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Point of View: Traveling abroad bursts Baylor Bubble

Jan. 28, 2010

By Neely Guthrie

The combination of reading a novel, traveling Europe and spending a month with three people taught me a lot. First, sometimes you need to go away to understand what you're coming back to. Second, spending almost all of your time surrounded by other people teaches you things about yourself. And third, traveling to new places molds who you are and changes you for the rest of your life.

For a lot of people in Waco, Baylor is safe. It's where they can go to church every Sunday without ridicule, where Chapel is mandatory and mission trips are never lacking. It's the Baylor Bubble.

While abroad, one of my travel companions asked our opinions of a Bible verse. We shared and she said, "Yeah, those are great answers -- but how do I defend that, and my faith, to a non-Christian?"

It's not something we often need to do at Baylor, and, for some, that's why they chose to spend four years here -- to not have to defend themselves. Maybe that's why I came. But going thousands of miles away made me see Baylor as more of an outsider and less as a member of the bubble. Religion has a different meaning in Europe -- there is a cathedral in Maastricht that is now a bookstore (but a beautiful one), and another one being converted into an apartment complex. Thousands of churches are top tourist sites but have few churchgoers. Being in Waco has given me the chance to plug into a church and be very involved, something I am very thankful for. Baylor is certainly a one-of-a-kind place I'll appreciate more because I left, but I won't be there much longer.

Edgar Sawtelle, or perhaps more so author David Wroblewski, helped me realize this. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle delves into the lives of the Sawtelle family that breeds and raises dogs, but after multiple tragedies strike, the boy Edgar flees into the forest with three dogs from his litter. This escape makes him understand the purpose of everything his family does.

My trip to Europe was anything but fleeing Baylor, yet the time away nurtured my mind and soul in a way Baylor couldn't. At Baylor I am surrounded by amazing, godly friends, and I've worried what I'd do without them. But in Europe I've had to choose to worship when it's not built-in on Sundays, Wednesday nights and everywhere in between -- and it's empowering. It's eye-opening to see in Edinburgh that students are either Christians or they're not. You know it either way, and there is no middle ground. It's refreshing after life in the bubble.

It's refreshing to meet people raised in an entirely different way, an entirely different world, and how we can still relate through our differences. A vendor in Barcelona told me, "If you travel you can feel it. You're different from people who have never traveled, and you'll feel it in 20, 30 years." What wisdom from a woman who sold skirts! Wisdom I'll take to heart and, as she said, feel in 20 years when I tell a friend how I country-hopped Europe in college.

Such extensive travel has also shed new light on the relationships I formed while moseying through Europe. Traveling reveals things about people you don't typically learn through hanging out, having classes together or being in the same sorority. Situations are different, and I learned who was flexible, who was unaccommodating, who was a leader and who got frustrated. And seeing these qualities in other people made me realize I appreciate respect for others' opinions; I am a moderator. I try to find the best option for everyone, and if I want to do something different I have no problem going off and doing it by myself.

Europe isn't comfortable. It's not the Bible Belt; people stare at you if you read your Bible on the train. Lots of people bash Americans, America and our president. People speak to you and you blankly stare without understanding a word. If anything, Europe is a reverse bubble, burst in your face with a surprising sting. But you survive. It's a challenge I urge all to face.

Neely Guthrie is a Memphis, Tenn., junior majoring in journalism. She is a reporter for the Baylor Lariat.