Innovative Traveling (Learning) Week
Okay. So it’s been a while since my last post.
I’m reminded of an old adage: when everyone is quiet at the dinner table, it means that the food is delicious! I’m paraphrasing, but I think the message resonates. Like those mentioned in the proverb who were preoccupied eating delicious food, I too have had preoccupations of my own indulging in the rich nectar of study abroad experiences. Never fear, for I have been meticulous in documenting my escapades in a handwritten travel log. The subject of this post comes from my experiences over ILW (Innovative Learning Week).
ILW is a week-long break from classes at the University of Edinburgh where students are encouraged to partake in extracurricular activities focused on community engagement, intellectual stimulation, and existential growth. So of course everyone takes this opportunity to do nothing other than travel. For me in particular, I chose to spend my ILW (Feb 14-21) gallivanting through Paris and Amsterdam with friends. The friends I speak of were fellow study abroad students in the IFSA-Butler program who I had developed close relationships with. And our travel group was a colorful one indeed. In all, we totaled 6 people. Our ragtag bunch consisted of a self-proclaimed wallflower, a former wallflower-turned-extrovert (*cough* *cough*), a vegetarian, a vegan, a Texan, and a New Yorker. Yes, we’re practically the poster child for diversity. But why does our group dynamic work so well despite our differences? Some would find it curious that someone who has doctors for parents, someone who has lawyers for parents, and someone who has bankers for parents could be friends with each other, let alone friends with a first generation college student. What ultimately binds us is the fact that despite our various backgrounds and differences we’re all human. And as humans we share innate human traits such as the need for acceptance, affection, and adventure. These needs become even more salient when one is placed in a foreign setting far from the comfort and routine of daily life at home.
I may not have been as well traveled or have come from the same socioeconomic status as most of my fellow study abroad students, but something about being strangers in a strange land acts as a Great Equalizer for social interactions. Personality matters all. Privilege matters none. Suddenly, being a good person became the sine qua non for friendship building. Lucky for me, my experience navigating college independently and changing schools every year prior to college helped me break free of my reclusive ways, but also helped me hone my character, compassion, and interpersonal skills. As a result, I was fully prepared to once again embrace the beautiful mystery of a new social and physical environment. Upon arrival to Scotland, I plunged headfirst into the social pool and before I knew it I had assembled a group of friends more fascinating and caring than I could have every hoped for. Perhaps it was my personality that first attracted them to me, or perhaps it was my rockin’ bod and devilishly good looks (haha). Either way, we became friends, and as friends we ventured to Paris and Amsterdam over ILW.
Now, the pictures I’ll upload in my next post express the fun and excitement of the cities more poignantly than I ever could, but I do have a few key points about them that I’d like to touch upon.
Paris: beautiful; teeming with culture at every turn; EXPENSIVE; not the nicest of people (granted we may have just encountered a bad sampling of Parisians…who knows); baguettes everywhere; and delicious food all around.
Must see/do: The Louvre (absolutely incredible collection of fine art); Eiffel Tower (it speaks for itself); Palace/Gardens of Versailles (breathtaking); Monet Gardens; Arc de Triomphe; Shakespeare and Company bookshop; and Notre Dame Cathedral.
Amsterdam: very relaxing; tremendously helpful and polite people; BIKES EVERYWHERE; lovely parks; scenic waterways; and cheap food.
Must see/do: Visit the Anne Frank Museum; tour the Van Gogh; visit the red light district (just to say you’ve been there); and take a picture next to the “Amsterdam” sign.