Europe – Five countries, Three weeks – by Ana Maria Camelo Vega. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

Europe – Five countries, Three weeks – by Ana Maria Camelo Vega. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

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Travel. Travel a lot.

Before living in the United States, I had the idea of a certain reality that merely involved my culture. It meant driving a car for a couple of hours to experience a completely different climate, music and infrastructure. It meant enjoying delicious foods, without necessarily trying new things. It meant not worrying about how to greet people. It meant being in my comfort zone.

Little did I know how far from reality I was.

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Living in an interconnected world as we do today means more than living all your life in your comfort zone. Reality requires stepping out from there. And that’s what I did. It is not new for anyone to know that Duluth, Minnesota might be a little bit different from Bogota, Colombia. Yet, I wanted more. I wanted to see more. I wanted to truly experience my surroundings. The travel bug had hit me. This is why I decided to travel solo.

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Something I had never done before, in a place I had never been before, with people I did not know at all. I booked my trip to Europe without thinking much about it, just pushed by the desire of experiencing something different. It was only until the moment I stepped out of the plane that I truly realized I was actually going by myself to the other side of the world for the first time.

I was able to step in in five different countries, which meant experiencing five different cultures in just three weeks. If something is true is that three weeks are not enough time. Cultures are infinite and constantly evolving. This is what makes it so hard to truly get to know a certain culture, as time will always be limited. I tried to make the most out of my time in Europe. London, Paris, Barcelona, Sitges, Frankfurt, Munich, Santorini and Athens. Every city, every landscape, every single second had its own magic. It is impossible to say I did not experience any sort of culture shock. I was, indeed, homesick.

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London is a magnificent city. I was not expecting much about this city, so I was gratefully surprised by it. Its architecture and urban organization are impressive. I tried to bike around the city one day, and almost got hit multiple times because I was used to driving on the right side of the road. Even though there were multiple differences, I was able to recognize the historic connection between the United Kingdom and the United States. From the most simple thing, the language; going through their food, their costumes and their organization: I was able to see the roots of the culture I have been exposed to in the last couple of years.

As a kid, I always dreamed about going to Paris. I remember watching movies, reading books, and listening songs about the charms of Paris. Paris is internationally portrayed as the romantic city. This was not my first impression, not at all. I got to Paris on a grey, rainy Thursday. As the bus was driving around the city, I remember thinking: is this it? Here, I was able to realize once again that media is always changing reality. It is very easy to forget this. Nonetheless, being able to explore this city was a dream come true. I tried foods I never thought I would, such as frog legs and snails. The music, the environment, the architecture and all the gastronomy made it an unforgettable experience. I was able to visit Versailles, which opened my eyes to the historic part of our world. Being able to see how people lived hundreds of years ago was a marvelous experience, and made me realize how important it is for humanity to understand where we come from; which ultimately explains why we act the way we do nowadays. On the other side, visiting the catacombs was eye-opening. There is so much to learn, so much to understand.

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Barcelona. Just the city’s name makes you feel its magic. Barcelona was a very interesting experience due to multiple reasons. First off, even though it is located in Spain, their main language is Catalan. This made me feel weird when speaking Spanish, as I knew native people did not like it. Barcelona’s atmosphere is indescribable. I fell in love with the city’s weather, people, architecture, gastronomy, landscapes and music. For the couple of days I was able to be there, I was amazed by every single detail. Paella, sangria and gelato made long days of walking definitely worth it.

Germany is one of the most (if not the most) organized countries I know. Everything is practical and planned accordingly to the needs of the people. From visiting Munich and Frankfurt, I was able to see the huge German culture around beer. Yes, I knew about some of it before getting there. Yet, I had no clue of how important it actually is. Beer is probably the cheapest and most bought good in the market. The thing about this, is that it is high quality beer. By this time of the trip, I was already homesick. I had too much to digest in such few days, I was certainly overwhelmed by everything. Not only this. I wasn’t able to communicate in Germany. I had never felt this way in my whole life. Even in France, I was able to communicate with my basic French skills. It was a different story in Germany, as I felt truly frustrated by not being able to ask for a bottle of water. However, I was gratefully amazed about German lifestyle.

I think one of the places people should definitely visit is Greece. Greece was the birth of our civilization in multiple ways. Philosophers, mathematicians, astronomers and doctors were basically born there. Accordingly, I decided to extend my trip to visit Santorini and Athens. When I landed in Santorini, I was shocked. I was shocked with everything around me. Of course, again, I was expecting to see all that media shows to the world. It was not like that. Santorini is an island composed by different little towns. What I had seen in pictures was just one town, called Oia. In order to get to Oia, people need to take public buses, which go packed and sweaty all the way to Oia. Undeniably, it is one of the prettiest and breathtaking landscapes I have ever seen. Like a children’s tale scene, I was in the middle of little white and blue arched houses, with the Mediterranean Sea in front of me. It was impactful to see the way in which early civilizations used their resources to build cities in the middle of nowhere. After that calm and peace, I was able to experience the agitation and chaos of a city such as Athens. Greece’s economy is very volatile right now, which means the political environment is going in the same direction. While I was in Athens, I was able to experience a live student protest. Things that are easy to see back in Colombia happening all over the world was very imposing to my eye.

Five countries in three weeks. That’s all it took to shake my reality one more time. That’s all I needed to reconnect with myself at different levels, to get to know myself at different stages and to truly understand that there is so much out there to learn from. Life was never meant to be lived in one single place.

Ana Maria serves as assistant editor for The North Star Reports.

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Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

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Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

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29 Comments

Filed under Ana Maria Camelo Vega, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

29 responses to “Europe – Five countries, Three weeks – by Ana Maria Camelo Vega. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

    • Nicholas Gangi

      Beautifully written article. I loved how each country had the feeling of a magical land. It shows just how beautiful this world is and that magic can be found anywhere. It is amazing just how varied countries are. Thank you for taking a leap for us to enjoy. It brings me one step closer to going through with my tour of Europe.

  1. Ana,
    This was a great read. It’s very admirable for you to travel alone and with the intention to step outside your comfort zone. There was a line that stood out to me, “Cultures are infinite and constantly evolving.” I think that to be considerably true within our respective cultures, the cultures we personally live by and within; but I am guilty of freezing the other cultures I learn to a few physical cultural points and words so that it stays constant.

  2. Cassie Mahlberg

    It is an incredible experience you have gained by simply having enough courage to venture out on such a trip alone. I have never flown alone before and my first time will be from Duluth to New York City which is far less adventurous than what you’ve done here. It is truly amazing the differences in culture that one can experience throughout Europe simply because of close proximity. In the US if you drive two hours, likely you haven’t left the state yet, but in Europe, a couple of hours drive can put you in another country and a completely different culture as you’ve said. I think it is important that you’ve kept in mind the idea of the evolution of cultures throughout time because while you’ve taken this trip once, you could go again in a couple of years and it would be entirely different. That’s fascinating. I hope I will be able to have a similar experience of exploration in the near future and then return to see the changes that will inevitably happen.

  3. Ellery Bruns

    Thank you for sharing you experiences traveling abroad! I also find it very nerveracking when I cannot communicate with people–another reason why I am trying to learn Russian. I want to learn as many languages as I can. I find that languages are very intersesting and, in a way, they connet us all– after we learn those languages of course. Language opens up so many fantastic opportunities that we other wise would not have, and I think that is beautiful. I understand the need to exlpore the world around us, because even with the limited travel I have done ( I have only traveled to different states) the need to experience different cultures has consumed me.

  4. McKenna Holman

    How exciting that were able to travel and experience so many different cultures! I agree,there is never enough time to travel and spend in one place. I’ll be visiting England in just over a month, spending 2 weeks there, and I know that will also not be nearly enough time! What was your favorite country/city to visit? Also, you mention that in Spain their main language is Catalan, how different from Spanish is it? Do most citizens of Spain speak both pretty well? I hope one day to travel and experience as many countries as I can and I hope you get to travel more as well! I think immersing yourself into a culture is a very important part of life!

  5. Sofia Pineda

    Ana, I couldn’t agree more “life is not meant to be lived in one single place”. I think that if you have the opportunity to travel you should take it and not look back. Being able to travel to a different country exposes you to many things that may be foreign to you and your culture. Learning about and appreciating these differences allow you to grow as an individual and also appreciate your own culture even more or notice things that you wished were different back home. This makes you ponder on how you can better your society.
    Also, I was wondering, since Colombia is such a big nation (at least compared to Honduras) do you think you would have a similar experience than the one you had in Europe if you traveled to different regions of the nation?

  6. Dylan Brovick

    I really liked the beginning of this article when you talked about traveling in the United States. It is odd to think that we can just get in our cars and drive to other areas that may have different cultures but they don’t really mean much to us because we are still in our comfort zone. On the other hand traveling to five countries in three weeks you are bound to go outside of your comfort zone and learn a lot in a short period of time. We have talked in our Pol Sci class about how you can imagine what place and culture may be like but until you live it you can’t really understand it completely. Three weeks is a short time to experience a culture, but in those three weeks you can learn a lot but it would take a whole lifetime to learn everything.

  7. Megan Gonrowski

    I love the last sentence. Life is meant to be full of experiences. Although, not everyone is the travelling type I still believe it is good to have a change in scenery. With a change in scenery comes a change in perceptive. People can go their whole live without ever leaving their comfort zone. It is important to become unfamiliar with your surroundings so you can come closer connected to yourself. I am glad that you had the courage to experience new cultures and norms. Stepping out of our norm helps us to realize how relative it all is. The world is a big place and I often feel like many Americans don’t try hard enough to experience other cultures. Travelling and getting out of the comfort zone is amazing and I hope to have the same courage to do so myself.

  8. Thank you for sharing your experience through this wonderful article! I enjoyed learning about your amazing travels. You are very brave to go on such an adventure on your own. I know reading and hearing about the time you spent in these different countries will inspire people to take the risk and go visit places they would not have dreamed of going to. Like you mentioned this is very important because it gives people a different perspective than the one they were used to; this knowledge will increase their understanding, even of the things they knew before they explored the world a little further.

  9. Michaela Campbell

    It is one thing to travel in a group to visit a new land, but another to travel alone. I find it amazing as to how you were able to fit some many places of travel into three weeks! It is amazing the number of differences in culture you were able to experience within one continent. I loved how you made the point that media tends to play up or romanticize certain countries and what they ‘should’ represent. It’s a great point to make because we must always be conscious of where our perceptions of something foreign come from, and attempting to see how credible those sources are.

  10. It is amazing that you had this opportunity! Five countries in three weeks is quite a lot! Did you feel that you had enough time to see or learn about everything you wanted? Do you think you will return to any of these countries in the future to experience further? I strongly agree with your final statement in this piece that “Life was never meant to be lived in one single place.” The whole Earth is home to humanity, so it is sad/disappointing to consider how little of the Earth and other human cultures some people experience simply because they do not have the opportunity or are scared to (I would suppose there are a number of circumstances here). The things one can learn about oneself while traveling are extremely valuable! Thank you for sharing about your experiences!

  11. Abigail DeLisle

    Thank you for sharing your incredible experience! I couldn’t agree more that we need to get out of our comfort zones. In the U.S., there are cultural norms and expectations that you see when you travel-public restrooms, American food options, english, infrastructure, transportation, and much more. We don’t realize fully how different people live unless we fully immerse ourselves in the “other”. I never understood why people continued to travel until I began and caught the “travel bug”; now I agree that we are not meant to live in one place. I find that after traveling, my own community seems so much more full of avenues to explore that I had never noticed. I hope you are able to continue your travels soon!

  12. Andrew Bailey

    Ana, I really enjoyed your account of your travels throughout Europe. I thought it was very interesting how you mentioned that the media romanticizes our idea of reality, as seen with the city of Paris. Of course it is a beautiful city (I have not visited, but have studied it in French class), but it may not always live up to our idealized expectations. I also agree that getting out of one’s comfort zone and exploring one’s own town, city, state, country, or the world is really something that should be done. We can learn so much from the people that we meet, especially when we are exposed to different cultures, religions, and ethnicities. I also think it is important to not form generalizations, but to learn from people who are different than us to further appreciate them and their culture.

  13. Diana Mena

    Ana, i am so proud of you to take that leap and go out and experience the world! I have had many opportunities to travel but have not had the chance (confidence) to go by myself. This is something I would like to due within the next five years. Something that I have noticed while traveling with groups is that in our society we have this fear of danger that at times it distracts us to the worlds beauty, the city/ town, animals or the people that live there, that is way I would love to adventure off on my own. Did you notice a difference when you traveled alone? I am also a native Spanish speaker and I can only imagine how it must of felt while being in Barcelona. I did’t think about the language difference that there is in that city. I think it is a very interesting dynamic between Barcelona and Spain itself, sometimes I feel like there is a gap between them and all other Latin countries, even though Spain colonized them. Great post! I hope you continue having these great experiences!

  14. Thomas Landgren

    Thank you for sharing your experience! I can’t believe that you weren’t nervous about travel alone until you start to get off of the plane. I don’t think I could ever be able to travel alone. I don’t know how you were able to cram all that Into just three weeks. Three weeks in a country is just hitting the tip of a very large iceberg there is still so much more that you are missing. Traveling really does seem to change the dynamic of people’s lives. Life is meant to be full of experiences. Great Article!

  15. Sabrina Allison

    It must have taken a lot of courage for you to travel abroad alone. I have never been to Europe before I’ve only been to Central America but reading your article made feel like I travel abroad to Europe as well. I have heard of people being disappointed when they traveled to Paris, France because it’s nothing like what it’s portrayed on television. Do you know why people didn’t like when you spoke Spanish in Spain because I would of thought Spanish would be the main language spoken in Spain. What exactly is the German lifestyle because you didn’t go into detail about it and I was interested in what that meant seen you experienced it first hand. I really thought the last line of your article was beautifully written because I think it’s true that “life wasn’t meant to be lived in one single place”. I believe to better understand ourselves we have to get out of our comfort zone and experience some levels of culture shock. I plan to try one day but not by myself because I’m not a seasoned traveler yet.

  16. Isabella Williams

    First of all, I am thouroughly impressed and a tad jealous of this amazing experience, not only for the opportunities but also the fact you were able to do it alone. Too often we think we need the solace of company on our adventures, but oftentimes our most personal growths and discoveries come from seeing things alone. I love how these sights made you question reality that we are shown through media, as not many people do. We have to learn to be a more inquisitive generation and ask for facts and ask for the experiences eat hand, rather than be content with the computer screensaver.

    I really appreciated this article! And am super excited you got to enjoy such a cool three weeks!

  17. Emily Hanson

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us! I loved reading about your travels. It’s amazing that you were willing to take all that on by yourself! I flew to Ireland alone once and it was the most overwhelming experience of my life at times. Seeing different cultures is so incredibly important though. You’re going to be able to look back at this part of your life forever and have so many new prospectives. You’re also going to be quite the little travel bug! I can promise you that traveling alone becomes rather calming once you overcome the first bound of it. I admire your sense of adventure and I hope it continues!!

  18. Christopher Killian

    Thank you for sharing it sounds like you have a lot more trips ahead of you. Visiting five countries in just three weeks sounds like a lot of traveling to me. It is good for us to explore different culture and be open to new ideas especially at a young age. Germany is one country I wish to visit in the future and learn more about their culture. Have you grown attached to a certain country that you want to see more of? Do you have any specific travel plans in the future?

  19. Ana, what a fantastic article. Your descriptions of these beautiful cities simply make me want to hop on a plane and not look back. However, I appreciate that you covered the very real and common homesickness that can set in during such an adventure. I would be interested to learn more about what types of experiences you had as a woman traveling solo. How did it go navigating all of these places by yourself? Did you have any notable experiences? Do you have any recommendations for other women traveling alone?

  20. Avnish Miyangar

    Travelling alone and stepping out your comfort zone is definitely a brave decision! What cultural differences did you find between London and the rest of Europe? I can understand that you got homesick but how did you overcome it? Are you planning to travel again? With all the unfortunate attacks on these countries were there any extra precautions in place? Did you feel unsafe at all?

  21. Alexa Lee

    I can’t imagine the courage it takes to travel for an extended period of time all alone and (like you mentioned) the homesickness that would occur, but I also can’t think of a better way to experience solitude with oneself, either. Over winter break, I told my family I was planning on travelling alone sometime after I graduated, and they thought I was crazy – my dad even asked why I would want to go out of the US. In response, I said that we are not the only people on this planet, and I wanted to see what else was out there. I think you did a wonderful job capturing that idea. I also think that the media’s portrayal of Oia and your reality of going there is quite interesting and speaks to the level of skepticism that I hope people have when they come across such media. You said that “Cultures are infinite and constantly evolving. This is what makes it so hard to truly get to know a certain culture, as time will always be limited,” but I think that you did a great job of soaking up everything you could about the cultures you visited, and that is a lot more than a lot of people can say!

  22. Sheila Iteghete

    Ana, your tale of travel has widened the urge I feel towards traveling and I concur with your statement of Life never meant to be lived in one single place. I would also like to embark on a journey like this on my own to see how I can be able to flourish towards catering for my well-being. I was wondering what made you determine this was all that you needed to reconnect with yourself at different levels because you are traveling around Europe. Would your advice to others be to stay in one continent or travel to multiple continents to help them grow better? I ask that because you were challenged in Germany, but it was just a country in Europe. What would have been different if it were other countries in other continents?

  23. Kendra Brunn

    Good for you for wanting to explore different parts of the world and actually doing it! I have lived in the midwest my whole life, so it is crazy to think that driving only a few hours would bring someone to a completely different culture. I found it so amazing that the food, language, and costumes in the UK made you realize the historical connection it has with the US. I really appreciate how honest you were in this. I think people believe that cities like Paris look how they are portrayed in the media, but that it just not the case. Also, I liked how you commented on your struggle to communicate with people in Germany because of language barriers. I can understand the frustration, but I feel like that can sometimes make the experience even more special because you have to come up with new ways to do things. This was a great article and I hope you have the opportunity to do something like this again!

  24. Sarah Plankers

    What an incredible opportunity to travel alone Ana, I can’t imagine the self-growth and emotional courage is required to take such a leap as you did. I too, agree with the idea that life is not meant to be lived in one place. I think that to various extents we were all born with a natural curiosity to see and experience the world that we live in. I especially value how much you emphasize the fact that cultures and societies are ever-changing and evolving quicker than we can imagine. I think history is being transformed within every second that we live and breathe, and that traveling to different parts of the world allows us to put ourselves in various situations of creating and shaping history. Personally, my own experiences traveling have allowed me to both view the world in ways I never thought possible as well as learning about myself and how I fit into the world.

  25. Kalley Friederichs

    Ana, thank you so much for sharing this experience with us! Your trip sounded amazing! I envy your will and desire to just buy a ticket to a country half way around the world and explore on your own. It must have been never wrecking going to such foreign areas all by yourself, but very refreshing at the same time. I hope to some day be able to travel over to Europe for at least a few weeks and learn about different aspects of cultures over there. Sounds like you had a great trip and learned a lot about other countries and yourself!

  26. Francesca Do

    Wow! Five countries in three weeks seem intense, but I bet it was a fun experience for you! I wished I had the potential to travel and explore the world like you have. The pictures you provide us is beautiful, capturing the uniqueness of each place you visit. Like you said, “cultures are infinite and constantly evolving.” I believe that the importance of traveling is learning about the diversity of each culture and how our perspective of the world is different than others. Hopefully, in the future, everyone has the chance to travel and see the world in a different perspective like you have.

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