The past three months have been a whirlwind of self-discovery as I embarked on a personal adventure in the United Kingdom and Europe.
Besides the adventures of my fellowship project in the United Kingdom (which my most recent post was about and a future post will be about) I also had several small adventures around Europe.
With my fellowship foundation reminding me to “have fun” and with several challenges that resulted in the need to slow down and take some time to focus on myself, I decided to take a few small trips around Europe to fulfill my dreams and visit famous sights, learn about different cultures and languages, and explore my heritage as a European-American.
My small trips around Europe have been an unbelievable experience. Despite a short amount of time in each place, I have made friendships and memories to last a lifetime and I have learned more than I could have imagined. In Spain I found strength that I didn’t know I had as I was forced to overcome my fear of the unknown and embrace the unexpected when several plans fell through shortly before my arrival. Not only did I overcome these challenges, but I learned how to trust myself and others in a way that was completely new to me.
In Madrid I explored a historic and beautiful city, ate delicious homemade food, and even spent a day adventuring through a local village with Dana and my Madrid host family.
In Granada I learned about family life and family dynamics in Spain as I lived with an older woman and her two older sons. I ate tappas, struggled to understand the Andalucian accent and dialect, enjoyed street performances, watched a flamenco dance, climbed to new heights to view miradores (scenic overlooks), visited Alhambra, rode through the streets on a motorcycle, and learned how services for women and children have struggled with the worsening political and economic situation that Spain is experiencing.
Due to the incredible generosity and friendly spirit of a new friend, I was able to visit the small coastal village of Almunecar. Victoria guided me through the town as I tried local food, explored the beach and a castle, and even hiked to see a stunning view of the town at sunset.
With only one very rainy day in Barcelona, I tested my courage and ventured out walking all around a city by myself. Despite the weather, I enjoyed seeing the stunning architecture of famous buildings and churches.
My next trip was to France.
In France I was proud of my strength as I navigated the beautiful city of Paris. Despite only knowing a few phrases in French, I overcame this challenge and really enjoyed seeing the famous sights of Paris. I met my lovely host Leila and we spent hours listening to great music and talking about travel adventures as I learned about life in Paris. I learned about how multi-cultural identities and multi-religious identities in Paris result in people having different experiences and ways of life.
My next small trip was to Italy.
I first spent time in Trento and the Italian Alps with Sophia and her boyfriend Simone. I also spent a few hours exploring Florence with a self guided walking tour through the stunning streets, canals, and churches.
As Christmas approached, I maintained my positivity and good spirits with the help of Sophia, Sophia’s family, and my friend from college named Devin. Sophia and her family graciously included us in their Christmas holiday traditions as we enjoyed personal guides through Rome, ate delicious homemade pasta and pizza, and learned about the Italian welfare system and ways of life. My next short trip was to spend New Year’s Eve in Amsterdam, but on the way I stopped in Belgium.
Devin and I stopped at the gorgeous cities of Brugge and Brussels. In Brussels I enjoyed spending a day seeing the sights, walking around the city, exploring the local fairs, and even seeing the city from the vantage point of a Ferris wheel.
In Brugge I explored the city by visiting churches and historical buildings, I climbed the main clock tower, went ice-skating, took a river boat cruise through the canals, visited the gorgeous windmills, had a drink and a meal in a 499 year old pub, explored local markets, sang and danced with locals at a holiday market, and played pool (horribly) while staying at my first ever hostel. I then spent my New Year’s Eve in Amsterdam!
While in the Netherlands, we learned about the Red Light district and the nature of prostitution and sex trafficking in a city where selling sex and drugs are legal, we visited famous historical sights like Anne Frank House, and climbed a statute in the main square in Amsterdam to watch the fireworks and have the ideal vantage point overlooking the entire crowd to celebrate the New Year.
We also spent a day exploring The Hague where I visited the Peace Palace and learned about international courts and the United Nations, admired famous artwork, and visited a gorgeous beach. The next few small trips through Poland challenged my ability to overcome challenges and bumps in the road. T
hrough the help and guidance of incredible people, I managed to remain calm, positive, and make the most out of my short time in each place. After missing my connecting train in Berlin, I struggled to figure out how to proceed to my next destination. While some people laughed at me and shook their heads as I ran to the platform and saw my train leave without me, my faith and trust in humanity was further strengthened as a stranger went out of his way to guide me to my destination. He spent hours helping me plan my route, buy my tickets, find an ATM to get polish currency, and find something to eat. After a 20 hour train journey filled with great conversations and challenges, I arrived in Krakow at about 3:30am. Despite me being a complete stranger, Anna and Andrea welcomed me to their home as if I was a part of their family.
With Anna and Andrea’s unbelievable generosity, hospitality, and compassion I had the opportunity to experience Polish life and learn about my own personal history. We shared homemade and original Polish and Italian meals together, visited Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Oskar Schindler’s Factory, Nova Huta-the communist district of Krakow, and a historic salt mine. I also learned a lot about my project as I spent time with an incredible woman who is a teacher at a special psychiatric hospital for children. Together we discussed how people helping children need to have a balanced approach and offer the appropriate level of services so that children will be prepared to successfully navigate the outside world and society.
My next trip was to Warsaw and Ostralenka to explore the areas of Poland where my mother was born. My awesome host Ewelina and I formed a friendship to last a lifetime as we shared stories about life, love, and travel while exploring the beautiful sights of Warsaw.
My European mini-adventures will soon end in Berlin with my lovely host Brooke. I cannot thank her enough for her generosity, compassion, hospitality, and help. I appreciate our conversations, her incredible advice, and how she welcomed me to her home. With her help and support, I have been able to see the sights of Berlin, participate in a memorial demonstration for the victims of the Paris attacks, and learn about the complex history of how a country and society overcame years of war, struggles, and trauma.
As I now prepare for my next journey in India, I am so thankful and grateful for all of the people and places that have left an impact on not only my fellowship year but also my life. Through my spontaneous short trips through Europe, I have continued to be inspired by incredible sights, complex laws and government systems, and the most amazing acts demonstrating the versatility, positivity, and greatness of the human spirit. As I continue to make new memories and share new experiences, I am grateful for how every person and every place is leaving an imprint on my journey and my life.