Hello from our bus,
I have always been amazed by outstanding drivers and our current bus driver, who has spent time in Canada, but speaks fluent Polish, might be one of the best I have ever experienced. As our group is 54 people with all included, we need a very large bus to keep people comfortable. Combine a very large bus with some incredibly narrow European city streets (remember some of these roads have been around for centuries, and long before motorized transportation was imagined) and you have a recipe for some possible tight maneuvering. Well, you would never know that to be the case because he is so capable and smooth. Whether it was making his way down a nine percent grade in the dark on snow covered roads or backing the bus down narrow confines, he managed both with relative ease. On two separate occasions he has had to make significant journeys on two lane roads, but he does it with such ease and efficiency that many of the group are able to catch some sleep along the way, and he is always on time and gracious as he managed the luggage for the entire group. Why begin a blog focusing on a bus driver? Without him, none of this would have been possible.
Bratislava was unlike any other city we have visited. It is the capital city of Slovakia, but it is quiet and rather small-town feeling, During out tour on a Tuesday, mid-morning and early afternoon we covered a great majority of the historic city and never ran into a great number of people. On Monday night, after arriving around 8:00 p.m., trying to find a place to eat was a bit of a chore. Yet, the city is also incredibly beautiful and the architecture stunning. Yet, there was a constant as there had been in every city we have visited. Once again, the profound mistreatment of the Jews was noticeably evident. I remember my first visit to Buchenwald over thirty years ago. A large oak tree stood outside the gate. I picked up a leaf from that tree and kept it in a Bible for many years. I tried to imagine what that tree would say if it could speak. Then I found my way to Dachau, not realizing that I would someday know someone who had both escaped and survived that place. Finally, I found my way to Auschwitz. I have been there three times, but each time I find myself as overwhelmed as the first time, perhaps more so. During the last three years, as students with either relatives who lost their lives in this hell-hole or students, who are Jewish become overwhelmed with emotion, I am forced to question on a more profound basis my own specific denominational faith background as many who belonged to what was known as the Reich Church supported this loathsome, hideous, and unpropitious plan to erase an entire people, another monotheistic faith, from reality. Certainly, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemöller, and others who formed the Bekennende Kirche, the Confessing Church, would stand up against the Final Solution. Some would lose their lives for that position. When asking many of the students what experience was most altering, Auschwitz comes up far an away the most profound experience of their three-plus weeks here in Central/Eastern Europe.
The second thing that comes up in their conversations is the different personalities of the countries and places they have visited. I think that was particularly evident as both L’viv, Ukraine and Bratislava, Slovakia were added to the itinerary. Each time a new place is visited, another language, another culture, another gastronomic experience is added to the tapestry of events that make each of us unique. Each time someone finds an opportunity to be that sponge, mentioned in an earlier blog, they are forever changed. Their understanding of what it means to be a student is transformed because they are now a student of the world. Their understanding of what it means to be an American will be re-examined because they are forced to see and hear that English, while still the lingua Franca, is not always going to get them by as easily as they might imagined. Their understanding of how the world works is altered because they now must consider in a new more concrete manner what it means to live in a globalized world. What all of that means is not yet apparent. There is no recipe card that will help them in making that transformation, increasing that understanding, or managing that new found perspective that must now be considered. What has occurred in a mere 25 days will take a life-time of unpacking. What might happen? For some it will create a newfound wanderlust, a insatiable desire to travel again. For others, they might never come to Europe again, but either way, they are changed.
This month-long transformation, which began with a flyer, word-of-mouth from another student, a heart-felt request of parents to travel, and eventually meeting together in Newark the day after Christmas has provided an academic altering of how they understand the history of another major faith, of what the fall of communism in the late 1980s-early 1990s did to the entire world, and to business or international relations. Some of the students have learned that film in Central/Eastern Europe is quite different than the block-buster, Academy Award, Hollywood glamour, genre they have known all their lives. At the same time, they have visited relatives, learned to try and enjoy food they have never known of, and use trams, subways, and buses in ways they never knew they would. Each of these experiences create a new person. For us as faculty, it is life-changing also. Each group is different; each group teaches us as we are fortunate enough to travel with them. Learning, changing, and growing has no age boundary. That is one of the most wonderful things about working with college-age students. Together we all change. From attempting Escape Rooms in Krakow to eating breakfasts in a Communist Kongress Headquarters in Prague, this is not your basic Winter Term course. As I complete this last blog of the trip, I want to thank an amazing group of students. Thank you for your curiosity and willingness to take some chances. Thank you for your inquires and the willingness to search for your own answers. Thank you for working together in a pretty amazing way as many new things were thrown your way. To the four student leaders: your past experience and willingness to care for others made more difference than you know. Finally, to my colleagues, Dr. P., Dr. V., Lynda, and Marc (at the end of the trip), it has been wonderful to work with you these past 25 days.
To all who have read the blog, thanks for reading and tomorrow night we will be back in Bloomsburg, different people for all we have experienced.