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Mike Cheatley

Post-Trip Reflection – Mike Cheatley

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Alas, I am home. I have my own bed, free food, and a pile of new academic responsibilities for the next couple weeks. I still feel like I am in the processing mode for a lot of what happened on the trip, so it is difficult to attempt any kind of summary.

I have a choice of topics to write about. There is the surface level personal experiences (a rock concert outside of Vienna; para-gliding in the Swiss Alps). The assigned academic experience (Western history; lectures on the Renaissance, Reformation, etc). The personal struggles and conflicts (group dynamics; understanding world evils and the responsibility to action that it warrants).

It seems the last of these topics might be the best, partly because it is related to themes that some of our profs have been talking about recently. Throughout the trip we learned about different examples in history where people abused power and instigated great evils. Obvious examples are learning about the extermination of Jews, handicap persons, and homosexuals at Dachau and the repression and starvation of those under Stalin. In both of these cases there is a dichotomy of responses to both the Nazi and Stalinist puritan ideologies. Some people accept what they are fed, often caught up in the illusion of propaganda and failing to see the–dare I say–absolute and intrinsic evil within it. However, there always seem to be voices that stand for the good at these times. I am reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans and Sophie Scholl who opposed the Nazi ideology and lost their lives because of it. While in Prague, we learned about a young student, 20 years old, that burned himself in protest of the Communist occupiers.

What is interesting is that each of these figures became martyrs. This gives me insight into a question that had been bothering me for some time: How do we respond to evil (in its many forms)? After Dachau our group had a debrief session. I had a brief chat with Walter after this expressing my frustration with the issue. To paraphrase his response, there comes a point when, if we truly believe in righteousness and goodness, we are willing to die for it. This is not a ‘will to death,’ but the recognition of a higher Good and Moral and refusing to give in to evil when it tempts us with the easy way out. Is that not how Christ died?

So, do I stay quiet at injustice? Do I shut up and convince myself that ‘it would not make a difference?’ It is one of the most difficult and challenging tasks to figure out what the practical responses look like, but God help me if I ever give in to passivity and indifference.

Ein Berg in Ă–sterreich

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Until the end of Italy, our trip had been non-stop intellectual stimulation. This early leg was bittersweet in that I loved the subject matter yet struggled to find time to process and recoup from the fast pace lifestyle. Periodic stints of rain were also a downer when I needed some free time.

I experienced a new kick of energy when we left Italy for a place an hour outside of Salzburg, Austria. Leaving Venice in Northern Italy, we drove through the Alps, which was perhaps one of the most beautiful tours of the countryside I had been on. The contrast between the geography of the past few weeks and what we had just drove into was vast. I had left the hectic and overcrowdedness of Italy for pure natural bliss. Sporadic villages appeared and then disappeared; rolling green hills spotted with sheep and cows led into mountains. It was incredible. Our camp ground was situated on the epitome of a perfect lake. A series of snow capped mountains as a background to the lake was a nice scene to wake up to every morning. I also found a sense of comfort in the German language, which I am much more familiar with than the earlier Spanish and Italian. Communication became less difficult and the quality of beer improved exponentially.

Austria was the first nice break for me on this trip. In Italy I was able to appreciate many of the great works and feats of humankind, but the beginning of Austria was all about an appreciation of natural beauty. I needed it.