As a coda to our January travel course on the history of the First World War, we thought we’d pass along some comments and observations from our students, excerpted (with their permissions) from their final journal entries, in which they were asked to share some parting thoughts. As you’ll read, the chance to study the war where it was actually fought was a major highlight, though others pointed to the sense of tight-knit community that developed among the students and professors, the chance to immerse oneself in European history, and learning how to explore some of the world’s great cities.
“One of the things about this trip that I will miss the most is the ability to visit World War battlefields and memorials. The three-day tour we took on the western front was one of the my absolute favorite parts of this trip. Carl was fantastic and the sites we visited were all extremely moving, interesting, and informative. Studying World War I will definitely not be the same without the ability to visit sites where there are still shell holes and trenches that have been preserved for almost 100 years. By visiting such sites one is better equipped to put themselves in the mindset of a World War I soldier, and I will sorely miss these opportunities.” (Mike Vangstad)
“The trip was an interesting one for me in the sense that it was an interesting blend of classtime learning and everyday experiences. As someone who has been a traditional student all my life, it was different learning in a more experiential way. Instead of studying the various reasons that Europeans were excited for war, we read their voices, stood where the cheering crowds stood, and experienced a sense of excitement and independence that accompanied many soldiers off to war. Instead of reading about trench warfare, we stood in the wet, the cold, and the snow while seeing the battlefields where the battles of the Western Front were fought.” (Matisse Murray)
“The thing that surprised me most about this trip was how much of a difference experiencing things first hand can make a difference. I guess I expected this a little bit, but I love that when I think of a battle, I can picture where it happened and the memorial that is associated with it. It surprised me how much more connected I was to the men that died on those battlefields and the ones that are buried in the cemeteries because I feel like we share something now. It also brings WWI a little closer to home because it puts it into perspective that Europe really isn’t that far away and what Europeans went through on their home-front is tragic.” (Becca Mannstedt)
“The hardest thing was trying to focus during the battlefield tours, since it was so cold out. There were times I wanted to cry because my toes were so cold and my body was frozen. It was hard to focus on what [our guide] Carl had to say when I was so miserable. But even through all the cold, I managed to learn so much. And I think the bitter cold added to our experience, made it more believable to understand what the soldiers went through.” (Kelcie McElhenie)
“The last three weeks have gone by so fast yet it feels as if we were in London forever ago. All the different experiences have been great and taught me a lot outside of the academic realm. One thing that I was surprised by on this trip was how comfortable I felt navigating the cities after at least one night in them. I haven’t always been a big fan of cities in general but London and Paris were great. The public transportation that these cities provide was extremely helpful in getting around. ” (Sarah Ouverson)
“I think I will miss being immersed in a specific historical period. I love to learn about history and go to historical sites which this trip was perfect for. I learned so much and now feel as if I have a solid understanding of WWI. I will also miss the camaraderie between all of us and the total history nerd moments. I don’t get to be around history nerds like me very often for extended periods of time and so being around history nerds for three weeks was awesome! :)” (Sarah Herb)
“Another part of the trip that amazed me was the tight community that developed between the 14 of us. I love every person on this trip and I am shocked that it took me so long during my time at Bethel to finally get to know them! Now that we are all friends, I know the relationships I have made will be the part I miss the most about studying abroad.” (Annie Berglund)