We started our journey at noon on Sunday, June 8th, with a shuttle taking us from campus to the airport. Two flights, a six hour layover, and approximately twenty-four hours later, we landed in Baku— the capitol of Azerbaijan and where we spent the majority of our two weeks— around 9pm June 9th.
We connected with our host and his wife outside of security and passport control and got our first glimpse of the city of Baku in all of it’s nighttime glory as we were driven to our hotel. It’s not called the City of Lights without reason.
But allow me to backup and explain for a minute since I never really announced or talked about the trip at all on here.
We’re very excited to start talking about this trip and documenting the preparation process and eventually the trip itself! In May, we’ll be boarding a plane to Germany, and from there an aircraft which will take me and my peers to Azerbaijan. We spent the first month and a half or so of the fall semester working on planning our “vision trip” as a group. Our task was to think about and prayerfully consider what we would like to study on this trip, not where we would like to go. The point of this experience is not a vacation, but a time to grow as leaders and to learn about another culture, another people.
As a group, we met at least weekly outside of class, sometimes more, to work on planning our trip and putting together a presentation which we ultimately gave to the directors of the program and president of the college. We all threw out ideas on things we’d like to learn more about, and boy was that quite the list. When we looked at the repeated ideas though, we found ourselves with three popular thoughts: human trafficking, Islam/Muslims, and refugees. Rather than bicker, we voted to narrow things down. Most of us fell somewhere along a continuum of wanting to learn more about Islam and wanting to learn more about refugees.
After we presented our vision trip, our director of global education looked into location options for us, thinking we might end up in western Europe despite that not being a favored location because of how tourist-packed it is. The opportunity in Azerbaijan presented itself though, and as she looked into it more, it started looking more and more viable.
It’s hard to believe that was over six months ago.
In the weeks to come, I hope to finally be writing and sharing about my very first trip abroad. The trip was an opportunity presented as part of the scholarship program I’m in at school. Every year, the freshman in the program take a trip abroad, and this year found us in Azerbaijan.
I’ve been attempting to write this first post for weeks and weeks since being back, but between full-time work and a lack of words, it just hasn’t happened. Everything is still turning over and over in my mind, my brain still attempting to process all that we did and saw. So here’s to attempting to get something down on paper.
The morning after we arrived, we got our first taste of a traditional Azeri breakfast: fresh bread with cheese and butter, hard-boiled eggs, and hot tea. Our first day consisted of introductions, itinerary reviewing, and a walking tour of the city.
On day one, I learned to just accept that as an American in a country that doesn’t see a whole lot of tourists, I was going to stick out. We had spent a lot of time in our preparations learning about cultural awareness and being culturally sensitive, so I had this idea in my mind that if we just tried hard enough, we’d be able to blend in. That was not even close to the case though. A group of fifteen would stick out even on American soil, and we certainly did on Azeri ground.
Day one taught me that while cultural sensitivity is important, it’s okay to not always blend in. I had to accept my unchangeable and undeniable Americanism, and I had to stop apologizing for it. I had to learn to not be ashamed of my origins and to not feel like I had to apologize for being different and from a place of abundance and privilege.
There’s a line between pride in our roots and humility and sensitivity towards other cultures and other people’s roots. I guess that what I’m trying to say is that I had to learn how to appreciate another culture and another people, while not apologizing for my own being different.
By the end of the trip, I had embraced the tourist that I was, camera and all.
Home for our first two nights in Baku
Can we make this the norm in the states please? #yum
First glimpse of Baku in the daylight
Lunch on day one: dumpling soup with fresh herbs
Looking back on the city
Four students and our wonderful tour guide (he’s the one on the right with the cane). This man was with us day in and day out for most of our trip and became a dear friend to us all by the end of our trip.
The crew at dinner on night one.
Walk along the Caspian Sea after dinner
The guys’ photo game only got stronger as the trip went on
Flame Towers part 2 (I have way too many pics of these towers)
Told ya I got camera comfortable by the end. This was our last day, and naturally one of the few pictures I didn’t take myself was a picture of me reviewing photos on the camera