Two months and a half, fifteen cities, four different countries in the continent of Europe, surely this had been the best summer of my entire life. From the beginning of June to the end of July, I took an architecture studio class in Spain. Through the lectures, readings, and especially overnight field trips to various cities, I learned about different cultures and history, as well as the traditions and lifestyles of Spain. Besides the program itself, I had chances to travel all around Italy, London, and Paris as well.
Traveling awakened my senses in an amazing way, as I strove to take in as much as I could in each destination. I was constantly growing, constantly changing. As I marveled at the artifacts of the past, stood in awe of the works of art by famous painters, and found delightful joy in tasting authentic cuisines, I felt deeply appreciative of the mere fact that I’m alive. Yet, at that very moment, I also felt very much insignificant and minuscule as an individual. The more I saw the world, the bigger it became, with the multitude of nations and cultures that it has held over history. I was especially awe-stricken to realize that what I had seen is only a small part of a whole.
But this overwhelming sensation turned into courage, motivation, and passion during my last week of travel in Europe, in the city where I first began my journey: Madrid.
On August 15, I joined one million youths from all corners of the earth to participate in an international Catholic conference called World Youth Day.
The whole city overfilled with people carrying their flags. Songs and cheers of different countries were heard everywhere you turned: restaurants, metro stations, public plazas, and streets. The excitement and national pride were as high as the heat temperature of hot summer days in Madrid. As a Korean, I know very well about national pride when it’s time for an International event. I was born the year the Olympics were held in my country. I had been out on the streets with my fellow Koreans in my Red Devil shirt during the World Cup. Yet there was something unusual happening on the streets of Madrid during World Youth Day. Something entirely different from other world events; people weren’t just celebrating their own country. Everyone was clapping to each other’s songs, greeting in each other’s languages, and taking pictures holding each other’s flags.
Many people approached my group asking if we had something of Korea to trade. They asked me to sign their flags, bags, and journals in Korean. A few of them were especially excited, telling me that they love Korea and our entertaining TV shows, that their significant other is Korean, that they have lived in Korea, etc. Some of them even asked me to teach them a few words in Korean. I also heard a group of young boys singing a Korean song as my group passed by with our flag.
The more impressive part was that this wasn’t something that was only happening to my group. Everyone was mingling with each other, cheering and celebrating each other’s culture, singing together as one. It was then that I realized, I wasn’t so small, or alone after all. I was a part of something big, and no matter where we came from, we were one. I had never seen such diversity in such peaceful coexistence, and to experience this was truly life changing. So what if we have different traditions and cultures? So what if we have different skin tones and speak different languages? So what if we live in different parts of the world and have different lifestyles? There are always ways to connect and unite as one, in music, in joy, in faith, and in love.
members from different groups strike a pose for a local newspaper
pilgrims dancing in the middle of a public plaza
one million people gathered for opening mass
"el Noche de Alegria," a night of joy
English-speaking countries gathered for mass
Cuatro Viento Airfield was overpopulated with the pilgrims gathered on the last night