What drew you to Abbey Road and specifically the Modern Civilization program? What were you looking to get out of this experience?
I was really attracted by the idea of traveling to different cities and countries, especially since there was a cohesive theme to the chosen locations. I chose Modern Civilization because it focused on a part of the world I had never visited and that I was ignorant about in comparison to the rest of Europe, and also because I love studying history and I find WWII and the Cold War era to be particularly interesting.
In the end, how did this experience impact you most?
Going into the trip, I expected that I would be exposed to a lot of historical details and cultural norms.
I definitely got that out of the experience, but the other part that I found invaluable was listening to locals and understanding their views on their own countries and on America. Hearing an outsider’s interpretation of my country and an insider’s appraisal of their own definitely gave me a more comprehensive worldview.
Has this experience changed you in any way?
I think that by nature I am someone who chooses to relax somewhere rather than go out and be active, but my surroundings and the people I was with pushed me to see everything that I possibly could. The trip helped me to realize how important it is to get the most out of my time and fully appreciate all the opportunities for exploration around me.
Did you go on the program with friends or by yourself? Was it easy to make friends on the trip?
I went on the trip by myself. I met some great friends—I knew that the people I was with were on the trip because they were as curious as I, and that made us click immediately. I think that the people attracted to the Modern Civilization program picked it out carefully because they genuinely really wanted to experience the culture and history of Central Europe. That meant that someone was always suggesting an expedition and asking for a company—we always wanted to be out exploring. Since it was a small group, we got to know each other really well.
One night when it was raining, we stocked up on candy, holed up in a hotel room, and used the time to get to know each other.
How did the staff help make your program experience fun but safe?
[They] were awesome! Since Jasmine [the program’s coordinator] is Austrian, she could educate us a lot more about modern culture than an outsider could have, and she clearly really liked sharing with us. She also made sure the schedule ran really smoothly. It was also great when Arthur [Kian] visited us in Berlin because he had grown up in the former Soviet Union. Hearing his perspective made everything we were learning more real.
Tell us about the daily schedule of activities. Was there a good balance between planned events and downtime?
Berlin had a lot of museums, but they were some of the best museums I’d ever been to—I loved Museum Island. And of course, seeing the Berlin Wall and some of the Holocaust memorials was incredibly humbling. Berlin also has a very modern, liberal culture that we got to peek at on a bike ride around the city with a guide. We went to fewer museums in Vienna, which were more culture and art museums as opposed to history. In Vienna, we also went to a film festival and to Schonbrunn Palace and Zoo, which was amazing. The day at the zoo is actually one of my most fun memories.
Our time in Prague and Salzburg was much less structured and more about appreciating the beauty of those cities. For example, we went paddle-boating in Prague and biking in Salzburg. We actually requested more downtime and then changed our minds because we liked what the staff had to show us. They would often give us suggestions for our downtime, but we were free to just wander with friends and experience the culture in that manner as well.
Can you list a favorite memory or an activity highlight from each city?
Berlin –Our bike tour, everything on Museum Island (I love ancient Egypt, so seeing the bust of Nefertiti was a highlight), the DDR museum, all the graffiti art—both on the East Side Gallery and off
Prague—Getting hopelessly lost for an afternoon but finding a cool modern art museum and the John Lennon wall, which is one of my absolute favorite sites, seeing the window in Prague Castle where the Defenestration of Prague occurred, the drums concert some of us attended
Salzburg—Sound of Music tour—kitschy but fun, and then convincing the hotel to let us watch the movie, tandem biking with two friends along the river, the giant flea market
Vienna—Schonbrunn Palace and Zoo(the pandas!), the film festival, completing the cooking challenge in our apartment kitchenettes.
What was your favorite city on the program and why?
I liked them all for different reasons. Berlin’s modernity—there was amazing graffiti art everywhere—was really cool because it isn’t a traditionally “pretty” city but is really cutting edge culturally.
The old part of Prague is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, but it is also a small city so I think that the four days we spent there was an appropriate amount of time. The same goes for Salzburg—gorgeous, but not somewhere I’d necessarily want to stay forever. I think of all the cities I would want to stay the longest in Vienna because it is both beautiful and a metropolis—it seems to offer an inexhaustible variety of activities and sights.
Was there anything unexpected or anything about the program that surprised you?
I thought I was going to feel uncomfortable spending so much time with total strangers, but it wasn’t a problem at all. It was also great to reconcile my preconceptions with the reality of the cultures of I was immersing myself in.
Being a senior in high school, do you feel this experience has helped better prepare you for college?
I definitely think it provided an example of the independence I will need in college and the mindset of openness to experience and change that is undoubtedly necessary.
At the same time, it was good practice for living with a roommate and managing my time appropriately.
Lastly, do you think you could have had the same experience traveling by yourself or with your family?
I think Abbey Road made my trip special because they really strove to make us as comfortable as possible, while also to help us achieve the greatest possible level of understanding. Alone or with my family, there’s no way I could have had all the background knowledge that Abbey Road was able to give me or seen nearly as much. I also got to make some long-lasting friendships.