One thing you absolutely cannot escape in Europe is its vast history prevalent in its people, architecture, and art. There is absolutely no escape!
I was fortunate enough to visit Rome, Italy this weekend and was dumbfounded by the ancient history that invades everyday life in the city. Just by walking a few blocks away from our hostel, my friends and I were able to find ancient ruins, the Altare della Patria, and even the Trevi Fountain. Within in a few simple blocks, we were able to witness thousands of years worth of history in a few structures.
However, whether I am strolling down the Via Sacra towards the Colosseum in Rome, or I’m walking down the shopping street in Leuven, I have found myself completely immersed in layers of history. When exploring Leuven, the structure of the city reveals its history through its intricate architecture. Even our university itself dates back to the 15th century!
One of my favorite moments in Leuven was when I realized how quickly I have learned about the small city and country in just a few months. As I guided a few of my friends around Leuven for the first time, I was able to give them a few history lessons about Belgium and the historical significance of our university, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven). Not only does our program ensure this with educational trips around Belgium and history classes dedicated to the Low Countries (which Belgium is apart of), the city itself seems to beg you to learn all about its past just by the magical nature of its streets. From my experience in the US, you don’t tend to find a city filled with cobblestone streets, intricate architecture, weathered statues, and universities that date back to 1425.
The aspect of European history that has really stuck with me this week has been the impact both World Wars had on the area. Not only is one reminded of its impact by the citizens who wear red poppies in memorial, but bigger cities like Brussels contain monuments and art that were affected or erected because of the First World War. Just by exploring the statues in Brussels, it is easy to find a number of monuments dedicated to British and Belgian soldiers, the Belgian infantry, and even the “Soldier Pigeons” who lost their lives in the war. It is hard to forget how earthshaking these wars were to many of the countries in Europe, which is something I will never see in the US.
Overall, I am just grateful for the opportunity to think more deeply about the vast history that surrounds me and has shaped my world everyday.