…what just happened..

By 2011, Europe No Comments

Over the course of three months I have been in 15 countries. As much as I love Canada I never quite expected to miss it or any other place for that matter. I have to say, towards the end all I wanted was to go back to Tim Hortons, Hockey, and my own bed. Once I got to Finland I couldn’t handle another language, another culture, and another expense.
This got me thinking about what it means to break away from a worldview. For the life of me, I have been wanting so much to separate myself from that, and yet in my futility I came to long for those things all the more. What I have come to realize though is not that I miss Canada per se, but those things inherent in the necessity for identity. When we started this travel program with the theme of ‘Negotiating Identities’, I found myself understanding this very simply. Like all concepts, it is often hard to understand merely by reading a word, or being told that ‘Identity’ is somehow connected with nationality, race, or the like. Identity is so closely intertwined with worldview, and with similar difficulty they are defined. What I come to ask now is, if so deeply rooted in me is not necessarily patriotism but nationalism, how can I gain true cultural empathy?

Jon B.

Banderas y mi origen verdad

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I’ve been back in North America for almost a month now. From busing across Europe, to the flight to Toronto, to my train ride home to Ottawa, and my flight back out to North Dakota, I’ve had quite the whirlwind adventure. Through the hustle and bustle of constantly moving from place to place, I have adopted a mentality I have never before found myself able to grasp.

I’m not a patriotic person. In fact, as a dual citizen, the concept of being patriotic becomes both more diluted and more complex. Which country do I identify more with? What is identity in culture? How can I be proud of coming from a first-world country? The latter question is the most troubling to me in the question of patriotism. However my mentality, as aforementioned, has come to a heightened state of existence.

Throughout our travels in Europe, I found myself captivated by flags. When we landed in Spain it was hard to believe we were in another country. Obviously it looks nothing like New Brunswick, but it doesn’t look entirely foreign either. It wasn’t until I saw the Spanish flag blowing in the wind that I fully realized we had made it. This theme was consistent for me on the trip. Each new place was made real to me by each new waving flag. Each culture, beautifully unique and captivating in its own way. Each place diverse and rich in history. Each place worthy of its identity as a nation. Though much was good, taking in so much culture slowly wore on me, and throughout the travels, I grew a little more weary day by day.

Something about traveling in Europe really brings out the beauty of calling Canada your home. Everyone there seems to have such a strong respect for Canada, such a strong sense of friendship. It wasn’t until Canada day in Paris that I found myself actually homesick for Canada. The real shock came to me in the homeland.

After returning to Canada and staying with Liam’s family in Kitchener a couple of nights, I began my trek home by train to Ottawa. I was in a sort of traveler’s shock. I was tired, but not worn out. Content, but ready to be home. Alongside my train, about two hours into the ride, a Canadian flag was waving in the wind atop a pole to the west. This moment was the most Canadian I’ve ever felt in my life. The peace dawned on me that no matter where I go, Canada is back home waiting for me. A strong, secure nation where I have family and friends. A stationary place to rest and regain myself before traveling again. For the first time in my life I think I truly understand the concept of national pride, though my version is without any sense of supremacy. I am simply thankful to have a home like Canada.

So here I find myself back to working in a western-themed town in North Dakota, located in my birth country. Back to being known as ‘the Canadian’, and for the first time with a sense of national pride without arrogance. Each morning at work, just after raising the American flag, I get to raise the Canadian one and remember what flags represent.

Traveler’s blessings,
– Madi Smith

Time is of the essence

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“Time is of the essence”: this old legal phrase has somehow passed into our common speech to mean that time is important, and that we must make the most of it. Yet it still carries its original sense of hastening to fulfill some requirement as well. Time was of the essence in Europe. We moved from one place to another within days – each place containing experiences and treasures that could only happen there – at that time. Our ordinary every-day time was funneled onto the fast moving train of ever present activity. That is what it seemed like at times. But our leaders often reminded us of the need to take time to be, of the necessity of quiet alone-time. Those times taken – whether intentionally or provided by circumstance -were vital. Literally. They were life-giving. They were often the place where “the peace that passes understanding” could start to unravel the masses of emotion and experiences that had built up on the inside. Time is a medium we exist within, but we miss its essence if we stick to the consumer mode of measuring and using it to our own satisfaction; operating on the fear that it might run out. But time is not valuable for its length or amount; it is precious because it provides the moments where we meet with God, with others, with our own selves. It is the richness of our lives that determines the value of our time. The requirement we must hasten to fulfill, the goal we reach for, whether that is the richest experience for each European city, or seeking to “walk humbly with our God” is much more easily lost if we hurry through time or stretch it on the canvas of our self-determined schedule. This is something from the Europe trip that I will need to keep learning long after I hand in my final papers.



Let it soak into your skin, further up and further in.

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In Europe, I encountered many different places that spoke to me and resonated with me. I felt often as though I was fulfilling some kind of sacred rite of passage.

Now, back home, I have begun to crave the places of worship.

Shouting their grandeur at tourists, while at the same time seeming to be quietly announcing their holiness.

They are often described as thin places, places in which the fabric that persistently separates the physical world we inhabit from the spiritual realm that exists in parallel to our own. In these places, that fabric seems to have been worn so thin by pilgrim feet and devoted knees, that it becomes merely a transparent membrane. I feel as though, if someone were to be on the other side, they could see the outline of my hand as I push through, like a restless baby still in the mother’s womb. If one were to put their angelic ear to that thin place, they could hear our oohs and aahs, make out our whispered prayers and stifled laughter, as we immerse ourselves in the Cathedrals and Shorelines.

Some time ago someone had a crazy idea about going to Europe, and this year my class and I enjoyed the fruits of those labours. It was well worth it. We planned, we scheduled and we went. It was excellent exposure, and none of us left without being impacted in some way.

We went as strangers, but soon became friends. I had a bone to pick with those narrow cobblestone streets. I loved the plants that spilled over the ornate balconies.

Sometimes we would glide, sometimes we would trudge, sometimes rushing, sometimes leisurely, some strutting, some trundling, in sickness and in health, in company of friends and by ourselves, with eyes wide, mouths open, sweat on brows, hands in hands, occasional tears in eyes, wine across tongues, and the corners of our mouths turned upward. Here, a discotheque; there, an altarpiece that shows what the Savior looks like for the every man. War is a wild danger and Patience is my stickman, but I am learning. If I could convey in a sentence all of what has happened, it would be tricky, but may look something like this: Europe isn’t everything, but at the same time, it’s quite something.



kind of like buttons.

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I don’t think I am an emotional mess; I’d like to call myself ’empathetically emotionally aware’.

Confession: I have cried almost every single day since returning home from Europe.

I cry in beauty.

Watching my brother coach his son’s soccer team. When I heard about a ‘young Mother’s’ meeting at our Church continuing to meet together long after the formal meetings ended. Reading about a coastal town in Italy that has been setting a trend of welcoming refugees in with open arms. Every time I put on the Les Miserables album.

I cry in anguish.

Listening to a friend talking about his wife’s struggles through cancer and radiation. Learning about the incumbent divorce of close friends. Reading about the reality of Tunisian refugee camps.

An event didn’t used to grasp my attention unless I personally identified with it.

In Dachau we saw a crematory that had disposed of tens of thousands of denigrated human bodies. In Dresden we toured where the all-consuming inferno had swallowed up the whole town. In Paris, we stood near where the guillotine had sat. In Assisi we learned about one man’s life lived for peace. In Munich, we learned about Sophie Scholl and her sacrifice for freedom. Just when human life seemed irredeemably disposable, it became more precious than ever.

My perception of institutionary Christianity took a beating on the trip, yet my adoration and appreciation for people – Christian or not – bringing about the love, peace, and graceful equality of the Kingdom of God grew to overflowing. Life is so precious. Life is too precious not to share it.

Travelling Western Europe expanded the boundaries of my ‘self’. At least, I’d like to think that my identity was enlarged; I have been introduced to my history, my roots; my heritage. I’ve become aware of my shared history, shared roots, and shared heritage. With this and the realization that life is too precious not to share, I think I’ve adopted a clearer purpose and meaning for life.

I’m not saying one has to cry to be ’empathetically emotionally aware’. I hope I can grow to process through life without looking like an emotional mess, but for now I appreciate my tears as a God-given way of expressing my joy and pain, and I don’t want to lose them, not yet.



kind of like buttons. disposable? precious.

[Nicola Gladwell is currently slack-lining and reading the first volume of Les Miserables for stress-relief as she battles through post-trip academia and looks for a job that’s hopefully pertinent to her IS degree. She has a lovely habit of collecting discarded buttons and calling them gifts of grace. She misses her friends and professors, yet is grateful for the near-completion of her first-rate liberal arts university education at SSU!]




Looking back and stepping forward

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I started writing this blog entry over a week ago. At the time I was writing about how hard it is to have all of my memories and experiences from the trip bottled up with no real outlet to share them. But I have decided to scrap that and just share one of these memories instead of complaining about how I can’t.

I had almost forgotten about our visit to the Pantheon. So many things had happened almost every day on our European tour, our days in Rome were no different. We saw the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Vatican, Trevi Fountain; you name it we saw it on our Roman Holiday. There was, however, something a little different about our visit to the Pantheon. The Pantheon was once a temple to the many Roman deities but was later re-appropriated as a Christian Church. Today it is a spectacular architectural landmark and stop on every Roman tourists’ agenda but I would not say it is a particularly spiritual place. In keeping with a bit of a St. Stephen’s University tradition we changed that.

Standing in a circle in the middle of the magnificently domed room we started to sing the doxology, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” In the noisy din of a huge space filled with people we made a little holy space, a “thin place”. It felt rebellious and right at the same time. We stopped being tourists for a moment and we were pilgrims, we were on a journey to somewhere. The journey I took through Europe was both physical and personal. This is a memory I will treasure and I am so glad to have shared it with others. I look forward to more memories, like this one, popping up in my mind and I look forward to unpacking in the months to come how I have been impacted by what I have seen and experienced.


The Best Text Book

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It was an incredible experience to travel and learn this way over the last two months. Yes it had its challenges and unpleasant moments/days, but looking back at the big picture, it was amazing. I have learned so much academically, as well as personally. Most days I was so excited to learn more, (although I didn’t intentionally think of it as learning), to face the day and whatever it may bring. It was usually a new city, a new historical site or a new museum filled with magnificent pieces of art. It was challenging at times to do this alongside the same thirty people, but in my opinion, there was more good than negative, especially when feeding off of each others positivity and excitement. Their excitement was contagious even in the academic scene, it was so inspiring and encouraging to see what my fellow students were passionate about in their presentations or simply in general conversation.

Not only did I learn academically, but I learned personally about myself and personally about others. In this kind of group setting we’re bound to have to learn more about each other, even if sometimes it’s more than we want to learn. There were the challenges of cooking a meal together, whether there was tension or rain or both, but there was also fun times admist it. Packing and unpacking, setting up and taking down, cleaning or sitting on the bus for hours, living in the rain… the list could really go on, but we persevered through it all. Others encouraged me and I encouraged others. I leaned on the Lord for strength and encouragement in my own time of need, but we also spent times as a group to seek out the Lord. There were also many many times of laughter, games, silly conversation, tricks and relaxation and this was school! At times, yes I did have to intentional remind myself I was there for academic purposes but I would not have had it any other way.

Even though it was challenging at times to really engage with the culture, sites and museums, to sit down to journal or write a short paper, it was this that made the trip academic. That’s what made it more than just vacationing. I was, and we were, traveling intentionally in order to experience culture, learn history and participate in the present day happenings of other nations. Travelling intentionally deepened my understanding of my studies done before the trip, as well as in past years. I was able to see these artistic masterpieces for real and understand its style, oppose to just seeing a picture and reading a description that meant little to my non-artistic brain. This experiential learning also occurred in Dachau, the Eagle’s Nest, Tyne Cot Cemetery, the Coliseum, Versailles, Dresden, Prague’s Jewish quarter and more. We weren’t just playing beach volleyball, swimming, camping, eating out, shopping or living the life of a tourist; we were students, using the world as our text book.




One Well Rounded Individual Please

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Since returning home I have tried to devote at least a little bit of time each day, or each week towards processing my trip.  There is so much that happened, so much that I did, and so much that I learned that it is no small task to look back on it all.  During one of these processing times I was reflecting on the wide range of interests that people who were on this trip had.  I was thinking back on how so many people were passionate about at least one thing that they had encountered on the trip.  These passions included things like, art, music, history, humanitarian issues, etc.  But what made it so special was that it was usually something more specific instead of a broad category.  What I realize, having now viewed things from a distance, is that I learned how to appreciate some of these things simply because others appreciated them.  Where I would usually be disinterested and bored, for example the opera, or Picasso’s work, I was able to at least appreciate the fact that someone else found it interesting.  Instead of being resistant to these things, I gradually learned to accept them and share in others excitement over them.  I can see my progression from the annoying guy who keeps criticizing something he doesn’t like to the one who asks questions and engages with the person who is excited about it.  Not only does this help with my interactions with other people, but it also helps me to learn about things that I normally would avoid.  I like to think it makes me a little bit more well rounded, if it is even possible to be more well rounded than I already am…


owners of the temporary

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After two months of moving every four days, adjusting to familiar surroundings at home is both nice and different. The trip was eight weeks of constant motion and it was necessary to learn how to make the temporary ordinary.

One way I adjusted to travelling was to form personal rhythms. Some people allotted an activity they did each morning before breakfast while other people had a bus routine. Everyone’s routine was shaped by their personality and interests. I chose to write in my personal journal often to clarify my thoughts. We creatures of rhythm naturally etched ourselves into some sort of familiarity in order to remain grounded living in flux.

Europe was also a time to start new relationships while strengthening old ones. Foundations were established as relationships formed and we were able to learn something new about those around us. People came alive and into their own on the trip which was exciting to watch.

By learning to take ownership of the temporary elements of our life, meaning is created. As our group learned how to become rooted despite the travelling, we were able to flourish. We anchored ourselves and were free to branch out into new experiences. I for one reflect back on the grounded nature of the Europe trip and am thankful.


Life after…

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As some of the others have pointed out, we’re back in the scramble of normal life. What is the Europe trip experience to me now? I returned home eagerly looking forward to the simplicity of sleeping in a bed, having eggs for breakfast, not having to walk a half mile to the nearest washroom or live out of a backpack. Those trifles have vanished now as I suddenly am missing my travel companions, the camaraderie, the teamwork and just living a crazy life for two months with 30 amazing people. I won’t forget singing the doxology in the Pantheon, climbing into the hills of Montserrat, biking through Montserrat and around Lake Zug, and so much more! Seeing the progression of art as we travelled and visited many different museums gave me a sense for a side of art I have never appreciated–painting. The evolution in style in response to world events or rigid backwards thinking, became fascinating to learn about and observe. Along the way we met some stellar people, from our guides in various cities to our hosts in others. This trip has been carefully designed to promote and facilitate the rapid expansion of ones worldview while also pacing all of us and giving us time to mentally process, experience and enjoy.

I want to thank our leaders who patiently walked with us through this experience. Mentors, pastors, professors, facilitators–our leaders wore many hats and it’s thanks to their work and determination that everything went as well as it did. Thanks you guys, you know who you are.

To my fellow students, my extended family even, I say thank you for treating me as one of you–despite an arguably sizable age-gap! We lived, learned, laughed, cooked, and moved together for so long and then in a flash we were saying goodbye and going our own ways. I can’t wait to see all of you back next Fall and will be praying for all of you. Blessings,


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