Medieval, World War II and Cold War history came alive to a group of Minarets High School students as they visited historical sites on a European study tour over spring break.
"It was an incredible experience that taught students about the importance of learning history, understanding culture, and becoming global citizens through education and travel," said Daniel Ching, Minarets world history teacher. "I couldn't have asked for more adventurous and fun group of kids to travel around the world with."
Ching lead the group of 25, which included four adults. During the 10-day trip, they toured a number of Eastern European countries including Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.
"It was unforgettable to walk around all of these foreign countries and really dive deep into their culture," said Michaela Brost, a 17-year-old junior at Minarets.
Minarets junior Hunter Davis, 17, said it was interesting to him to see how different the culture was compared to Western Europe and the rest of the world.
"The Socialist occupation really makes an impact on the area and its people," Davis said, adding that the biggest learning experience for him was finding out how much the Soviet occupation took its toll on Germany, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
While in Germany, they toured Berlin and visited a number of sites including the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, the East Wall Remnants, and the Reichstag building.
"Many of the students were surprised at how much history they knew as they toured the city that was so affected by World War II and the Cold War," Ching said.
However Ching said the most impactive experience of the tour was a trip to Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration/death camps.
"The students were told the devastating story of the Jews who were sent to the camps and met a horrific ending," Ching said. "Although the experience was sad, the students walked away with a deeper understanding of The Holocaust and why it is so important to teach and learn about this. This experience, along with a visit to Schlindler's Factory, left a lasting impact on the students that will stick with them for a very long time."
Brost said visiting those camps was the most impactive experience of the trip.
"It's a solemn place," Brost said. "Tour guides speak quietly through microphones and headsets as to not disturb the grounds."
Touring Berlin and learning about the East/West split was the biggest learning experience for Davis.
"Berlin really opened my eyes in the suffering of the East side and the prosperity of the West," Davis said. "In one year, gone was a united country. In its place was a country that was split between Capitalism-Democracy and a Socialist-Communism state."
Brost said the biggest learning experience for her was visiting the town of Dresden in Germany -- a city demolished by bombs in World War II but now rebuilt.
"Before, history was just a subject to study in class and get a good grade in," Brost said. "Now that I've seen it, it's no longer just sentences in a text book -- it's real. Previously, I'd never left the country, never even flown. Now the world is this magnificent place, and it's incredibly accessible to everyone."
Brost already is making plans to travel to Italy and Greece after she graduates from high school in order to "expand my world even further," she said.
For Davis, traveling is at the top of his priority list and learning history while doing so is an added bonus.
"History is always retained when it is something you can see or something you can feel -- Not just something you can read," he said. "This trip was an incredible experience that really showed me what my history books have been teaching me for the past few years. 'Daniel Ching is an awesome guy and a phenomenal teacher. Getting to experience history on a first hand basis with people is an eye-opening experience in itself."
Ching plans to take another group of students abroad next year to Sicily and Greece.