Gabby Moran, Germany, and Beyond

A picture of Gabby with her group in Berlin.

A picture of Gabby with her group in Berlin.

Caroline Albacete '17, Editor-in-Chief

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” –Henry Miller

        This past summer senior Gabrielle Moran had the fantastic opportunity to visit Germany Belgium, and the Netherlands with a group of other teenagers from across the U.S. She spent almost a month there, from June 30th to July 27th, and it had a great impact on her. From her orientation days in Cologne to her homestay in Niederalteich to her exploration of the political center of Berlin, Gabby immersed herself in cultures and ways of life very different from her own and learned a lot along the way.

        Gabby began her travels by touching down in Cologne, Germany, for a few days of orientation, including several language classes, a chance to explore the neighborhoods of the city, a visit to the House of History in Bonn, and tour of the Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site. From Colonge she traveled with the her group, with whom she’d made fast friends, to Brussels, Belgium and Maastricht, Holland for three days (oh, distances in Europe!). The highlight of Brussels was the European Commission, but visiting Maastricht was incredible because it’s the birthplace of the European Union. Gabby’s next stop was Niederalteich, a town in the Bavarian corner of Germany, where she stayed with a German family for eight days for a completely immersive experience. She went to school with her German “siblings,” and discovered that Germany has a unique, if rather controversial, school system. While staying with her family, Gabby took several trips to the Alps, explored Munich, and visited Passau, a major pass through point for refugees and migrant communities. For the last step in her exciting voyage, Gabby traveled to Berlin, where she explored the city with her friends after completing a beneficial ropes course for team-building purposes, saw the political center, including the German Parliamentary Building, which left quite an impression on her with its impressive architectural symbolism, and spent a day at a “Realschule” (an pop-up school for immigrants).

        For Gabby, this entire voyage was partly politically motivated. Visiting Berlin, a powerhouse government in the EU, and Maastricht was incredible, but seeing how the refugee crisis was being handled was equally important. The “Realschules” were new to her; they fit in as a part of the German schooling system, where kids are assigned to vocational, college preparatory, or transitional schools from a young age. One more immigrant-specific school does not really stick out, as the controversial school system already somewhat discriminates against certain students. But just as she was looking at Germany with a critical eye sometimes, the Germans would return the favor. Some of the questions she received from German students made her smile. She says that the most frequently asked questions were: Do you (as Americans) own guns? What is the situation with Trump? Why can’t President Obama run for a third term? Gabby, in turn, got to ask her own questions, and noted that German voters are much more likely to defy their parties and vote for who they honestly think is the best candidate. On a more local political scale, she also noted through her own observations, that there are significant differences between the neighborhoods of East and West Berlin, and that gentrification, much like in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty, is apparent in parts of West Berlin.

        On a more personal level, Gabby says that the trip had a great effect on her mentality. She learned a lot about herself over the course of the month, including how she handles unexpected situations. Some days were taxing because she spent all day, from early in the morning to 11:00 or later at night with a small group, working on thematic projects. Learning to adapt and give up control wasn’t always easy for Gabby, but working with the groups so closely helped her form close relationships that she might not otherwise have had the chance to build.

        One moment that she remembers with fondness because of the irony of the situation, took place in Munich. As she sat down to eat a meal with the group, they discovered that one of the group members was lactose intolerant, but none of the students spoke German and none of the waitstaff spoke English. It could have been a huge problem, but Gabby noted that the staff spoke Italian, and after taking 13 years of Italian herself, Gabby was able to communicate the issue. The situation made her laugh and reminded her that the world truly is an interconnected place.

        As I draw this article to a close, I want to leave you with some advice that Gabby gave me. She said that, of course, she learned a lot on this trip, but the most important thing she discovered is this: “Sometimes, empathy and a smile speak louder than any words at all.”

A picture of Gabby with her group in Berlin.