Sunday, October 27, 2013

A New Understanding of Humanity

Friday, our last day here in Poland, was strange, somber, and beautiful all at the very same time.

Our day began early with an interesting breakfast next door to our hotel. We had placed our order the night before, but when our food came, it was much different than the descriptions detailed. Exhausted from a week of traveling and excitement, we laughed it off and chalked it up to a good lesson in language barriers.

On our walk to our bus, we tried to keep the mood positive as we knew that the adventure to Auschwitz was to be emotionally draining and would undoubtedly forever alter us as people. On the hour-long drive, we passed beautiful countryside landscapes, homes decorated in traditional polish fashion, widespread farms filled with all the perfect colors of fall, and of course, city centers presenting the unwavering symbol of what resilience means.

As we pulled into our location, a sweeping sense of reality shifted through the bus. We were here at the location of genocide. We had prepared for nearly a year in attempt to be ready to experience such a place. Little did we know, no amount of planning could truly prepare us for what we were about to experience.

I know this is a blog and I know that our goal is to describe our experience in as much detail as possible, but the truth is that there aren't any words that can do justice to our experience at Auschwitz. It is something that makes you rethink the capacity of humanity and reflect on your own humanness. The tour of Auschwitz is something that every person in this world needs to experience as once you do, your entire understanding of humanity, good, and evil are reshaped and strengthened.

The students were extremely reflective and respectful throughout the 4 hour tour. To see young people be able to endure such a heavy experience with maturity and critical reflection was incredible to say the least. There is no doubt that these students are forever changed by what they saw today. It is our hope that they use this experience and these memories to continue to motivate them to work for a more peaceful and just world.

After our return from Auschwitz, we took a little while to relax and reboot. After all, it was our last night in Poland, and we had promised one another that despite the heaviness of earlier, we would muster up enough energy to experience the rest of what Krakow had to offer.

Boy am I glad we held to this promise as our last night in Krakow proved to be one of the best yet! We found ourselves back in the main square. A clean-air protest in the center of the square didn't hinder the liveliness of the food stands, market tents, and concert stages. You could feel the happiness all around- from isle to isle, the smell of Polish foods and desserts were complimented by the sounds of people bargaining, and musicians playing. This is what it means to travel, this is the feeling that lights a fire inside of us and renders us helpless to curiosity and culture.

We sat at a table beneath the lights of the city, the sounds and smells of the square still swirling around us. We entered into a reflective conversation about all aspects of our trip thus far, including our experiences from earlier. The conversation was latent with deep thoughts, critical questions, and impassioned plans for the future. I was nearly driven to tears hearing what the students had to say. "This is just the beginning of a life full of traveling," "We now have a responsibility to act and we can't ignore it," "I don't want to go home."You could see it, you could hear it, and you could feel it- these students are on fire with passion and curiosity.

The night continued on as we wandering city streets, trying new food, singing, and laughing.

The boys had a brilliant idea to maximize the deliciousness of the food. They went to the sandwich stand and got an open faced treat with onions, lard, and pickles piled on top. Then, they went to the meat stand and got a couple kielbasas. They combined them to make a deliciously Polish treat!

Combination sandwich. Yum! 

The boys chowing down! 

We all went to the dessert stand where they had beautiful chocolate-covered fruits. We all made pretty safe selections like bananas & chocolate and strawberries & chocolate. Xavier, on the other hand, had a great idea to branch out and try a chocolate covered chile pepper. Moments later his eyes were watering, his face got red, and he was dancing around the square out of pure pain from the heat. To our disbelief, all of the students joined in and wanted to try out this new treat! Of course, I got suckered into trying it as well and, as a result we can all say distinctively that you should never underestimate the hotness of a chile- even if it is covered in delicious chocolate. That is of course, except Mr. Ives who bought is very own chocolate-covered chile and ate it all with no eye-watering or dancing. We made ourselves feel better by saying he must have just gotten a milder chile....but we know that's not really the case. 

The hottest dessert in history.....

Loving their desserts!

Crying from the heat of his chile! 

Kaylanie scared to try the chile!

As it became late, there was a sense of sadness in the students' eyes. They didn't want this to be over. With an early departure time in the morning, we knew we had to head back to the hotel. On the walk, students never stopped laughing and singing. It was perfect; their happiness was untouchable. 

We made sure students were safe in their rooms and we said our last goodnight. Mr. Ives and I reflected on how important it is to see kids this happy and how perhaps this kind of happiness can be inspired through traveling. We are so proud of our students as they have surpassed our expectations and proven their excellence at every turn. 

While our trip to Poland is over, we can say with certainty that the passion, resilience, and motivation that our students have developed on this trip is truly just the beginning of an incredible future. 

The city square at night! 

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