Our experience visiting Dachau, the first concentration camp in Germany, is difficult to put into words. The first thing I noticed was the immense amount of sadness throughout the camp. Even though many years have passed since it was in use fear and sadness still lingers within its walls. I walked around the camp for hours on what felt like blood and bones. Scattered across the grounds I found barracks, gas showers, and crematoriums, all these places made me question humanity and the evil we are capable of. I don’t understand how people can torture one another in such a way as to dehumanize them, or the hatred that one can feel towards a different religious group or race. All these questions left me feeling quite disturbed. What struck me the most was a video in the museum; it was an interview of a former prisoner who was retelling his experience of living in the concentration camp. Despite the cruelty he faced, and the vile living conditions he was subject to, this boy still found the ability to smile and even laugh. I was amazed at a human being’s ability to endure suffering and then eventually overcome such a horrendous event. Where does that kind of strength come from? These people were striped of everything that made them human, yet some were still able to find restoration. It makes me wonder where we find this kind of strength? Is it hope? Or God? Or both? I don’t know because I don’t think I will ever know what it felt like to be in their position. This idea of restoration seems to be a major theme on this trip. I have seen it quite literally in Rome while watching a Caravaggio piece being restored. I saw it again in Dresden, Germany at the Frauenkirche Church, which was burnt down in the fire bombings of WW2 and then rebuilt using some of the original bricks as a symbol of restoration to the people. The concept of restoration has continually been showing up in the conversations I have had with other students. Through seeing art and architecture restored and hearing other people’s stories of restoration I have realized one can find great strength and even hope in overcoming their own experiences. Nothing can compare to what the Jews endured, but I feel blessed to have seen evidence of restoration in my own life, my friend’s lives, and all over Europe.
In this short time since our departure we have seen Spain, France and Italy. Our travels have taken us to many museums, basilicas and to view beautiful architecture, but I find myself having trouble keeping track of which country Michelangelo’s “David” was in, or Dalai’s “Persistence of Memory”, because it is all happening so fast. I know for sure I am still in Italy because I am never hungry, I find myself with at least a second serving of gelato by noon and you can find wine for 1 Euro at the grocery store. Bottom line, I never want to leave. Regardless of what country we find ourselves in there is always plenty of art (and food) to be inspired by. I’m constantly finding myself in a celebrity like star struck awe when I come across a well known piece of art that I have seen many times in a textbook, now staring me in the face. A few have given me chills and caused me to pause longer to take in what I thought I would never see in “real life”. Among these pieces of art I found myself taking extra time with Donatello’s Mary Magdalene statue. Even now, days later I cannot get this image out of my mind. She seemed worn out and used in every way possible, it broke my heart how sad she looked. It got me thinking about her story and her own sense of value. I would imagine that the culture and church during her time was less than inviting to someone of her profession. It made me wonder if she ever felt loved. It’s always the story behind the art that causes me to pause and think of the lives of the characters or the painter. Now that I have seen Donatello’s “Mary Magdalene” and was deeply impacted by her body language and expression, I will remember her story. I cannot wait to see more inspiring pieces of art, we have plenty of countries ahead of us and with those come new characters, artists and stories to learn about.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert read my mind when she said…
“To travel is worth any cost or sacrifice. I am loyal and constant in my love for travel, as I have not always been loyal and constant in my other loves. I feel about travel the way a happy new mother feels about her impossible, colicky, restless newborn baby – I just don’t care what it puts me through. Because I adore it. Because it’s mine. Because it looks exactly like me. It can barf all over me if it wants to – I just don’t care”
A few years back I found myself, as I often do, working a job that was less than ideal. Here I was sitting on the floor of “The Bay” in Burlington, Ontario organizing men’s Tommy Hilfiger underwear. A new employee walked by me, so I took the opportunity to introduce myself and take a break from the underwear. I quickly learned that this boy went to a school where you could travel to South East Asia AND Europe. It all sounded too good to be true, the constant battle between my parents and I had finally been solved, it WAS possible to travel the world while still getting a degree! Thanks to Ryan Robinson’s marketing skills that day at “The Bay”, I applied to SSU. Since that day I have been anticipating this upcoming trip to Europe. Last year’s Asia trip was wonderful in every way, but going to Europe is a dream come true. A dream that it seems I was not quite prepared for when I arrived here in New Brunswick a few days ago. Apparently, It is absolutely essential that you bring a “therma-rest” to sleep on, of course I show up with a little blue mat, no flashlight and a sleeping bag made out of tissue paper. So I am a little behind on all the camping lingo and I am missing all the trendy camping accessories, but I suppose that is all part of the adventure. I don’t mind sleeping on the floor for the summer when I get to wake up to a view of the Swiss Alps, or see a play at the Globe, or visit the Louvre with a bunch of my friends. Not too bad if you ask me. I am ready to get this trip going and fully intend to embrace it in every way possible, the adventures, the mishaps, the rain, the good days and the bad days, whatever this trip has in store for us I am ready for it. Europe can barf all over me if it wants, I just don’t care.
-Cara “ready to go” Lehocki
Well here we are
It’s our last day in Bangkok, tomorrow we will board the flight home.
This whole trip I have been thinking about what home really means because every new home-stay and hotel we lived in instantly was referred to as “home”.
Beth and I even called our home-stay family members “Dad” and “Moooooooomy” when we were really homesick or literally sick.
Now I refuse to get all sentimental and say “home is where the heart is”…regardless of whether that statement is true or not I hate how corny it sounds…for the record I do believe it but again, coooorny.
I will miss Thailand.
I never thought I would find myself back here and I feel extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to visit again. Chiang Mai is a great city and the University campus far exceeded my expectations. Chiang Mai is one city in Thailand I would hope to see again, perhaps to even study at Chiang Mai University. All the professors we got to meet were wonderful. My favorite lecture and prof was an old, old man whose name I cannot remember. He taught us about Buddhism as he had been studying it all his life and even wrote a book for us “Falangs” to better understand. I will never forget when that frail, hunched over man came into our classroom with the help of a cane and another faculty member. When he spoke I listened intently, hanging off of every word he said. Maybe it was his age (85, I believe) or experience…whatever it was, there was something about this old man that made me think he was very, very wise and that I should hear what he had to say.
Now I bet your wondering what he said? If I brought my notebook I would have been able to share my favorite parts of his lecture…
Just believe me…it was wise and good and although I am not currently Buddhist nor do I plan on converting, it was still helpful to me as a human.
So, today we say goodbye to our time in Asia and journey back to Ithaca or home or whatever you want to call it.
We have arrived in Kota Kinabalu for our final few days in Malaysia… after weeks of rice, veggies and the occasional pig snout KK offered us the foods we have all been craving. I forgot how easily the words “non-fat chai tea latte” rolled off my tongue until we were faced with our beloved Starbucks. Although it’s been nice to have the comforts of home here, I have yet to feel homesick. The days are always packed full of new experiences and sights that I just don’t have time to be homesick… sorry mom.
Our time in the Philippines was spent in lectures at North Western University, hanging out with our homestay family or exploring the city of Laoag. I was blown away by the hospitality we were shown in the Philippines and will always have fond memories of our time spent there.
Malaysia has offered us an experience most tourists don’t find. We have found ourselves in beautiful jungles surrounded by mountains and even got to live in a Muslim village. In the village we were able to eat their food, wear their clothing and attend their mosque, an opportunity not many 21 year olds have.
My favorite experience of the whole trip was waking up at 5am to the sound of the Muslim “call to prayer”. There is something peaceful and even enchanting about living in the jungle and hearing these beautiful prayers on speaker throughout the village.
Tomorrow we leave for Thailand, I am ready for the next adventure and what Thailand has in store for us.
I came to SSU because of the travel semesters. What I really mean by that is I came to SSU to go to Europe not Asia. Traveling to Europe has always been a dream of mine and since I have already had the experience of visiting SE Asia I was mainly anticipating the Europe trip. But after the opportunity to spend a semester in Asia came up, I weighed my options and traveling to the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand far outweighed the cold, grey months left in this small town.
So here I am pondering what could potentially lay ahead and remembering a promise I made to myself to never, ever, ever go back to Asia during their summer months. Not but two years ago I made the trip to Thailand with ten fellow naive missionaries where we experienced what one would call “roughing it”. Whether it was the intense humidity that turned me off, or sleeping on concrete floors for two months, either way I was turned off and vowed never to return.
While in Thailand my self-esteem was at an all time low for a number of reasons.It was physically uncomfortable, I was missing the comforts of home, and I had a difficult time responding to certain comments directed towards me. Some people told me I was fat or asked when my baby was due. Children and adults alike stared at my curly blonde hair and fair skin in disbelief as though I were some sort of mythical creature. One concerned Thai asked if I needed to limit my sun exposure, he thought I was Albino and said I looked like I had a disease. Not to mention the 15 pounds I packed on from eating chocolate drumsticks (note: Do NOT comfort eat).
I must be honest it wasn’t all bad, and luckily it took me 5 seconds and not 5 years to see the humour in all of the misfortunes. Reminiscing back to what seemed like an irritatingly painful journey I’m reminded of the good I experienced in Thailand. The people that won my heart, the beautiful temples, the colourful markets, and fresh fruit at our convenience surpass the lack of cheeseburgers, decent coffee and toilets that flush. I am feeling optimistic about this next adventure to SE Asia and all the challenges and experiences it will bring.