For my STEP project, I studied abroad during Maymester 2015 with the World War II Study Abroad Tour. For the tour, we went to London, Bayeux and Paris, France, and Berlin in the span of about three and a half weeks; we saw sites and museums relevant to the course of the Second World War every day of the trip. We also had time to explore the places we traveled to as well.
For the program, we had to take several pre-requisite courses relevant to the Second World War. While I am a history major who had studied a lot about the Second World War even before the start of these pre-requisite courses in addition to the trip itself, having to take multiple classes on the subject was still eye opening. I was forced to learn about multiple perspectives of the war, especially perspectives I had not previously learned that much about, especially in relation to the Eastern Front and the German perspectives. I also would say that I have been forced, as a student and an (albeit, an amateur) historian to be more aware of the ways history gets written and the ways it can be told in order to benefit certain groups of people as events fade into the past. The politics of history are serious, and the politics of memory in relation to World War II are no exception, especially because the ramifications of the war have shaped a lot about the world we live in today. I would say the program taught me to, as a whole, try to avoid making assumptions about historical events, especially because many of the assumptions I would tend to make are probably shaped in some way by the way the United States has tried to paint history.
For myself, I would say that the program and the course I have taken because of the program, have taught me in fact that I do not want to go into history for some sort of career as I initially thought. While I enjoy history, I don’t know that I could spend my life doing it; rather, I would prefer to use my knowledge of history in another field pertinent to modern occurrences, such as politics or international relations.
My classes certainly forced me to acknowledge these views of history, as did seeing different perspectives about the Second World War as we went to different places. I especially found the German museums about the war and the Nazis to be eye opening; how does a culture cope with the collective guilt and blame? During the trip, we also went to the concentration camp called Sachsenhausen, and watching the place be preserved in the way which it was was also enlightening. There really is no right answer to the question as to what must be done with places which were once places of destruction. My research about genocide in Croatia during the Second World War, which I started because of this program, is something that I enjoy and I believe has taught me a lot about genocide as well as systemic oppression, has done a lot to teach me about myself and why I may not want to go into history after all.
I, instead, want to take more time learning about history, which is why I have kept my history major, and still plan on doing an honors thesis in the field of history about genocide studies in the Soviet Union. I have found in the program, as well as my other interests, that my larger interest is within the study of oppression and how and why it exists. I have been exploring other options about my life after graduation, but I think a lot of them will have a lot to do with the material I learn now.
I think this program taught me that I still have much to see and learn, and while I can read all I want I will never be able to understand the struggles humans have made other humans face completely. Going to see these places, as we did with this program, revealed much books never will be able to reveal; it still taught me about my own ignorance regarding many topics about recent human history. I felt that the program has forced me to take a step back and analyze my own progress, or lack thereof.
What I learned during the program was significant to me and my life because it has helped me to realize that I have many opportunities and options after graduation, but also that I may not continue with history as an older person. Even so, the program has taught me invaluable things and has given me an invaluable look into the events that created the world we live in today, and I will always consider understanding this context invaluable, as well as the context behind the context. (In other words, the question of “who is the one creating the books you read and why is that good or bad or neither?” Is constantly on my mind. ) I have been forced to take steps back, to listen, not act.
For my future plans, I am hoping to intern with the United States Department of State in Cyprus, because I am a modern Greek major. I want to use my lived experiences such as this and others in order to branch out, I have learned to see my college experience as a place where I learn what there is to be learning so that I can go out and try to do it. (I might seriously attempt going into comedy though, but I still don’t regret doing any of this).