By John Stran
Although the spring semester is just starting, it is never too early to start planning for a summer study abroad program.
One summer program will take Youngstown State University students on a three-week trip, May 12 through June 3, to Czech Republic, Germany and Poland with a theme centered around the Holocaust and human rights in Central Europe.
Jacob Labendz, assistant professor of Judaic studies and Holocaust studies, is the creator of this study abroad program.
Labendz said the program reflects his commitment to the idea that Jewish and Holocaust studies have a lot to offer to people who are interested in thinking complexly about issues of contemporary politics and culture.
“I have found that YSU students have a unique interest in the Holocaust and seek to understand its lessons for today,” he said. “This trip is designed to provide students with the tools they need to embark upon such an exploration.”
Labendz chose these countries because he has a personal connection to them, having spent many years living and researching in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, where he studied the Jewish people in and from Czechoslovakia.
“I’m excited to introduce students to ‘my Prague’ as insiders, rather than as mere tourists,” Labendz said.
With his expertise of these countries, Labendz said he hopes students who partake in the program learn to immerse themselves in foreign cultures and take this as a time for self-exploration.
“I want students to understand how exciting history can be, especially when one begins to piece together a foreign past and see in it keys to understanding the present,” Labendz said. “I hope students return with widened perspectives and with the ability to think more creatively about other cultures and geographies.”
Alexis Heldreth, sophomore history major at Youngstown State University, applied for the program, which will be her first study abroad program, after hearing about it in her history class taught by Labendz.
“Studying abroad is something that has always interested me and this program offers three weeks in Europe at an affordable cost, Heldreth said. “The syllabus itself is very fascinating because it not only focuses on the history of the Holocaust, but it also takes a look at real life issues facing society today.”
Junior and senior history majors Brooke Bobovnyik and Zachary Mayer also applied to the program and will be first-time study abroad students like Heldreth.
The three students also emphasized their excitement to be emerged in another culture and to better understand these countries’ close ties to the Holocaust.
“One particular thing I am hoping to get from this trip is an ability to better empathize with cultures outside of my own and to understand how other countries have dealt with their legacy,” Mayer said.
The trip is inclusive to all majors but space is limited to 15 students. Registration and a non-refundable deposit of $1,476 are due Jan. 26. The total cost for the trip is $3,000.
Ann Gardner, assistant director of the international programs office, said students looking for financial aid to cover this or any study abroad program should contact Gina McHenry, associate director of customer service special programs, for assistance.
There will be a study abroad information session Friday, Jan. 18 from 12-1:30 p.m. Gardner said this is the starting point to learn all about YSU’s study abroad options, how to find the right program and how to finance the experience.