Student Report – Sydnee Kuster

381 WATW was the first time I had travelled abroad. I knew the reason for going on this trip was a dreadful one, yet I was thrilled to be going. The Holocaust is something I’ve always been interested in, along with my mom. To be able to see the places these terrible things happened was a once in a lifetime chance! I couldn’t possibly pass up this opportunity. Seeing the places… it was horrific. Something that, to me, had always been something terrible from the past now has become real to me. A great friend of mine once said, "It is one thing to know a lot about something. It is a completely different thing to know something." I feel like I know the Holocaust now. Obviously I didn’t experience the same things they did, and probably never will. But I have seen the places, I have heard the stories… I have now made a connection with what happened. Even if it is only a small one.

Visiting Auschwitz I and Birkenau is something I will NEVER do again. N-E-V-E-R! I can’t emphasize the word NEVER enough. I felt sick to my stomach just being there. Some friends of mine had gone the day before, and pointed out that there wasn’t an animal to be seen. Not even a bird in the sky. One of the things on my "to-do list" that day was find a bird. It didn’t happen. I looked specifically to find even TRACES of a bird. I couldn’t. It was cold and wet that day. Almost unbearable. And I had many layers of clothes on! To visit Auschwitz in that weather made the experience even more real to me. I couldn’t help but think how terrible it must have been being forced into the camps at that time. They had barely any clothes… no shoes… they were literally starving to death… yet some of them survived. As easy as it would have been for me to complain that day, I felt it would be rude and an injustice to all those that lived and died there. If they had been there while we were… heard us complaining… they would have laughed in our faces! We were so lucky to only be there, visiting for a couple hours, living like millionaires compared to how they lived. I will not go into detail about what I saw there, because I know it is a very sensitive subject. But I will tell anyone that asks. It is something I am grateful to have been able to see, but something I won’t do ever again.

The history in Berlin is quite interesting. I’m glad I got to go when I did, because I fear in a few years, a lot of that history will no longer be there. Sure Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin wall will probably live forever there. But things as simple as changing all the crosswalk lights to the infamous "Amplemann" is something that will change Berlin. A Berliner there informed me of the differences between East and West Berlin, and the lights at the crosswalk was the easiest to spot. Any time we were touring Berlin I would always look to see which lights were there. Even the architecture is different between the two. The stories of people trying to escape to West Berlin are amazing! Clever things I couldn’t even dream of! They are working hard in Berlin to keep the history alive and I really enjoyed that.

I absolutely loved the snow in Warsaw! It was the most beautiful snow I have EVER seen in my 20 years of being alive! And it was perfect for making snowballs as well as some on the trip learned. While in Warsaw, Courtney and I were just walking around the Old Town square and we came upon this magnificent church. We decided to see if it was open, and it was! We walked in and heard people. When I opened the second set of doors I realized it was a Catholic church and they were having Mass! I am a proud Catholic so this was a big deal for me! We decided to go in right as they were kneeling down. Courtney is not Catholic so I understood when she wanted to leave at that point. I asked to stay just one minute and she was okay with that. I have had friend travel abroad before and they told me that one of the cool things about being Catholic is that you can go to Mass anywhere in the world, and even if you don’t speak the language, you know what is happening because it is the same as at home. I got to experience this for myself! I knew exactly what the priest was saying even though I didn’t speak Polish. I participated right along with everyone else there. I even got to pray the "Our Father" with them, though we spoke different languages. It was an extremely moving experience for me and it brought me to tears. It is something I will never forget. (Warsaw was also our sighting of Prince Charles!)

Krakow had a very special meaning to me because that is where Pope John Paul II is from. It was exciting to me that every corner we turned was a new reference to him. I got to see where he went to school, where he lived, where he was priest… I got to be where he had been! Walked where he did! Since Pope John Paul II is a hero of mine, this is a really big deal! I know other students on the trip thought, "Oh. Well that’s cool that he was here." But for me it was a whole other level!

Prague was a beautiful city! I was happy to see that it had not been damaged by the war. And the people there were so friendly! In Prague, I got to see some pretty interesting things, such as medieval torture chambers. I couldn’t stay there very long before I got too creeped out and had to leave. Not before getting lots of pictures though! Including one of me in shackles!

Throughout the trip there were stories and legends being told that were unique to each place. I loved hearing all the stories and see them live on in the city. And of course I couldn’t leave without bringing a part of each of them with me. :-) The food was AMAZING! I would go back just for that! I ate pierogies probably half a dozen times in Poland and I cannot shut up about the bacon there! Oh my! DELICIOUS! Schnitzel was a favorite of the group, too… or maybe just Caleb. :-) But it was very good! I can’t even remember… or pronounce the names of most anything I ate there but it was so good! I set out to try a bunch of new foods while I was there and I did. I don’t think I had a meal I didn’t like. Anything they sat in front of me I scarfed down and savored.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, but one of my favorite parts of the trip was all the new friends I made! I didn’t visit a city without making friends. And I am in contact with all of them! Every single night I came back to the hotel at night with new stories. And every time, anyone that wasn’t with me that day would look at me and get jealous. Pretty soon I was the new guide and had a group following me just so they could be part of the fun! This is no joke! And I have tons of pictures to show it! I made things as simple as doors… windows… statues… trash cans… and police cars fun! When I went, I wanted to be submerged in the culture and everyday life. Sometimes, because of the itinerary we had, this wasn’t able to happen on the tour. However, during free time and after dinner, I was able to submerge myself. I learned a lot and made new friends in the process! From all over the world!

Coming back to the States there are things I have to be very grateful for. Probably the biggest one (and I think everyone can agree) is the ability to use a public restroom and not have to pay! In Europe, for the people that clean the restrooms and keep them in order, the only pay they get is what people pay to use the public restroom. (It also keeps all the bums from making it their home.) It makes perfect sense, but when you’re not used to it, it comes as quite a shock! And it REALLY stinks when it is 11:00 at night, you REALLY have to go the bathroom, and the public bathrooms are REALLY locked. It does make for some humorous pictures though! The other thing we have to be grateful for, is being able to find drinks without carbonation. Apple juice… orange juice… WATER! IT’S ALL CARBONATED! We had to order "Water without gas" any place we went.

We all had a great time and learned a lot! More than we could ever learn in the classroom. I recommend to anyone that has the chance to travel and/or study abroad to take it. I very literally wiped out my bank account for that trip, but it was so worth it! I would do it again in a heartbeat! And actually am planning on the 2011 WATW trip. It may be something you only get to do once! Don’t skip it. You’ll regret it later.

Student Report – Courtney Wieberg

What did you learn on this trip?

I learned several different things actually on this trip. First off, I understand the  Holocaust and the Jewish religion so much better, I always understood how terrible the Holocaust was, but actually going to Auschwitz has opened my eyes to what the H214olocaust really was, something that history books alone can not do.  I also learned that Europeans are very open to other cultures and I love how most Europeans know several different languages! I also learned that Americans must use the restrooms too much, that’s what our German tour guide thought anyways.  In most European countries they are not as easily accessible and if so you have to pay to use it. I also learned that I absolutely love to travel and want to go back for more!

What meant the most to you?

There isn’t just one thing that meant the most to me because I really loved the whole trip.  I think what made this experience so great was the group of people that went. Everyone connected and that made the trip even more worthwhile.

What has been the benefit of this class and trip for your education experience?

I think traveling alone enriches the mind. I’ve traveled to other countries before, and so to travel to countries that I hadn’t been to was really awesome, because I want to learn about as many cultures as I can.

Are there particular moments, sites that will remain with you long after this trip?

I think of course Auschwitz will always remain in my mind.  It’s so weird to be able to picture the camps in my mind now, especially since I have been reading a book about the Holocaust since our return.  And I think just knowing that I was in a camp where millions of people died and suffered, and standing in the same room where thousands upon thousands were gassed was very powerful and moving.

What is the value of traveling abroad?

I think it is so vital to travel abroad. It’s an oppurtunity to step back and see how other people in other countries live their lives.  It’s such a huge change when you go to another country not knowing the langauge because it is like you become a minority there.  I think everyone should experience this type of traveling because it really does enrich the mind and it is such a rewarding experience.

Student Report – Brittany Cox

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What did you learn on this trip?

On this trip I learned that other cultures from other countries are much different than I anticipated. I guess I was expecting more similarities and was shocked by the little, subtle differences such as a lack of cold drinking water and the impeccable fashion of the women in Europe.

What meant the most to you?

Seeing Auschwitz meant the most to me. I have studied the Holocaust for years and I was eager to see a concentration camp. “Eager” is not exactly the type of response most people have. We all anticipated tears and sorrow when we arrived at the camps and we were right in that assumption. I was glad to get the opportunity to see Auschwitz because my Peepaw was a American soldier during WWII and was at a concentration camp only days after liberation. He said that it was such a sad sight seeing people so thin and seeing bodies still lying on the ground. It was important to him that I get some idea of the horrors that occurred at these camps.

What has been the benefit of this class and trip for your education experience?

The benefit of this class and trip for my education experience is that I can share what I have learned and seen with my future students. When I become a teacher, especially high school English, I can tie in what I have seen to literature such as The Diary of Anne Frank and Night. I believe I can use the photos I took and my stories to help students understand more about the tragedy of the Holocaust.

Are there particular moments, sites that will remain with you long after this trip?

I think the site that will remain with me long after the trip is the gate and train track to Birkeneau. I have seen that exact scene in pictures several times but even know thinking about it I get chills. I think it upset me so much because after going through that gate, human beings were unloaded and sent to their deaths and the second before going through that gate was their last second of any normalcy at all. I cannot imagine what the victims of the Holocaust most have felt after being torn from their families, starved to death, humiliated, and degraded.

What is the value of traveling abroad? 

The value of traveling abroad is seeing how other cultures live. It can help us see the faults and, more of my opinion, the blessings of America. I love to travel but I have never felt so out of my comfort zone. But I believe that by traveling abroad I gained a little more independence and confidence in traveling. This trip made me want to see other countries and compare their similarities and differences.

Student Report – Lacey Olin

image I did learn a little more about the Jewish quarters and the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, and how the Jews were housed before they were sent off to Concentration camps. I always had it in my mind that the Nazis just came and took the Jews directly out of their homes and sent them to concentration camps.

The thing that mean most to me was the trip to Auschwitz. I can barley even talk about now still. It is really hard for me to verbalize my feelings about this particular experience. It is something that I am very thankful that I got to see and experience, yet it is something that has hit me pretty hard. Being able to actually be where millions of lives that were destroyed and lost, was pretty hard. Especially being able to go into the gas chamber was probably the most chilling experience of my life. I am still having a hard time trying to wrap my head around the actual events and horrific actions that took place. Plus, geographically, the camps were bigger than I had imagined! This truly was the most meaningful part of the trip for me!

The value of traveling abroad is just being able to experience different ways of life! The culture, the people, the language, and of course the food! All of these things I believe can change people for the better. It makes some people realize that there is a bigger world out there than their own! Plus, for historic purposes, you can watch movies, read books, and learn about it in the class room, but there is nothing like actually being in the spots where major historic events have occurred!

Student Report – Emily Edens

This experience is one that I will definitely never forget. I traveled to Europe  this past summer and was able to see the beauty of Paris and Florence and revel in the history of Rome. As a history major I have always been more interested in imageEuropean history because there is so much of it.  Upon our arrival in Berlin, we were instantly taken into the center of the city and bombarded with monuments, architecture and history.  The Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie are two of the things that stand out to me the most (besides the Berlin Wall of course).  Poland was another experience altogether.  When you think of Poland you don’t usually think of beauty, but that is exactly what I saw. Warsaw and Krakow were breathtaking.  The history surrounding the two cities is overwhelming. My mom warned me before I left that I would have to really prepare myself for Auschwitz-Birkenau.  I knew I was going to have to have my guard up but that still can’t prepare you for standing in the gas chamber at Auschwitz where thousands of people were murdered.  It was a rough day, and even though I have studied the Holocaust for years and read about it, being there is completely different.  The city I was most excited for was Prague.  I had read of the beauty of the city and couldn’t wait to experience it for myself.  We arrived in Prague and I was instantly in love. The lights made it even more magical. From the time I was little I had always idolized Paris, but Prague is my new favorite city in Europe. It has made it through so much and is one of the only cities that wasn’t destroyed during Hitler’s reign.  To me, this embodies the spirit of the Czech people. All those that I came into contact with were very resilient. I absolutely love history, and it is an amazing experience to be able to see all of these things in one trip. I have learned so much more than I thought I would and I cannot wait to go back!

Student Report – Emily Kime

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Our trip to Europe was amazing! The time we spent there was filled excitement, fun, and learning that provided me with memories that will last a lifetime. On this trip, we learned a little about the cultures of Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic. We were able to experience their food, currency, and language. (I can now say thank you in about 5 different languages!) We also learned about the architecture and history of each city we visited. But the most influential part for me, was watching Soviet films of when they liberated concentrations camp. Watching those scenes after walking around Auschwitz- seeing the actual barracks men and women "lived" in or viewing the piles of hair that was cut from the women- was overwhelming. It’s one thing to learn about the Holocaust in history class, or seeing pictures in a book, it’s another thing to stand in a room where thousands of people were gassed. But we did have a lot of fun as well. My two favorite memories involve simply hanging out with our group. On St. Patty’s day, we went out to eat in the Jewish quarter in Krakow. It was so much fun to sit with and talk with each other about what we had seen and experienced. My second favorite memory is when our group went for a night boat ride in Prague. We were able to enjoy the beauty of Prague lit up, as well as enjoy the time spent with friends. There is so much value in experiencing something new and different and I encourage everyone to travel if they get the chance.

Student Reports – Annastasia Bergman

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What I Learned from the trip:

From the trip, I gain a lot of valuable knowledge accompanied by priceless life lessons. Visiting each country, I learned the great impact that cultural customs has upon the people that inhabit it. Each country had a different feel and the persons of that country addressed us in completely different ways. I believe the reason that I liked Prague the most is because of the people of that country behaved the most like Americans. The people of Prague were very open and curious and very accepting of other cultures. The ethnicity was the most diverse in Prague, which also reflects the American culture the most.

From Prague, I learned the great value of openness. I made a note to visit with the owners of various shops and cafes in the old town of Prague. I found in each of them that openness is the most important thing to them. They appreciate Americans for the reason that we are so open of other cultures and accepting of different viewpoints. I met people from Paris, Argentina, and Chicago that now lived in Prague because of that open attitude. From this, I learned that expanding my horizons is truly priceless. You can never really know how you feel about something until you have explored all of the alternatives. I believe that traveling is the best way to learn about where you come from.

After ordering the wrong food time after time, I learned the value of language. Most people spoke enough English or Spanish for us to communicate, but for the people that didn’t, I found that learning the language of the countries we visited would have been very helpful. Learning simple things like “thank you” and “hello” in those other languages seemed to be very appreciated by the natives. I only wish that I would have studied that more before I left.

I also learned the affects of such a tragedy as war. There were still many hostilities toward Americans, Russians, Germans, and Jews that existed from World War II and from wars before that. War is something that nobody likes to talk about, but it was easy to see the hesitation to move past it when we traveled. Some of the community areas and neighborhoods are still being rebuilt, so that makes is difficult for people around them to forget what happened. War causes a lot of damage, and seeing that damage and damaged relations first hand was a very enlightening experience.

What meant the most to me:

What meant the most to me on this trip was being able to connect to people no matter the language, ethnicity, or gender. In our group, with our guides, and out in public we were able to connect to each other and other people free from stereotypes and opinions. What I truly valued was the extension of kindness from people that may have been the complete opposite of me, or who had no obligation to do so. No matter where we went, an appreciation for all cultures was very apparent. American music was played in every country we visited at the same time that we were taking thousands of pictures of their everyday life. The balance of appreciation and curiosity between cultures was truly incredible.