Europe: 1 Person, 2 Weeks, 3 Countries

Jumping withJoy in Copenhagen :)

In the past year, I caught the travel bug and it all started with San Francisco. Babson College’s Summer Venture Program was piloting in SF during the summer of 2016 and thankfully I was accepted. Being from Rhode Island, we are well known for rarely leaving New England. This was not only my first trip alone but my first time living alone — for three months.

In September of 2016, I returned to school for senior year and continued my travels. I ventured to SF in October, December, March, May, and officially moved there in June. Australia in March. LA in August. Europe in September. All by myself.

From 9/17–10/1 I traveled to three countries in Europe: Denmark, Poland, and Belgium. This blog will be a foundation for a series of blogs I write, which will focus on each location. Below are some brief highlights, followed by a few observations in Europe.

The past two weeks have been life changing and have given me a new perspective in regard to how I currently live and how I wish my future to unfold.

Part 1: Business in Copenhagen (9/17–9/24)

My flight departed Boston at 5:30 PM and landed in Copenhagen around 6:00 AM (7.5 hour flight). I was unable to sleep on the plane due to the time difference and was awake for roughly 40 hours. Towards the end of the day, it was unbearable and my body started to jolt a bit in reaction to sleep deprivation.

The reason I went to Copenhagen was that my startup Shelfie, which creates fundraising multimedia campaigns for nonprofits, was selected as one of seventy startups to compete in the University Startup World Cup in Copenhagen. I was the only team representing the U.S., which always makes it interesting. Most of the teams were Ph.D. and Masters Students, which made sense because I was deeply impressed with all of the participants.

Adventures in Copenhagen :)

The event itself was run over five days but really could have been completed in two. In my opinion, it was inefficient, which is ironic since we had a day-long discussion on automation and the country thrives on efficiency. Once I arrived and learned of how few nonprofits there were in Europe, I knew the judges would have a bit of trouble understanding the purpose of my product. The questions asked were not that in-depth, compared to the grilling I typically get in the U.S.

The friendships formed made this journey worth it and I cannot wait to tell you more about them, as well as all of the competition and tourist details of my trip!

Part 2: Life changing Experience at Auschwitz (9/24–9/26)

After a few history courses in high school, I became fascinated with World War 2. Specifically because of its magnitude, and how these atrocities even occurred. One of my teachers, Mrs. Franco, described a tour that brought you to Germany and Poland to tour various concentration camps. She described it as transformative and since then, visiting Auschwitz has been the number one item on my bucket list — note how nerdy I am.

Adventures in Poland

It was important for me to visit the place I have read and watched documentaries about over the years. Auschwitz provided enlightenment and perspective. In modern day we complain about problems that are really not problems. We all need to be more grateful.

There is no method for preparing you for this experience. You will feel empty, reflect often, and no muscle in your cheeks will allow you to smile.

During my 3 hour tour, I visited Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz 2 (Birkenau). Auschwitz 1 was still fully constructed and its history preserved. Some of the most alarming parts were: the living quarters, wall of death, gas chamber, and the prison.

Housing had ~56 beds and 400 people. Not only was it roughly eight to a bed, but these people were dying and sick. Working 16 hours a day, barely being fed, and facing horrific treatment.

The wall of death was where you were taken and killed by a firing squad. They had a wooden tool that hung you by your shoulders at an angle in order to dislocate your shoulders so you could not fight back. The walls of the barracks had photos of those who lived in Auschwitz 1 and it was hard to find someone who lived more than 3 months.

The gas chamber was the most traumatizing. Incinerators still present, a smell you will never forget, and the shower heads still in place. Prisoners were taken to the chamber and were told they were to shower and be cleansed. Once the room was full, the guards left, and water did not come out. Instead, it was Zyklon B, a poison that killed everyone in the room. The gas chamber is far away from the living quarters, that way only the Nazi’s could hear your screams.

One would often think of a concentration camp as a prison, but they actually had a prison within Auschwitz. The cells were incredibly small, confined, and as crowded as the living quarters. They had one room called the “Standing Room,” which was large enough for one person, but housed four. Punishment in standing cells includes: asking for two portions of soup, picking apples, or accidental breakages. Residents of the prison were often taken to the Wall of Death to be killed.

Auschwitz 2 (Birkenau) was not as intense, mainly because most of it was demolished once the Nazi’s realized the war was ending. Later, in further detail, I will write about this experience.

Overall, Auschwitz is something everyone should experience. There is no way to prepare for it and it will be saddening, but it will make you a more caring, empathetic, and grateful person.

Furthermore, I tried to stay away from politics here, but it is deeply disappointing how various people fight over issues they cannot control, such as the color of their skin, or a disability. We are all one race: human beings.

Part 3: Relaxation in Brussels (9/26–10/1)

After one of the most intense experiences of my entire life, I decided it was time to relax and visit my friend Sean. I joked with Sean that I was visiting Belgium because my family would never visit here, so I might as well do it on my own.

Before visiting I did no research and simply showed up. It was incredibly beautiful and the people were welcoming.

Adventures in Belgium :D

Brussels is the Capital of the E.U and home to the E.U. Commission, which makes it one of the most diverse cities on the planet. It reminded me a bit of the U.S. since it was diverse and has many different viewpoints and languages being spoken.

Sean and I did a free walking tour, enjoyed some waffles (Oh, yeah!), and visited a few bars. Brussels has lacked tourism after a terrorist attack last year, but I found it to be quite safe — especially with military presence — and absolutely beautiful. Highly recommend visiting!

Part 4: Relaxation in Copenhagen (9/30–10/1)

The past two weeks have been exhausting and it was important for me to have one day to myself before heading back to the United States.

Decided to book a room at the AC Bella Sky hotel in Copenhagen. I landed around 12:00 PM, went to the hotel and napped for four hours. Woke up, had dinner alone in a crowded restaurant — which everyone should experience — and came back to the hotel. Filmed a video for a startup application, listened to a podcast while playing a video game, and went to bed.

Nothing exciting and that was the greatest part. Simple relaxation.

Overall, my Euro trip was well worth it and in the rest of the series I will lay out my trip in more detail, including expenses, and recommendations. Currently, this blog is being written on my 8.5 hour flight back to Boston, where I will be attending the Forbes Summit. Back in San Francisco as of 10/14!

Special thank you to Kyle Stone and my family for helping make this trip affordable via sponsorship. Could not have done this without your generosity!

Please feel free to reach out with any questions about Shelfie or my trip at brendan@shelfiechallenge.com

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