Spring Break: the words usually conjure images of beaches and bikinis.
Not for us. Though we were set to jet, there would be no carousing for we travelers. We were prepared well in advance by Judy Carter, the honors coordinator, to be ambassadors of Amarillo College as members of the first global competency trip.
I’d like to think we did a great job. Though we may not have always been on time, and some of us broke the no-jeans rule, our tour guide told us we were his favorite group.
“I love you all,” he proclaimed for the camera on our last night in Berlin.
That’s a big compliment coming from a German. At least that’s what I’ve been told.
Our trip started the first weekend of spring break. We flew from Amarillo to Dallas, then to London and Munich.
“When I first got to Munich, I thought it was beautiful,” said Andrea Guerrero, a mass communication major. “It was kind of not registering in my mind that we were in Germany.”
The feeling was mutual. After spending a hurried fall semester applying for the course, saving money and paying the fees and obtaining passports, we spent the first part of our spring semester completing research and giving presentations on cities we would visit.
We went over itineraries. We looked up hotels and places to visit. But it wasn’t real until we’d walked a few miles of cobblestones.
“I feel tired!” exclaimed Angie Ross, a nursing instructor, after climbing a mountain to get to the first of many castles. “But we’re here.”
That first day, we climbed and walked a longer distance than most of us are accustomed to. Here in Amarillo, we spend a good majority of our day in cars. Not in Europe – the streets, laid hundreds of years ago, were not made for cars. To see the sights, we had to deal with the walking.
It was the first of many differences we would encounter. From the electrical outlets to greetings, from public transportation to trying to span the language barrier in a pharmacy, we tried to adapt quickly. But for all the differences, we also saw the similarities and made connections with the locals.
“They say the Europeans don’t like America, but the people there were so nice to me,” said Perla Arellano, a mass communication major. “They’re just people. They’re just like us.”
Arellano tried to describe what we felt whenever we were able to have even small conversations in shops and museums. “Accomplishment” almost describes it, but not quite.
“Just to have those little things … just that I was able to communicate…” she said before trailing off into thoughts of a coffee shop conversation.
As we traveled between cities, we saw what felt like hundreds of sights, both touristy and those that were just novel to us because they were different. We visited cathedrals, castles and museums.
We walked through the Dachau concentration camp and reflected somberly on all that was lost there. It was hard walking through the prison, feeling the chill in the air for the few minutes we were down there and knowing it was nothing compared to the entire winters some lived there. Worse was seeing the crematorium and hearing our tour guide say there were “only” about 40,000 deaths at that particular camp. It’s not something you can understand just by reading about it.
That was the biggest thing we realized: just how much more we were learning by actually being there, actually touching history, actually interacting with people.
“I liked that we could hear firsthand how they lived and dealt with the Berlin Wall and how their family dealt with the Holocaust,” said Paola Estrada, a forensic science major.
It wasn’t just being immersed in the cities full of different cultures and languages that made the trip so educational and unforgettable. It was being among people, both Amarilloans and Europeans and sharing our lives.
“It opens your eyes to the world,” said Laura Cabrales, a nursing major. “You’re able to see different things and able to value other people’s opinions and points of view because you’ve seen what’s out there.”
We could sit and list all the places we visited. You could read through them, say, “Oh, how nice,” and forget about it tomorrow.
Or you could do what we did: apply immediately when the next trip is announced, save money like your life depends on it and drown yourself in research. It’s a lot of work, but believe us when we say it’s worth it and you’ll have the time of your life.
And when the last day of the trip comes, you’ll find, like Vanessa Garcia, a mass communication major, that the hardest part is yet to come.