Hello friends. It is likely that this will be my last blog post, since in a few short months I graduate from UBC, and my blog will probably become part of an archived library of forgotten words, sinking into the deep recesses of the internet, rarely read anymore. That’s fine with me. I got to spend a few lovely years writing and sharing my feelings and my experiences with you lovely readers, and so I think you deserve a proper goodbye.
Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to think about what to write, but I have constantly come up short of ideas. Technically, I’m still enrolled at the school, but I’m only in two full-year courses and strictly speaking, they aren’t academic. I work full time now and I’m rarely on campus. My participation in campus life is limited nowadays, and it seems to me that I don’t have much to offer anybody. So, instead of writing about nothing, I’ll tell you about an experience that absolutely changed my life.
This past summer, I went on a Global Seminar with UBC. It was a month-long trip through Poland titled “Witnessing Auschwitz: Conflicting Stories and Memories.” I can say with 100% certainty that this trip was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. The course involved full days of lectures, museums, tours, and research in a few of the places in Poland most related to the Holocaust – Warsaw, Auschwitz/Oswiecim, Krakow, and Bialystok. My fellow students and I spent multiple days in concentration camps and death camps; we toured what remained of the Warsaw Ghetto and had lectures by the leading academics in the field of Holocaust history. We saw huge piles of clothing and suitcases in exhibits at Auschwitz, and we walked in fields where every blade of grass had been richly fertilized by the bones of dead Jews. We saw the scratch marks on the walls of the gas chamber in Auschwitz I, and we stood in the spot where many of those destined to die in Birkenau stood, just moments before they were killed. Our sleep was plagued by nightmares involving those who we were studying, the horrific history replaying in our minds every night as we tried to slip into a dreamless slumber. The experience, for me at least, was harrowing, exhausting, and troubling; however, it was also life-changing, brilliant, and inspiring. We were able to meet with the most learned historians in the field of Holocaust history, and more specifically, Auschwitz history. We had the rare privilege of having full access to almost everywhere inside Auschwitz, allowing us to research freely. Personally, I think it was incredible to be able to see the passion behind the field of Holocaust history. It is a difficult subject to research, partially because of the emotional impact and partially because of the lack of original documents, but to those who teach and give tours, it is an endless source of fascination. They are passionate about discovering the truth and listening to the stories of survivors, and they love being able to teach others about the subject.
Witnessing Auschwitz absolutely changed my life. I am more conscientious about my language now, more critical of scholarly text, and more aware of biases in memoirs. I have been able to conduct my own research into a subject that I’m passionate about, and my supposed term paper for the course is being published in a book that the Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial is releasing. I think more deeply about certain issues, and I am much less hasty when demonstrating judgment. Witnessing Auschwitz was an incredible experience, and I am so lucky that my school offers such amazing opportunities to its students.
I’m not trying to convince you readers to go on this trip; please only go on it if you think you can handle the research, the emotions, and the month in Poland with very minimal fruit and vegetables (trust me, you’ll even miss broccoli). There are other Global Seminars that UBC offers in quite a few different fields. If you’re interested in studying abroad but you can’t necessarily do a semester abroad (I couldn’t due to my music requirements), these Global Seminars are a phenomenal way to experience the world in an academic setting.
So check them out! Explore. Become better students and better people. Have experiences that challenge you and change you and help you to grow. Open your minds to new ideas and be constantly learning. Because maybe the UBC motto doesn’t mean that your undergrad or your masters or your PhD is yours to control, like I previously thought. Maybe it means little a bit more, has a larger meaning beyond the scope of the school. Maybe, just maybe, the University of British Columbia is just the first step in creating your own destiny.
“It is yours.”
And the world is yours.