By Chad Dryden
Imagine spending the week of Christmas in a tiny village in the Swiss Alps; or viewing priceless Van Goghs in an Amsterdam museum; or walking the Seine in Paris with loved ones in hand.
Sound like a dream come true? It was for the Hook family of Kent, who recently returned from a five-month stay in Geneva, Switzerland that witnessed many a lesson both taught and learned.
The impetus for the trip was certainly educational. Steve, a Kent State University political science professor specializing in international relations, was participating in a study abroad program that takes KSU students to Geneva home to the World Trade Organization and the European headquarters of the United Nations for classes in economics, political science and French.
Steve taught comparative foreign policy, conducted research and supervised the students. He also visited six countries and 15 major cities with his wife Debra-Lynn, a columnist for Knight Ridder newspapers, and their three children, Chris, 14, Emily, 10, and Benjamin, 5.
It feels like a dream, Debra-Lynn said about the trip. The experience the kids got there was invaluable.
Hearing Steve and Debra-Lynn speak, it seems the experience was just as valuable for the adults.
Just walking the streets of Paris, Amsterdam and Rome, you really get a feel for the culture of Europe, Steve said. You get a sense theyre people with very different customs.
Customs certainly presented challenges for the Hooks, particularly in terms of going through them in airports. Think the logistics of moving a family of five to Europe for half a year would be stress-inducing? It was.
It was a borderline nightmare, Debra-Lynn said. It was quite a sight going through customs in New York City. We had 10 maximum-size boxes on five carts. It was pretty daunting.
That said, it comes as no surprise that the Hooks spent months preparing for the trip. From sending the family cat to a friends farm, to arranging for a house sitter, to taking care of finances while they were gone, Steve and Debra-Lynn had plenty of loose ends to tie up. Luckily, they had modern technology on their side.
Thank goodness for electronic debits, Steve said. We had our finances on automatic pilot.
While getting there was not necessarily half the fun, the Hooks made up for it in Geneva by combining business with pleasure. On weekdays, with Steve tending to his responsibilities for the study abroad program, Debra-Lynn worked on her newspaper columns and home-schooled the children. On weekends, the family explored Europe by train, always with education in mind.
All the traveling we did was very educational for the kids, Debra-Lynn said. They do well in school. Their teachers said just go, let Europe be the classroom.
And that they did. The Hooks travels took them to centuries-old castles and cathedrals, some of Europes finest museums and one unforgettable trip to a concentration camp.
The concentration camp was a real eye-opening experience, Debra-Lynn said. I think it was very valuable for the kids to see up close something theyve only read and heard about.
For Steve and Debra-Lynn, their eye-opening experience came from being strangers in a strange land.
In the United States, there are tons of minorities now I know what it must be like, Debra-Lynn said. It was very humbling. We kept telling the kids, we are guests in another persons home and we have to respect their norms.
Despite the Hooks polite disposition, they were not immune to the anti-American attitudes spreading through Europe. Even for a professor of international relations, this was hard to swallow.
I was prepared for a certain degree of anti-Americanism and hostility toward our government and its foreign policy, but I was still shocked by how many people are opposed to what were doing, Steve said.
Thankfully for the Hooks, most of the surprises were pleasant ones. For Steve, one of them came in a golden flash of pride.
In Geneva, I was surprised by how well-known Kent State University is, he said. (The study abroad program) is a great outreach for the university.
The entire family, meanwhile, was surprised with the heroes welcome they received upon returning home last month.
Friends and neighbors baked cookies, decorated their home and stocked their fridge with food.
We just couldnt get over it, Debra-Lynn said. We had many dinners to go to welcoming us back. The idea of leaving and coming back to that, it made me really glad to live in Kent, Ohio.