By Halle Rasco, Class of 2015
(Hear from our spring break travelers about their experiences abroad in special presentations coming up in the Campus Center Theatre)
Over Spring Break 2015, School of Design Professor Rose Botti-Salitsky, and School of Social Science and Humanities Dean Brad Hastings and Professor Darcy Daniels, led 10 students studying Psychology and 7 studying Interior Architecture on an 8-day trip to Prague, Czech Republic and Berlin, Germany. Although the subject matter could not be more different, our classes were able to build a collaborative trip where the history, aesthetic, and energy of both cities could contribute to our class content.
As part of the Psychology of Evil and The Holocaust group, led by Brad Hastings and Darcy Daniels, we visited numerous memorials and museums dedicated to the victims of World War II Nazism. Along with the heavy subject matter, we were given a glimpse of the contemporary culture of Prague and Berlin, with group meals and evening activities that captured the essence of each city. We came from different majors and class years, from freshmen to seniors, and thanks to the generous scholarships from Santander Bank, several people were able to travel abroad for the first time. Abby Sitte, Class of 2019, stated, “Coming in as a freshman, I didn’t know what to expect, but walking on those streets of Europe opened my eyes; I have an entire world at my fingertips that I can’t wait to explore!”
We learned a great deal about the history of the Holocaust and the impact that World War II had on the Czech Republic and Germany. In Prague, we visited the Vyšehrad Cemetery, Lidice, Terezin, and the Jewish Quarter. In Berlin, visits to the Holocaust Memorial and a tour of the famous Stolperstein (Stumbling Blocks) connected our classwork to the realities of the Holocaust. The Stolperstein tour was a particularly moving experience that both the Psychology and Interior Design groups shared. A stolperstein is a piece of engraved brass, that features the name, date of birth, and the fate of a Holocaust victim, which is then set in the ground in front of their last place of residence. A project started by Gunter Demnig, the tiny monuments serve as a constant reminder of those lost in the tragedy of the Holocaust.
A major part of our course is examining how and why perpetrators are able to commit evil acts, and how they justify them. Although there have been many groups throughout history who have persecuted and disenfranchised people worldwide, Europe has a unique dynamic when it comes to the history of evil. In the case of the Holocaust, the close proximity of European countries to one another combined with Germany’s dedication to the Nazi cause allowed Hitler to invade and conquer numerous European cities surrounding Germany. Because of this, the shared history of the victims of Nazi terror allows for a deep, three-dimensional understanding of the subject matter that goes beyond reading or classroom discussions.
Being completely immersed in the settings of such terrible acts not only allowed for a more comprehensive understanding of history, but allowed us to examine the psychological causes of these actions. Why and how did this happen? What cultural attitudes or human behaviors can we attempt to change so this doesn’t happen again? Although the answers to these questions are complex and vary from case to case, we can better understand these events by analyzing the experiences of the victims and the attitudes of the perpetrators.
At first glance, the trip may seem quite grim, however, we had the unique experience of traveling together, which allowed us to bounce off of each other while processing what we saw. CIEE also ensured that our trip was spent not only learning about our subject matter, but doing some much needed sightseeing and really experiencing the culture. Along with the many memorials and museums, we were able to visit some of the most famous sites in each city, like the Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square, the East Side Gallery, and Checkpoint Charlie. It was a whirlwind 8 days, but if given the opportunity, I would gladly do it all over again.
On the other side of the spectrum, Rose Botti-Salitsky led her group of 7 students to study architecture, analyzing the historical buildings in both cities and gaining a deeper understanding of how to plan for resilient communities. By visiting Prague and Berlin, the students were able to get a drastically different picture of historical architecture. In Prague, with fairytale-like castles and buildings dating back to the 14th century, this contemporary city has a rich, and vibrant history. In Berlin, the war ravaged much of the architecture, but what’s left is decidedly different from Prague. Berlin is quite the opposite of a fairytale, with its urban street culture and hyperactive nightlife. Buildings are covered in graffiti and there is a great juxtaposition between old and new.
Before the trip, the Global Resiliency class studied not only resiliency in architecture, but in business and national security. When we examine architectural resiliency, it is important to talk about happenings like terrorist attacks or natural disasters, and what those mean not only to the people affected, but also for the businesses that are providing much needed relief. By identifying a multifaceted definition of the word ‘resilient’, the Interior Architecture students were able to explore both cities from numerous perspectives.
Just like our psychology group, Rose’s class consisted of students across class levels and majors. With sophomores and even graduate students, the diverse group allowed for a unique perspective from each person. Students were able to meet some of the most influential European architects working today, and get their input on the famous buildings they’ve constructed.
The Interior Architecture group maintained a blog about their experiences in each city. The students visited The Dancing House, The Prague Castle, The Technical Library in Prague, The Zizkov Tower, Potsdamer Platz, Architekturforum Aedes, and many more of the architectural wonders of Europe. Each student wrote several detailed reflections of their experiences on the Global Resiliency Blog, which can be read here. Ani Moushigian, a graduate Interior Architecture student, states in her first blog post that “Prague has gone through more of an emotional transformation over the ages than a physical one”, while Berlin, according to Nicolette Gordon, “…still flourishes after it fell to purely rubble as a result of the devastation of World War II.” It is clear that Prague and Berlin have remained resilient in vastly different ways.
Of course, the trip also consisted of fun, cultural excursions along with the coursework. Both of our groups spent plenty of time together exploring and ensuring that our Spring break was just as fun as it was educational. The contrast between the more solemn coursework examining the Holocaust with the crucial study of building strong communities provided some insightful and surprisingly relatable conversations. While examining the human emotion behind war and disaster from a Psychological perspective and the physical effects on communities from an architectural perspective, we were able to find some common ground between our courses.
What Students Had to Say:
“The emotions I experienced walking through Terezin Concentration camp were unlike any feeling I’ve experienced before. The best explanation I have to give is heaviness. My body felt physically heavy and I’ve never felt so guilty.” – Abby Sitte, Class of 2019
“From a transfer/commuter perspective, the trip was the first time I felt a sense of belonging to the school. It was out of my comfort zone in so many ways and was one of the best things I have ever done. Everything was an adventure from the airplane, to the museums, and food.” – Colleen McGourty
“I really loved Europe and all of the history we were able to learn that we weren’t really taught in school. I would totally do the trip all over again in a heartbeat.” – Nicole Sequeira, Class of 2015
“This was my first trip abroad and it really set the bar for future trips. The amount that we learned and experienced in such a short time made the trip truly amazing.” – Emily Pacino, Class of 2015
“The art along the East Side Gallery and the fragments of the wall that were left had so many messages through art. It described messages of peace, unity, our earth, as well as history and comments on global situations. It was absolutely incredible and very inspiring.” – Ani Moushigian