Saturday, March 29, 2014

March 29, 2014, column:
Trip to Europe teaches much
By Mike Haynes
            “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”
            Although I think you can live a perfectly happy and productive life without ever getting on an airplane, a spring break trip to Europe reminded me of the wisdom of those words attributed to St. Augustine.
            The tour by a group of Amarillo College students and faculty, organized by honors director Judy Carter, was intended to expand minds through direct experience of other places and cultures. It did so more than I expected.
            The sights themselves affected our students, who had written papers about some of the locations.
Students from Amarillo College and Dutchess Community College in New York shoot photos of the White Rose Memorial in Munich, Germany, during a spring break study trip. (Photo by Amanda Castro-Crist)
Journalism student Perla was intent on seeing the White Rose Memorial honoring university students the Gestapo had executed in 1943. When our group did visit that site in Munich, Germany, our cameras focused on Perla, reverently grateful to be on the campus where the victims she had researched had defied the Nazis.
            We know about the Holocaust, but it’s different when you tour the Dachau concentration camp and stand in the middle of the vast roll-call grounds where prisoners wondered daily what would happen to them next. Looking down at my comfortable tennis shoes on the dirt surface, I knew that if God had put me on Earth at a different time in a different place, it could have been me.
            We asked tour guide Sandra, who grew up in Munich decades after World War II, how Germans deal with the guilt stemming from the Hitler era. She described the trepidation she felt when she met a young man from Israel. Should she tell him she was German? Would he hate her? She was honest with him, and he was friendly with her. We learned much about humanity from that short talk on our tour bus.
            We’ve read about the Berlin Wall, but our group’s understanding of East-West politics grew when we could touch a portion of the wall that remains and see how high above our heads it rises. Our empathy with those who were on the front lines of the Cold War deepened when tour guide Matti, a Berlin native, recalled how he had maneuvered border checkpoints in the 1980s for brief visits to East Berlin to see his girlfriend. And we heard Matti explain how living under Communism changed East Germans so that some distrust remains 25 years after the wall fell.
Amarillo College students and faculty, clockwise from left, Judy Carter, Amanda Castro-Crist, Laura Cabrales, Mike Haynes, Angie Ross, Paola Estrada, Andrea Guerrero, Bailie Myers and, in center, Raylyn Bowers, ride an elevator to the top of a clock tower in Prague, Czech Republic, during a spring break study trip. (Photo by Amanda Castro-Crist)
        We gained insight from those European tour guides who see the world a little differently than we do, but our students made their own insightful comments, too. Inside a beautiful Dresden cathedral, rebuilt from scratch after the Allied bombing in World War II, Bailie wondered what the Christian apostles would think about such ostentatious statues and decoration. The development of Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, is evident throughout Europe, and those of us from the U.S. Bible Belt can gain perspective by standing where Luther stood in Germany or viewing St. Wenceslas’ tomb in a massive church at the top of a hill in Prague, Czech Republic.
            The differences between Amarillo, Texas, and the Old World were obvious to our students. Here, people go to church, drive to the convenience store and live in air-conditioned houses. There, churches host more tourists than members, people walk and ride bikes or trains to work, and living space is limited. Here, we value our independent spirit. There, varying degrees of socialism are on display.
But Amanda, another student, pointed out the other side of the coin. We spend dollars and they use Euros, but under the surface, we’re the same. Each morning, whether in Amarillo or Nuremberg, we all have to get up and go to work. We all need medicine, whether from a pharmacy or a German apotheke. We all love food, whether a Tex-Mex burrito or a Czech trdelnik pastry. We all worry about our families.

People are people.  St. Augustine knew that, too, and I’m thankful that Amarillo College allowed us to read a few pages of the book of the world.