Students spend summer studying abroad

Kat Wilson

arly last summer, 25 students boarded a plane in Louisville. Twenty hours later, they stepped off a bus in a foreign country halfway around the world – a place where there are few guns and hardly any SUVs, and where bathrooms and ketchup aren’t free.

But no one complained (much), since understanding the cultural quirks of the Czech Republic and other Eastern European countries was one of the reasons the students were there.

“You’ve got to get rid of your misconceptions and preconceptions,” said senior Steve Hopper. “That’s the number one thing studying abroad does.”

Hopper, a political science major from Bowling Green, was one of the students who went on the annual study abroad trip to Eastern Europe.

The program was organized through a sister-city program between Owensboro, and Olomovc, the city in the Czech Republic where the students disembarked from the bus. From their hotel in Olomovc, the students traveled around Eastern Europe for more than a month, frequently having 18-hour days that started at 7 a.m.

“You didn’t really mind (the long days) when you were getting to see all these amazing things,” said senior Heather Powell, a sociology and political science major from Evansville, Ind., who studied abroad for the first time this summer.

She said they visited places where Napoleon and Hitler had stood, and places where communism was overthrown a mere 15 years ago.

“You feel like you’re a part of history,” she said.

The places that made the most lasting impression, she said, were the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Berkinow.

“It’s a very humbling experience,” she said. “It’s just a feeling of dread you get there. Someone could take you in there and blindfold you, and you’d still know you were in a concentration camp.”

Hopper agreed. He said that the students had all become close friends, and up until the day they visited the camps, were very talkative and cheerful. But after spending the day walking through gas chambers and crypts, the students on the bus were silent.

“It was really intense,” he said.

Experiences were the focus on the study abroad trip rather than the history or the students’ class credits. Hopper said this made it a great way to spend his summer.

“It’s a lot better than spending a summer here (in Bowling Green) taking classes, and it’s not much more expensive,” he said.

Hopper has studied abroad for the past three summers, the last two with this program in Eastern Europe, and he’s thinking about going again next year. He said studying abroad has totally changed the direction of his life, including his major and what he wants to do after graduation. It has also given him a better perspective on life.

“I do appreciate a lot of what America has now,” he said. “Everything from air-conditioning to being able to vote.”

Powell agreed that studying abroad changed her perspective.

“It just made me want to see so much more,” she said.

enlarge photo

Reach Kat Wilson at [email protected]