Young people studying abroad have the opportunity to mark a unique anniversary this year. The centenary of the First World War is a solemn but illuminating time to remember lives lost so long ago, the causes and consequences surrounding such loss of life, and to ponder the legacy of the war. This is a particularly apt chance for students studying abroad in France or Belgium; they have the opportunity to genuinely appreciate the nature of the trenches and pierce the veil of the misguided romance and sense of antiquity that engulfs a time that should not be forgotten.

Visiting battlefields now silent

There are several battlefields of note worth visiting. Perhaps the most moving and solemn is that of Ypres, where for 86 years buglers have been sounding the Last Post at the Menin Gate in an effort to maintain the memory of the sacrifice and service of those who died 100 years ago. Expert agree that students studying abroad who can appreciate the effect the battles of Ypres had on the war and subsequently on European history, will gain a fuller understanding not only of modern history, but also of the grievous costs of war. This in turn puts in perspective the values and privileges experienced in students’ own lives. A visit to the Menin Gate will be instrumental in making the war more personal and its impact more immediate for young visitors.

Another place to include on such a pilgrimage is Tyne Co, near Passchendale, a site of history and calamitous battles. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery houses 11,956 burial plots. This city of silence is a sobering reminder to young people studying abroad, as they contemplate a loss of life on a scale scarcely imaginable. Not far from there, in Belgium, students should take a chance to visit the infamous Flanders Fields, where the trench wars of attrition shaped both the fortunes of the war and the extent of deaths. Time spent on Hill 62 will certainly give students a thorough experience of trench warfare. Educational experts say the museums that preserve and replicate the intensity of the trenches give students an emotional taste of what it might have been like for the soldiers in those troubled times.

Students who take the opportunity to visit these sombre sites will, say experts from STS, leave with a more thorough understanding of the important history and legacy of France and Belgium in the war.


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