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Normandy Scholars: A Life-Changing Experience

After a week and a half of viewing many memorials in different locations in Europe, each with its own unique perspective of World War II, I feel that I can better understand how societies commemorate important individuals in history.

The memorials in England came with a perspective that focuses on their personal war experiences, such as memorializing bomber squads and victims of bombing; assistance from Australia, New Zealand, and Canada since they were once part of their empire; and women who participated in the war effort. The memorials in Caen, France focused greatly on the D-Day landings since they greatly impacted the inhabitants in the north of France. The museums visited in Paris, France remembered holocaust victims and apologized for the actions taken by the Vichy regime. Lastly, the museums and memorials visited in Amsterdam were centered on Dutch resistance and victims of the Holocaust.

This trip allowed me to see the many different perspectives that were present in World War II. Had only one country been visited, only one perspective could have been seen. Traveling to all these locations helped me to understand better the different circumstances and risks each country faced during this time period. Before this class and trip, I had only ever viewed the war from an American perspective, which meant that the war started in 1941 after Pearl Harbor, and included fighting in the Pacific. I had really only known about D-Day and the events of the Holocaust in the European theatre. This trip taught me that there was so much more happening. It forced me to face issues of human rights, and what would I do if I was an individual living in one of these countries during the war. Would I join a resistance group? Would I help hide Jews? Would I ignore what was going on around me and only worry about my own life? Or would I become a collaborator to help ensure my own safety? Each of these questions I have never had to face before. This is due to the American perspective, where we were not under an occupation  and where Jews were being persecuted. Yet after trying to empathize with these individuals we have learned about in this class and trip, I have been made to think about my own beliefs and have gained a worldly perspective. I personally feel now that I can face issues in the future with more than just an American perspective, which is a valuable skill now that the world is so connected through the internet and more specifically, social media. I highly recommend students at University of Tennessee to consider this course, or at the very least, to study abroad as there is so much to gain from this type of experience.