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Pateros grad explores art, history in Europe

Study abroad trip included lessons about war, culture

— History, music and performance arts – Europe has all three in abundance, and one Pateros graduate recently took full advantage of her school’s study abroad program to experience them.

“It was incredible,” Lena Howe said of her semester spent primarily in France, Austria and Switzerland.

Howe, 19, arrived home on Tuesday. In August, she’ll start school again at Principia College in Illinois as a junior, studying mass communications and music. She graduated in 2011 from Pateros High School.

Going abroad is something Howe always hoped to do.

“I originally wanted to go to Greece and Turkey, but this one just seemed like the right one” because of its performance arts focus, Howe, a dancer and flutist, said.

Before leaving for the nearly two-month long trip, students took six weeks of intensive classes to start, cramming in dance history, music history, 20th century Europe and more.

The trip itself was all about applying the new knowledge to famous historical sites and music and dance performances.

“It’s like learning about history through the arts,” Howe said. “When you know what you’re looking at, you get a lot more out of the experience.”

For instance, the 14-student class visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. They helped raise and lower the American flags during a rendition of “Taps” and saw the beach where the World War II invasion occurred.

The group also spent a day in Bratislava, Slovakia, a tour that paired with Communism lessons.

“Going to Normandy and visiting the American cemetery was really touching, and I think it affected a lot of the group,” she said. “I have a lot more pride being American.”

There was a difference, however, in how the French cities viewed the United States’ role in the war.

“It was interesting to see how the World War museums in Normandy praised the Americans for saving the world, freed France from occupied Germany and recognized many heroes,” while a Parisian museum “hardly gave any recognition to the Americans for their contribution,” Howe said.

While there wasn’t a lot of homework, Howe said the students were required to keep journals of all their newfound knowledge and experiences, from the sewer system in Paris to more than 20 performances at opera houses in Zurich, Switzerland; Paris, and Vienna, Austria.

“It was intense,” she said with a laugh. “But it (the journal) was really helpful to have, because there’s no way I could remember everything I did.”

Howe recalled taking a ballet class at a world-renowned school in Paris.

“It was kind of nerve-racking, because they’re professional dancers” and she and her classmates hadn’t danced in months, she said.

When the students were given a choice one day of what they’d like to see, Howe and only one other person chose to explore the catacombs of Paris, a grim museum of the dead beneath the city and its subway system.

The catacombs are filled with the bones of about 6 million Parisians who were buried for centuries in overflowing cemeteries within the city limits. The remains were moved to the catacombs in the late 18th century.

“It was freaky and awesome,” Howe said, calling the catacombs “muggy and wet.

“I learned a lot of history about Parisians. There are some famous people whose bones are still down there.”

The group also toured art museums such as the Louvre in Paris, and visited cathedrals, the United Nations and one of Beethoven’s houses in Vienna, royal palaces, Jewish museums and a Jewish ghetto in Eisenstadt, Austria, left over from the Holocaust.

Another high point was seeing live ballet and classical music performances.

“A lot of performances were spectacular,” Howe said. “We saw ‘Swan Lake,’ which I’ve wanted to see since I was a little girl.”

Other shows they saw included “Aida,” “Madama Butterfly,” “Ballet II” and “Hansel and Gretel.”

At the KKL Lucerne in Switzerland, which Howe said is the best concert hall in the world for acoustics, she watched a famous conductor and piano soloist perform pieces from composers Mozart and Franz Schubert.

“Europeans rarely give standing ovations,” she said. “At this particular performance, it was the only instance where they gave a standing ovation and they would not stop clapping.”

As for other differences between Europeans and Americans, Howe dispelled the stereotype that Parisians are unfriendly after her group went to a cafe after dance class one day with a French-speaking professor.

Not only did the owner open the cafe to serve the students, she said, he left them alone in his shop while he went to pick up his daughter from ballet class.

“They’re trustworthy and very nice,” she said.

The students tried a variety of European cuisine – a lot of cheese, chocolate, desserts and bread, Howe said. She even tried escargots, the infamous French delicacy of snails glazed with a garlic and butter sauce.

“It was really good, actually,” she said.

The students couldn’t escape everything American, though: They ended up eating at McDonald’s several times.

“We didn’t come to Europe to eat at McDonald’s,” she said.

Although Howe likely won’t do another study abroad program, she’d like to see Germany and experience more history from the World War II era.

“I have more interest learning about global perspectives” after the trip, she said.

“It was majorly eye-opening to see what’s out there and what more we can do to help.”

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