Written by | Dakota Kessler
An educationally beneficial trip to two countries drenched in World War II history is what the Amarillo College Presidential Scholars experienced during the winter break. The program took 11 students on a nine-day trip to Lithuania and Poland. The trip was part of the Presidential Scholars program and was aligned with AC’s Common Reader program. Participants read the Common Reader, Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys. The book is about World War II and the treatment of Baltic State residents by the Soviet Union.
During the trip, the Presidential Scholars were able to meet the woman who inspired the story behind the novel. They also visited Warsaw, Poland, which was destroyed by Nazis during World War II, toured a Jewish cemetery and went to the infamous Nazi death camp of Auschwitz. “The experience was very eye-opening and humbling,” said Lesley Ingham, the Honors Program coordinator who accompanied the students on the trip. At Auschwitz, people are allowed to take pictures, but as Dr. Deborah Vess, the vice president of academic affairs who also accompanied the students, said, “No student took any pictures at Auschwitz, and no one told them to do that. They felt the gravity of it. How life-changing it was.” Kimber Willburn, one of the Presidential Scholars who went on the trip, recalled the feelings they experienced while at Auschwitz.
“It was different being there than reading about it in a book,” Willburn said. “It was very sobering, being able to leave and know that so many Jews never did.” Willburn noted that traveling overseas was a big shift from West Texas. Lithuania and Poland are eight hours ahead of Amarillo. The sun sets in the early afternoon, and the sun rises around 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. The Scholars ate meals that consisted primarily of potatoes and schnitzel. The temperature on a typical day was well below zero. The women agreed that educational trips allow students to experience history firsthand. “We don’t want to forget history like the Holocaust and those kinds of events,” Ingham said. “They will never, ever, forget those events.” “To read about history is great, but being there is bringing it to a whole new level,” Vess said.
Students said travel offers many benefits. “Traveling is important educationally,” Willburn said. “You don’t fully understand it until you see it. It was a priceless experience. I’d do it again.” During spring break, AC will send another group of students on an overseas trip. This time they will travel to Paris and London to “study the many layers of history,” Vess said.
The spring break trip is co-sponsored by the Student Life office and the Honors Program and is open to students with a 2.5 GPA or above.
Participants will receive a $500 travel award and are responsible for the remaining travel costs.