Harkness Travel: Troubles, Treks, and Triumphs

Having had little exposure to Germany both linguistically and culturally, I entered my II Form year at Lawrenceville not knowing what was coming.

Having had little exposure to Germany both linguistically and culturally, I entered my II Form year at Lawrenceville not knowing what was coming. Initially, I paid little attention to the Harkness Travel programs, but while strolling through the F. M. Kirby Math and Science Center (KMSC), some of the pictures from the Harkness Travel presentations caught my eye. After reading the descriptions of all the trips, I was particularly intrigued by the hiking expedition to Austria and Germany, mostly due to my love of the outdoors. So, when I received the email of my acceptance, I was ecstatic.

The given itinerary mainly consisted of a curated hiking series and interactions with local students and urban culture. Nevertheless, the meticulously-planned schedule left room for trekking through the Alps and interesting daily excursions throughout Austria and Germany. The memorable experiences our small group shared allowed for many of us to develop lasting friendships. Although certain times proved challenging, the group all agreed that the memories we created heavily outshined any difficulties.

One memory that stands out to me was the second day of hiking. Extremely sore from the previous day, we trudged across snowy fields all day, and, in retrospect, I can understand why this endless stretch was called the Stone Sea. Every time we would reach the top of a hill, thinking it was the last one, an even steeper hill stared us right back in the face. Finally, with my back aching and my legs giving out on me, I stumbled over what had been a daunting, large hill. Suddenly, I spotted the hut which was no more than a football field’s length away. Never in my life was I so relieved to see such a random building on the side of a mountain. Walking onto the deck, I took in the stunning view: a combination of radiant sunshine, snow glistening mountains, and the cooling breeze that created the perfect atmosphere. This moment could not have been better.

Throughout the trip, we faced many challenges, some worse than others. The plan for the trip was to produce a documentary about how the Austrians celebrate the summer solstice in partnership with a local Austrian boarding school. At Lawrenceville, we are lucky to have seamless technology and constant internet. However, we underestimated the technological troubles we would face as well as the unavoidable language barrier. It was frustrating to deal with connection speed issues, but eventually, our patience paid off when our videos finally uploaded. Looking back now, I can sympathize with the Austrian kids and the problems they face daily. This experience provided perspective and gave me a greater appreciation for many of the things we, members of the Lawrenceville community, often take for granted.

Our challenges were especially prominent towards the beginning of the trip due to the lack of a group dynamic. This lack of unity was inevitable due to the fact that we were a newly-formed group. As such, this began to change as the days went by. Each new day, we were assigned a different menial chore. At the start, we kept our tasks separate and disconnected, preventing us from working as efficiently as we could have—for example, we would oftentimes turn down the wrong street or forget to charge a camera. As time passed, we began to work more like a unit by helping each other out with various tasks and specializing in what we were best at, from laying out the day’s plan to double-checking if we were boarding the right bus. This developed unity led to smoother days, even when we had packed schedules. Our ability to help out when people needed it made such a hard time just a little bit easier.

Looking back nearly a year later at my younger self roaming around KMSC, I will always be grateful that I wasn’t staring at my phone and instead decided to stop on a whim to read the random papers posted on the wall. Although hiking posed some hardships, the journey exposed me to an abundance of cultural experiences, interesting historical learning opportunities, world-class hiking, and incredible memories shaped by every single person in the group.

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