After having spent 75 days in Europe (traveling as well as residing), I believe that my stay on the continent of Europe has left profound cultural imprints and in doing so allowed me to fulfill my objectives which I had formulated before arriving here.
Before we delve into analyzing whether my experiences here are of cultural nature, I would like to define as to what the term culture means to me and what constitutes it. Prior to coming here, culture to me meant an amalgamation of history, language, culinary palette, people, music and other aspects such as social norms, political thought, economic way of life and certain time held traditions. Post-arrival and having a detailed discussion during the lectures as to what the word culture meant to the French people, I learned that apart from what constitutes a culture, it’s also important that how these respective components are perceived by different societies or nations and its people. To some societies culture is more historical, to some, it’s the present way of life. Apart from this, the perspective on culture can also change among generations, evident during a conversation with an Italian elderly gentleman on a journey from Cinque Terre to Florence. All the while during my travels and stay, my view on culture kept getting modified which has allowed me to view these past few months in different perspective.
I arrived in Europe in December when my plane landed at the Charles De Gaulle airport, Paris. This was my first trip to France and Europe subsequently. Coming from India, my motivation to come to Europe was mainly historical and of course academic. Being interested in history, Europe is the natural choice as it remains the cradle of western civilization and many of the ideals and founding principle of the modern world find their roots in the European continent.
My first leg of the journey took me through Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, and Luxembourg. Covering these countries was a simple task in matters of distance but the variety offered was astounding. Each country had a different language and yet enough similarities to work through on the basis of my beginner’s knowledge of the French language. Culinary wise, there as a vast difference among the countries, the town of Moorhen offered the best fries, Bruges had sum sumptuous chocolates to offer, Germany was exceptionally good with its bread and of course, one’s account would be incomplete without the Baguette. Apart from the food, the beers on offer across the different countries were mindboggling. The sheer amount of beer products available was in stark contrast to India, where we have access to only some of the bigger brands (the Indian local beer scene though is very rich). Suffice it to say, I discovered that Europe has a Beer Culture (another modification to my definition of culture), and a rich one at that.
I celebrated the New Year in Antwerp watching the fireworks at the stroke of midnight which ushered in the year 2018. This was a unique experience for me, as back at my place, we celebrate the new day of New Year and less of the New Year’s Eve, though the scene is changing even then celebration is mostly night parties. So to watch a whole city come alive at night in biting cold to share a moment not only among family but with all the fellow citizens was an uplifting experience one which is bound to leave a lasting impression
In contrast to northern Europe, the south was pleasantly warm and a different socio-cultural palette to contend with. Spain is one of the biggest countries on the continent and traveling through it was fun as well as insightful. Whether it was languidly walking on the beaches of Barcelona or going through its gothic quarters, it was whole new experience in terms of traveling, people to people experience among others. To me, it looked as if both the northern and southern parts of Europe complement each other and together they offer a kaleidoscope of a rich and diverse culture in every aspect of human daily life. In terms of food, Spain had its magnificent tapas to offer and its local drink made from tiger nuts are a taste worth trying. Walking through Valencia gave glimpses of the old city and its rich architectural design. This city has been passed from Romans, Visigoths, the Moors and Habsburgs to its current status and I felt even though it was under control of different rulers throughout its history, the residents appreciate the diversity of it and make sure to preserve it, a lesson we would do well to heed in this modern fractured world. Perhaps the world famous Paella is a testament to this unique amalgamation of Valencia’s rich culture.
During the last leg of my journey, I traveled through the French Riviera (Co’te De Azure) and later through Italy. Visiting Marseilles and going through its old city was a history lesson at its best, also the city is near to France’s best-kept secret (read nature reserve); the Calanques. While discussing culture we tend to discuss the man-made aspect of our daily life but tend to forget that nature plays an equally important role in shaping our daily life and consequently our culture. Thus a walk through the pristine Calanques is as much a nature outing but also a cultural experience, it also allowed me to look at the French countryside as until now I was unable to move away from the cities.
Moving on to Nice where I attended the night carnival was something of once in a lifetime experience which gave an insight into the people and their lives on the Mediterranean coast. Nice with its metropolitan culture also showcased its thoughts and views on all topics of current importance to the world with its beautifully crafted flotillas and exhibits of satirical commentary on international politics.
My trip to Italy Started from Genoa and ended in Rome. It was almost poetic to end one’s journey at a place where it all began. Rome is a template which every ancient city with continued habitation should follow. My own home city of Patna, one of the oldest cities in the world and capital of powerful empires which encompassed the whole of South Asia can do a lot better for itself if it takes lessons from Rome. In Rome, history has as much a presence as a modern technology. To stand at the Colosseum, and walk through the temples of Roman gods is a dream come true for anyone who takes the slightest of interests in history. Visiting the St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City was both a religious as well as artistic experience, one which allowed me to appreciate the extraordinary works of some great artists.
Equally exciting and insightful was the trip to the city of Florence. I had looked at the architecture and the some of its renowned buildings years before in a video and that had got me hooked. To finally visit these places and lay my eyes over them was the fulfillment of a long-held fantasy. A trip to the Cinque Terre allowed me the view of the Italian coastal landscape and way of life of people in the countryside.
All these trips were done or carried on from the city of Rennes, a place I had the good fortune to call my home for these past few months. My host city too holds a lot more in itself if one is willing to explore it. The people have been friendly, the conversations interesting. Walking to and from the college has been an experience in itself as it takes me through such beautiful views along the way. Also, this stay has revealed to me that I like to walk a lot, although that is not possible to do so India with its heavy traffic.
All in all, I have seen that France along with Europe is a different place to what I have experienced so far in my life and the experience here has been enriching, to say the least. Coming here has allowed me to see things differently and I am wiser for it. When I go, I will be taking much than just travel photos from this country and needless to say this stay has been an enriching one from the cultural perspective. There is a saying in India, “If you seek wisdom, you must travel.”
Whoever said it, was absolutely right.
- Ankit Abhishek, MBA (IB) 2017-19, Full Time