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Gaining hands-on experience through study abroad

By Bryan Perissutti
On July 17, 2012

We all know the story. On June 6, 1944 the Allied powers began the liberation of France from Germany on D-Day.
From June 16 through June 24, 24 Southeastern students went to the place where it all began to study first hand the D-Day Invasion. The trip was one of Southeastern's study abroad programs and took the group from London to Paris, visiting numerous sites in between.
The trip was led by associate professor of history Dr. Harry Laver who believes that study abroad brings popular topics into a unique perspective.
"The topic has considerable interest among the general public which includes students," said Laver "Walking the ground brings a greater understanding as I think most of the group saw."
The group listened to guides, browsed museums, met new people and took in the culture all while earning up to six hours of college credit.
For history graduate student Natalie Worsham, this was exactly why she decided to participate in study abroad.
"I decided to participate in study abroad as a way to earn credits while visiting Europe, a chance of a lifetime," said Worsham.
Among the sites in Normandy, France, the climactic moment for many students was visiting Omaha Beach, the site of the battle that was dramatized in the 1998 movie "Saving Private Ryan."
"Being on Omaha Beach was surreal. Our grandparents were part of the Greatest Generation, the generation of soldiers that made the end of the war seem within reach on the sands of Normandy," said senior history major Eric Stein.
For Stein, the trip was much more than class work, it was a way to walk in his grandfather's footsteps. Stein's grandfather, Nick Stein, landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day as part of the 1st Infantry Division known as "The Big Red One." While on the beach, Stein collected two bags of sand to give back to his grandfather.
"Collecting the sand was an experience," said Stein. "You go through all the emotions as you dig your hand into the sand and you become overwhelmed.  In the back of your mind, it's like a scene from 'Saving Private Ryan' playing in a permanent loop."
Graduate student Michelle Dufrene also collected some sand from the beach and is excited about sharing it with her students at Madisonville Junior High.
"I'll be able to share first-hand knowledge, artifacts and pictures from my experiences abroad," said Dufrene. "Want to know how to hook a kid into your lesson? Pass around a bag of sand from Omaha Beach.  That'll get a discussion going."
Laver expressed the possibility of doing this trip again next summer and suggested that students who were interested start the application process early. He believed that students with an open mind and adaptability were the perfect candidates for study abroad.
"For someone to have a successful study abroad trip, it's got to be somebody with an open mind and somebody with flexibility and someone willing to adapt," said Laver. "Eisenhower's point, which we all learned within hours of starting in New Orleans, once the operation starts, throw all the plans out."

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