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Letter from Krakow

June 18, 2013
Holocaust and Genocide Studies students Johanna DeBari (left) and Chloe Edmonds (right) hold the Jagiellonian University flag with Justyna Jochym (middle) who coordinates the Jagiellonian study-away program.
Holocaust and Genocide Studies students Johanna DeBari (left) and Chloe Edmonds (right) hold the Jagiellonian University flag with Justyna Jochym (middle) who coordinates the Jagiellonian study-away program.

About a year ago, Keene State forged an exchange relationship with Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. Although the relationship is not specifically for Holocaust and Genocide Studies majors, it certainly offers them a rewarding opportunity. "It fit beautifully for us,” explained Paul Vincent (professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies), “especially for the Holocaust part of our major. Krakow is perfectly located within walking distance of the infamous Płaszów concentration camp. The factory mentioned in Schindler’s List is located nearby, as is the ghetto. It’s about a 45-min drive from Auschwitz. If you’re studying the Holocaust, there is a remarkably powerful mental impact to stand in the places where these things happened. You see the world differently when you’re actually studying this in Poland.”

So far, three Holocaust and Genocide Studies majors have taken advantage of the opportunity at Jagiellonian. Two of them, Chloe Edmonds and Johanna DeBari, were there last semester and wrote a wonderful letter to Dr. Vincent telling him of their adventures. It's an inspiring testament of bright, engaged students exploring new horizons and taking on challenges beyond the call of duty. But it's better to let them tell their story in their own words:

"Through a whirlwind of excitement, confusion, and intrigue, Krakow, Poland, has won over our hearts. Considered the cultural capital of Poland, the city offers events around every corner, and international students can be found everywhere. Not only have we had the experience to taste Polish food like pierogies, but we are also surrounded by Mediterranean, Asian, Italian, and French cuisine. But the culture does not stop there. From being introduced to so many international students at Jagiellonian University, we have found a location for weekly Tango, have tasted sweet Ukrainian candies, and have been taught traditional Russian games.

"We are in Poland, however, as students of Jagiellonian University, not as tourists. Our first days at the university introduced us to a level of higher education we were not expecting, but are thankful to participate in. Not only are we taking undergraduate courses and studying Polish, but we are studying alongside masters’ students at the Centre for European Studies in advanced master courses. Through our interaction with the masters’ students, as well as our own high level of academic independence and responsibility, we are sure to leave this study-abroad experience more well rounded and academically challenged.

"Our studies are not limited to the classroom. We will be going on multiple study trips to Kazimierz, the former Jewish quarter, to visit the Oscar Schindler Factory and the old Krakow ghetto, as well as taking two independent study trips to Auschwitz—on one of which we will give academic presentations on site. Additionally, we are scheduled to take a trip with the masters’ students to Serbia and Bulgaria, and we have independently planned trips throughout the semester around Europe.

"Overall, our experience in Krakow has been extremely fulfilling and eye opening. Although it has taken significant time adjusting to cars parked on sidewalks, the demands of city life, and the significant language barrier, we feel that soon enough Krakow will feel more comfortable. Thankfully, we have amazing staff in the Centre for European Studies here at Jagiellonian University; they have made the transition easier for us, and masters’ students have incorporated us into their graduate experiences. There is nothing quite like studying the Holocaust in Europe, Poland specifically, and there is nothing like being treated respectfully and being incorporated wholly into the importance of the field here at Jagiellonian University. Keene State College could not have created a better opportunity for Holocaust and Genocide Studies students."

Respectfully, Chloe Edmonds and Johanna DeBari