“On the Road Again”

Good morning from Bydgoska,

We are down to a few hours left in Poland and by day’s end, we will be in Budapest, Hungary. It requires a significant bus ride of 9 hours or so, and there will be some antsy people, but our final week in Central/Eastern Europe is visiting some of the more significant cities in four different countries (Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and Czech Republic). So a lot of movement and even more to attempt to process. For me, the trip to Bratislava, Slovakia is a new experience. That is a substantive part of what has happened to each of us these past three weeks. Whether you got on a plane for the first time the day after Christmas or your experienced because you have actually lived in Europe (both Drs. P and V as they are fondly referred to) , each day creates a new awareness of how profound the influence of European history is on our American fabric.

For many Bloomsburg students, who have grown up in the anthracite region of Northeastern or North Central Pennsylvania, the chance that you have Polish, Czech, Slovakian, Ukrainian, or another background from this area of Europe is strong. Students are walking some of the same places their ancestors did, and it has not been lost to them as they have traveled. I have averaged about 7-9 miles a day hoofing it from place to place. One of the few times it is possible to say I traveled and lost weight. Yesterday, 49 students received a certificate of completion of their studies at Jagiellonian University. Those certificates were awarded by the director of the College of Polish Language and Culture, Dr Waldemar Martyniuk. That is no minor event, and to add the significance of the presentation, those certificates were awarded in the same room that Nicolaus Copernicus and St. Pope John Paul II studied. This initial part of Jagiellonian has been around for 600 years. While there is the experiential learning of soaking up the world you walk in daily, students have been involved in two substantial classes (sometimes six days a week) learning about international relations, the history of the Jewish question, the significance of post-communism for Central/Eastern Europe, or film studies in Central/Eastern Europe. To sit in on these classes and learn from some of the best scholars in their respective fields, and for them to do it on location, is a life-changing experience. To walk in the Jewish Quarter in Kraków or Prague, to visit Auschwitz as a Jewish person while you learn is beyond profound. In fact, when inquiring among the students what experience was most memorable, either Auschwitz or Schindler’s Factory are the most common answers. One student said they were so emotional at Auschwitz they could only cry. That is certainly an appropriate response when seeing how evil a place can be. It is an appropriate response when you walk where over a million people were gassed and your realize what scapegoating a particular ethnic or religious group can cause. It is an appropriate response when we realize what seeing someone different or as “the other,” or when we choose to discriminate and profile, what such speech or actions can lead to.

These students will never view the world through quite the same lens they had when they boarded a plane the day after Christmas. In barely over a week most will be back at Bloomsburg for a spring semester, but they will not be the same student; they will not be the same American citizen; they will not be the same person they were before a trans-Atlantic flight to Poland and beyond. As is always the case, there have been some coughs, sneezes and sniffles, but sometimes a day of rest or a trip to the Apteka will mange the issue. Sometimes even a trip to the doctor, which is quite simple, and very affordable, as I now know personally, takes care of it all. As noted in the first blog from this trip, my travels to Europe in January of 1981 with Dr. John Nielsen at Dana College changed my life. It is an honor and privilege to now work with amazing colleagues to help lead the same kind of experience almost 40 years later. As I am still remembering that trip around Western Europe then, I find my heart it still full of gratitude for the change it created in me. I realized that learning meant being a sponge and soaking it all in. Almost forty years later, the sponge is still at it. Why? Because there is still so much to learn. The world continues to change and the best way to keep pace is to get on that global stage and join the play. There is always room for another actor (meant inclusively). There is always a new script because each group creates their own.

Last, but certainly not least, so many of the students were helped on this trip by PEG support, Honors College support, BU Foundation support, or Alumni support. Specifically to Lynda Michaels, who is traveling with us, and others, I know that as faculty we are indebted to you for making such a magnificent opportunity available to students. To Nawal Bonomo, director of the Office of Global Studies, who works so hard to manage so much, thank you for your continued work that affects so many.

Off soon for Hungary. To my former student, when I was a Doctoral Candidate at Michigan Tech, Orsika, “I wish you were here to experience your homeland and I could see the smile on your face. Of course, I would use your language skills to help me. Tudod milyen csodálatosnak gondolom magad.”

Thank you as always for reaching and watch for one more posting before we land back at JFK.

Dr. Martin

Languages, Locations, and Learning

Hello from our traveling classroom,

We are currently on the bus after about 48 hours away from Kraków and off to the Ukraine. As we left Lviv, in the Western Ukraine today they were celebrating Orthodox Christmas. A number of students commented on how differently they celebrate the day. While we gather with family in homes and around a dinner table and tree. The people of Lviv were out on the streets in force walking around, purchasing things in the Christmas Markets, and celebrating the day. The importance of the holiday and its significance in the church year was also well noted by the music coming out of many of the churches. I am always amazed by the differences that culture and history bring to the holidays. I remember my first trip to Germany during the holidays, and the importance of Advent for Advent and Christmas for Christmas. Some things remain the same. The excitement in children’s eyes and the hope that their dreams of whatever they hoped for might come true.

What many students noted was how the Cyrillic alphabet made them feel so much more out of their comfort zone. While only a few speaking any Polish whatsoever, many feel they can somewhat figure things out. Of course, the few students taking Russian classes at Bloomsburg could barely contain themselves as we crossed the border. As they saw their first Cyrillic signs, their excitement was palpable. The second thing most will remember is the time spent at the border crossing. Friday night’s crossing took about three hours as our passports were gathered and stamped twice within about 200 meters. Today while it still took significant time, and even though we were required to get off the bus at the Polish checkpoint to have our passports stamped, we spent less time. However, I will admit, it did seem interminably long. The last time I felt so examined at a border was when I traveled to East Germany in 1985.

I think what most impressed me with our weekend was how different the atmosphere between Lviv and Kraków is. Our tour guide noted that Lviv, which has some strong ethnic connection to Poland, is about 10 years behind the post-satellite revival of Kraków. Certainly those things were evident. For students, they noticed the difference in both what I would would term infrastructure and in personality. In Poland, with attempts to greet and thank others in Polish, the people are gracious and will help the predominately English-speaking student. A few students noticed a marked difference during the weekend in Lviv, and yet others felt the people they met to be quite kind. Lesson learned? Each person who travels will have their own experiences and perceptions. That is the case with life in general, but I think the reality of that is heightened when traveling abroad. Perhaps, the more diverse the language and location, the more profound the learning will be. For James Slavinsky, a Language and Cultures major, with a concentration in Russian, the chance to meet and speak to a person with whom he has been writing for some time, the time in Lviv will be life changing. As eight of us joined together for dinner shortly after our return, the joy on his face was undeniable. He said, “I’m ready to pack my things and move there tomorrow.” One cannot promise such an experience for everyone, but creating and maintaining relationships with people you might meet can create life-long possibilities. Last night I had dinner with Robert and Katarzyna Para, the father of Bloomsburg alumnus and former student, Maria Para. For the fourth year in a row we found time to get together and share a meal and conversation. Amazing what a dinner with a student and her father at my home in Bloomsburg has evolved into. What a wonderful relationship has been developed from these journeys.

Being open to the possibilities is essential. As Dr. P (his moniker or perhaps term of endearment, and I do mean it is used fondly) noted during our walk back to Bydgoska yesterday, it is about the experience and the big picture. As someone who gets caught up in the details and needs to understand things too completely at times, it was good to be reminded of this. Going with the proverbial flow is the rule of the trip. This is particularly the case when there are 50 people scurrying from place to place and country to country. As this is written, I am sitting in a little breakfast place we discovered two years ago. It is the best place for breakfast in all of Kraków, and that is saying something in a town of fabulous restaurants and over a million people. Called Castor, it is a bit understated, a bit nouveau, a bit hipster. But the food, which you can watch being made in the little kitchen, is astounding. These are all experiences one can have during the time outside of classes. Oh yes, the classes, more about those in the next posting. In the meanwhile, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin (the traveling professor and foodie)

So Much in Seven Days

Hello from Kraków and from Oświęcim,

Our traveling group has spent a busy week listening intently in classes, learning their bearings around Kraków, and attempting some simple greetings in Polish. At the same time, trips to Wawel Castle, the salt mine in Wieliczka, the Jewish Quarter in Kazimierz, or today to Oświęcim (known to most of the world as Auschwitz) provide each person not only the opportunity to walk through a metaphorical history book, but to come face to face with a side of our humanity that pushes the limits of our very understanding. It is one thing to read about the Shoah (perhaps the more appropriate word for Holocaust) or watch a movie, but it is an entirely different matter and experience to stand in Block 11, enter the gassing showers, or see first-hand the scale and scope of how 1.5 million people were systematically killed over a four year period. It is some quite different to watch the movie, Schindler’s List, and to walk in the very space those events occurred. Tomorrow as students visit the museum, one which provides a stunning, multi-sensory, and unforgettable walking exhibit, most will never forget that 48 hour period of their lives. It is such a profoundly different set of circumstances when you realize that most of what you see, touch, or feel has been in existence long before Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, or America for that matter was founded.

That is what happens for most students when they push the boundaries of their experiences, either geographically or educationally, and, of course, a study abroad allows for both. As we walked 4 kilometers in the Wieliczka Salt mine, Joe Davis, a sophomore Supply Chain Management major and ZCOB LC mentor, noted the mine was the most amazing sight of his life. As we stood in the expansive chapel, which is both 85 meters below the surface of the earth and 50 meters high, students stood speechless and in awe of what they were experiencing. I would encourage you to go online and look at the mine, but be ready to sign up for next year’s trip. Remember that people have been working in the 9 levels of the mine for a millennium. Remember that much of it was excavated and carried out by hand for centuries. Consider the fact that the Nazis used it as an armament factory during the Second World War because no one could see it. Consider the fact that at one point, 70% of Polish national wealth was based on this commodity we pour on our food.

How do you manage 50 people? Dr. Julie Vandivere, professor of English and director of the BU Honors Program, and four student mentors have Telegram down to a science. The group has also done things to enable communication and cohesiveness. The entire group, divided into subgroups, spent part of New Year’s Day attempting to escape game rooms. Some were more successful than others, and for the sake of transparency, the faculty leaders also participated on their own and failed miserably. So having a Ph.D. is no guarantee of success, and having multiple Ph.D. in one room might be a disadvantage, but those of us who had never experienced Escape Rooms before learned a great deal. Each day brings a new experience or challenge, but being someone familiar for at least some of us, makes anything manageable. While I have not personally been to the mecca of NYE experiences in the states, Krakow’s City Centre surely does the last night of the year well. The revelry of 70,000 people from all over Europe is certainly festive and something anyone in attendance will not soon forget. However, you do not have to be out for NYE to experience something very different as you walk the streets of the Middle Ages city. Snippets of conversation overheard have included responses like “They park on the sidewalks; people actually pay attention to the ‘don’t walk’ signs; or the food is amazing.”  . . .  and I can attest to that. Food is flavorful (even street food), well prepared, and very affordable. If you are hungry in Poland, it is your own fault.

Today students have reflection papers as well as outlines for their final papers due in most of their classes. They are working hard, but learning that creating appropriate and thoughtful documentation is more demanding than they expected. I have found this to be a common experience as I have returned for  a fourth year. Focus and critically thinking to synthesize their own majors into what they are being asked to examine takes some work, but analysis and synthesis are critical components of being a global citizen. That might be the most important metamorphosis that is occurring, 24 hours at a time. As I read news back in America and simultaneously glance at the headlines here in Kraków, somehow 140+ characters do not illicit the same importance for the occupants of Eastern/Central Europe. That is not a political statement, merely an observation. As one student noted last year, “It is a big world.” Each day as we travel, the reality of that statement is more completely understood by our varied little group of Bloomsburg students. On Friday, the 5th of January, we will board the bus for a weekend trip to Lviv, Ukraine. In spite of being a somewhat traveled-person, this will be my first time to the Ukraine. I am excited to travel farther eastward in Europe. Central/Eastern Europe has an important historical connection to our immediate area of North Central Pennsylvania. This is also an important learning moment for many students who have those connections. Each day is a new osmotic experience and when we return, the cumulative effect of our shared time will make each of us  thoughtfully different people, but much of that difference will only be realized as we continue our individual journeys in the months and years ahead.

Thanks for reading. More from the Ukraine.

Dr. Martin