Wednesday, January 25, 2012

RHETO Extravaganza: 7/1/2012

      An alarm went off somewhere in the dark. An unknown classmate switched it off and silence followed as I lay in my bed at the hotel in the Czechloslovakian Republic. I would have stayed in my warm bed and resumed my dreams but the teachers came to our door to make sure we were up by the appointed time (4 o'clock in the morning!). My body was moving as slow as a sloth and it was not until 5 am when all my classmates from St. Rock and I left to search for the buses. While on the bus I had the chance to finish my beauty sleep. The daylight slowly crept through the windows and renewed my energy. I reached in my bad to eat my morning sandwich that my teachers gave to me but my friend said the food was for lunch. With much difficulty I replaced the food in my bag and sat through the morning without breakfast. Though circumstance someone revealed to me that the food in my bag was for actually for breakfast. I place my trust in my Belgian friends without doubt, but my friends assumption lead to our foodless morning. I have no regrets because I devoured my food the instant of my epiphany.
     Speaking of food, many of my Belgian friends believe that meat sandwiches are not adaquet for a breakfast meal. Most Belgians eat bread with Nutella spread on it in the morning; as for me, I eat almost anything and everything. In America I ate pizzas, hamburgers, soups, salads, fruits, cereals, and the such. In my opinion, the idea of a real breakfast is installed in people through their culture, traditions, religions, families, and ect. The behaviors concerning what to eat and how to eat is learned from other's behavoirs that are continuous and repetitive. I always chose what I ate at the beginning of the day because my parents in America did not eat with me due to their work schedule, therefore, what became my breakfast ritual was for me to decide. I accept that my Belgian friends are indifferent to alternative foods, but I will always be willing to try something new (a modo I have picked up since becoming a foreign exchange student).
     Much of my time on the bus was spent reflecting on theories on motivated by the subject of food until we arrived at the next lodge in Poland. Ana, the other exchange student, and I got settled into our room then left for Auwschwitz, the biggest concentration camp built by the Germans during WWII. My expectations about my emotions consisted of feeling sad, depressed, and horrified because, from what I have heard, the concentration camps of WWII were outrageous. In fact, I felt somewhat the contrary. The tour guide showed us empty buildings, possessions of the Jews, photos of the Jew's life before the war, and ect. I searched for those feelings of pity and disgust from when I first learned about the concentration camps and watched the movies, but they were not there. My imagination failed me; not because the Holocast situation is indiscribable, but because the event was more real and vivid during its time. I did feel a glimpse of terror when the tour guide described the various methods of torture the Nazis enforced and the photos of the starving Jews from the aftermath of WWII.
     Even though Awshwitz was not what I expected I am greateful for the experience. I visited Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau), but our class did not have time to see Auschwitz III (Monowitz). I learned that over one million people lived and died in the concentration camp near Cracow (Krakow); most of them Jewish. The Nazi's built gas chambers in Auschwitz that could hold 2,000 people who were exposed to toxic gas like carbon monoxide, leading to their death. At the entrance of the Camp a sign was hung reading "Arbeit Macht Frei:" work makes one free. The quote is hypocritical because the forced labor was one of the many methods of genocide by the Nazis. Due to limited space on this blog entry I will list more information about the Nazi German camps in a different post.
     When it became dark the tour at Auschwitz was forced to an end and I returned to the lodging to take a long shower and to eat dinner. When people finished stuffing themselves we gathered together to ask the German volunteers questions about the Holocaust and their life stories. The German volunteers took french classes for 5 years beforehand, but it was not their strongest language so they resorted to english. My Belgian teacher who taught english translated sometimes but everyone in the room studied english at least at some point. I was the only fluent english speaker so I decided to pose a question. It must have been too complex because the German volunteer went off on a disorienting rant that did not relate to my question at all, nevertheless, it was interesting to watch the Germans and my Belgian classmates try to speak their second language.
     During the interview I discovered that the German volunteers were not really volunteers, but in fact, decided to help run the lodge and share information about the Holocast instead of joining the German army. It was only recently this year when, in Germany, participating in the army has not been compulsory. When my host dad was younger it was also mandatory for him to spend some time in the army, but nowadays the Belgian government gives its citizens free will to be in the army or not. I plan to join either the air force or navy in the United States when I return from Belgium, but it is my decision and not my governments.
     Soon enough everyone dispersed to enjoy each others company after the long interview with the Germans. As I survayed the living room I noticed beer and cigarets scattered everywhere. In Europe, the age for drinking and smoking is optional for its citizens at a younger age compared to the laws in the United States; meaning my classmates had the option to obtain them. Personally, I do not drink or smoke so the law has no effect on me, although I wish I could say the same for my teachers and class mates.
     Entertainment other than beer also occupied us; three boys brought in their guitars and bagpipe and started singing and playing music. I was forced in front of the crowd to sing "Let it Be" and some songs by the famous English singer Adele. The Belgians assumed I knew all the lyrics to the english songs since I was from America, but they were wrong. My teacher could sing "Let it Be" better than I could; no one really noticed because they were drunk.
     My third day on my RHETO trip consisted of traveling between hotels and touring a concentration camp. The morning was an early start and I went to bed extremely late due to all the activities. My experience from Auschwitz and the German volunteers expanded my opinions about European history. The party at the end of my day was also uplifting with all the crazy, drunk, and singing Belgians.

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