Iona University’s Meghan Bernardy ’26 Deepens Cultural Awareness and Passion for Social Justice through Study Abroad Trip to Poland

Students and faculty visiting Oświęcim, Poland.

From left to right: Meghan Bernardy ’26, Hayden Skigen ’24, Alessandra Payne ’24, Hallie Schreiner ’24 , Dr. Elena Procario-Foley, Shakinah Silverberg ’24 and Dr. Melba Butler.

New Rochelle, N.Y. – Inspired by a lifelong curiosity for diverse cultures and history, Iona University’s Meghan Bernardy ’26 recently reflected on a week-long study abroad experience in Oświęcim, Poland. The program offered a unique blend of classroom knowledge and real-world exploration, focusing on the complex themes of World War II, including a visit to the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camps. For Bernardy, this experience became a profound and transformative journey.

“Studying abroad and getting to learn from different cultural standpoints has always been an important factor in my education,” she said. “My mother, since I was young, always made the idea of traveling a must to expand cultural awareness and my own personal growth,” said the speech language pathology and audiology major.

“I have always had an interest in learning about all religions, the customs each religion carries within it and how religions intertwine with each other.”

Dr. Elena Procario-Foley, Jewish-Catholic studies professor, led the trip in cooperation with the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer. During their stay in Poland, students visited the Auschwitz State Museum, toured historical sites and heard first-hand accounts from a Polish child survivor of Auschwitz.

Students and faculty visiting a market square in Oświęcim, Poland.

Viola Shala, an intern at the Center for Dialogue Prayer in Oswiecim, teaching Iona students and faculty about the history of Oswiecim.

Studying abroad, Bernardy developed a lasting sense of compassion and social justice.

“Witnessing the evidence of human suffering first-hand provided a strong feeling of empathy,” she said. “This experience educated me with a greater awareness of the consequences of discrimination and also the importance of advocating for marginalized communities, even though this was something I already felt strongly about.”

Her biggest takeaway from this trip? The importance of education and remembrance of history to prevent its recurrence.

“This was not just an academic pursuit; it was a deeply felt journey that touched on the very core of my being. When walking through the streets of Kraków and standing in the remnants of the ghettos and Auschwitz I and II, I felt my historical knowledge transform into a deeply personal understanding,” she said.

“This trip broadens global perspectives and fosters personal reflection and growth. As I move forward, these lessons and experiences will shape my actions, guiding me to live a life committed to education, remembrance and the promotion of justice and human dignity. This journey will remain a cornerstone of my identity, influencing how I engage with the world and contribute to a more compassionate and just society.” 

Read more about the trip here

Founded in 1940, Iona University is a master's-granting private, Catholic, coeducational institution of learning in the tradition of the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers. Iona's 45-acre New Rochelle campus and 28-acre Bronxville campus are just 20 miles north of Midtown Manhattan. With a total enrollment of nearly 4,000 students and an alumni base of more than 50,000 around the world, Iona is a diverse community of learners and scholars dedicated to academic excellence and the values of justice, peace and service. Iona is highly accredited, offering undergraduate degrees in liberal arts, science and business administration, as well as Master of Arts, Master of Science and Master of Business Administration degrees and numerous advanced certificate programs. Iona students enjoy small class sizes, engaged professors and a wide array of academic programs across the School of Arts & Science; LaPenta School of Business; NewYork-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences; and Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Iona is widely recognized in prestigious rankings, including The Princeton Review’s 2024 national list of “The Best 389 Colleges” and The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse’s “2024 Best Colleges in America,” which ranked Iona at #66 in the nation overall and #8 in the nation among Catholic schools. Iona’s LaPenta School of Business is also accredited by AACSB International, a recognition awarded to just six percent of business schools worldwide. In addition, The Princeton Review recognized Iona’s on-campus MBA program as a “Best Business School for 2023.” Iona also offers a fully online MBA program for even greater flexibility. In July 2021, Iona announced the establishment of the NewYork-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences, which is now principally located on Iona’s Bronxville campus in collaboration with NewYork-Presbyterian. Connecting to its Irish heritage, the University also recently announced it is expanding abroad with a new campus in County Mayo, Ireland. A school on the rise, Iona officially changed its status from College to University on July 1, 2022, reflecting the growth of its academic programs and the prestige of an Iona education.