Reflection on France: Study Abroad Experience

After arriving back in the U.S. this past Saturday, I’ve come to realize a huge gap in both social and historical culture between America and France. The experience has really impacted my views in a nearly indescribable way. It was almost an experience of going to another planet instead of just another country – a revelation of how diverse the world is in operation though everyone is effectively living similar lives. Not just now, but in contexts of the past – such as during the world wars – we share the same values of freedom and preservation of human life, paying the ultimate price to gain these basic rights. Every day spent in France, the overwhelming feelings of camaraderie in the face of adversity surfaced. Every location the students of Missouri S&T visited only served to peel the lid back on emotional barriers for us, with several students breaking out into tears – myself included – when taking in the gravity of standing on Omaha Beach in Normandy where thousands died on D-Day.

The American Cemetery

The American Cemetery

Taking a class at the university could never prepare someone for the things they might experience and feel when standing at the historical monuments in person. Yes, America has quite a few historical monuments that bring about similar feelings, but for France, World Wars I and II took place on their soil while we were an ocean away. Today’s American citizens could never compare such experiences of having their home country invaded and occupied, but for France the past still remains in the everyday of the citizens’ lives. Social order was heavily changed once France was occupied during World War II, with the weight of events still dictating how people act in social situations today by trying to have the utmost respect for another person despite differences so as not to repeat the mistakes made by others in the past.

Sky View from the top of the Eiffel Tower

Sky view from the top of the Eiffel Tower

In total, the experience of studying abroad has really changed my thoughts on several issues here in the U.S., and though it is a bit hard to explain the feelings one might gain through studying abroad, I insist everyone take the leap of experiencing another culture at least once in their lives. The world, as it turns out, is much bigger and brighter than one could ever imagine, and the past memories that mold our world can turn every thought around the minute you learn how oddly similar yet different we are.

Making globes during World War 2 - Caen Memorial Museum

Making globes during World War II – Caen Memorial Museum

Jean Moulin at the Pantheon

On Monday we visited the Pantheon where important people such as Jean Moulin, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Victor Hugo are buried.

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Holocaust Memorial at Drancy - opened September 2012

Holocaust Memorial at Drancy – opened September 2012

When designing the study abroad program, we purposefully scheduled four longer days of classwork during the week so that students would have long weekends to explore France and other European countries on their own. The students took advantage of this for the first time over the weekend. Some went to London and some went to Berlin while others visited places outside Paris that were of particular interest to them.  I was one of the people that took advantage of the weekend to visit a place I’d never been before. I went to visit a new museum that just opened in September 2012 in the Parisian suburb of Drancy.

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Second Day of Adventures

Today was an exciting adventure! A very – VERY – long adventure, but all us made it back safe and sound. Yesterday we visited the War Museum and took the WWI & WWII tour, then strolled over to the Arc de Triomphe for the afternoon. Today the students plus Dr. Fogg & Dr. Langston went on an 11 hour excursion to different war memorials, grave yards, and museums depicting World War I. Our first stop was the Australian memorial, Villers – Bretonneux, and the students actually got to venture up into the memorial tower.

British soldier's grave stone at Villers - Bretonnuex

British soldier’s grave stone at Villers – Bretonnuex

The main memorial building of Villers - Bretonnuex

The main memorial building of Villers – Bretonnuex

Our biggest stop of the day, after visiting various graveyards, had to be the trenches – we actually got to walk through the trenches along the soldiers path! It was very heart-wrenching thinking about how many men lost their lives in the very places we stood, but all the while an honorable memory.

The zig-zagging path of trenches at the Newfoundland memorial

The zig-zagging path of trenches at the Newfoundland memorial

Our last stop was the Historial de la Grande Guerre, where we got to see the uniforms of soldiers laid out in pits of the floor with all of their gear, propaganda posters covering the walls, and artifacts from The Great War. Seeing items that the men once used really strikes a chord in a person, it makes it hard to believe that the war occurred only ninety-nine years ago.

Uniform of a French Soldier - Historial de la Grande Guerre

Uniform of a French Soldier – Historial de la Grande Guerre

It makes you really think and feel the pasts setting, the feelings the people had to be experiencing in their time, and how those feelings echo into the present when we look back on our shared history. Everything we saw today brought to light the true meanings of memory and how those memories intertwine with history.

~Stephenie Lynch