POLAHS Travel Diaries #3: Studies on WWII in Normandy

Starting in New Orleans at The National WWII Museum, students get an up-close view of the weapons, gear, and materials used in Normandy. A selection of high school yearbooks from the war years allow participants to uncover how young students assisted in the war efforts. WWII veterans meet with the students, sharing how their world changed following Pearl Harbor. The experience brings to life the sacrifices and strategies of America’s campaign to defeat the Axis powers and preserve our nation’s freedom.

Students continue their travels in France, where they begin with a tour of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame Cathedral. Next, they continue to the medieval city of Bayeux, centrally located within Normandy’s battlefields. At Omaha Beach, students learn the stories of Brigadier General Norman Cota, Colonel George Taylor, and Lieutenant John Spalding, who were instrumental in rallying the troops off of the beach and up the bluffs under heavy fire. Along the way, students are asked to examine, analyze, and evaluate the decisions made during the campaign. Which bridges should be taken? Were the paratroopers used effectively? What altitudes and flight paths should the bombers take? The discussions prompted by these questions are critical in the development of each student’s academic, citizenship, and leadership potential.




My name is Arelyz Marin-Matienzo, and I was selected by the POLAHS History Department to attend the WWII Normandy Academy! I am currently a senior, and spend a lot of my time playing volleyball and cheering for the school. Additionally, I am President of the M.E.Ch.A Club (which promotes higher education for Chicanos, Hispanics, and Latinos).


When I first heard about the Normandy Academy opportunity, it immediately struck me that I might be able to study abroad. The trip would allow me to see unique sites in France, while diving deeper into the history of WWII (more than my history class could ever cover). By talking to the previous recipient of the scholarship, Kendall Dimson, I was able to get a glimpse of what this trip consisted of. I fell in love with the idea of attending, and talked with my teachers and parents to work on the steps needed to submit my application. I was honored to be selected!


Due to unexpected flooding in Louisiana, our flights were cancelled and booked for the next day, making my stay in Louisiana only two days. Despite this, it didn’t stop me from having a wonderful time in the city. After getting settled into our hotels on the first day, our group headed towards the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. There we got to view artifacts from the war such as bomber jackets and guns. My favorite part of New Orleans was getting a tour of the French Quarter. There we saw beautiful architecture and the liveliness of the people. The city was filled with music, dancing, and lots of culture. At the end of the day, we went to a restaurant to try authentic Cajun food, which I loved. We even got to try New Orleans signature dessert, beignets!


By the time we were flying to France, I had already made so many new friends that I knew I would keep for a lifetime. With my group, we traveled to many significant battlefields and locations during WWII. One memory that I will hold close to my heart is when we went to the American WWII Cemetery. It is so eye-opening to see the thousands of tombstones across a vast area of land.The academy instructors gave us a rose to place on top of any tomb we wanted. I put mine on Allison Bliss, a woman soldier during this time. The place was spiritually heavy but I thought it was really important for our group to recognize the sacrifices the soldiers made in order to protect us.Another location I found interesting was the Bayeux Cathedral, a church built over 1000 years ago, and was right next to our hotel. It was nice to see church so far away from home and with its intricate designs I was amazed. France is also where we got the best food. I went as far as trying escargot for the first time and it was delicious. What I liked most about the dinners was getting to desserts. France is especially known for their macaroons and crepes, and the bakery is where I spent most of my money.


Before our trip started, we were given three books to read and accomplish assignments, which were due on a Google classroom. These assignments allowed us to have a deeper understanding of the places we were going to see and the people we were going to talk to. Work and some light reading were due every week up until the day of the trip. During our stay abroad, we had to work with our roommate to create a final project. Our project was to create a tour builder, including daily video diaries about the activities we did every day, and how it all connected to WWII.


The greatest aspect of my trip was definitely the new friends I made. Once I got there, many people had been traveling alone, so everyone was in the same boat of looking for friends. I instantly clicked with my new best friend, Ashley. We bonded so much over the course of ten days, you would think we had known each other forever. I am so glad that this trip allowed me to make friends outside of my bubble in California and I will forever be grateful for the memories I will never forget.



Words cannot explain my gratitude for being able to attend this trip of a lifetime. I have brought home so many inspiring stories that would not have been possible without your generosity.I'm excited to see the next student who is blessed with your philanthropy.History is a concept that is crucial to our knowledge in making future decisions. Not everyone realizes the importance of this war and how it changed our lives for the better. Through this trip I’ve heard stories from the discriminated ones, the soldiers, and resistance fighters. Each one different and each one significant.Because of this trip, I can say that I have become more open minded to the problems not only around the world, but even across the US.Also, being exposed to a totally different culture was very fascinating to me and it's definitely not something you see every day in Los Angeles! Thank you a million times for your generosity that got me where I am today!

Lots of Love,