Robert Wareck’s Reflections on the 2009 Study Abroad Program

There are a ton of things that I could write about why I’m glad I went on the World War II and Europe study abroad but they would never fit in this paper.  Instead I will touch on a few and then focus on what I found to be the most lasting and meaningful.

Very important for me was the development of an international perspective as it will be to my benefit to be culturally sensitive while traveling and doing international business the future.  I also found it important that I learned about my own culture.  Sometimes it is hard for people to admit faults with themselves and their lifestyles and country, so I thought it was key to learn some humility and learn to appreciate other cultures while appreciating your own.

The most important thing to me was my increased respect for the individual.  In the on-campus phase of this study abroad, as with every other history class I’ve had, we were taught the history of the war- the big picture, big decisions and the big-shots who made those decisions and decided the outcome of the war. There is no denying that that is all important to be a well educated person and to gain something from this study abroad, but for me the real meaning came from standing in the places where individuals my own age fought and died.   It isn’t until I was abroad that I realized that no matter what orders are given and by whom, whether or not they are actually carried out when exhaustion and fear take over and when the fighting is hand to hand rests on the resolve of the “average Joe”.  Furthermore, movies like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Band of Brothers” are great pieces of art and do an excellent job of portraying what these men (boys) went through, but there is no substitute for actually being there.  No movie or book can every bring history to life the same way as actually being there does.  When standing where those soldiers fought, seeing the leftover scars on the landscape and looking at the innumerable rows of graves, the now 70 year old war suddenly becomes very real.  I always knew it, but for the first time I really grasped that these were real people, not just black and white pictures and faint memories, most of whom were in the same stage of their lives as I: 20 years old and with their whole lives ahead of them.  For me it was even more personal since my grandfather fought in Normandy.  I’ll never forget standing in the Omaha beach cemetery and coming to the realization that my grandfather could have very easily been buried under a white cross there and somebody else’s relative on this study abroad.  It’s easy to forget how lucky you are.  While following in these soldiers’ footsteps with Dr. Charnley it was hard not to be overcome by a huge sense of appreciation and debt.  For me those realizations are what made the trip worthwhile.

Rob Wareck

14 February 2011



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