A personal reflection on the EU trip

This post was written by Sahara Chen ’18

I was frozen standing on the pale-yellow street and flowing in the solemn rhythm came out from the old times. Blurry scenes just caught my heartbeats. I love this place. I really do.

— written when stepped on the soil of Europe. For the first time, the slumber on the bus was gladly disturbed.

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Two girls are chatting in the darkness, not are they unable to resist the incessant temptation of remote sleepiness. There is no tomorrow at the moment, only present, and that’s when the excitement seethes the air into amorphous restlessness. Hard as we try, in vain do we tranquilize our avid anticipation. Sleepless is you, me and the city, in which, as the sun rises, our journey begins.

—  March, 20th, 11:00. Written as the bell hymning distantly at the horizon.

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“You can never have enough time looking at it, can you?”
Her known smile rendered my mind vacant. The realization of mental nudity rid me of dignity, yet, for some reason too obscure to comprehend, I enjoyed being exposed to her harmless gaze. As if something sensuous was spoken while her lip keeps motionless and the silence kept intact. “Ready to go?” “Ah yes…”I answered with fake positivity. I turned back for the last time while her gaze upon my seemed like the most transient eternity. My troubling mind would never posses me, for, to her, I entrusted my feeling retained so far. Astounded by the simplicity of salvation, I finally am detached from the enchantment of her gioconda smile.

— written in the Cathedral of Luxembourg after my mind being tickled by the painting of Lam God.

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I was stifled. I was in desperate need of an outlet of my emotion that cluttered inside of me. But I failed. I gave up my rein upon my racing mind and flushing sentiments and flitting reveries more than I ought to. It’s as if I over-loosed my halter way too much and the beast treaded through such as the wildness of the edge of logic. Not until this moment did I realized how incapable my expression was; not less than the incapability of humanity when facing wars. Before that, never had I question my taking of my blessed existence for granted. But at that instant, as precious as is could be, everything around me retrieved its deserved fragility. And I was appalled by the thought of, only a century ago, barrage of bullets, bombardment and even some vicious smog could take away all the things I cherished; I might stare hopelessly at the Reaper taking his revenge as the falling light of death and the frost crept upon my desperate heart. And who could I blame this holocaust for? Enemies, who were just a huddle of pathetic souls seeking for survival and facing the choice between humanity and the chance of persisting until tomorrow’s sun rise? The hand in which my gun was held stayed still, which was preparing at any moment for a bullet to penetrate my enemy’s skull. I would kill them, kill them all without hestation for my beloved family, even though which was fragmented beyond repair, and the victory of my country— the one I gambled on and shed tears for during those sleepless night when I was haunted by nostalgia and rambling ghosts. Dismay was me when I saw the face of the ones that I killed, because in their eyes, I saw myself—so determined of the cause yet so sick of the endless bloodshed. I saw aversion; I saw insecure; I saw panic and I saw blameless hope that is terminated under my ruthlessness—sarcastic as it might sound, the exact same thing that kept me alive…

There was no comfort there; only death could equalize the victims and could subside the enmity. Only when they became skeleton lying perpetually in the womb of tomb could the concerns from the past to the future be entirely crashed. Only when their souls descended, standing in front of God like innocent infants, could the aimless grudge be never borne.

I wonder if in the gravity of war shall I be ever consoled.  All I attempted to comprehend in a disordered afternoon caused the inward storm to gain its own way.

—written 5 minutes after the visit of WW1 museum, before the Belgium chocolate soothed my uneasiness.

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Strasbourg, Notre Dame and Petite France

Team EU: Day 8 in Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg to me is not as quiet and tranquil as the town of Nancy, but definitely not so busy and active as other French cities either. In fact, everything about Strasbourg is a balance between different cultures and different lifestyles. Historically, Strasbourg went under the ruling of France initially, then Germany, and the exchange continued on for a few more times during the 20th century. This ever-changing history of Strasbourg is heavily reflected in the architecture the city, where French buildings always have a certain amount of German influence. Street signs have both French and German, and believe it or not, we did try some authentic German dishes here, right in France.

It’s interesting to note that bicycles and trams are among the most common means of transportation in Strasbourg. Commuting by trams is not particularly economical, as tickets usually cost over 1 euro per ride. Bikes, however, are definitely a great choice for traveling within the city center. Our team didn’t bother with either, however. We spent the whole day walking around the city, and by the end of the day, some of us had known the streets of Strasbourg way too well.

The walking tour in the morning provided us with a historical context for Strasbourg, as well as an introduction to various remarkable locations within the city center. The symbol of Strasbourg, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, certainly impressed our team members with its magnificent design and fascinating legend. The gothic exterior, together with the unique details inside the building, separated the Cathedral apart from its surrounding. We learned from the tour guide the reason why the square surrounding the Cathedral was always the windiest area in town: because a devil riding a wind was once locked in the Cathedral, the wind would keep on blowing while waiting for the devil to come out. We were all amazed by the majestic size of the construction, as well as the fine details of the statues, organs and stained glass windows.

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Another highlight of Strasbourg during our tour had to be a little area called “Petite France”, or Little France. The area, situated by the river Ill, charmed us visitors with its resemblance of a typical French medieval village. As romantic as it might seem, with its canals and bridges and colorful little houses, Petite France was initially meant for isolating people with syphilis in the 15th century. The tour guide also informed us of the popularity of Petite France as a location for wedding photos, and we could definitely see that, excluding the part about syphilis!

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Our team spent the rest of the day exploring Strasbourg at our own pace. As we approach the last few days of the trip, some of us are definitely a bit worn out, but in each new city we visit, the culture and history never fail to leave us in awe. We’ll be leaving France tomorrow and visit our fourth and final country tomorrow – Germany!

European Commission and Brussels exploration

Day 3 in Brussels, Belgium and Nancy, France

Team EU started the Monday early with the departure from the Ghent hotel and after a long bus drive we arrived at the city of Brussels. There, we fulfilled our original mission of the trip: a visit to one of the many European Union headquarters. Brussels is the home to several official EU institutions including the European Commission, the European Council and the Council of the EU. The time limit didn’t allow us to explore all three, but luckily, the presentation at the Commission building provided us with sufficient knowledge about the operations within the EU.

We first went through a security check to ensure complete safety in the building. Previously, we had noticed armed soldiers standing outside of buildings in the area and acknowledged the grave atmosphere surrounding ourselves. We were then seated in a presentation room, where we received a general introduction to all the different components of the European Union as well as how they operate with one another. Even though our time was limited, and the fact that we could not visit any other institutions greatly hindered a more thorough experience with the EU, the presentation given at the European Commission on Monday equipped us with sufficient information to further research on our own.

Being at a school that is deeply involved in leadership, the students on our team could use their new understanding of the European Union to reflect on the leadership system at Culver Academies. Some team members, including those who had been familiar with the EU through the sophomore Humanities curriculum and those who had had past experience in Europe, asked some insightful questions following the presentation that helped expand our understanding even more. All in all, EU’s division into different departments and their rather proactive/initiative approach to law establishment are highly relevant to what we have at Culver.

After we left the European Commission building, our team were given half an hour to quickly grab a lunch in the center of Brussels. As the team scattered on streets of Brussels, each small group discovered a corner that interested them while enjoying their quick lunch. At 1PM, we gathered again for a walking tour around Brussels. The tour guide introduced us to the food scene of Belgium, particularly the famous Belgian chocolate. Architecture also constructed a large part of our tour, as the tour guide walked us from the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert to the Grand Place enclosed by various buildings with distinctive designs. The tour ended with our team’s visit to the famous Manneken Pis (who was dressed in an interesting green outfit that day).

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We spent some more time exploring the city of Brussels in small groups before boarding the bus for Nancy, France. It was quite a long day of exploration and learning, and we didn’t arrive in Nancy until late in the afternoon. Dinner made up for our tiring afternoon though, and towards the end of the day, we were energized by a selection of French dishes that were both new and familiar to us. Some team members got to try what French people called the Feuilletine Forestiere but it seemed like a French pizza to us, while some others learned that cappuccino only meant “a small cup” and not necessarily “coffee”.

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On the whole, day 3, like all other days, brought on opportunities for team EU to dive into the culture, history and even politics of Europe. We faced challenges at times during the course of the day, but eventually, these challenges either taught us memorable lessons or created memories among us.

Photos by Sahara Chen