Last night I went to the showing of Schindler’s List as part of OU’s Holocaust Remembrance week. I’ve only seen the movie once before, about six months ago, right before I visited Kraków for the weekend. I’d wanted to see it before my friend and I went because the movie is set and partially shot in the city. We also visited Auschwitz, so we thought it would be prudent to watch one of the most well known movies about the concentration camp.
I’m glad I got to watch it before I left for Poland, but I think watching it yesterday had a bigger impact on me. Watching it again not only allowed me to pick up on small things that I missed when I saw it the first time, but I was able to compare what I had seen in Auschwitz and Krakow to the scenes in the movie. Seeing the scenes that take place in Auschwitz after walking around the concentration camp some six months ago made the movie that much more impactful. The movie reminded me that while so much death, destruction, and devastation occurred in the city and the camp, the city itself looks similar to that from the 1930’s and 1940’s. Many of the iconic buildings remain, as do the important historical sites and streets.
It amazes me when I think back on it. If you were completely ignorant of the city’s history and the World War Two (which hopefully isn’t the case), you would have no idea of the horrors that took place inside and around the city, with the exception of the memorials. In one of the worst times in recent history, near a place where over a million people perished, a city looks nearly untouched by the destruction of World War Two.
I was expecting to experience a lot of cultural shock when I went to Italy and traveled around Europe; however, I think dealing with reverse-cultural shock was harder for me. When I went abroad, I knew everything could/would be different from home. Returning home, I thought it would be very easily slip back into “the American way” of doing everything – but I was wrong.
There were tons of little things that bothered me or drove me crazy when I first got back. Most people in the Arezzo program did not have a lot of data, so whenever we went out, few people were on social media. When I got back, everyone I saw seemed to always be on their phones, unable to converse without also scanning social media sites or the web. People are constantly on technology, and I miss the almost anti-Internet environment we had — unless of course we were at someone’s apartment that had reliable internet.
I also miss being able to walk everywhere. I initially hated not being able to drive in Italy, but now I hate having to drive or take public transportation to get anywhere in Norman. I loved the small-town feel Arezzo had and the ability to walk anywhere in the town center. Being two blocks away from campus and a 15 minute walk from most of the restaurants spoiled me. It also took me a while to get back to a more normal eating schedule. When I was home, I usually ate dinner by 6; whereas in Italy, the restaurants usually didn’t even open until 7:30.
There was nothing significant, in terms of cultural shock, that really affected me in either Italy or returning home, but there are hundreds of different, little things that I notice everyday.
I love traveling around in December because a lot of cities have put up Christmas lights and opened up their Christmas markets. As fun as it is to shop in these adorable and picturesque squares, it still doesn’t feel quite like the holiday season. I’ve heard a couple of American Christmas songs here it Arezzo and walked around to look at the lights, but I don’t feel that Christmas feeling that I usually get. I don’t get to go shopping with family and friends, trying to pick out the perfect gift. I don’t get to participate in our family tradition of making cookies with our neighbors a week before Christmas. I don’t get to help hang ornaments on the tree or place holiday items in every open nook and cranny in our house. I don’t get to watch the 25 Days of Christmas Countdown on ABC family. I don’t get to drive around looking at Christmas lights with my family, listening to Christmas music and waiting for mom to fall asleep.
While I came to Arezzo knowing several people and have made tons of friends since then, it still isn’t the same as spending it with the people you’ve known for years. I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to study abroad and to travel around Europe at the end of the program, but I’m ready to be home for the holidays.
One thing that I really like about the program here in Arezzo is that we get about half of our Fridays free. For Thanksgiving Break, most professors here cancelled class on that Monday and Tuesday; those who didn’t were pretty willing got let us make up those missed classes. Many of the engineers took advantage of this, leaving Arezzo on the Thursday or Friday before Thanksgiving and not returning until the Saturday or Sunday after Thanksgiving. During my 9 day break, I was able to visit 3 countries on two different continents. I spend the first three days in London, the middle three in Barcelona, and the last few in Fez, Morocco.
I visited London last summer, so I had already seen the major sites, but I loved visiting again and experiencing different things. I went to the Holiday Park in Hyde Park, saw the Rosetta stone, and explored the British National Gallery. I became a pro at navigating the tube. I love London, the people are amazing and the city has so much to offer; however, I think my favorite thing is that I understood everything going on and could read all of the menus.
Fez, Morocco was something different all together. The most significant thing was that English was neither the first or second language, it was Moroccan Arabic and French, which neither my friend nor I knew. Lucky, we met two Australians staying at the same hostel as us, one of whom was fluent in French. We were all staying there the same three nights, so we hung out when we went to the huge market or walked around the Medina. I’ve never been to Morocco or Africa before, but I went to Turkey earlier this summer, so I thought Morocco would be a little bit like that (which it kind of was but also wasn’t in a weird way). As a group of four girls, I was a little nervous wandering around the medina, but other than a few minor events, we were able to wander around without much trouble.
My Thanksgiving was definitely different compared to my usual Thanksgiving, but I loved it (especially since I got my Turkey fix when OUA held a Thanksgiving feast for us).
Last weekend I got to cross something off my bucket list. On Halloween I toured Transylvania, ending the night with a party at Dracula’s castle in Bran.
We started the day off driving two hours from Bucharest to Sinaia, where Peles Castle is nestled in the colorful Carpathian Mountains. The castle was absolutely stunning. Each room showcased a different style; there was an Italian Renaissance style room, a room with Turkish rugs and draperies, one with Arabic pottery and furniture. Afterwards, we went to the famous Dracula’s Castle in Bran. While not near as opulent as Peles Castle, it was filled with information about Vlad the Impaler and how Bran Stroker used Vlad as inspiration for his Dracula novel.
The party at Dracula’s Castle was held on the castle grounds, in a series of heated tents. During the party, the castle was conducting late tours of the castle. The party was just as awesome as you can imagine, with everybody dressed in scary costumes.
Even if I hadn’t been able to visit Transylvania on Halloween, I still would have had lots of fun in the beautiful region. If I’m ever back in that part of Europe and have time and money I would love to go back.
Last week, I spent the weekend in Krakow, Poland with another student from OUA. Krakow was the setting for Steven Spielberg’s movie “Schindler’s List” (I highly recommend it if you’ve never seen it). An hour outside of Krakow lies a site of infamy, the Auschwitz concentration camp. We were able to visit several hours before our plane left, but I wish we had had more time.
The camp is split up into several parts; the main concentration camp was were people were housed (the buildings had since been converted into museums) while a couple miles down the road was the extermination camp.
We got there at 7:30 in the morning to avoid crowds, and it was very foggy — giving the place an even more ominous atmosphere. Many of the buildings within this section had been converted into museums; nearly every country that had been affected by the Holocaust had their own building, including Austria, France, the Netherlands, and Italy.
All of the museums were very well curated, each with a unique set up. The one that personally affected me the most was the the building dedicated to Israel. When you walked through the door you heard children singing in Hebrew, while in the next room over it showed video clips of many children and families before the Holocaust. The room that really made you stop though was this empty room with white walls. In a row, at about waist high, was a series of children’s drawings that had been recreated from ones drawn during the war. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see these drawings, listening to the young voices singing, only to read a plaque saying that 1.5 million Jewish children perished in the Holocaust.
The concentration camp was very well put together and the attention to detail was simply astounding. I really liked the concept of having each country have their own building that explained how they were personally affected by the Holocaust. I don’t know if I will ever have the opportunity, or even the desire, to visit again, but I’m so grateful that I got to visit Auschwitz.