While growing up in England during the 1980s, Samantha Phillips wanted to visit certain parts of Europe but couldn’t.
Eastern Europe at the time was cut off from the rest of society and a dangerous place to go. During the Cold War, citizens on the other side of the Berlin Wall were prevented from traveling to places like Prague and Poland.
“Europe was a different place then,” said Phillips. “We just couldn’t travel there because of the constant threats.”
Because her stepfather was in the United State Air Force, the family did travel to places like Italy and Greece. There they were closer to the border, and assassinations and car bombings were an everyday occurrence.
She said the hostility was frightening, but eventually her family moved to America when she was 18 years old, just one month after the Berlin Wall fell in 1990.
Since then, Phillips has wanted to see the countries she never got to visit as a girl. Now she has her chance.
An elementary teacher at Mayfield Central School District, Phillips was one of six teachers selected to tour Eastern Europe through The Cornell Institute for European Studies’ “Getting to Know the New Europe” community outreach project.
The trip is funded though a grant from the European Union Commission to the United States. The educators will spend nine days visiting Germany, Prague, Poland and Hungary to hear lectures at local universities, take historical tours and sample what the cultures have to offer.
Phillips said her third-grade class is “absolutely thrilled” she was accepted after applying to the program.
“They wish they could come with me so they can see the places they have been learning about,” she said. “They want me to hide them in my suitcase.”
The teacher has been including in her curriculum lessons about Europe and having her class communicate via Skype with family members Phillips has in Greece and England.
The third graders also have a partner class in Romania they share project-based lessons with.
“It’s funny the things kids ask, like ‘What do you eat for lunch?’ or ‘Why are you so different from us?’ They’re curious and I’m glad I’ve instilled that in them,” said Phillips.
She has won two previous curriculum grants through Cornell University to keep her cultural lessons funded. Phillips is hoping her trip will allow her to collect newspapers, menus and artifacts to create cultural packets for next year’s class.
“I want to show them stuff written in different languages,” she said.
The teacher is looking forward to meeting a Holocaust survivor in Poland and visiting the Brandenburg Gate, the former city gate between Berlin and Germany.
“I’m thrilled I’ll be in the position to do that,” she said. “Crossing that threshold will mean a lot to me.”