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.