By Brandon Brown
South Charleston High School
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Being dumped into the middle of a culture very distinct from one's own can be a nerve-wracking experience. It can also be a chance to escape from the confines of the all too comfortable uni-cultural mindset that often inhibits human minds from realizing what is beyond our own shores.
The West Virginia Youth Symphony 2012 Summer European tour was a little bit of the former and much more of the latter. The trip certainly packed a successful punch of walloping good times for everyone involved.
You could write a book about all the things we learned, accomplished and experienced both as an orchestra and as individuals. I've always had a fascination with learning about everyone else out there in the world, but getting to see it firsthand, and getting to live it like we did, is an experience that I could only have had through the WVYS.
From Budapest, to Vienna, Banská Bystrica to Krakow, every place we visited added such significant feeling to all those things we learn in history class year after year. It brought all those things into perspective for those who couldn't envision it before. These places are full of life, culture (old and very new) and vibrant people just like you and me.
Visiting the vast and masterfully constructed cathedrals of Hungary, going for a short hike in the Tatra foothills and forests of Slovakia, seeing the original factory of Oskar Schindler in Krakow, standing in awe before the gargantuan palaces of Imperial Age Vienna: These were all things we were blessed to have done together.
For me, the most special time we had in Europe was with our "adoptive" families in Slovakia. Anyone who volunteered had the chance to stay with a local family in Banská Bystrica and live with them for the roughly three days we were in Slovakia. And what a phenomenal chance it was!
After a few nights hanging out with our Slovak counterparts, we all quickly realized how much we truly have in common. We were fast friends.
Slovakia only got better with the great reception of our combined concert with the Jan Levoslav Bella Conservatory and its fantastic concert pianist Adam Straniavski, a truly virtuosic musician for his age. Though our time in Europe did not end with Slovakia, it was sad to leave it so soon after all the friendships we'd made.
Though this tour touched each person in its own distinct way, collectively, it can be said we all gained a much greater appreciation for all the other people out there in the world. Whether in metropolitan New York or rural Hungary, the strikingly modern cityscape of Vienna or sweet home Alabama, we're all people with special talents and lives who love to have fun, make meaningful relationships with others and share a piece of ourselves and of our culture with others.
Those people out there in the world, in every region of the globe that we might see on the international news, they're real people, too. They live and love life just like you and me, and the annals of history can really show us how we all make this world together.
See more photos from the WVYS European tour at wvyouthsymphony.org/tour2012/index.html