Thursday, 19 November 2015

Lessons Learned as a Harlaxton Lion: Being a Global Citizen is Hard

So I’ve gone back and forth quite a bit the past couple of weeks, knowing that this blog post was due and I’d soon have to decide on a topic. That struggle continued until this past weekend. Obviously I’d much rather write to you about something cheery like how the Irish have the cutest accents and there’s a bookshop in Dublin called The Winding Stair that is simply magical, but this isn’t about what I want. And that theme of responsibility vs. desire is something that will carry through this revelation of a 19-year-old Kentucky nothing who has just come in contact with what it means to be a global citizen.

First I must start by saying that I was not in Paris this weekend; I was there just a month ago (almost to the day) with my parents. This past weekend I spent in Dublin with one of my best friends, fulfilling yet another lifelong dream by visiting Ireland. Friday was the day we decided to visit the Cliffs of Moher (wow), and just as we began our journey back to Dublin on the train the first two Facebook posts about the attacks were posted. There was a space between those posts and when all the responses flooded in that I can describe only as blank airtime—a moment similar to a television program suddenly stopping and leaving nothing but an eerie quiet where noise used to be. I didn’t quite know how to take it; even after finding out everyone was safe, there was both a terrible fear for what had happened and also an incredible relief for the safety of my friends and myself.

What was just as terrifying as these tragic acts though was what I saw on our way back to Harlaxton. While riding the Underground back to Kings Cross I sat across from a young couple, not much older than me. I watched as they shared a newspaper between them, and in turn, got to see how casually they were able to flip through images of the missing and dead. People with faces and names and stories coolly and literally flipped through, carrying as much weight as the paper itself did. This was just as painful, at least to me, as hearing and reading about the attacks themselves. Because I could no longer say that it was just the people who committed these acts who lacked humanity, it was normal people too—people like this young couple, people like me.

I have never realized the extent of how completely unaware and ignorant I was to world events until now. It is so easy to push away all the sorrowful compassion when you’re physically removed from where it is all taking place. It is so incredibly—frighteningly—simple to ignore all the bad when you don’t have names and faces to search for when things like this happen. But that isn’t okay. And even now I am struggling with this. Even with something so close to me, even with the names and the faces of my classmates swirling in my mind—what could have happened to them, what did happen to people just like them, just like me—I am still fighting my instinct to brush off this grief and turn back on the numbness I got so accustomed to wearing at home. As much as I’d like to push this past weekend out of my consciousness—push it away from my everyday thinking and distance myself,
physically and mentally, from it, I know I can’t do that. I am called to be a global citizen. Now, more than ever, we are called to be global citizens.

Being a global citizen isn’t for the faint of heart. Being a global citizen means pushing against all the parts of you that wish, selfishly, but quite humanly, to shut out the negativity and the bad. Being a global citizen means taking your part in the world—rejoicing over justice being served, speaking out when it is not, and grieving for moments like this one where it is easy to feel there is no justice. Being a global citizen is our responsibility, as humans, but specifically as Harlaxton Lions. We were each brought here for different reasons: some desired travel, some hungered for something new, some simply longed for this once in a lifetime opportunity because it was just that. But whatever the reason(s) that brought us each here, we all leave with the knowledge that we are responsible. We are a part of this planet and that does carry weight. This load—to care, to create change, to do—is not an easy one to bear, but that’s alright, because we bear it together.

Written by: Rachael Doyel

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Day We Will Never Forget

I traveled independently with two friends to Paris this weekend.  Let me start off by saying, the day was wonderful.  You tend to hear reports when tragic events happen how the day started off like any other day and then about the tragedy afterward.  This was no ordinary day though; I had been dreaming of going to Paris since I was a little girl.  This was one of two trips that were "musts" for me and I couldn't have been more ecstatic!  Seriously, I have no idea how many times I said to my friends, "guys, we're in Paris!".  We started the day off meeting up with another friend at Sacre Coeur, making our way to see Moulin Rouge, then the Arc de Triumph, going all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and seeing Notre Dame, and then the Louvre at night.  Through these events, of course we were careful, especially with the stereotype of pickpockets in Paris, but I never felt unsafe.  There were police at almost all of these sites, and if anything, that made me feel safer. It was an event filled day and up until that point, it was one of my favorite days since being in Europe. We left the Louvre right before 9:00, made our way back to the hotel the school was staying at for our friends to drop some stuff off, and we all went out for dinner.  It took us a while to walk there, but nothing really seemed unusual.  I know some basic French and I didn't hear anything around me unusual, let alone see panicked people.  We made our way to Chipotle and enjoyed our first real Mexican meal since being in Europe.  Laughing, having a good time, and glad we were finally eating, we had no idea that bombs, shootings, and hostage situations were happening all around Paris. 

We were all tired and knew we needed to get up early the next morning, so the friends that went with the school trip and those of us who traveled independently said our goodbyes and parted ways.  We boarded the metro, just ready to go to sleep once we got back.  It was about a twenty minute train ride, and right at the end, my friend Natalie got a call from our friend Anabel, who was staying back at Harlaxton.  Dismissing it, and not sure exactly how she was getting the call without wifi, we waited to answer until we got to our flat.  The phone kept ringing though.  We definitely thought this was strange, but it was a two minute walk, no big deal.  As we walked into our flat, Natalie answered and on the other line was an extremely panicked voice asking if we were okay and if we were all alive.  "Yeah…" we answered, "why?"  And that's when we heard. 

All three of us were frozen in shock.  Natalie had to have Anabel repeat it several times because it wasn't registering.  When Natalie told us, she only mentioned the shootings, and while I was shocked and saddened, it didn't seem like that big of a deal at the time.  Later I came to realize that it speaks more to how much gun violence we have in the US to the point that yes, it's sad, but it's made many of us desensitized to the horror that a shooting really is.  Then, more information started flowing in, many shootings, a hostage situation, and bombs.  What in the world?

We turned on the TV and found an English news station and were horrified at the images, numbers, and sayings on the screen.  We were scared.  We realized we were very close to some of those areas that day and some of our friends were even closer right now.  What made it worse was that all the places attacked were soft targets.  These were places that we went on holiday, that normal everyday Parisians and tourists alike visited on a daily basis. A soccer stadium.  A concert venue.  A bar.  Restaurants.  These were people living their lives and having fun on a "normal" Friday night. 

The three of us gathered on the couch, contacting everyone who had sent us messages, all while watching TV keeping up to date where the latest attack was, and praying for safety.   For those who contacted us, and I'm speaking on behalf of everyone at Harlaxton, we thank you.  We thank you for your prayers, your messages, your thoughts, and your concerns.  It really makes you realize how loved you are.  Throughout the weekend there were countless stories of people telling of both close friends and family checking on them and of people who they hadn't talked to in years contacting them to make sure they were okay, both from students who were in Paris and elsewhere.

I have to say, I was impressed with how the school handled the situation (and they're not requiring me to say that, paying me, or anything else like that, that's my honest opinion).  Those who were on the school trip were all accounted for, but they went through the Alpha list of students who were anywhere in Europe to check to make sure they were alright.  For us, we were soon in contact with the Principal of the College, Dr. Seaman, who was also in Paris with the school, and he helped us walk through what we needed to be doing.  They contacted the American Embassy for us.  They kept us informed about what was happening in Paris and how the students were doing.  They helped us figure out our best plan of action both for events with the school and by ourselves, and they did that for each of the groups traveling independently in Paris.  I could not be more thankful for the College I am studying abroad with for all their help through this time.

I was also impressed with how France responded.  The first bombs went off right about 9:00 and by 10:30, they had 1,500 troops in Paris.  This city refused to be knocked down.  At the hotel the school-organized travelers were staying at, they had an armed guard guarding the front door to keep them safe.  We heard many ambulances go by all weekend long as Parisians took care of their people. Paris leapt into action, didn't leave room for any chances, and did everything they could.

The next morning we got up to video chat into the school's meeting about plans going forward.  The metro was still closed from the night's events (it probably closed just seconds after we got off that night), and therefore we didn't have a way to get to the hotel that morning.  The administrators and staff decided with much deliberation that the students with the school would make the original travel plans to go back on Sunday.  The independent travelers continued to be in contact with the administrators and staff to decide what our next steps would be.

My friends and I continued to watch the news all while discussing what to do next.  We were already starting to go a little stir crazy in our flat and had very minimal food, so we knew we were going to have to go out and hopefully find something.  With all this, we decided to meet up with our friends at the school's hotel to have safety in numbers, to talk, and to continue going through this together.  In the city it was eerily quiet, people were definitely on edge, and had solemn faces as they walked around the streets.  Nearly everything was closed, all tourist attractions, many markets, restaurants, and shops.  When we found an open place and sat down for lunch, I couldn't help but think about those who had lost their lives doing this same thing the night before.  I can't shake the feeling that at some point during the day, I may have seen one of the 129 people who died, let alone one of the 99 who were in critical condition, or one of the 352 more that were wounded.  This affected me and many people I know, yet we didn't even know anyone who was hurt so I can't even begin to imagine what their friends and families are feeling.  I am thankful none of the Harlaxton students were harmed and our deepest sympathies are still with and in Paris because we left a part of our hearts there with them. 

Just last week I was reminded of why I came to Harlaxton in the first place: yes, I came to travel, but even more so, I came to live my life, because life is short and I want to experience as much as I can.  My dad told me not to let this weekend's events keep me from traveling for the rest of the semester (or ever, for that matter).  I honestly had hesitations when he said that, but when I reminded myself of why I came to Harlaxton I was encouraged.  Yes, there is the possibility that another attack could happen somewhere, but if I live my life in fear, is that really living?

This weekend each one of us studying at Harlaxton grew up a little bit more.  We hug a little more.  We are there for each other a little more.  We are going through this together.  It's going to be a process moving on in everyday life, just like in Paris.  We won't ever be the same, and that's okay.  My hope is that we grow from this separately and together.

I realize I am only relaying one story of the forty or so students that were in Paris this weekend, let alone the professors/administrators that were there, or the students who were not but were concerned for us, and that is just those at Harlaxton.  This weekend we were all a part of history; it'll be a day we never forget.  

Written by: Kristen Sanders

Thursday, 12 November 2015

It's Okay to Take a Break

I knew coming into this semester that I would only be here at Harlaxton for 15 weeks. In my mind, that meant I had the opportunity to travel to 15 different places in Europe. I’m over here, I might as well take every opportunity I can and try to see as much as I can!

Students who previously studied at Harlaxton had warned me that it’s smart to give yourself 1 or 2 weeks to rest throughout the semester without traveling. I thought that was crazy! I didn’t want to “waste a weekend” when I could go to Germany to just stay in Grantham. It seemed like a waste in my mind.

But, boy was I wrong.

I packed my schedule from day 1. I started traveling on the first weekend, and haven’t given myself a week off yet. 11 weeks straight of trains, airplanes, walking tours, hostels (some nicer than others), sleeping in the airport, and taxi rides. It all sounds glamorous when you talk about traveling to Barcelona, Rome, Dublin, Scotland, Greece, Germany, Austria, and France-but it’s not as “easy” as it may seem.

Traveling is exhausting to say the least. It’s hard to factor in all of the hours you will spend in transport just to get to a different country, even though it may appear to be close and accessible. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed each and every weekend I have spent traveling, but giving myself one week to relax would’ve been nice.

Don’t see “taking a weekend off” as wasting a weekend. See it as a chance to relax, recharge, and appreciate this experience. On weekday afternoons when I don’t have much homework and have some free time, I always catch myself thinking about how lucky we all are to be living these experiences. This semester is our chance to be selfish, and do things that make us happy.

Remember that it’s okay to take a break. You’re not wasting time by giving yourself some time to relax and just breathe.

Monday, 9 November 2015

The Little Things Might Just Be the Best Things

When traveling, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to see as much as possible, especially big tourist attractions you’ve grown up hearing about and can’t wait to see for yourself. Seeing Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower was awesome, but some of my best travel memories so far are the spontaneous, little things I’ve done in different places.

I’m always going to remember seeing the castle in Edinburgh for the first time, and how beautiful it was with the sun setting behind it, but I’ll also remember the picnic dinner I had with my best friend in our hotel room the last night we were there after a long day of walking and sightseeing. When I think of London, I’ll think about going there the weekend before my birthday, getting cupcakes in King’s Cross Station, and eating them outside The British Library. When I think about going to Bath, I’ll remember seeing the Roman Baths, but also going to The Fashion Museum and trying on Victorian-era clothing, laughing at how I looked, and marveling at how people dressed like that every day.

It’s easy to go somewhere and do the things you’ve established that you want to do. You can make a schedule, print out a map, and set on your way. But the little, unexpected things that you end up doing can make some of the best memories—memories that are special to you and the people with whom you experienced them. Seeing the famous sights is great, and it’s something I’ll definitely treasure for the rest of my life, but I know that the little moments are even more special because they aren’t shared with thousands of other people. Those little moments belong only to me and the people I was with. And that’s pretty magical.

I know it’s cheesy, but it really is the little things in life that make an already awesome experience even more special. We don’t have much time left in our Harlaxton adventure, so do all you can with the time you have, make every moment count, and realize that sometimes the smallest things will become your favorite memories of a place.

Written by: Ashley Marshall

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Perspectives - This is What Big Ben Really Looks Like!

When traveling to a famous city, it can be a little intimidating. Take London, for instance. This city has been photographed and in television and movies almost as much as the Big Apple. It can be hard to get out of the mindset of how it’s portrayed on the screen, and how you’ll really see it.
A good example to start off with is Parliament and Big Ben. I thought my first view of it would be this:

Instead, my first view was like this:

This is right across the street from the Westminster Underground stop. I have to say, it was breathtaking. It really showed its stately-ness for me, and we were right there when it chimed. It sounded exactly like you would imagine.

Another thing I was surprised to see was the amount of bikers. A lot of people ride bikes in London, and some of them are serious. They wear spandex, sunglasses, basically the whole Tour de France. There are even bicycles you can hire. A little odd, but pretty cool.

I also thought Buckingham Palace would be different. It was cool to see it up close, but I was struck by how plain it was. Of course, I’ve seen it on TV and in movies, but seeing it in real life made me realize exactly how unadorned it is. I was rather surprised by it.     

One of my mom’s rules for traveling is “To keep an open mind.” If you expect to see things exactly the same way as they are in pictures, you may miss out on unique views and perspectives. Yes, your perspective will change, and that’s okay. Sometimes, things look better outside their frames.

Written by: Elizabeth Niedbala

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Cities as People

It is my firm belief that cities have personalities like people do. They have characteristics that make them unique, and help travelers determine if they’re best friend material, or simply an acquaintance. To illustrate this, let’s look at two cities I’ve visited: London, England, and Dublin, Ireland.

London could be personified as an old professor. He has been around the block a few times, and is set in his ways. He knows exactly what works for him, and will keep it that way for a long time to come. He has high expectations for you, and he won’t offer help if you need it. He expects you to figure things out for yourself. If you are lost, London subtly points you in the right direction. When you do find your way, London will reward you, not with a big fanfare but with a smile and a nod. He knows a good cup of tea, politics, and has a very good sense of his past.

Dublin is like that guy in a pub. He always has a drink in his hand, he’s a bit gruff, but he’s friendly once you get to know him. He’s rough around the edges – it might take you a while to find the nice spots – but Dublin knows it and will let you get to them on your own. He holds grudges for long periods of time, and takes time to remember those who have gone before him. He’s had problems in the past, and he knows it, but he’s working on putting it all behind him. Dublin doesn’t try to put on airs – what you see is what you get.

So as you travel to different cities this semester, try to get a feel for the personality of the city. Each one is unique, just like a person, so get to know them. You may end up with a new friend.

Written by: Elizabeth Niedbala

Monday, 26 October 2015

Keeping Memories: Souvenirs

Whenever I travel, I always want to take away something from the place that I’ve been. Over the course of my time at Harlaxton, I’ve made it a personal tradition to try to get at least one postcard everywhere I go, which I post on my board in my room. In addition to the postcards, I also try to get a key chain. My idea is that at the end of the semester,  I can fill up my Harlaxton lanyard with keychains of all the places that I went with the intent of hanging it on my wall when I get back home. Finally, my family also collects stocking pins and christmas ornaments from the various places that we go. 

Collecting souvenirs while abroad can be expensive. Even though they are meaningful objects, they can break your bank quickly if you arent careful. A souvenir can literally be anything that you take from a place; so it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to buy them if you want to save on money. For a lot of the trips I have been on, I have picked up a small rock. In addition to pieces of nature that you can bring back, something as simple as taking a picture can be a souvenir. They are easy to frame and you can give them to your family as gifts.

I recommend that when traveling, find a small number of little things that are easy to find in shops and are easy to fit in your luggage. My personal example would be the stocking pins that my parents and I collect. Because I’ve been to many different places, I’ve accumulated a lot over the years and it is fun to see my collection grow. In addition, I personalize my stocking pins by getting different ones than my parents so it is always significant to me and my experience.

Written by: Kelsey Fields