SU Abroad's center in Poland takes 11 students through Central Europe in its first full-semester program

Students based in Wroclaw, Poland, focus their studies on the theme of reconciliation in the region.

When 11 students landed in Lithuania in early September, they were hoping for an amazing study abroad experience. But as the first group to study in the SU Abroad center in Wroclaw, Poland, they said they really had no idea what was waiting for them.

Originally offered only as a summer program through SU Abroad, the new SU Featured Program in Wroclaw, Poland, expanded to a full-semester program for the first time this semester. It will run for three fall semesters and then the coordinators will work to further develop the program, said Hana Cervinkova, the Wroclaw Center director. Eleven students make up the center’s inaugural class.

Photo: Juliet Golden
Continuing the theme of reconciliation, students visit Paneriai Forest, which is the site of seven mass graves from WWII.

Cervinkova said she has worked for years to create this new opportunity for SU students to study in Central Europe. For 11 years students from the study abroad program in Strasbourg, France, would come to Wroclaw during their introductory traveling seminar, said Cervinkova, who has partnered with SU Abroad in the past for the Strasbourg trip and other summer programs. This trip then expanded into a summer session, and from there organizers began to consider making it a semester-long experience.

“It took about two and a half years to build the program,” Cervinkova said. She worked closely with Margaret Himley, associate provost for international education and engagement, to create a program that focuses on the idea of reconciliation. Her goal, she said, was to “create a program that would be tied very strongly to a particular theme, not just a place.” Eventually, they settled on the theme, “Culture and Politics of Reconciliation in Central Europe.” Cervinkova said this would attract students who are academically motivated to study a problem, rather than students who were solely interested in Central Europe as a destination.

Following this theme, students in the program travel through different areas of Central Europe, including cities in Poland, Germany, Czech Republic and Lithuania, in order to gain an in-depth understanding of the atrocities and tensions of the 20th and 21st centuries. They focus specifically on the Holocaust, World War II, and the process of reconstruction and reconciliation in the post-Cold War era. As part of the program, students are asked to reflect on their experiences and write short pieces that are posted to a group website

After six cities and an intense 18-day traveling seminar, the program’s first students said they could not be happier with their decision.

Madeline Diorio, an international relations junior who has studied abroad in the past, said she knows from experience the Poland center is not like any other program. “It’s specifically based around the small number of students and it’s built around a certain topic.” She and her fellow students have been able to “see the process of reconciliation unfolding right in front of us,” she said.

Jake Fabrizio, an international relations sophomore, said he appreciated the immersion experience he’s found in Poland. “We have a more authentic educational experience,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of hands-on things, talking to locals, talking to experts from all walks of life and all areas of Europe.”

Among the sites the students visited are the former headquarters of the Soviet Secret Police and the mass graves used by the Nazis. “It’s crazy how a place where so many people have died can be so ignored in history,” said Katelyn Olsen, a biology junior. She added, “The importance of what we are learning is universal no matter what major you are in.”

The resident director of the program, Ula Klobuszewska, said she encouraged students to compare themselves at the beginning of the program to the end of the program. They will likely find they are totally different people, she said.

Students will stay in Wroclaw for the remainder of the semester, until December. They’ll continue to travel together on weekends in order to explore more landscapes of reconciliation. In the next month alone, the students will visit Berlin, Dresden, Krakow, Auschwitz, and Prague.

While traveling to all of these different cities, Cervinkova said she has one goal in mind. “I would like students to become global citizens,” she said. “I would like students to become world-minded rather than national-minded.”

Great city in Hungary

As a Hungarian it was nice to see that people value Central Europe. Sometime check out Budapest in my country if you can!

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