For my STEP Signature Project, I was a part of the 2019 World War II Study Abroad cohort. As part of the program, I was enrolled in two classes this past spring that focused on World War II. In May, we traveled to Europe to visit places that were affected dramatically during the war.
This experience greatly transformed my understanding of World War II and its impact on the world. I did not realize the ways in which people were affected at the time and how it continues to shape modern world politics. Even as a business major, understanding how and why the events unfolded helped me think more critically and therefore a become a better employee. Overall, I did not know how much I enjoyed studying history and how important it is to the present and the future. I can share my knowledge with my peers and friends and help society better remember our past.
I learned a lot about unnecessary human suffering during the war. Although I knew a lot about the Holocaust, I was not aware of many other war crimes committed on both sides. Additionally, I discovered the multitude of mistakes made by leaders and superiors that resulted in a horrific number of casualties. These are all things I believe have major takeaways, and society can make better decisions going forward, learning from our predecessors’ mistakes. These lessons have made me more educated and thoughtful about consequences and what can happen when decisions are made without sound reasoning, research, and validation. This experience has had a profound impact on me and will help shape my thinking as a professional.
This experience has been transformational because of the people I have met. My professors taught me so much not just about what happened, but about its effects and how the legacy of the war continues to shape modern-day global politics. For example, I learned just how much of the war was really in the east. Most German casualties were at the hands of the Soviets, and western society tends to forget that fact. Additionally, the number of civilian casualties was much greater in the east. The Poles had a much different experience than the other European countries following the war as they were occupied by the Soviet Union following “liberation.”
In summary, I now understand that there is always more to consider when it comes to historical events and that I will never come close to knowing everything about anything. But I now know how to think about history and what questions to ask when trying to comprehend. These are important lessons that I have learned and will be useful to me personally as well as professionally.
My STEP mentor and my peers have had a huge impact on my college experience. Their support and guidance helped me be successful throughout the whole experience. This is in addition to the wonderful people I became close with on the trip. Surrounding myself with motivated people whom I believe are smarter than me has taught me a lot about my strengths and weaknesses. I have become a better writer, thinker, and learner as a result. My leadership skills have also been greatly strengthened. I cannot wait to reconnect with all of my peers who shared the experience with me and see what great things we are all doing in the coming decades.