I am currently traveling on a plane from Stockholm, Sweden to London, England. London will be the last leg of my trip so over the last few days I have thought a lot about what I have experienced and what it will be like to return home to Seattle. Over the last two months I have visited Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Munich, Dudeldorf, Amsterdam, and Stockholm. I have tried new foods like Doner and Halloumi. I have been in the middle of bustling cities and in the quiet countryside. I have made new friends and visited old ones. I danced in underground nightclubs and read in peaceful parks. I have slept in noisy, crowded hostels and in a charming apartment on an Amsterdam canal. I have been totally, absolutely lost and I have felt right at home. I even experienced a German hospital as a result of some awful bug bites. Looking back on my experience I am astonished by just how much I have done. There is truly nothing I would do differently~except maybe using bug spray.
The most striking visual image I hold of my experience in this program is perhaps my first time walking from the S-Bahn stop, Schleisches Tor, to our hostel, Die Fabrik. At this moment I had been traveling for two and a half days via three planes and three trains entirely on my own. I remember the feeling of my backpack straps pressing into my shoulders and the enormous mental effort I put into not being sick while being incomprehensively exhausted. I remember walking down the street in Kreuzberg and seeing graffiti everywhere. I was shocked by how run-down the neighborhood looked and grew nervous about my safety with my luggage. It is funny that this image is so ingrained in my memory because after a month and a half in Berlin, the emotions associated with the image shifted drastically. Kreuzberg is truly the most alive and vibrant place I believe I have ever visited. The energy in the neighborhood is something you have to experience to understand. When I think back to my time in Kreuzberg, I will remember the mixture of people and cultures present there. I will remember a mass of people rollerblading through the streets and demonstrations against gentrification. I will remember the smells of Turkish, Thai, and bad Mexican food mixing together. I will remember the way the cobblestone streets felt under my sandals as I walked to the metro.
Memories fade and it is interesting to consider what will remain with me years from now. Already the images of buildings and bridges in the various cities I have visited are gone from my memory, only to be reimagined by photographs. However the emotions I experienced while visiting those places remain strong. Furthermore the people I have met and connected with will always keep me tied to these different places.
I do think I am returning to Seattle with new views and ideas about the world. I see myself now as much more of a global citizen. There are certainly more similarities between countries than differences and I think we would all do well to remember that we are all citizens of the globe. Unfortunately I saw that racism is an issue around the world. People of immigrant backgrounds face discrimination across Europe. I had previously considered teaching English in Europe over the summers and now feel compelled not only to do this but also to teach global tolerance.
While I am sad to see my travels ending, I am excited to return to Seattle and share my experiences with friends and family. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity and look forward to travelling more in the future.