Reflections on Seeing Beauty Within, Embracing the Unexpected and Gratitude

Nestled back into my daily routine at home, I’m in utter disbelief that the physical aspect of this long-awaited German adventure has come and gone already. Somehow it seems like just ‘yesterday’ when we were all sitting at those big long tables at the noodle place in Pittsburgh, anxious for our big adventure to begin. At that point we were still largely unknown to each other having only spent bits of classroom time together in the months preceding. Looking back, our pre-departure night in Pittsburgh was the first time I felt a connection beginning to form. Little did I know how deep that connection would become and how truly special I would find each person to be.

Our time in Germany exploring amazing places like the city of Regensburg, Minster in Ulm, Neuschwanstein, the Residenz, and the many gorgeous churches (to name just a few) has reinforced the notion that the United States is truly the ‘new world’. I quickly fell in love with the ‘old world’ and was in awe to learn that cities such a Regensburg have an incredible number of buildings dating back many hundreds of years (some of which took many hundreds of years just to build). It’s almost unimaginable to me that there are people who live and worship in and amongst these gorgeous old structures. For example, I simply cannot imagine going to church every week in a place like Wieskirche. It’s truly one of the most exuberantly decorative places I’ve ever seen with its incredible wall and ceiling paintings, reliefs, gilding, natural illumination and late baroque architecture. It’s nothing short of breathtaking. Just to have an opportunity to stand inside it, and gaze upon its beauty momentarily, was beyond remarkable. Stepping inside beauties like that provided a deep realization that beauty often lies within, as it did at Wieskirche. What we see on the outside of something (or someone) can easily prevent us from knowing the joy of what’s on the inside if we don’t choose to explore it with that first step of faith.

I cherish the deep realization that beauty lies within, and am equally as grateful for the many opportunities that my time in Germany gave to embrace the unexpected. Perhaps the first opportunity for the latter came when we were stranded after exiting a standing room only train in search of one with more space to sit while en route to Munich. The plan backfired, leaving us stranded, and a new plan needed to be formulated. I soon realized that the situation is not unlike life. Sometimes, maybe when you least expect it, the train’s going to pull away and you’ve got to pull it together and make a new plan. In the end, you’ll get to where you’re meant to be (albeit sometimes a little later than expected) but – for good or for bad — with a memorable adventure under your belt. Many other opportunities came to embrace the unexpected and because of taking those steps of faith, I was rewarded with an opportunity to see the Englischer Garten complete with river surfers, to enjoy breathtaking views from hidden overlooks in Salzburg, to stumble on amazing gardens, and countless other treasures.

Likewise, I’ve come to realize that it’s virtually impossible to visit a place like Dachau and not be changed. Seeing pictures of those who were imprisoned there — where we stood freely — truly made me appreciate how blessed I am to live in a free country where ‘all men are created equal’. Visiting Dachau gave me the opportunity to remember what an abiding privilege it is to come and go as I please – a privilege that was denied to so many before me. As I go forward in life, I will do my utmost to never forget that freedom is not a right, but a privilege – and I will never forget Dachau or what I saw and felt there. Similarly, I will also remember the store owner in Oberammergau who referred to the beauty of the Bavarian Alps so casually, and make a conscious effort not to take things (and people) for granted. Being immersed in Germany’s picturesque beauty for two weeks almost made me expect to see it at every turn which can easily lead to taking it all for granted. This reminds me to consider the things (and people) in my life that I may be taking for granted. My Mom’s father constantly reminds her (and by extension, me) of the importance of stopping to enjoy the view. This concept has become so much more real to me as the result of this trip, and I’m thankful for it.

Educationally this was also a truly exciting trip! As a mechanical engineer in training, I relished the chance to walk the factory floors of such legendary companies as BMW and KUKA. The level of automation almost everywhere we went was astounding. The United States may have a thing or two to learn in that regard. Outside of the factories, I was impressed by the number of alternative energy production areas we saw throughout our trip. As an engineering student I recognize that renewable energy sources are not only important, but necessary. With time, I hope that countries around the world will follow the German lead and work towards the creation of a more sustainable world. This trip also helped me to see and understand the unbreakable connection that exists between engineering and business. Through site visits and case studies I was able to see this interaction in a real-world setting. This opportunity will have lasting benefits as I soon enter the workforce with a greater understanding of the need and benefit of not only cross-functional collaboration but also diversity of teams.

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have learned so much with such an amazing group of American and German people. I encourage all who read this blog to take any opportunity they can to travel — whether that be half-way around the world or simply to a neighboring city or state. The important part is to get outside of one’s comfort zone, to broaden horizons and see just how big and amazing our beautiful world really is! Looking back over this extraordinary adventure, I realize just how lucky I am to have been part of it all. I’m humbled and grateful for the opportunity and know I will think back fondly on it as my future continues to unfold. I end this wonderful adventure grateful, marveling in the everyday beauty of new friendships forged, and now etched on my heart. In closing, I offer my very special thanks to Dr. Feick and Arielle for their guidance, patience, good humor, organization, anecdotes and love. It is clear that they love not only what they do, but now all of us too.  Grateful and blessed.

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