Experiential Learning: What’s it All About?

This past May I had the opportunity of a lifetime to travel to Poland with ten students from Nipissing University, and ten students from Wilfrid Laurier University, to learn about Holocaust memorialization. My interest in this topic was sparked when I took a six-credit course on the Holocaust in my third year of university, and I was curious to do some fieldwork in the setting of these complex historical events.

The twenty-three of us (twenty students, plus Dr. Earl from Nipissing, Dr. Plach from Laurier, and Kyle Falcon, PhD candidate at Laurier) travelled to three different cities over the course of two weeks in Poland: Krakow, Lublin, and Warsaw. At each city we were able to explore a variety of areas including Jewish cemeteries, concentration/extermination camps, and museums targeted towards the Holocaust or Jewish studies. Being able to physically witness these historical sites after spending an entire year learning about them in lecture is more different than I could ever explain – through reading and learning in class, you gain an understanding of the material, but seeing a physical site or object creates another level of both understanding and connection with it. Some of the sites were more difficult to witness than others (both emotionally, mentally, and physically), but learning while maintaining respect for the site was incredibly important in our journey.

Being able to travel and learn alongside my fellow students helped me to not only get a better understanding of myself, but what I want to do in the future. It helped to solidify my passions for history and desire to continue to study the subject past my undergraduate degree. The content of the trip pushed me outside of my limits and allowed me to consider different aspects that I never would have experienced inside of a regular classroom. I had the opportunity to do many, many amazing things in Poland, such as exploring an abandoned Second World War bunker, seeing various artefacts from the various sites of the Holocaust, and speaking with experts in the field of both Polish history and Holocaust history. As an added bonus, I also received three credits (the equivalent to one full semester course) for spending two weeks learning outside of the classroom in Europe.

As this course was the first of its kind at Nipissing University, it was amazing to be able to be a part of such a fantastic learning opportunity, and I would highly recommend participating in an experiential learning opportunity to any Nipissing student.

‘Til next time,

-Maddy