A statue honoring the life of Anne Frank in Watergraafsmeer Amsterdam.
A statue honoring the life of Anne Frank in Watergraafsmeer, Amsterdam. Credit: FlickrCC / Poederbach

Editor’s note: The Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, hosts an invitation-only seminar every spring for teachers and students from multiple countries. This year, the Anne Frank Inspire Academy in San Antonio was selected as one of 12 international schools – and the first U.S. school – to participate.

The 2017 seminar theme was “Youth Voices Today: Exploring Identity through Creative Writing” and focused on the educational value of Anne Frank’s diary, connecting her words to classrooms around the world. In observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day, here are first-person accounts from the Anne Frank Inspiration Academy facilitator, Carrie Ross, and ninth grade student, Zoe Luca.

The Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Credit: Photo RNW.org / Creative Commons

Thoughts from Carrie Ross (Anne Frank Inspire Academy Facilitator)

I have always wanted to travel internationally. The cultures, ethnic food, and historic locations have piqued my interest for as long as I can remember. Back in college, I was this close to spending a semester abroad in Cork, Ireland. Through a series of unfortunate events, my passport was packed away in a keepsake box, and a few years later I entered the field of education working to open up worlds of possibilities for my students through teaching literature. Looking back now, it seems almost serendipitous that I would find myself drawn to San Antonio’s Anne Frank Inspire Academy and have the chance to dig out that old passport and dust it off.

Reading The Diary of Anne Frank as a young girl, the prose Anne wrote, which elicited such youthful earnestness and a timeless evocation of wisdom and worldly understanding, spoke to me and helped me find an escape during a time when I struggled with self-identity and angst. The beauty of the diary’s words helped me see the beauty in the world and in myself. Now, as an adult, I finally had the opportunity to go to Amsterdam, bring that beauty back, and use it as a mirror for my students to see their own beauty and potential in.

I tried to prepare myself for the myriad of emotions I would undergo while there, but nothing can quite prepare you for self-discovery and personal growth. There I was, a girl from a small town in Texas, walking the same streets and floors as Anne Frank, visiting the same bookstore where she bought her diary, and later hearing the stories shared between the other seminar participants, educators, and students from countries I only dreamed of visiting.

Two of the favorite people I met were Manal and her student, Diaa. Both were Syrian refugees who had come to the Netherlands in search of a new life. When the students performed a piece they had written, “What I would pack if I were to leave home,” Diaa told the story of when he actually had to make that choice. All he could take was water and bread wrapped in a little bag – I can’t even imagine. Then there was Manal, who spoke of a school in her hometown in Syria where she was an administrator. In my school, our students have the freedom to listen to music because it’s fun, but for Manal, playing music for her students was one of the only ways to help them feel safe and concentrate as it drowned out the sound of planes flying overhead and bombs exploding nearby.

I am happy to be back home on familiar ground, but there are many things about Amsterdam that I miss. I miss the efficient public transportation. I loved being able to walk out of the place I was staying in, pop on the metro to Central Station, and take a tram or city bus wherever I wanted to go. I could have even taken a train to explore another country if I’d had the time to do so. I miss the beautiful symphony of those moving around by bike, the city highways and roads built in tandem with access for greener modes of travel. Most of all, I miss the eternal hopefulness in the face of adversity that you get when you’re in a bubble of like-minded individuals who believe in the inherent goodness and possibility of young people. With that in mind, I am ready to begin the real work of ensuring my students know the power they carry inside of them.

It would not do to let these lessons and experiences go to waste. In the coming months I hope to lay the groundwork for collaboration and exchange programs with one or more of the educators from the international schools we visited with. This will allow our students opportunities to expand their world view and engage in critical skills such as global communication and empathy. Additionally, the Anne Frank Inspire Academy would like to host a symposium in the fall designed specifically for students to share their writing, ideas about their identity, and their plans to effect change. With all of this in mind, now it’s time for the real work to begin.

Thoughts from Zoe Luca (Anne Frank Inspire Academy High School Student)

I was so excited to be in Amsterdam and at the Anne Frank House. For me, things started slowly with a talk about Anne’s life, which we had already studied at length back at school, but after the first lecture, we toured the Anne Frank House and the amazing reality sank in. I got to walk on the same floors Anne walked on and look at the same walls she looked at. I can’t imagine what it would be like if something like that happened to my family today.

Things continued to pick up further when we went walking about the city. Everyone in Amsterdam either rides their bike or uses public transportation everywhere they go and very few people even own a car. On multiple occasions I was almost hit by a herd of bikes as I am not used to them being there. Even with all these differences, Amsterdam has one big thing in common with San Antonio: the fact that it has its own unique culture made up of many.

My favorite part of the trip was at the end of each day when a little group of students went to one of our rooms and just hung out for an hour or two. In the little time we had, I got to know quite a few people fairly well. I actually learned more about their culture than I did the Dutch culture. And, of course, my least favorite part of the trip was when I had to leave everyone. We had all just gotten to know each other and then we had to leave. It was hard because we probably won’t see each other anytime soon. However, I did get phone numbers and social media contact information, and we have made plans to send each other little baskets of our home country’s snacks.

Now, at the end of the trip looking back, I can say with confidence that it was really fun. We did all sorts of teamwork games, and everyone was very open to others’ opinions on different topics. I learned so much about how to write poetry and how to use my voice to make change happen. Before, I wanted to travel, but after getting the opportunity to do so, traveling the world is a must for me. I need to experience the world and share those stories with others.

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Carrie Ross

Carrie Ross is an educator with eight years of experience at the Anne Frank Inspire Academy High School where she teaches English and creative writing. She pursues various avenues of hobbies, but, above...

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Zoe Luca

Zoe Luca is a ninth grade student at the Anne Frank Inspire Academy High School, where she serves as the Freshman class president. When she’s not studying, she enjoys baking and reading. Zoe hopes to...