The customs agent in Brussels looked at my passport.
“Can I ask you what you’re doing in Belgium?” he asked, glumly.
“I’m on an educational trip,” I said.
“Are you traveling with those young ladies?” he asked, referring to the giggling group of students who’d just passed by.
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, good luck to you,” he said, handing back my passport. Then he smiled. “You’re going to need it.”
Spin ahead two weeks. We’re standing in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, watching Pope Benedict, in a window high above us, give his Sunday blessing.
It was a sunny day.
And even though someone had pick pocketed my wallet the day before, we all felt lucky.
The Missouri School of Journalism’s European media tour has been going on for five years now, during the winter break.
But this was my first trip. Two weeks visiting media centers and sight-seeing with a group of Missouri students. In our case, that meant two men and a dozen women in cities like Brussels, Paris, Heidelberg and Rome.
We visited media outlets in every city. And that was interesting.
But more interesting was watching the students realizing that there was a world outside their world.
Actually watching them realize two things. That understanding should extend beyond their comfortable country. And that journalism often works differently than what they’re taught at the J-School.
Like at Stars and Stripes, in Germany, where the conversation ended with students trying on bullet-proof vests that reporters wear in war zones. Like realizing that Vatican radio had little to do with journalism and a lot to do with simply broadcasting the Catholic Church’s unexamined doctrine.
We heard from people trying to cover the Vatican and the secret process of choosing a Pope behind ornate closed doors. There is no way, short of a Cardinal’s loose lips, of finding out what happened.
And then we stood in the sun in St. Peter’s Square, just a short walk from the Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and Pieta.
Time zones later, my wallet cards are now replaced.
And there are two men, and 12 women, who are thinking more about journalism, and citizenship, than they were two weeks ago.