Kayla Schum

It was clear the moment we arrived that Prague was a beautiful city. The moments that are most memorable to me were the excursions we took to St. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral Crypt and the village of Lidice. We learned about Operation Anthropoid and the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, one of the highest-ranking Nazi officials killed during World War II. The crypt was the hiding place of Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš as well as five other paratroopers in the aftermath of Heydrich’s assassination. Hitler laid siege to the cathedral once he was made aware that the soldiers were hiding there. The bullet holes and water damage from that siege have been left so that they can be seen and never forgotten. Now the crypt is lit and contains bronze reliefs and memorial offerings. We were given the opportunity to stand in the crypt with all of the lights turned off, as the soldiers had done. The only light that came from a small window was too dim to make much difference. In an instant, we lost sight of each other. Our time in the darkness lasted only a moment, but it seemed to compel us all to silence. The darkness meant dread and loss.

Loss is what led me to be standing in another country. At first, I just wanted to experience another culture, but was worried about getting approval and support for studying abroad. I approached a high school history teacher that I had been close to and had kept in touch with. I got to know Mr. Friend closely when I joined the mock trial team he advised. My parents had also gotten to know Mr. Friend well, as my older siblings also had him as an instructor. I knew my parents could trust his advice as much as I trusted it. Mr. Friend was delighted to hear about my interest in studying abroad and highly recommended Prague because it is a beautiful city that is rich with history. This was one of the last conversations I was able to have with him. Mr. Friend passed away on October 16th, 2016. For several weeks after his passing I would have moments where I would be doing a task and I’d suddenly think about his passing. I’d become too upset to continue what I was doing. I think the regret was the worst part. The regret of not talking to him more. Regret for not being able to go to his funeral. Soon it was feeling regret every time I realized I uttered “is” instead of “was” when sharing stories about him.

Suddenly the lights flashed on. The darkness was gone but the story had not ended. To finish the story, we traveled to Lidice. Before the soldier’s location was discovered, Hitler retaliated aggressively for Heydrich’s assassination and ordered the liquidation of Lidice. Nazis had nearly succeeded in completely removing all traces of the village. At first all we saw was an open field with a few trees and a single path. We walked quietly as we listened to our guide share the destruction that had occurred. We started at a small pile of rocks; somebody’s home. We passed the site where all of the men, ages fifteen and older, had been buried after the massacre. We came upon the remains of foundations; the school and church, marked by a statue of a mourning mother and child. The sense of loss was palpable as we walked through the ruins. At the end, the path led us into a rose garden memorial. Roses donated from all over the world shattered the feeling of emptiness from the village. I released a sigh I had not realized I had been holding and I felt the sadness lift away.

More than seventy-five years since these tragic events, Czech citizens still pay their respects and decorate the memorials. It was truly beautiful seeing how this community had come together, pulled themselves up from such devastation and embraced the loss. The sense of loss was familiar. I, too had to learn to embrace loss. As I think about those moments in Prague, I smile and thank Mr. Friend. I cared little about history as I learned it in high school, yet it is the historical aspects from my experience abroad that have stuck with me the most. After returning home, I noticed that, while I still miss him, the pain I felt from Mr. Friend’s passing is no longer with me.

   SUNY Geneseo alumna and Endicott, NY resident, Kayla Schum ’19 is currently pursuing her childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian. Two days after graduating with her B.S. in Biology, she began a pre-veterinary internship through Animal Care Sanctuary in East Smithfield, PA. Her love for this organization led to continued volunteering when the internship ended and then employment in their community clinic as a vet assistant. She accepted an offer of admission and will attend Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine as a member in the DVM Class of 2025.

    A conversation with a beloved high school teacher about her interest in broadening her educational perspective led her to pursue SUNY Geneseo’s summer study abroad program Humanities II in Prague and Vienna directed by Dr. Cynthia Klima. Her experiences abroad in Prague and Vienna expanded her long-term career interests of microbiology, dermatology, and shelter medicine to also include pursuing veterinary international opportunities (e.g. One Health, World Vets, Veterinarians Without Borders, etc.).

    Pawdme Amidala (pictured with Kayla), as well as many other furry companions are patiently waiting at Animal Care Sanctuary for their “furever” homes! Help support animal shelters: Adopt a rescue. If you can’t adopt, foster. If you can’t foster, volunteer. If you can’t volunteer, donate. If you can’t donate, help promote their social media pages through likes and sharing! Any and every kind of contribution is incredibly helpful and appreciated. Photo credit: Kayla Schum