Written by Paige Carlin, (Elon University) Student Correspondent CET Prague, Fall 2017
When the traveling seminar rolled around, I definitely did not know what to expect. I did know that it was going to be a long week. Don’t get me wrong, I attended all the prep lectures and reviewed the itinerary on more than one occasion. But suddenly, I found myself waiting for the bus at 5 a.m. with a group of groggy college students, passport in my pocket, backpack slung over my shoulder, thinking ‘What on earth have I gotten myself into?’
We arrived in Krakow in the early afternoon. Once everyone was checked in to the hotel, we went on a guided tour of the city. I quickly realized how beautiful Krakow is. The next day, we attended a lecture at the Jagiellonian University about what Krakow was like during the communist era. After the lecture, we walked to the Galicia Museum where we listened to a Krakow native tell the story of how her family hid a young Jewish girl in their home for the duration of the Holocaust; she had been honored as Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel. On our third day in Krakow, we ventured outside the city to Nowa Huta, where we learned about the town’s history under the communist regime. Later that day, we visited the World War II Museum housed by what was once the Schindler Factory.
I really enjoyed the time we spent in Krakow. I honestly expected it to be boring because I didn’t think Poland had all that much to offer, but I was pleasantly surprised. And I learned so much. I learned that Krakow is the cultural capital of Poland. I learned about the history of Krakow and I learned about its legends, such as the Wawel Dragon. Better yet, Krakow had so much to offer on the food front: pierogi and pączki galore!
From Krakow, we traveled to Oswiecim. There, we toured the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. It was truly an indescribable experience. It was also unexpectedly emotional for me. I had taken a course that was specifically focused on Holocaust history and literature last semester, so I was very aware of the atrocities committed in the Auschwitz camp and others like it. But being there, seeing the barracks and walking the paths of the camp, I couldn’t help but wonder what the prisoners were thinking and feeling as they saw the same things and walked in the same direction. Our group was especially quiet that day. I think that weight of what once went on there prompted a lot of individual reflection and respect.
Brno and Mikulov were the next two stops on the traveling seminar. In Brno, we visited the Museum of Roma Culture, which was a unique experience that provided our group with the opportunity to learn more about a misrepresented minority that inhabits this region. In Mikulov, we learned more about the history of the Czech Republic through a guided tour of the city and castle. Although we only spent one night in each city, I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the country I’ve been living in for the past few months. It was nice to be able to see a side of the Czech Republic other than Prague.
From Mikulov, we departed bright and early for Vienna. At this point in the traveling seminar, I was beginning to feel like a zombie. We were constantly moving from city to city, hotel to hotel. I felt myself longing for my bed in our apartment in Prague. But once we got to Vienna, it was like I was a new person. I was overwhelmed by the city’s size and endless possibilities. There were so many sights to see and museums to visit. And I was ready to see all of them. After going through the motions of check-in one last time, we were on our way to a lecture about art and society in Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century. The next day, we went on a guided tour of the city and then attended another lecture about Red Vienna.
Vienna was practically dripping with culture. Everywhere I looked, it seemed like there was an architectural masterpiece. I had learned a lot about Vienna from the courses I’ve been taking this semester, so it was really cool to be able to see some of what I had learned about in real life. It was also interesting to learn more about the city while we were actually there. I didn’t know much about this history of Vienna during the twentieth century or how it became the city that it is today, but I was grateful to be able to learn more through the lectures we attended. The people were nice, the food was good: two thumbs up for Vienna.
Overall, it was one rollercoaster of a week. By the time I got back to Prague, I felt like I could sleep for a year, or at least until class on Monday morning. So I collected my belongings, said my good byes and hopped off the bus. It was then that I found myself standing in the same spot where I had waited for the bus a week earlier, trying to make sense of all I had seen and done over the course of the trip.