Monday, 10 December 2012

The world is a book... and what a chapter this has been!

By: Gloria Atanmo

It’s been said before that the world is like a book; and those who don’t travel, only read one page. These words couldn’t hold more truth than today. As I prepare for my final day in Europe, the mixed emotions, the maxed credit cards, and the life lessons learned simply can’t be replaced with any other experience, than what I gained with studying abroad through Harlaxton College.

Life is truly what you make of it. Every experience. Every adverse situation. Every opportunity. Every person who has studied abroad at Harlaxton in the last 40+ years has experienced their own unique “Aha!” moment. That moment when you realize that waking up in a castle every morning is nothing short of a fairy tale. That moment when you’ve visited a monument in a country you thought, as a kid, only existed in movies. That moment when you made a new friend that you knew right away would last a life-time. And of course, that moment when you check your bank account after a long weekend getaway. Those moments sum up the memories, and those memories sum up your study abroad experience.

In Rome, Italy at the Piazza di Spagna!
After an amazing last excursion through Italy, I can honestly say I’m leaving Harlaxton with no regrets. I’ve done more living in the last 3 months than I have my entire 22 years of life. I’ve made so many connections, I’ve ventured to so many different cities, and I’ve tried so many different foods. Not a single day went by that I didn’t think about how lucky I am. Lucky, fortunate, and undeniably blessed.

To say I’ve traveled in places like London, Scotland, Ireland, Paris, and Rome completely on my own, is something I am truly proud of. I used to worry about going to the other side of Kansas City on my own, and now, I'm visiting foreign countries left and right, where the dialect, currency, and atmosphere is the furthest thing from familiarity, yet I have the time of my life! But beyond the initial scare and paranoia, I’ve done so much mental and internal growth because of it. I’ve discovered a new side of me that either didn’t exist, or has been in a 22-year labor awaiting its birth.

The world is a book, and every chapter holds a new adventure.

The People.
The Foods.
The Languages.
The Currency.
The Postlogue: Getting nearly banned from re-entering a country.
The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

I know I don’t speak for myself when I say, it moves me to the point of tears when I think about how abruptly this has come to an end. My words merely suffice and the pictures only do half the justice. This beautiful world is a book I could read over and over and never get tired of. And I’ve experienced so many chapters throughout this journey that I’m not even mad I have to close the book, because now, I’m writing my own sequel. Life goes on, and so can these experiences if we let them inspire us in the right ways. Inspire the change, the happiness, and the love we, as global citizens, need to pass on to others.

Thanks for being a part of this life-changing journey.


Friday, 7 December 2012

Oh, how bittersweet...

I'M HOME.  Yes, my last blog post is being sent from Ferdinand, Indiana, USA.  But my thoughts are of a country manor in England...

I'm finally home and rested after staying awake for 45 hours straight, minus the few times I dozed off on the plane.  I can't believe it was only two days ago when I was finishing shoving and squooshing my stuff into my suitcase and taking my final British Studies exam.  I then had an hour to say goodbye to Harlaxton, both the house and my Harlaxton family.  It was a long, emotionally taxing hour.  I lived with these people and in these rooms for over 3 months, and I was leaving without knowing exactly when I'd be back.  But rest assured, I WILL be back.  By the time our coach was pulling down the drive, away from my Harlaxton home and many waving faculty, staff, and friends, I was emotionally exhausted.  But my friend and I spent the next two hours talking about Harlaxton, then about things to take our minds off Harlaxton, then back to Harlaxton memories again.  I ended my time in the UK with a performance of Phantom of the Opera.  It was icing on the cake.

It's hard to put into words what this semester means to me.  I remember dreaming of Harlaxton every day of the summer; it completely blew away my expectations.  I planned trips to several different countries; I saw even more than I imagined I would.  I remember watching a 5 minute YouTube video to introduce me to the United Kingdom and realized how little I knew; now I know about Britain's history and culture and can write an essay about British national identity.  I remember looking at pictures of Harlaxton Manor; now I know that pictures don't do it justice.  I was told I'd love my Meet-a-Family; there is no doubt that I LOVE my Meet-a-Family.  I was warned about British Studies and flying with RyanAir and public transportation; none of these were as bad as I'd thought.  I can sum this all up in three words:  I LOVE HARLAXTON.

I traveled to Scotland, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and many places in England this semester.  I loved being immersed in each vastly different culture and getting a different vibe from each place.  Some of my favorite memories include viewing London by night on the London Eye, visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh, seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle and taking a boat tour in Paris, visiting Mozart's house in Salzburg and Dachau concentration camp in Germany, walking through ancient Rome and Vatican City, seeing Stonehenge with my aunt and uncle, and exploring London with my parents.  I surprised myself by adapting quickly to public transportation:  subways, buses, taxis, and trains.  Woah.  My public transportation record before Harlaxton was riding the Washington, D. C., metro one time.  I could go on and on about my weekend trips.  I took at least a day trip every single weekend this semester.  It was fabulous!

Life on campus was also exciting!  I loved our many House competitions and the opportunities for competing in different events.  Bistro nights allowed us to relax and socialize.  As a music major at UE, I am always swamped with classes, homework, and rehearsals.  I must practice for my weekly lessons, orchestra, string ensemble, any tech class I'm taking, and my music therapy practicum.  That leaves little time to play whatever I want and participate in extra, fun things like choir.  This semester, I had little formal music, which gave me many opportunities to be involved in other music activities I wouldn't be in at UE.  I was in choir, which was relaxed and fun.  I was able to sing a few solos and in a quartet.  I performed in two variety shows, playing violin and singing, and a flute quartet.  All of these were low stress and tons of fun!  I also performed in a murder mystery.  It's one of my favorite memories from Harlaxton.  I always enjoyed rehearsals and loved the thrill of performing, and I know that acting would never fit my UE schedule.  Another great experience was traveling to London with my fellow music therapy majors to the Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy Centre in London.  We had a 3-hour private visit that included a presentation, improvisation session, discussion, and observing a session.  We'll take what we learned back to the States.

One of my best Harlaxton experiences was the Meet-a-Family program.  Stephen and Veronica were so similar to me!  I played violin with them at their church and spent lots of time at their house.  They took me to Belton House and out to eat and really gave me a great English experience.  They even had a cat which helped me not miss my own cats so much! :)  They hosted an awesome birthday party for me, and I just loved spending time with them.  I miss them so much already!  But now I have a place to stay when I come back to visit... :D

I'm really going to miss the simple things, like having classes in such beautiful rooms.  My professors.  The staff.  Having one class on Thursday and no classes on Friday. The Christmas tree.  Tea being so readily available (though I'm going to change that at my house!).  The accents.  And especially my Harlaxton family.  I told myself I'd try not to sound too mushy, but the Harlaxton class of fall 2012 is truly a community that I will always remember and keep in touch with.

Right now, my heart is both happy and sad.  I'm glad to be back on American soil, but I can't wait for the next time I get to see my Harlaxton home.  Nothing has (or probably ever will) impact me in such a way.  I've grown incredibly as a person and will never view the world in the same way.  As I reflect on this amazing semester, I must keep this in mind:  "Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened."
And smile I will.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Reflections on the Best Semester of My Life

Never have I faced the last day of classes with such sadness...where has my time gone???
This semester has been a semester of firsts: first time out of the country, first time flying on my own, first time riding in a cab, first time being away from my family for so long, and my first time trying a whole list of foods, from kebabs to Yorkshire pudding. 

My overall impression of England, from that first experience on the Underground of the family helping that old lady, up until this point, hasn’t proved to be wrong. The people I’ve met are so welcoming and kind, if a bit reserved at first! As I’ve learned about the culture here, I’ve found much to admire—even though I am still an American at heart. 

I got to go on some pretty magical adventures, let me tell ya! Weekends visiting London, a visit to Warner Brother’s Studios to take the Harry Potter tour, taking a train from King’s Cross, attending a murder mystery dinner, dancing at a ceilidh, riding a ferry on Lake Windermere, exploring Harrod’s, dressing in Regency garb in Bath, ice skating in London, experiencing a Christmas market...the list goes on and on! 

And more than that, here follows a list of ordinary(ish) things which, before this semester, were rare treats.  I have now experienced them more times in the last three months than in my entire life previously: 

  •  Seeing the ocean 
  •  Hearing bagpipes
  • Smelling old books
  •  Carrying an umbrella
  •   Flying
  •  Train trips and taxi rides
  • Watching Jane Austen movies
  •   Climbing mountains
  •   Speaking to British people
  •  Drinking hot chocolate

A semester as wonderful as this really cannot be summed up in words. Here are a few that come to my mind when I think of my time here: love, scarf, family, enchanted, Victorian, postcard, accomplishment, parchment, Lancelot, purple, adventure, vintage, novelty. Do I really think my time here was “purple”? No, but I do think that it was multi-faceted, at some times warm and inviting, at others dark and mysterious, but always exciting. Just like purple. 

The most disappointing thing about going home is that I don’t know yet when I will be able to return. But return I must. Because there is so much left to see and do! I believe I have gotten the “bug.” Whatever bug you get from an initial bout of wanderlust, that’s what I have. 

I’ll be taking with me a whole collection of awesome souvenirs and stories, but more importantly, I’ll be bringing back a whole story of wonderful memories that will stay with me forever. I cannot remember a time when I was so completely happy! I have had constant enjoyment from everything ...and that is saying something, since I had many fabulous experiences before coming here. My life has definitely changed, and for the better. I’m still the same person though! Just wiser, friendlier, and much more experienced. I have a greater appreciation for my home—I cannot wait to see everyone at home again! I am returning to good ol’ Kentucky, after the best semester of my life.

Friday, 30 November 2012

There's More to England Than London

It’s so hard to believe that my semester at Harlaxton is coming to an end. In just 5 days I will leave the manor for the last time to go home. As I look back on my time here I have all of the wonderful memories of the trips that I took and the friends that I made. Before I came to Harlaxton I kept getting asked when I was going to London. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, people at church, friends, and anyone else who happened to know that I was coming would ask me that question. I would smile and politely respond that I was going to GRANTHAM on August 24th. As I went through this I began to realize that many Americans don’t really know anything about England other than London. I would like to use my last blog post in England to share what England means to me and how my semester has shaped that.
                To start with, I should probably share my perceptions of England prior to my time here. For me England has always been simply the country that America ran away from. England was the place of pomp and circumstance and afternoon tea. After living in a beautiful manor house in the English countryside for 3 months, it’s fair to say that that has all changed. Now I see England as a place of history. It is a place where everything I see has more history than my entire country. The things I’ve seen here absolutely blow my mind. I’ve seen castles built by the Normans, forts built by the Romans, and legal documents that predate the United States by several centuries. Living here and seeing the history up close and personal has given me a great sense of what England really is. Still though, there is a difference between what England is and what it means to me.
                First and foremost, England will always mean the community that I’ve lived in here. Taking all of the trips that I’ve taken to see all of the things I’ve seen has been awesome. To be honest though, none of those trips would mean anything without the people I’ve gotten to share them with here. The community at Harlaxton College is the most unique and special group of people I’ve ever gotten to meet. I feel so blessed to have been a part of such an amazing group. When I got here, most of these people were strangers. Now that I’m leaving, they are my family. I love each and every one of them and I will miss them after we’ve gone home. The other thing that England means to me is personal change. While I’ve been here I have gotten involved with so many things that I never would have imagined. At the variety show, I performed on the piano. The thing that most of the crowd didn’t know is that I had never played any musical instrument for an audience before. I also got involved with the Harlaxton players. I ended up acting as Mr. Jackson in our murder mystery. Again I was doing something new as I had not been in any theatrical production since I was in elementary school. Just this week even, I performed with the Harlaxton Players improvisational comedy group. I had never considered myself to be a comedian and had never done comedy for others before. Being at Harlaxton has gotten me out of my shell. Looking back, I think that opening up and sharing my talents (or lack thereof) with my peers has been the best thing that’s happened to me at Harlaxton.
                That’s what England means to me. To all those reading this who have been to Harlaxton: I challenge you to really take a look at what it means to you. It is my deepest hope that England means as much to you as it does to me. To those who’ve never travelled here before: I challenge you to find something that means as much to you as England means to me and cherish that thing or the memory of that thing the way I will cherish my time in England. After living here for 3 months I can definitively state that Harlaxton is and forever will be my English home. To all of the students and staff of Harlaxton fall 2012: you have made my time here worthwhile and for that I thank you. Goodbye Harlaxton, you will always be in my heart.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

die Wiesn - München, Deutschland

It's 11:09 am and I’m in a plane somewhere above Germany. In an attempt to make it to Oktoberfest, we booked a Ryan air flight for "Munich West", without using Google maps to realize that the airport that is an hour and 30 minutes west of Munich, in a town called Memmingen. While Ryanair, is inexpensive, I’ve realized that you have to both Google map the airport to see if it is near the city you intend on going to and you also have to print your boarding passes out online before arriving at the airport, to avoid the 95 USD fee (because of this, I’ve mostly gone through Easyjet or even Wizzair).

In the lines (or queues, as they say here) for boarding, I was stuck behind two American girls from the states, going on about how their dads were funding their 1,000-euro per night (!) hotel.

Once on the ground in Memmigen, Jared and I began practicing our German to each other, half jokingly, considering my knowledge of the language is very limited. A few Americans soon asked us if we were German and could help them with the language.

Once our bus from Memmigen dropped us off in the heart of the capital of Bavaria, we were greeted with crowds of people and the occasional cross-eyed or stumbling morning goers of the fest. The first day we got there we walked around town visiting Frauenkirch, an old cathedral dating back to the 12th century. We stopped to grab sandwiches and pastries; to my surprise, the food in Germany was probably the best in comparison with any other country in Europe (my opinion). Accordingly, I splurged and wrecked my budget this weekend thanks to bratwurst, currywurst, walnut bread, tiramisu and pastries.

The process of getting into a tent at Oktoberfest without first having reservations was rough. First, you must pry past anyone in a crowd that is shouting to enter and holding up the fingers to show number of people in their party. After scooting to the front, we managed to assertively gain and entrance into the outside wall of the tent, where you can purchase a drink but must continue standing unless a table opens up. Once we were tired of the crowds, we went to restaurant nearby to avoid restroom queues. Here we met a group from Copenhagen, Denmark, who spoke English and one guy from South Africa who was living in London. They were pretty goofy and began telling us about life in Denmark and their travels so far. The following night the a similar chain of events happened with a group from
The United States who were working as military in Germany (some of which who were born in Philippines before moving to the States).

This group of Americans, wanted us to play the “random picture” game with them, which involves trying to be the most successful at walking up to a random group of people and asking them to take a photo with you. While in any other circumstances this might be seen as an extreme disruption of social norms, because it was Oktoberfest, people half-willingly stood in these pictures. With the help of our some-what local American friends, we found that the restroom signs in Germany are marked by "WC" not the box with a stick figure man and woman (which points out an elevator).

While we spent our nights bustling around Oktoberfest, we made an effort to explore Old Town and to see the National Theatre and The Residenz Museum, during the day. The Residenz Museum was a look into 16th century royal life and the Italian architecture that permeated Germany.

Another festival was in full swing while we were there, Ander Art Festival, which was held in Odeonplatz square, right by Theatine Church. There we were able to listen to German folk music and browse the foreign food tents (At the American food tent there was chili, American fries, and hamburgers). We wondered into Marienplatz (New Town Hall) in time for the 11 am, 43-bell ceremony, a tradition of dates back to the 17th century—where Germans celebrated the passing of the plague-- but we quickly moved on during the show in order to walk all over central Munich. We took the metro stop to Olympia Park to see the location of the 1972 Olympics. The park was a nice break from the city, with quaint racquetball courts, coffee shops, bikers and a couple of teenage kids on skateboards. 

While we saved money by booking the trip in advance, it is still a costly venture to go to Munich for Oktoberfest, and there were also a huge amount of crowds. Given the eclectic amount of people (having conversations with people from Denmark, Spain, Germany, South Africa) and being able to take in some of the culture of Germany, it was well worth it.

The weekend in pictures:

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The City of Lights: Parieee!

Having dreamed of visiting Paris since, well, forever... or at least since the age of 8 when I saw the beauty of the Eiffel Tower in a magazine, I finally got to visit the city. I never thought by the age of 21 I would actually visit the city filled with fashion, art, and love. Pictures of Paris make it seem like it's the best city in the world, and I would agree, it definitely is just that. As someone who loves fashion and art, having been an art major for 2 years, I was more than excited to visit Paris. 

Before leaving Wednesday afternoon on the Eurostar, we made a bucket list of all we wanted to experience in Paris. Some of the items included going to the sommet of the Eiffel Tower (the very, very top), cruise on the River Seine, visiting the Louvre, going to Notre Dame, climbing to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, visiting Chateau de Versailles, drinking wine in the Champ de Mars, visiting the Eiffel Tower at night to witness the light show, having a French style picnic with wine, eat street Crepes, and see the Moulin Rouge. I can say we checked off almost all of them off our bucket list.

Once we arrived in Paris late Wednesday night, we realized we had not looked up directions to get to our hotel, which turned out to be no where near we had thought it was located. With no wi-fi connection, of course, we decided to start walking and hopefully run into someone who could speak English. We took a metro line, which we thought sounded like our street name, and luckily it was! The metro station workers were not the nicest people in the world, so we thought we would have better luck trying to find it ourselves, and we did. We stayed in a part of town known as Voltaire, which was quiet and had a few cafes to eat at. And this part of town had no where near as many beggars, homeless people, and merchants forcing you to buy their one euro Eiffel Towers ( and when I say forcing, I mean in your face and following you and attempting to compliment you in English- and saying you have HOT eyes.. I still don't know what that even means....)

On Thursday, we decided to take a double-decker bus tour of Paris, where we ended up going to the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame. Then, that night, we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower- the BEST IDEA we ever made. We went up at 4pm and left at 7pm. While we were at the top, the sun began to set.. and by 6pm it was completely dark. It was one of the prettiest sights I've seen.

   The next day, we visited the Louvre, where we saw the Mona Lisa. We had to push our way to the front to see her. After walking around for a couple of hours, we explored the city some more.

The Louvre
Arc de Triomphe

The Lock Bridge in Paris

On Saturday, we decided to make our way to Versailles to see the Chateau de Versailles, or the Palace of Versailles. We decided to travel on our own, by train, which turned out to be the cheapest way. We ended up spending less than 10 euros each, as opposed to the tour by coach bus, which would have been 42 euros. It only took about 40 minutes to get there. We only saw the outside of the palace, which was beautiful.

Later that day, we decided to visit the Moulin Rouge, but only the outside of course. Actually seeing a show would have been awesome, but it was out of our price range. We then decided to make our way back to the Eiffel Tower for our last night in Paris. Mackenzie and I ate at a cafe in Trocadero, right in front of the Eiffel Tower. So beautiful.