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Trip of lifetime creates lifetime of memories

If they were to write an essay, “How I spent my spring break,” 37 students at St. Joseph High School could fill up quite a few pages. The students, along with 11 chaperones, spent a little more than a week traveling through Germany, Austria and Switzerland. They left Monday, April 5 and returned Wednesday, April 14. Organized by the internationally known EF Tours, the trip was an educational experience its participants won’t soon forget.

Favorite places

Cities in Austria such as Vienna and Innsbruck and cities in Germany such as Heidelberg were frequently mentioned as favorite places the group visited.

Allison Stump’s favorite place was Neuschwanstein Castle, the real-life model for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Stump enjoyed Mount Pilatus, too.

“Up at the top, three boys took off their shirts and people took their picture. It was minus three degrees on top of the mountain, plus being up so high. Fr. Huffman threw snow at them,” Stump recalled.

Lucerne, Switzerland was another favorite. While Sarah Neal loved the beauty of the landscape, others liked the atmosphere at The Tourist Hotel, where they stayed. While they were there some area residents had a First Communion party at the hotel.

The party was frequently mentioned as a new experience some of the students were glad they had.

“It (the party) was probably for the kids but the adults were up dancing and drinking and singing,” T.J Young recalled. “They were singing American songs, they were singing Swiss songs and they were yodeling. That was fun.”

This party gave Eli Lewis a new perspective on the Old World.

“I figured Switzerland would be boring, country land. I was very wrong. That place was a party,” Lewis said.

For Becca Patrick, the party was a chance to dance with a handsome dark-haired fellow. She didn’t get his name. But she still remembers the dance.

Ronnie Brown liked Vienna because of the “city life but proximity to the countryside.”

The hotel in Innsbruck, Austria was one of Anthony Whaley’s favorite memories.

“It was, like, 3,000 feet (above sea level) and above the clouds there,” Whaley remembered. “It rained and you could look at the clouds raining on the city and then see the snow on the ground.”

“Innsbruck was amazing,” Spencer Schwab agreed.

Memories

The group brought back memories of breathtaking scenery, friendly people and heartbreaking history. One stop was at Dachau, one of the infamous concentration camps of Nazi era.

“I had no idea how much Dachau would affect everyone,” Katie Hacker said. “To read the description of what happened in the rooms we were standing in was mind-blowing.”

“Dachau was different because I didn’t realize how badly they treated the people. From the books I read, they don’t let out the harsh information they had there,” Sarah Neal said.

“One thing that stuck out was the feeling you got at Dachau,” T.J. Young said. “You read about it, watch documentaries about it, but until you are actually there where it all happened, you can’t understand. Just the things you see (gas chambers, crematorium, firing range) really makes you think.”

“I had heard about concentration camps but I sort of thought those things couldn’t really happen. Then you go there and, wow, it did happen. On the front gate of Dachau it says ‘work makes you free’ The German tricked people into thinking if they work hard they would be set free and they weren’t,” Payton Blair said.

Other memories were more lighthearted.

“Recording music on the ride down from Mount Pilatus in the cable car,” Tanner Riley said was his favorite memory.

For Cecili Weber, her favorite memory was of “riding in the cable cars on the way up Mount Pilatus, Pilgrimage Church and the lovely French boys we met at the sports store.

Nick Roach’s favorite memory was of dancing to accordian music.

Hannah Martin’s favorite memory was of “shopping in Lucerne while looking at the Swiss Alps and eating ice cream in 30-degree weather.”

Seeing the central European architecture was mentioned by several trip-goers as among their treasured memories.

“I loved the churches,” Maria Whaley agreed. “They were just amazing, the architecture and detail. They were mainly baroque and rococo. Exquisite. There’s just no other word for it. And they had this balance with those quaint little villages.”

Those charming villages and grand old buildings were in contrast to the more modern architecture in the U.S.

“All the buildings were so old it was hard to find buildings under 100 years old,” Katelyn Compston said.

“I didn’t expect the architecture and buildings to be so detailed and still intact, considering how old they are. The churches and castles are amazing,” Mallory Rist noted.

“It (the architecture) looked different than our own and it looked as though they put a lot more effort into it,” Ashley Priode agreed.

John Lutz enjoyed the trip from Vienna, Austria to Munich, Germany and the chance to see countryside as opposed to cityscapes.

“It was about 200 miles of really beautiful farmland and not a thing out of place. Everything was as it should be,” Lutz said.

The natural beauty of the three countries ranked high on many lists as a treasured memory.

“I learned The Alps are bigger and more amazing than anything I ever imagined,” Levi Hopkins said.

Favorite food

The trip was a chance to eschew cheeseburgers and pizza and sample traditional European fare. Sarah Goebel liked some of the ice cream flavors but shied away from the one called “Mozart.”

“It had green chunks in it and it was pretty gross. It was some kind of mint,” she said.

When asked his favorite food, MacLean James wrote, “iridescent shark.”

Haley Glockner’s favorite was the bread, “which I had at almost every meal,” she said. She also liked Swiss chocolate, the ice cream and a drink that mixed orange pop with Coke.

Ice cream was mentioned as a favorite of several of the tour-goers. “Best ice cream I ever tasted,” Hannah Martin said. She also liked Tiramisu, chocolate mousse and apple strudel.

Sara Basedow’s favorite food was the kebab.

The people

The trip gave the St. Joe delegation a chance to meet ordinary Europeans on their own turf, from shopkeepers to tour guides to the hotel staff. Just about all of the interactions were pleasant.

“Everyone is extremely nice, friendly, willing to help you out,” Wain Artis said. “And everyone wants to have a great time.”

While some thought the Austrians were a bit more standoffish than the Germans and Swiss, John Lutz said his experience was different.

“I found the Austrians to be extremely friendly but some take themselves a bit seriously,” he said.

The cultural exchange, for many, was exactly that.

“Well, just the many different social conventions they have; I didn’t really think about how… different stuff could be over there and why things developed that way,” Mark Boykin said. “Very nice people, for the most part.”

Language was usually not a barrier.

“Almost everyone in Germany, Austria and Switzerland speak English,” Glennie Hopkins noted.

Caitlyn Fout pointed out many signs at airports and some menus are written in both German and English — but not everything translates perfectly. During a stop in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, she learned from an airport employee her last named, Fout, meant “wrong” and “naughty” in his language.

A lesson on the environment

The trip was also a chance to see another way of life and how other people in other parts of the world live and think — and what they value.

“The people in Europe have much more respect for their environment than people do in America,” Tanner Riley said. That sentiment was expressed over and over again.

“They took great care in all of their surroundings,” Sydney Hammond agreed.

“I really loved the healthy, eco-friendly life style in Austria, Switzerland and Germany,” Tanner Carte III said.

“Everything was very clean and they all respect themselves and trust one another,” Monica Hodges said.

“It was so very clean in every city we went to,” Elizabeth Sutter added.

Justin Mahlmeister said, “Their places are much nicer and they preserve what they have.”

Saaya Mukai, who is an exchange student from Japan, said she saw “a lot of Japanese stuff and I was so glad but it made me homesick. I realized I used to eat a lot of German food in Japan.” She would like to be an exchange student in Germany next.”

Reflections

The trip was also a chance to bond with classmates and see them in a different light.

“Just being with my whole class and having a lot of fun,” Glennie Hopkins said.], “it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The trip was also a chance for Europeans to see American youth up close and personal and see that the stereotype of the Ugly American does not always apply.

“I like it that they appreciated so much,” development director Sissy Clyse said. “And our kids do an excellent job of breaking the stereotype of what others expect American kids to do.”