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ONU in the EU

Above: Eric Radford, BS '17, Koty Miller, BS '17, and Walker Karg, BS '18, show their Polar Bear pride on a mountainside in Germany.

Polar Bears gain a world of experience through summer travels in Europe.

Nestled among the cornfields of the Buckeye State, Ohio Northern University is unabashedly rural. The quaint, small-town setting is a draw for students who seek an environment conducive to ardent academic pursuit. For others, Ada simply reminds them of where they grew up. But interestingly enough, some of the same students who prefer Ada’s familiar and close-to-home setting also decide that their Polar Bear journeys need something more, something defining, something expansive. They choose to see the world through University-sanctioned co- and extra-curricular trips to destinations around the globe.

During summer 2017, several Polar Bears dispersed across Europe to experience for themselves the great sampling of cultures it provides. For many, it was their first time being immersed in a foreign culture. They left paw prints in the United Kingdom, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg. They returned with a new perspective.

The experience one gains from world travel comes from the experience. First-time travelers are forced to quickly learn the ropes of international travel in real time. Suddenly, they can’t read all the signs. They don’t always know who to ask for help. They don’t know if they can ask for help. It can be distressing and disorienting, but it also prepares them for the experiences to come. This is how it’s going to be. They learn. They adapt. They stop assuming.

Lexie Kilgore visits the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, England.Recent musical theatre graduate Lexie Kilgore, BFA '18, grew up in the small village of Carrollton, Ohio: population just more than 3,000. In May 2017, she spent two-and-a-half weeks in Manchester, England, the United Kingdom’s second-most populous urban area. As an intern for the University of Salford, she lived and worked among the Britons every day. She experienced their world. And she was there when it was torn apart.

On May 22, 2017, 22 people were killed during a terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert in the Manchester Arena. Kilgore was not physically involved in the attack, but emotionally, she was all in. In the immediate aftermath, and the days that followed, she saw a city stricken by grief and tragedy, but she also saw something else.

“Witnessing the unity and bravery after the terror attack impacted me more than I could have ever dreamed,” she says. “It showed me that we can’t let fear and evil people get in the way of the joys to be discovered in life.”

Even as her experience abroad was marred by tragedy, Kilgore feels changed for the better by it.

“Travel is such a great experience not only for your education, but also for you as a person,” she says. “I’ve grown so much. My view of the world is so different and so is what I personally can accomplish and achieve.”  

Kilgore’s introduction to the worst of human nature was an unfortunate coincidence. For other ONU students, it was part of their itinerary. There are lessons that must be experienced to be truly learned, and Europe —with its painful past— provides ample opportunities. 

Participants from two trips in summer 2017 – a tour of Germany by students in the Dicke College of Business Administration and visits to German manufacturers by technological studies students – visited the sites of former Holocaust concentration camps. 

“The experience from the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site was breathtaking in all different forms of emotion,” says former technology studies student Koty Miller, BS ’17. “No amount of words can give proper justice to the devastation. To actually stand there and think about what those people experienced was very sobering.”

Ashlie Kindle, BSBA ’17, a self-described homebody who rarely ventures outside of her comfort zone, also visited a concentration camp and was taken aback by how open and upfront the German people are about confronting their painful history. Their approach is raw, recounting all the horrors of the Holocaust to ensure nothing like it ever happens again.

“In Germany, their history of the Holocaust is heart-wrenching, but one thing I learned is that in some ways, it brings them all together,” she says. “Their history is rooted and grounded into them, and they know so much about it.”

Germany and Europe at large are not unique in having dark periods in their history. But what students experienced in Germany can’t be experienced everywhere. Most of the evil committed in this world lacks a marker. So to be able to stand on the site and bear witness is something those students will never forget. It was a painful lesson, but one made a little less so by having friends to lean on. 

Traveling together in a foreign country can foster an intense bonding experience. Not everything students learn is about the places they visit. They learn about themselves and their fellow travelers. They develop deeper friendships and share an understanding long after the trip is over. 

The bonding experiences I had on the trip were different than the ones I’ve had at home,” says Kindle. “At home, you hang out with your friends, but at night you separate and get to go do your own thing. Abroad, you’re with the same people all day, every day. We were like a small family.

Sixth-year pharmacy student Amy Wiles traveled to Europe with the ONU Wind Orchestra to perform in Germany and Luxembourg. For established groups like the Wind Orchestra (which travels routinely every three years) and the ONU women’s soccer team (which competed in a tournament in the Netherlands during summer 2017), international travel is purposeful as much as exploratory. Yet, even the closest groups can grow stronger through the experience.

“One of the coolest parts about going on a trip with a large group is you aren’t with all of the people you would typically spend time with,” Wiles says. “You get to spend a lot more time with other people and really get to know them as well.”

Members of the ONU women's soccer team enjoy a bike ride during their trip to Germany and Luxembourg.“I was traveling with my team, so we already had relationships. However, this trip strengthened those relationships and brought us closer together,” says recent athletic training graduate Hannah Reich, BS '18. “We were able to experience new sites together and have bonding experiences, especially when we had the opportunity to play games against foreign teams.”

Interestingly enough, the bonding that happened over the summer wasn’t merely between students and faculty. Now more than ever, international commerce binds companies together across oceans and continents. There are global connections everywhere, even close to home. Collaboration with GROB-WERKE GmbH & Co., an international manufacturer headquartered in Mindelheim, Germany, gave Ohio Northern the opportunity to learn more about its neighbors. In addition to plants in Brazil and China, GROB-WERKE has a facility in nearby Bluffton, Ohio. 

During the trip, technological studies students from ONU became the first American university group to tour the German facility. 

GROB’s engineering manager, Alfred, gave us an excellent tour through the manufacturing process of different machines and quality centers,” says Miller. “It was great to see the similarity between facilities across the world and to see the implementation of methods used on the manufacturing floor.

“The Germans like to have Americans tour their facilities,” says technological studies professor David Rouch, who organized and led the trip. “GROB doesn’t have a lot of visitors because it’s in a small town in Germany, so they treated us very well.”

Of course, learning to intermingle with other cultures in a professional setting is not only an enjoyable experience, but also one that helps travelers grow as professionals. Being able to witness this growth is a reward in itself for those faculty and staff who accompany students abroad. John Navin, dean of the Dicke College of Business Administration, has traveled abroad with college students for several years.

“It changes them when they come back,” he says. “Every student, no matter what they say, is a different person, and that’s why I do it. When you get back and you realize they have a different appreciation for things, even simple things, it’s worth it.”

It most certainly is worth it. No matter what the expectations are going in, or the reason for their travels, ONU students gain from the experience. Every Polar Bear journey has defining moments during which assumptions are stripped away and the truth is revealed. Those who traveled abroad during summer 2017 had some to be sure. And who knows, perhaps with their broadened worldview, Ada doesn’t seem quite so small anymore.

This story originally appeared in the winter 2018 edition of ONU Magazine. To view the original version with additional photos, click here and turn to page 16 of the embedded publication.