As I reflect on my experience in the Normandy Scholars Program, I find it especially important to do my best to recall every detail of our trip abroad. We spent all this time studying memory and the way individual opinions can affect someone’s recollection, and I want to ensure that I spend time reflecting on not just my favorite or the most interesting parts of the class and trip but on the program as a whole. I knew that the classwork and our dynamic with our professor would be important, but as I look back now, I completely underestimated how important my classmates would be in this experience.
This program is built on the fact that its students are interdisciplinary, and I didn’t realize how significant this was until our mini-term abroad. Our class periods abroad gave us all a space to process our reactions to the memorials and museums we had visited, and while I listened to my classmates voice their own explorations of their experiences, I gained so much perspective on my own. I thought I was impacted by the memorials until I heard the reflections of my fellow scholars, and their impact brought an entirely new meaning to what I had personally experienced. Since we are all from different academic disciplines, our interests and thought patterns are often very different, and we were all able to bring a different point of view to the conversation. Everyone was consistently honest and vulnerable about how they felt about the (often, very emotionally charged) places we visited, and that allowed me to more truthfully assess my own reactions as well. I’m extremely grateful for this environment that was established and supported by my fellow scholars. I truly owe much of both my own collection of memory and the way in which I analyze the memories of others to the conversations and experiences that I shared with the Normandy Scholars this spring. The example of vulnerability and open-mindedness in an environment like a study abroad course can be the determining factor of what makes an experience transformative, and personally, I can truthfully say that these people have made all the difference.