As I sat on my bed no longer home, but back at school again, I realized that I have been back in the States for an entire month now.
After spending about three months in a foreign country, coming home is an incredibly strange experience. When I left to go abroad, I was expecting some sort of culture shock or home sickness, but was lucky enough to not really experience too much of either of those things. Being abroad made me incredibly happy, and I loved many of the challenges that came with being abroad. Continue reading “Back to the USA”→
About a year ago one of my best friends, Alexis, and I realized that we would both be abroad in the following fall semester. This is something we had both dreamed about for years and had often joked about the possibility of meeting up in a foreign country. Through those years, it all seemed silly and impossible. What were the chances that we would 1) both be studying abroad at the same time and 2) actually meet up somewhere foreign?
Despite all of this, Alexis and I managed to beat all odds and figured out a way to make it work. In late October we solidified plans to meet over thanksgiving weekend in the beautiful country of Ireland. Words can’t describe how excited I was. On the night of Black Friday I boarded a plane to Dublin, ripe with excitement for the weekend to come. Alexis was arriving a few hours before me with her friend Taylor from school. We were staying at Taylor’s family friend’s home and so they headed there to drop off their things and headed downtown.
After a few minor mishaps, we were finally reunited on the streets of Dublin. We ended up meeting near the train station and did some exploring around the area. However it wasn’t long before we ended up on a train to Malahide to rest for the night.
Around mid-November every year, a magical thing begins to happen all over Europe. Town squares begin to fill with pallets of wood that slowly turn into cute little houses in the following days. The Christmas Markets were coming.
In Wroclaw in particular, the Christmas Market fills the rynek (main square) with these little houses all selling different kinds of Polish delicacies, pottery, and mulled wine. This year the Christmas Market opened on November 21st.
After a month of educational weekend trips, I jumped at the opportunity to get out of dodge for a long weekend in early November. This trip was especially exciting because I was flying to Liverpool, England to meet my incredible Dad!
My flight was early on a Saturday morning, but I was in Liverpool before I knew it. After some intense questioning from Border Control, I apparently convinced England that I had no plans to wreak havoc and was able to leave the airport to meet up with my dad. Lucky for me, it was just a walk across the street to the airport hotel.
Once I got settled into the hotel room, we were off to explore Liverpool. Getting to downtown Liverpool proved to be quite the experience all weekend. My brave father decided to rent a stick shift car for the weekend, making for an interesting time of driving on the left side of the road, while driving stick left handed. While he did a great job (I mean, we’re still here after all), I’d be okay with never doing that again.
We eventually found our way to downtown Liverpool though and got to explore the dock after parking in an impossibly small parking spot. The waterfront was my favorite area by far. Although I think that is true for me for pretty much every city I’ve visited so far. We spent the next couple of hours getting a feel for the area before grabbing dinner and retiring for the night.
In a situation as tragic and unmatched as the Holocaust, how can the land of the perpetrators hope to move forward while acknowledging and accepting their roles in this tragedy? Walking through the streets of Berlin, this question seems to be ever present as you pass by pieces of the Berlin Wall or happen upon a “stumbling stone.”
Of the many cities we have visited this semester, the subject of memory appears to weigh the heaviest on Berlin. This weight can be seen in many forms, from memorials to events to museums. In particular, however, I found the weight of memory to truly feel the heaviest at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
Located around the corner from the iconic Brandenburg Gate and within what was once the “death strip” (the space between the East and West Berlin walls), the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe sits on 4.7 acres of land. Consisting of meticulously placed unmarked gray concrete slabs of varying heights, the memorial first makes me wonder if I wandered upon a piece of modern art.
On a grey, misty Saturday morning, our bus pulled into an already full parking lot. Outside a relatively plain looking brick building, tour groups of all ages mulled around without a clear sense of purpose. Seeing signs for currency exchange and snack bars, I was reminded more of an airport terminal than a site of mass murder and evil. All of this gave me a certain added uneasiness about what I was about to walk into.
After receiving our headphones and receivers (given to us so that the guide would not have to talk very loud and limiting the disturbing of other groups) and being introduced to our guide, Szymon, we left the building and walked to the entrance of Auschwitz I.
Suddenly we were standing beneath the iconic “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” (Translation: work will set you free) sign that marks the entrance to the camp. While I stood and stared at the sign, unsure of what I thought about entering a place of such suffering, Szymon made sure to distinguish the difference between a death camp and a concentration camp.
Of the three weekend trips that we were to take as a class, I think I was the most excited for our trip to Kraków. Prior to arriving in Kraków, I had heard nothing but praise for its beauty, ceramics and history. Thankfully the city stood up for, if not surpassed, its praise making it one of my favorite cities by far.
We arrived in the Jewish district of Kraków on a rainy Friday morning, with our first stop being the Museum of Galician Jews. The museum was created by a British photojournalist, Chris Schwarz, in 2004 and its main exhibit mainly consists of photographs taken by Schwarz himself. The museum is powerful, as small traces of a Jewish past in Poland are photographed and displayed strategically in an attempt to tell a story of the joy of a culture and society that once was so rich and the now tragic remains.