For my STEP signature project, I decided to embark on a month-long tour of England, France, Poland, and Germany with the Ohio State History Department’s World War II Study Program. I was fortunate to have experienced this amazing trip along with 23 other students and two professors from the history department, Professor Steigerwald and Professor Breyfogle. I am grateful I was able to meet these new buckeyes while studying the legacy of WWII in London, Normandy, Paris, Krakow, and Berlin during a whirlwind month of travel.
This experience taught me a lot about myself and the world I live in. I learned about various different languages and cultures and enjoyed being immersed in so many different countries throughout the trip. The structured aspects of the trip were fun and informative. They allowed my fellow students and me to better understand the history and legacy of World War II in Europe, as told by the people who lived through it and their descendants. The unplanned parts of the trip were educational as well. This free time allowed us to gain the cultural and social experiences that we wanted to, and it was enjoyable to explore different cities and countries by trying new foods and talking to locals about everyday life.
Living in Europe for a month was personally challenging and exciting in addition to learning about European nations and the people that inhabit them, I found out a lot about myself and grew as a person during the trip. I worked on becoming more comfortable in situations that I did not fully control or understand. It became easier with practice to ask for help when I needed it because I was in a foreign country and likely didn’t speak the nation’s primary language. I also gained leadership experience by helping students who had less travel experience to get around punctually and safely while still making sure to step outside our comfort zone and make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
There were plenty of specific events that helped my personal transformation and improved understanding of the world come about. The most obvious point of the trip was that we visited five cities across four countries in less than four weeks. The travelling itself was hard and taught me and many others how to persevere despite exhaustion and inevitable but unpredictable setbacks. It also taught me that I dislike traveling in large groups, which is useful information for the future. The opportunity to study the past by experiencing the present is something I will never forget, and it made all the early mornings and scrambling to catch flights worth it.
As a student of history, it was thrilling to get to see many of the places that were directly impacted by WWII, as I have been studying the conflict for much of my life, and especially during the past two years at Ohio State. The differing viewpoints of the war were interesting to note from country to country. It was totally different to read about the war in museums in London, Normandy, Krakow, and Berlin, especially compared with the American memory of the war. It also was exciting for me to compare the different museums for content as well as form, as I have some experience with public history work and museum design. I enjoyed being able to contrast displays and information from museum to museum to try and decipher the exact, sometimes conflicting messages that they were trying to send visitors. Leaving planned group time allowed for a lot of learning outside of museums as well.
Taking time to explore each city individually and as small groups helped me to be more comfortable in my ability to travel and lead while still enjoying myself. It was fun to navigate foreign countries with just a few friends and visit some of the most renowned museums in the world, like the British Museum or the Louvre, as well as some of the local treats, like the small pierogi stand we visited a couple days in a row in Krakow. Talking with my fellow students about international politics and social contexts from country to country, as well as pop culture and local cuisine, made it easy to bond with and enjoy some of the smartest and most accomplished people I have met during my time at Ohio State. Balancing people from various backgrounds with sometimes clashing personalities was not always easy, but I learned a lot from simply interacting with everyone and trying to navigate these situations, and I think most other students did as well.
Adapting to new surroundings every few days was challenging but incredibly rewarding during this trip. As a student who is passionate about history, it was incredible to learn about the war from the people who lived it through museums and tours. It was also amazing to visit such world class cities and experience the day-to-day life of the locals when we had the chance to wander on our own. My personal and professional growth, by learning to ask for help and being willing and able to help others, will greatly benefit me in future situations, and this trip provided the perfect opportunity to exercise those skills. I am grateful that I was able to help and watch my comrades grow throughout this trip, as they helped me to develop myself.