Students find meaning in out of country experience

BY NICK SISTI
Entertainment Editor

County College of Morris students embarked on a European excursion with associate history professor Craig Pilant for the seventh year in a row.

This year’s trip visited Paris, Barcelona and Madrid, from March 7-18, in conjunction with EF College Study Tours.. Students, alumni and families attended the trip.

Some trip-goers felt inspired to take the trek by others’ experiences before them.

“My mom would always tell me how she went to Europe in her 20s,” said Dorothy Scheines, a computer science major at CCM. “She’d go on and on about how it was the most amazing time of her life, so that definitely motivated me.”

The trajectory of the trip spanned 5000 miles on plane and train, beginning with a jet-lag inducing overnight flight into Paris. The first place travelers visited was the church of Notre Dame.

“Notre Dame was awesome,” said Zack Blackstone, a CCM alumnus who is a repeat traveler on Pilant’s trips. “The gothic stuff was very large and impressive. It’s amazing it’s been maintained so well, considering how old it is.”

The next night consisted of the obligatory Eiffel Tower trip, something that many of the students had been eagerly anticipating. However, reviews were mixed as some felt their hopes shot down.

“The Eiffel Tower was really disappointing for me,” said Blackstone. “It’s a really bland monument. We had to wait in a super long line… it was a rough night. It was a nice view from the top, however.”

In spite of the long line, some felt the destination was more important than the journey.

“It was totally worth it,” said Scheines. “It was like being in a cage at the top of the world.”

Multiple sites in the Barcelona portion of the trip itinerary highlighted the works of renowned Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. The first such site was Park Guell, which was originally constructed to be a private community hub. Though it was never populated, the park still stands today and is subjected to hundreds of visitors daily.

“Park Guell was so artistically fulfilling and beautiful,” said Blackstone. “I was really surprised that none of the property ever sold, but at least it gets the recognition it deserves now.”

Next on the list was Sagrada Familia, an ambitiously massive cathedral considered to be Gaudi’s final masterpiece. The building, which is still being constructed to this day, is projected to finally be completed in 2026. Construction began in 1882 and has slowly but steadily progressed, with admission fees providing the budget.

“Sagrada Familia was the most impressive church I’ve ever seen,” said Blackstone. “It was interesting to see that even though we live in such a scientific age, that there’s still a huge emphasis on these religious structures. It was very moving and emotionally substantial for me.”

The Spanish art of flamenco comprises of multiple performance elements including classical guitar, dancing, and a capella. On day four of the Barcelona excursion, travelers were treated to an authentic flamenco presentation. The show began with solely vocals, and proceeded to introduce tap-dancing and fingerstyle classical guitars, culminating in a crescendo of all three components. Feedback was highly positive, with most trip-goers placing the performance at the top of their list.

“The flamenco was awesome. The whole vibe was really weird and powerful. It was very expressive and something I could connect to emotionally,” said Blackstone.

Scheines echoed his enjoyment.

“It was fantastic. I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Scheines. “When you hear everything together, it’s hard to believe that it’s only two guitars, feet, and voices. It sounds like a full band.”

When one experiences a foreign country for the first time, it drastically changes his or her perception of ethnocentrism. Americans sometimes have a tendency to view themselves as the center of the world, and it can be somewhat jarring when one is dropped into a far-off land with a substantially different cultural context.

“It’s helped me put in perspective what people coming here feel like,” said Scheines. “Even if you’ve learned the language of a foreign country, there’s so many other cultural cues and double meanings for words that you can’t really become acquainted with unless you live there and immerse yourself in the culture.”

For Blackstone, experiencing France’s much older history has influenced his overall awareness of his own.

“Paris especially had such a cultural history. It was readily apparent that centuries of stuff had gone on there, which was interesting coming from the US which is a relatively new place in comparison,” said Blackstone.

For info on next year’s trip to Germany and Italy, contact cpilant@ccm.edu.

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