Kristen Schatzman has always loved history. There’s just something about the stories, the people, the moments that are remembered forever.
So when she and her fellow Pittsburg State University Honors College students were offered the opportunity to take an overseas journey through World War II history, there was no chance she could turn it down.
“It’s one thing to read about history in books or hear about it in class,” said Schatzman, a PSU junior and native of Rogers, Ark. “But it’s quite another to get to see it for yourself. This trip was an amazing opportunity to see the places where history happened.”
Schatzman was among the 47 people – 37 Honors College students and 10 adults – who took a 16-day trip to Europe in late May to study World War II history. The trip included stops in London, Normandy, Paris, Dachau, Salzburg, Berlin and other sites that played a major role in the war.
Craig Fuchs, director of the PSU Honors College, said the Honors College takes a trip every year as part
of its mission to promote and offer international studies.
“We see it as a way to open the students’ eyes to the world,” Fuchs said. “A lot of our students have never been outside of the United States, and we hope trips like this educate and also inspire.”
Fuchs, a self-proclaimed “World War II buff,” said he also hoped the trip would give the students a better appreciation for how large and historic the war truly was.
“One of the main goals was to give them a sense of the breadth and depth of that war,” Fuchs said. “We wanted them to understand why it was such a historic and world-changing event.”
Sophomore Ellen Wieberg said she appreciated learning about the war from the perspective of other countries.
“As Americans, we pretty much only learn about our side of the war,” she said. “Unless you really dig into it yourself, you don’t often hear about what went on in other countries and how they were affected. I think my main take away was that history isn’t always black and white. There are gray areas, and it’s important for us to understand that.”
The students said the trip was sometimes as emotional as it was educational. Personal stories of the war touched their hearts, as did certain sites in cities and surrounding areas. Nothing came close, however, to the emotions they felt while at the American Cemetery on the beaches of Normandy, the site of the famous D-Day invasion.
“Before we left, we learned of four Pittsburg families who have loved ones buried in the American Cemetery,” said Krisanna Graham, senior from Salina. “We found those four graves and held special, small ceremonies for each. Dr. Fuchs played Taps on his trumpet, and we all started crying. It was an incredibly emotional moment for all us. I think that taught us more than anything about how much was lost during the war.
“I’m glad we did that, though,” Graham said. “Some of those families have never had a chance to go to Normandy to pay tribute to their relatives. For us to get that chance to be there and honor their families was very humbling. That trip was definitely an eye-opener.”
Fuchs said the next international trip for the Honors College will be a two-week trip to Spain in 2014.