Living in Austria has shaped my view of my country, my faith and my world outlook. On the first day in Vienna, I was asking for wifi passwords, looking for air conditioning and thinking about what I wanted to do in the States. By the time I left Vienna, I thought about the books I wanted to buy, the languages I wanted to study and new lifelong friends I just made.
I experienced a few recognizable turning points during my European stay. One was at Mauthausen concentration camp. I walked through the grounds where 81,000 prisoners lost their lives. I felt a heavy weight standing there, knowing afterwards, I would leave on a charter bus and go get gelato.
Mauthausen concentration camp, liberated by the U.S. Army in May 1945
Anger and sadness grew in me as I learned more about the horrific, inhumane events that went on during World War II, knowing that this was less than 80 years ago. I pictured my brother if he had been born at that time, willingly laying his life on the line to liberate these prisoners who were children of God. Knowing America had a large hand in the defeat made me more proud of my country and even more in awe of those who have served it.
Mauthausen was liberated by the U.S. Army 65th Infantry Division.
Another turning point was at the Roman Forum. As we walked to the chamber where Paul was imprisoned, someone read from Acts 16 where Paul and Silas were stripped and beaten with rods. After being severely flogged, they were thrown in the prison next to the Arch of Septimius Severus that I stood in front of. I have heard these stories since I was a toddler, but seeing the ruins, relics and excavations gave it a whole new meaning. Sometimes I read the Bible and feel very removed from something that happened so long ago and so far away. Seeing these sites firsthand has served as a much-needed reminder that everything in the Bible is historically accurate. It has strengthened my faith and made me want to read these stories from this new perspective.
Roman Forum, Paul’s prison is behind the Arch of Septimius Severus on the right.
My outlook on life shifted on this trip. Most of the things I worry about don’t matter, and most stressful situations have good lessons to reap. When we missed the only train back to Vienna from Croatia from our station, we had the opportunity to solve a complex foreign puzzle. With no time to waste, instead of getting angry and stressed, we calmly took logical steps to get to our destination and made it back to Vienna only five hours later than originally planned. We stayed optimistic and even met some fascinating people along the way.
On a more serious note, I was sad to come to the realization that America isn’t what it used to be. If I were to generalize my generation, I would say most are spoiled, entitled, intelligent and apathetic. I can’t imagine what a modern day draft would look like. During World War II, men who weren’t even selected to serve left the comfort of their homes to fight for their women, children and future Americans. They were guided by something that must be done, ready to give their lives. I think of Desmond Doss when he said, “I can’t stay here while all the other people are fighting for me.” I sincerely hope my generation would have the same response.
Today, many clueless millennials openly flirt with the idea of a Trump assassination, complain about the “rights” they are entitled to and always ask “what’s in it for me?” It is a very different America. Today, a man is praised for sitting during the national anthem, yet cursed for standing to better the lives of veterans.
I am a different person because of this experience. I will always be more aware of my surroundings, more appreciative of people’s differences, more confident in my ability to overcome obstacles, more grateful for my country and more likely to thank a veteran. This experience has given me something no classroom could ever teach and no words could ever fully capture. My only regret is not staying longer.The Roman Colosseum, in the words of Maximus: “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?”