Humbled and Heartbroken: When Tragedy Occurs Abroad

Jordan Gette National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland


November 17, 2015

This weekend, I went to Krakow, Poland to see the country that means so much to my friend, Aga. She brought Joe, Peter, Paola, and me to Krakow to experience the food, language, and culture that she grew up on. It was exciting to see her so proud and happy to show us around and Krakow is beautiful. We were able to visit a castle and hear the tale of the dragon. We tried traditional Polish foods and made our best attempts at pronouncing the words correctly. When I made my “wish list” of places to see while abroad, Poland was not initially on it. But looking back on my time there, I am very grateful for the experience. The buildings are beautiful and the people are kind. It was fun being able to walk around the main square and wander through the market. I found a Harry Potter music box that I couldn’t pass up, so I now have purchased my first official souvenir.

We saw the salt mines and I was blown away that there is essentially an underground city made almost entirely of salt. It spans over 300 kilometers and contains thousands of chambers. There are multiple cathedrals, a spa, bodies of water, and countless other rooms just below the surface. We were able to pull rocks of salt from the wall to taste and saw where the first underground bungee jump took place. The trip to the mines was one stop on an all-day tour where we were able to meet new people. Paola and Peter’s classmate was coincidently on our tour bus in the morning along with a friend. One of the things I am growing to love most about travel are the connections and conversations that result from it. By chance, these Duke students all chose the same tour, in the same city, on the same day and I was able to make two new friends. It is just amazing to me the power travel has and the opportunity it provides for meeting others.

On Saturday, we took a tour of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau. I cannot begin to explain how humbling it is to stand where such terrible historic events occurred. I am in awe of the survivors and their ability to take their horrific experiences and turn them into a lesson on vigilance, compassion, and awareness for the rest of the world. I do not know where they pulled their strength from or how they were able to move forward from the camps, and I know I have no right to pretend to understand what they went through.

I was not able to use my phone for the majority of our time in Krakow, but when I did, I was flooded with messages from parents, administrators, and friends anxious to hear that I was safe. Not having the internet and not having seen any news reports, I was confused about the sudden concern. It was not until hours later, that I learned about the tragedy in Paris. I found myself in an instant panic, running through a mental list of people I know in Paris and checking to see if they were safe. During my journey home, I read news reports of the events of Paris and other attacks around the world. When I sat down to write my blog, I considered whether or not to include these terrible events of the last week. But it seemed impossible not to acknowledge them. Being away from my family and knowing the terror they felt during those twelve hours before I was able to contact them is nothing in comparison the pain these cities and those affected are feeling. There is no truly tactful way for me to write about these events and nothing I can write will make the events any less horrific. There is no way to make sense of how people can commit such atrocities, it is not something that is meant to be understood. All I can do is be grateful that I am safe and that I have so many people in my life that care about me.

I cannot change what has happened or make it make sense, but my prayers are with those in Paris and all around the world that are victim to these unprovoked and heinous acts of terrorism. This weekend, seeing Auschwitz where so much pain still lingers and then learning of these global terrorist attacks breaks my heart. I hope that we can find peace and justice in these events and join together around the world to prevent their reoccurrence.


Ireland Travel