By: Taylor Woods
I began this journey with a packed suitcase and a full heart, leaving the States with little knowledge as to what was in store for me in the four months that would follow. In the short six weeks we have been here, GIF has already allowed me to open my mind and granted me the capacity to learn amongst my GIF classmates and the Florentine community, in a way that has challenged me, both intellectually and personally.
Whether it be through a weekend trip with the school or practicing Italian in a local coffee shop, every experience abroad has given me the ability to develop and strengthen my relationship with the locals and my classmates alike. While at times I felt vulnerable or uncomfortable in my new environment, in retrospect, I know that those are the times that I truly grew the most as an individual.
To reflect on my favorite and most meaningful trip thus far, I was fortunate enough to accompany some of my classmates on a recent school trip to Poland, where we visited the cities of Krakow and Oświęcim. Admittedly, my initial interest in this trip sparked from the opportunity to be able to visit the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps of World War II, but this opportunity proved to be far more impactful than I would have ever anticipated—not from what I saw, but from what it enabled me to take away.
The camp itself was so unsettling that my very presence there just felt wrong; it felt erroneous that I could freely walk around this camp where so many feared for their lives. However, amidst the array of emotions my classmates and I felt – in solidarity with one another- I was soon able to recognize why the school organizes this trip every semester and was in awe of our Travel Coordinator who had the strength to return to the memorial for the seventh time.
There is a quote by George Santayana posted on a wall in one of the buildings at Auschwitz, and it has remained with me since my departure from Poland: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” As hard as it may be to relive, learning about and trying to understand a tragedy like this is the best thing we as a society can do to honor the victims of the Holocaust. In fact, the initiative to begin this memorial was started by former inmates of the camp, who understood that this reality must be shared, so the world can create and uplift a society that honors the dignity of the whole person. The power of education can lead us to prevail over cruelty and unjust actions in our world.
Had I not attended Gonzaga-in-Florence, I may not have had the privilege or ability to experience such a poignant and emotionally-moving weekend—one that has already motivated me down a path of activism for social justice. This program is not simply a placement in another country or an excuse to travel; it truly has been a cultivation of my ability to connect with others in a way that is meaningful and authentic. Gonzaga-in-Florence has provided me with the resources to broaden my understanding of the cultures around me so that I may deepen my own appreciation and consideration for others. We may only be halfway through the semester, but this program has already taught me more about myself than I had ever known. I hope to continue to cultivate genuine relationships, experiences and memories throughout my time at Gonzaga-in-Florence; I know that a piece of my heart will forever remain in this beautiful city I have learned to call home.