Lyon students celebrated the centennial of the Treaty of Versailles on their Nichols Trip to France and Germany, studying the causes and consequences of World War I.
The Nichols International Studies Program provides financial assistance to students so they can take two-week long Nichols Trips led by Lyon faculty, studying abroad while earning college credit.
Led by Associate Professor of English Dr. Wesley Beal and Assistant Professor of Romance Languages Dr. James Martell, the trip was designed to study and experience the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles, which brought World War I to an end when it was signed in June 1919.
The group began in Paris, traveled to Verdun and Strasbourg in northeastern France, and concluded the trip in Berlin.
“We got to see the living history in places like the Palace of Versailles and the Hall of Mirrors where the treaty was signed,” Martell said. “In Strasbourg, you feel the German and French influences. It’s a French city now, but the food is very germanized.”
“By the time we were in Berlin, we were thinking more about World War II and the after-effects of World War I,” Beal said.
Most of the students had taken French courses at Lyon and got to immerse themselves in the language.
“They get this experience and get to practice the language, which increases their interest in it,” Martell said.
Raleigh Jeffrey, a French major, said the opportunity is what drew him to the trip.
“As soon as I heard that we were going to France, I was instantly on board,” Jeffrey said. “My favorite moment was having a picnic at the base of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. We found a great spot and visited about our goals for the trip overall.”
After each day of the trip, students posted reflections describing their experiences to social media, tagged #AllLyonOnTheWesternFront.
“The main goal was understanding the conflicts that caused the war,” Martell said, “and they got to reflect on how they can relate that to the present.”
“Seeing these places in person where the world wars actually happened was incomparable to anything I’ve experienced before,” Jeffrey said.
Visiting battle cities like Verdun was phenomenal, Beal said, because students witnessed the damage left behind.
“On the first day of what turned out to be a nine-month battle, Germany dropped 2 million shells on Verdun,” he said. “There are rolling hills formed by violent dents in the land, many of which are head-level.”
“It was surreal to see how the earth is still terraformed from the bombings that happened just over 100 years ago,” Jeffrey said. “That really humbled me personally.”
“Towns disappeared and not because they were abandoned,” Beal said. “They were bombed into nothing. There are no ruins left.”
For several students, this trip was their first time leaving the United States.
“These exposures to foreign language, urban environments, and dense public transit have a high impact for a lot of students,” Beal said. “That’s one of the great things Nichols Trips provide.”
Jeffrey said he left the trip with a better understanding of how World War I and II affected the cultures of France and Germany.
“The Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Berlin had the biggest impact on me,” he said. “A lot of the camp has been kept in tact, and it was very eye-opening.”
“They really saw the history of the area- how alive it was and, in some ways, how recent it was,” Martell said.