants. As a result, I was subjected to thorough questioning and a robust frisking at the Amsterdam airport. This sort of thing hits uncomfortably close to home.

Another example occurred in Munich, Germany. Sitting in my hostel room, I read about the South German municipal bank (called a Landesbank) that had been upended by risky derivative security investments originating in the United States. I knew a bit about the global scale of our recent economic crisis, but it really didn’t hit me until the newspaper I was reading was coated in authentic Bavarian pretzel crumbs. The irony left me awestruck once again, and I could list many more examples of how I observed the world as being “flat” (as Thomas Friedman would say).

The most enlightening part of my excursion through Europe occurred as I chatted with other student travelers. Pakistani, Australian, Swiss, Dutch, Czech, German, Argentine, Brazilian, English and Japanese (etc.) men and women propelled the novelty of my experience into an unexpected realm. Never before had I been exposed to new ideas, methods of expressions and cultural norms as I was in spending time with these comrades. Despite our many differences, we seemed much the same. We had the same anxieties about our future, the same hopes for our careers and the same love for our homelands. It was hard to find anything detestable in their demeanor, and I am happy to report they enjoyed the company of a U.S. citizen.

Despite these boons of travel, it feels great to be back in St. Paul. A full course load beckons once again, and I will now count myself as one who may generate envy amongst our less-traveled peers. I hope for those who have yet to venture abroad to travel somewhere into the unknown before they graduate. Abroad, their intellects will be challenged and supplemented by an international experience – one I am finally able and certainly willing to advocate.