Syracuse University Magazine

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Professor Hana Cervinkova takes students on an interactive tour through Wroclaw to show them urban sites that testify to the political transformations
in 20th-century Europe.

Photo courtesy of Hana Cervinkova



Exploring Reconciliation

Walking among gravestones riddled with bullet holes in a Jewish cemetery in Poland, Danique Masingill ’13, G’14 gained a profound understanding of the causes and effects of conflict in World War II. She was one of eight students who participated in an SU Abroad summer program based in Wroclaw, Poland—formerly Breslau, Germany—that explored the culture and politics of reconciliation. “I was surprised to see the amount of animosity and hate that had to be overcome after the war,” says Masingill, a military history major who attended SU after a five-year stint in the Navy. “But now the people of Wroclaw take great pride in their city and are very welcoming to students. I think this is SU Abroad’s best kept secret.” 

Beginning this year, the Wroclaw program will be offered for three consecutive fall semesters. The goal of this full-semester program is to give students an in-depth experience around the theme of conflict and historical trauma where the traces of war and division are still inscribed on the bodies, landscapes, and psyches of the people. “Conflict didn’t end with World War II, so our students have an opportunity to go deep into one region of the world and learn what happened there and how it is still affecting people today,” says Margaret Himley, associate provost for international education and engagement. “Wroclaw is a dynamic urban laboratory where our students can examine the big issues of historic and contemporary violence and divisions and what people do to move through the residual effects of conflict.”

Based in Wroclaw, the new program features a traveling seminar called Negotiating Identities Across Europe’s Borders that will take students to the Czech Republic, Germany, and Lithuania. There will also be a course on Eastern European history in the 20th century—half of which will be taught in Warsaw, Poland, where students will meet with experts and witnesses to some of the city’s most devastating traumas. “This program offers a small cohort of 15 to 20 students from a variety of academic disciplines an opportunity to have a unique individualized learning experience,” Himley says. “All of the courses are interconnected, and the required action-based research projects emerge right out of the courses. For example, a student may want to start an Honors project, study community activism through art, or research what it means to rebuild a city that had an interesting architectural past, but was nearly destroyed during the war.”

The program’s director is Hana Cervinkova, professor of cultural anthropology and the founding director of the International Institute for the Study of Culture and Education at the University of Lower Silesia in Wroclaw. Cervinkova, who has been one of SU Abroad’s academic partners for more than 10 years, is extremely knowledgeable about Central Europe and questions of reconciliation in this region of the world. “Professor Cervinkova is a dynamic, committed educator,” Himley says. “She is a great teacher, as students who have studied with her can attest.”

Masingill agrees. “The way Hana teaches is very hands on,” she says. “The amount of information I was able to learn and retain in four weeks was incredible because we actually went out and saw the sites we read about. And Wroclaw is a beautiful city with a huge market square and colorful old buildings. Going to Wroclaw was the best decision I ever made—I can’t even find enough words to describe how awesome it was.” —Christine Yackel