The Maastricht Family

During one of my last weekends in Europe, I went to London with my buddy Caleb to meet up with our friend Collin who was doing a London study abroad program. We ate pies and pasties, saw Wicked on West End, watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and ambled through the Kensington gardens at sunset. After the perfect London weekend, we settled down in an authentic British pub. The conversation quickly turned to our different study-abroad programs. Collin asked Caleb and I what the group dynamics had been like in Maastricht. We paused for a long while, searching our brains for a less cliché version of what we knew we were going to have to say.

“We’re a family.”

When I signed up for this study abroad trip, I knew practically no one who would be in Maastricht with me this summer. Two and a half months later, I came back with a family. I know, I know, save the sappy stuff for Jon Green novels and Hallmark cards, but I can’t help it.

We were a family. 

Group.2014

The highlight of these college study abroad trips is supposed to be a destination or an excursion, paragliding in Switzerland or touring the Vatican in Rome. The highlight is supposed to be something unique to the place you went to, something you paid for, a brief opportunity in your life to do something unique or daring or adventurous. But as I look back on a summer in Europe, I realize that the highlight of this trip was so much more than a picture on a postcard. The highlight of this trip was family—the absurd, entertaining, and loving community that happened here amongst a bunch of strangers during eleven short weeks.

If my last post about Europe was about a destination, I’d be doing a disservice to this trip and what it’s really been about. This trip was about a new family, so this post is going to tell you about mine. I could assign a familial role to everybody on this trip and tell you what I love about them, but class starts tomorrow and I don’t have time. Here’s just a sampler of a few members of my Maastricht family— people who mean the world to me.

The Family

Patrickthe angsty younger brother

I don’t know what this trip would have been like without my best buddy Patty Ice on it, but I know it wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable or enlightening. Patrick is one of the most fun, genuine and hilarious people I’ve ever met, and rooming with him over here has been unreal. He’s pretty mediocre at doing the dishes, his hipster music hurts my eardrums, and his hip street-wear makes me feel self-conscious, but I love this dude and I wouldn’t trade traveling Europe with him for anything.

Calebthe responsible older brother

Caleb was my closest friend coming into the trip, so I knew we’d have fun together. I didn’t, however, realize that we’d jump into canals and hike up mountains and float down rivers together. Caleb was more clutch than Michael Jordan on this trip. His responsible self kept me from getting on approximately 27 wrong trains. He also was always there with a verse or word of encouragement whenever I was feeling down.

Joythe loud younger sister

Never, ever, in all my life, have I met anyone with a name that so perfectly describes their personality. Joy radiates joy, all the time and everywhere. It bounces off the Teikyo walls and echoes around wherever she is. But that’s not the only thing that echoed. Joy skipped the grade where everybody else learned what an inside voice was, so whether she’s on a table making an impromptu speech or winning a dance-off in a nightclub, you’re gonna hear this girl coming.

Laineythat mom that nobody messes with

Lainey has this story she likes to tell about this neighborhood gang that she told off with a pocket knife at age 6. That story goes a long way in describing Lainey—she’s incredibly caring, she won’t stand for injustice, she’s the most loyal person you’ll ever meet, and she’s a teeny bit crazy. She’s also a double black belt, so don’t mess with her.

Carolinethe older sister you always want to be around 

The routine became pretty scheduled near the end of our time in Maastricht. Ask Caroline if I can do homework in her room, and then sit at the center table together with our laptops accomplishing nothing school-related. Homework was code for excellent conversation, travel plans, and a few cups of mint tea. Caroline never wants the spotlight, but I’m gonna shine it on her for a second just because she deserves it—She radiates Jesus, joy, and compassion really, really well.

Alliethe crazy cousin

Allie is that cousin who you’re always excited to see during the holidays because their life is much more cool than yours is. At any given moment, Allie is doing one of five things—laughing, climbing trees, falling off her bike, or asking deep and really cool questions. She’s also a pioneer. Not only did she start our Maastricht Bible study, but she became, to my knowledge, the first Baylor in Maastricht student to get shocked by an electric fence while over here in Europe(note: if it’s making a buzzing sound, don’t touch it.)

Timcrazy uncle #1

Tim is not your ordinary Baylor student—he’s about 45 years old and he has a gray beard. He fits the crazy uncle label to a T. Every component of the person is there: the rock ‘n roll obsession, the bizarre hobby(he’s studying the history of medieval monasteries), and the occasional comment that makes your parents blush. Tim showed me a lot on this trip about growing up, rock ‘n roll history, and how old churches and old people have a lot they can teach us about the way things are and the way things ought to be.

Connorcrazy uncle #2

Connor Hook is a living legend. Whether he is getting concussed in the Paris subway, offering literary critiques in class using his colorful, questionable vocabulary, or frequenting his favorite Maastricht café nightly, Connor goes for it. He’s a younger, slightly more turnt-up version of crazy uncle #1. Connor made Maastricht more enjoyable and a whole lot more ridiculous.

Hayley—the “chill” cousin 

You know the chaos of the Thanksgiving meal at noon that makes you want to duck under the table like there’s a bombing raid going on above your heads? Hayley is that chill cousin you gravitate towards during those moments because she’s just. so. chill. But what does chill even mean? It means people are at home around you, feel heard by you, and want to be more like you. And that describes Hayley to a T. Except for that time at the nightclub in Prague when ABBA came on. That Hayley was less chill.

Dr. RustDad

We couldn’t have asked for a better program director. Dr. Rust was there for us whenever we needed anything. He gave us a long leash but was firm when he needed to be. More than anything, Dr. Rust wanted us to have an incredible summer in Europe and did whatever it took to make that happen. His midterms might have been cruel, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a more caring, loving person who would literally do anything for any of us.

If there’s been one overarching narrative to this summer abroad, it’s been that who you’re with is way more important than where you are. My Maastricht family made my Maastricht trip incredible, and I can’t thank everybody on this trip enough for being so fun, welcoming, and loving during this summer abroad.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.      1 John 3:16

Advertisements

4 Ways to Make Friends in Foreign Countries

It’s been an incredible first month in Europe. The beauty of Europe is simply astounding. In the past 30 days, I’ve visited France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Liechtenstein. Seeing so many cultures in such a short time has been presented lots of unique learning opportunities underlined by one central idea: I don’t know how to do anything in a foreign country.

Shopping for basic toiletries in Dutch strip mall was a half hour struggle, and finding a rain jacket proved to be impossible. The next day when I ordered at a German bierhaus, I pointed blindly at the foreign menu like it was a game of “pin the tail on the donkey.” At our hotel on the island of Lindau, I turned all the knobs but still couldn’t figure out how to use the bidet in our bathroom. And for a particularly chilly icing on the cake, I didn’t realize that Lake Geneva was full of fresh snow melt run-off from the towering Alps until I had already jumped in.

IMG_4690

There’s really only one thing that I’ve succeeded at over here on foreign soil, and that is making friends. Every place I go, I try to make up for my incompetence in every other area by befriending whomever I run into. Although it’s only been a week, I think I’ve picked up enough experience to make a quick four-step guide to making friends in foreign countries.

1. Ask questions- As we ambled down the Lake Geneva Promenade in Montreaux, a ritzy charter bus pulled up in front of our hotel. Twenty women, all at least six feet tall, filed out of the bus wearing matching sweatsuits. I looked closer at their jackets. On the left pocket, CHINA was written in bold white font. The Chinese national volleyball team was staying at our hotel, and I really wanted to meet them. Whenever I’m intimidated, whether by a strict professor in class or a pretty girl in a coffee shop, I make a point of asking questions. Questions are safe. Asking questions takes all the pressure off of you and lets people do what they are best at—talk about themselves. The next morning at breakfast, the team was there in their red jerseys. Palms sweating, I wobbled timidly up to a table where five of the players were seated. Smiling to cover up my nerves, I spoke slow and pronounced every syllable.

“DO YOU PLAY VOLLEYBALL?” They nodded enthusiastically.

“DO YOU HAVE GAME TODAY?”

“No.” They giggled and muttered among themselves in Chinese. One player answered confidently on the group’s behalf. “We play game tomorrow tomorrow,”

“Uhh…WHAT IS TOMORROW TOMORROW?”

Five seconds of silence followed. The player motioned one of the coaches over for translation back-up. The coach clarified that their first game was “the day after tomorrow,” and the players and I laughed for a solid minute. We snapped a memorable photo and said our goodbyes. Sorry America, but I’m switching my allegiance for the volleyball portion of the 2016 Olympics. It all started with a question. Questions make friends.

IMG_4733

2. Smile- One of our first nights in Maastricht, I ran into three University of Maastricht students on the riverwalk. Eager to figure out the city and make some friends here, I stammered out a few questions about Maastricht. Their English wasn’t great, and my Dutch was (and still is) nonexistent. The conversation easily could’ve gone downhill quickly, but mutual smiles and genuine laughter more than made up for anything that was lost in translation. Tinka, Fauve, and Janna (pronounced yawn-ah) grew up in Maastricht and taught me a ton about the city. We’re meeting up for coffee soon. Pardon my cliché, but the language of a smile is spoken everywhere.

3. Take selfies- After our group of forty piled on the minibus headed up to Neuschwanstein Castle, the driver yelled that the bus was full. Unfortunately, the Taiwanese tour group directly behind us didn’t understand that statement. Their forty piled on top of our forty, the driver let it a string of German expletives, and we set out for the castle. Sensing the potential for a unique cultural experience, I whipped out my iPhone and made an announcement.

“Hello friends! I am going to take picture of us!” I spoke slowly and extended the phone out in front of me. “Look here and smile!” The many different pieces of our human jigsaw puzzle scrambled to get their faces in the frame, and then I snapped one of my all-time favorite photos. When we got off the bus and walked up to the castle, you better believe I had some new Taiwanese friends.

IMG_4635

 

4. Remember why you’re there- On a trip like this, it’s easy to get caught in tourist mode. Tourist mode happens when you’re so busy snapping panoramic pictures and planning the perfect itinerary that you don’t notice the one thing around you that really matters, the people. I didn’t come to Europe this summer to check paragliding off my bucket list or to get a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower. I came to cross paths with people from all over the world, from Luxembourg to Liechtenstein. I came to learn from these different people and see how they view this world. But most of all, I came to love people—to communicate that love through little things like smiles and questions and selfies. That’s why I’m here, and that’s what this summer is all about.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

 

10366187_807053585973155_5407817252207424508_n

IMG_0247

IMG_0208

IMG_0176