I’ve always heard that an international trip requires months and months of planning. There are cell phone plans to be changed, key foreign words to learn, and travel adapters to be bought. From what I understand, usually everything is very calculated and mapped out, but if there is anything I’ve learned during my two and half years with TWLOHA, it’s that things don’t always happen the “usual way.” What was supposed to be a five-day vacation in Europe to visit my friend turned into a really incredible opportunity for us as an organization. We were invited to join Crown Jewel Defense on tour in Europe where they would be opening for Young Guns and All Time Low. We were asked to come along on their first ever tour because they believe in what we are doing, and want to help spread the message of TWLOHA.
After several emails and phone calls, my plane ticket was changed and I had to be ready to fly to London in twenty-two very short hours. The tour would start in Brussels in Belgium, then continue on to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Hamburg and Berlin in Germany and end in Vienna, Austria. I had never been to Europe and I couldn’t believe I’d have the opportunity to experience so many different cities on my first trip there. But, as exciting as that was, it wasn’t why I wanted to go. A lot of people think going on tour means you get to “see” a lot of the places you are. But it’s actually quite the opposite. For the most part, you see the venue and the city within a two-block radius before you head to the next show the following day. So while I knew it would be neat I would be able to say I had been to each of those cities, my reason for going was much greater and had to do with people. I decided to go because of you guys.
Every day we receive emails and messages from people asking us to come to their town. And despite not being able to go everywhere we want to, our hearts are still in the small towns of Nebraska and the Russian tundra. So my purpose for going was the opportunity to meet our European supporters face-to-face. I couldn’t wait to put faces to the comments, messages and tweets from people in these far-away cities who frequently ask us to bring TWLOHA across the Atlantic. I wanted to hear their stories, hearts, answer questions and open up a dialogue. Given the short notice I was worried people wouldn’t be able to join us for informal meet and greets in each city. But I should have known better. Within minutes there was an abundance of emails from people asking for details and how long we’d be there.
I didn’t know how similar, and yet different Europe would be from the United States. I was shocked that nearly everyone I encountered spoke English in addition to the standard language of spoken in their country. I felt understood, and could communicate with people, which is important when you’re in an unfamiliar place. One of the first supporters I met asked me, “Do people look different here?” And the answer is no. The biggest difference I noticed and felt was how relaxed everyone seemed.
Europeans seem to embrace the calm. You can sit in a café for hours and never be interrupted by the server. Time doesn’t seem to be of great importance. I was never rushed, or hurried by anyone. As someone who is glued to my BlackBerry, not having a phone was a foreign experience for me. When I went to my first coffee shop I was confused and at first frustrated why the waiter didn’t practically demand my order a few moments after sitting down, or bring me the check after my first few sips of coffee. In recent years I’ve noticed America seems to be more worried about quantity instead of quality. I didn’t find that to be true in Europe.
During each meet and greet I was able to fully engage in conversation with each of the supporters that joined me because they weren’t in a rush either. Everyone around me was focused on the present, and living in the moment, instead of worrying about what they had to do in the next few hours, days and weeks. A very basic concept I didn’t realize I myself had gotten so far away from prior to this trip. And to be honest, something I’ve practically abandoned all together. Something I wasn’t aware I was missing.
The entire trip was such an amazing experience because of the people I was fortunate enough to meet. I sat with four girls at a café in Amsterdam and we laughed about the simple things in life. I had a heavy conversation with two girls in Hamburg, one of which had lost their father to suicide four years ago. In Berlin six of us sat in a café hiding from the cold and talked about ways to bring awareness to mental health issues in Europe. Being established with offices internationally is something we dream of doing, and something we aspire to have one day. Something I hope to be a part of because now that I’ve met so many of our international supporters and I’ve seen the places those messages come from it is not something I can easily let go of or forget about.
Europe, you are wonderful. I miss your beautiful cities, amazing coffee, the new friends we made and everyone I was fortunate enough to meet. I hope all of our international supporters know how much you mean to us, and that we hope we see more of you very, very soon.