Tuesday, 17 April 2012

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good Bye

Four months ago, I arrived at Harlaxton, bleary-eyed but ready for adventure. The possibilities offered by a wide-open semester felt endless. There would always be time, it seemed, to see something more, go someplace else, try something new.

But tomorrow, tomorrow I leave this magical place. My bags are packed, and, despite the rather unreasonable amount of shopping I’ve done this semester, my bag weighs in at 48.4 pounds. Success. Less tangible things are not so easy, however. I’ve tried writing this blog half a dozen times, but I just don’t know what to say. How can I summarize this crazy, exhilarating, stressful, glorious semester?

I have visited places I never dreamed I’d be able to see. I have been to London FOUR TIMES already. I have gone to a service in Westminster Abbey and seen some of Michelangelos and Titians in the National Gallery. I’ve shopped at Portobello Market not once, but twice, a dream I’ve had since seeing “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” as a little girl (although no suits of armor came to life that I saw, I am sad to report). I have been to a castle built in the 11th century and seen ruins from the time of the Romans, for God’s sake. I’ve had a drink in a pub in Dublin and seen manuscript of Yeats’s The Stolen Child in the Irish National Library. I’ve had a twenty-minute conversation with a sweet old gentleman in a pub in Wales and made a fool of myself trying to pronounce Welsh place names. I went back to Germany twice and never made a fool of myself while speaking the language. I even got to see Florence + the Machine in England. And I’ve covered all of Edinburgh on foot and even climbed Arthur’s Seat at sunrise—who would have thought?

True friendships have grown deeper and superficial ones have not lasted. Some of my friends here are like my family now. We have had so many shared experiences—travel and wonder, stress and tears, late-night hilarity and pre-paper panic. I’ve also met so many new people, making new friends. Parting will be bittersweet, especially with those who go to other schools. I have even made non-American friends—Jacky, a divinely sweet German girl in our hostel room hit it off with us and we spent a large part of the weekend running around Düsseldorf together, nattering in German (much to the annoyance of Lesley and Amanda). My meet-a-family has been divine, truly welcoming me into their lives. I am very much going to miss Graham and Margaret, as well as their divine cooking.

Harlaxton Manor itself holds so many memories. Late nights watching movies in the Junior Common Room, classes in beautiful state rooms, complaining about food in the Refectory, searching through the library for books related to Chaucer and chivalry for my dreaded British Studies paper, laughing and crying on my friends’ beds, listening to classical music as we troop off to British Studies at 8:30 twice every week. Every Tuesday, I’d take the shuttle into Grantham for tiger bread and black currant jam from Morrison’s, and upon return, gasp with wonder at the manor—the castle—that I call home. And after every trip, seeing the manor was just like going home.

I now know what it means to mind the gap, and will always keep calm and carry on. I have shopped, probably a bit too much, at Primark and Topshop and will be coming back with a refreshingly European wardrobe. I’ve developed a taste for Indian food, black currant jam and parsnips. Pound coins, rather than dollar bills, seem like the most logical currency and I automatically convert prices in my head whenever I want to buy something. I know better now than to ask for a ride, and other than proclaiming quite loudly my distaste for “pants” in public, have had no major language mishaps, and my spelling meanders back and forth between the British and American methods, which is probably quite maddening for my professors. I can navigate the Tube and train system, and know my way around London’s center fairly well, feats which would have seemed impossible at the beginning of the semester when I was still getting lost in the manor (okay, I still occasionally get lost in the manor).

Of course, I look forward to going home, where everything is cheaper. Where I have my own car and my own bed (and own bedroom!) and can shower without wearing shoes. Where I can cook my own food—what I want, when I want. And seeing the numbers in my bank account going up for a change will be extremely nice. Getting a little space, not always being in such close proximity to so many other people, will also be divine.

But I’m not the same person who left. I couldn’t be. I’ve seen so much more, done so much more on my own and tried so many new things. I’ve learned to be more flexible and to not stress so much. To realize that it’s only money, and to take things as they come. Being removed from home has made me more myself, if that makes any sense, and I look forward to going home, but will always carry the memories and lessons of Harlaxton with me. It’s been great, guys.

But now, it’s time for my next adventure. I'm not sure what it is yet, but something will turn up.

I'm Going Away

"Please don't forget me, I'm going away." Those are just a small part of the lyrics to a song that's been playing in my head for the past few days as we approach the end of an indescribable semester at Harlaxton. And while I'm not "taking a taxi to Kentucky," I will be getting on a plane to Chicago and then driving to Ohio, which is close enough for me.

It's hard to believe, now that the day has come, that it was four months ago I was unpacking that same bright purple suitcase that I'm cramming entirely too much stuff back into now. Hard to believe how much you can accumulate in four months, both in physical objects and in experiences.

As I shoved things into that big purple suitcase, I found myself reliving four months I know I'll never forget. I pulled out books I'd bought in York, where I walked along a wall far older than anything I'd ever seen before. I rediscovered pamphlets I'd tucked away from our hostel in Dublin, where we sat and had a drink with five real Dubliners. I unearthed the ink and pen I bought at the Jane Austen center in Bath, the stuffed bear I bought in Lincoln (named Cuthbald, after a name we found on the wall), gummy bears from Germany, a keychain from London, and on and on.

While these objects are, on one hand, that much more that I have to somehow fit into my luggage while still not going over the 50 pound limit (pounds being weight again, not money--weird), they are also memories of all the places I have been. It's hard to believe that when I dragged myself up the stairs to the 500s for the first time in January, I hadn't been further from home in quaint little Ohio than a single trip to Florida. Hard to imagine now how I had never been in an airport, let alone flown in countless Ryanair flights to all sorts of new countries. Hard to picture a time when I'd never been on a subway, or a train, or stayed in a hostel. And yet, here I am, sitting in my bed in room 514 for one of the last times I ever will, and realizing how new all of the experiences that have now become almost commonplace were to the person I was four months ago.

I don't think it's truly possible to spend four months in another country, to spend four months jetting off from that foreign country to a ton of other equally (if not more) foreign countries, without changing. Some of the changes are small--more familiarity with public transport, a little less of an iron grip on my money, and a slightly more easy going attitude. But others are huge--the way I see the world, the way I see myself in relation to it, and the way I plan to live my life now, going forward.

Before I hopped on a plane and came to study in England, I had never been outside of the United States. I had barely even left the midwest. I thought I was an open-minded individual, but I had truly no idea what the world was like outside of suburban Ohio. I didn't realize signs in Ireland would be printed in English and Gaelic, didn't think about the fact that they speak Welsh in Wales, didn't even know the difference between England and the United Kingdom. I confess I didn't even know that Ireland wasn't still a part of the United Kingdom, or that Northern Ireland was a separate thing. Now here I am, preparing to take that final British Studies exam (sort of) and those things are all common knowledge, easy throw away facts to take for granted.

But it goes beyond that, I think. My time here hasn't just taught me facts, although I've learned plenty of those. It's taught me to value adventure, to take risks every now and again, and above all, that I can do the things I never thought I'd be able to do. I can get on a plane, a train, a subway. I can figure out how to give the right change in pounds and euros, even if those coins completely threw me off the first time I saw them. I can deal with the complications that inevitably arise during travel. I can order a drink in a pub (legally, even... although it'll be a year for that back in the States). I can speak adequate amounts of Spanish. Frankly, looking back over this semester, it kind of feels like I can do anything I want.

It has been an amazing semester and the adventure of a lifetime and in many ways I'm not ready for my farewells. But time, like the trains and planes I've been riding on these past few months, doesn't wait for you to be good and ready--it comes and it goes as it pleases, right on schedule. 

So as we all bid our fond farewells to this glorious manor house, which we now all know was built by Gregory Gregory, it's worth taking a moment to look inwards, as well, and take a bit of inventory on something more valuable than anything we've got stuffed inside our (hopefully not overweight) suitcases. And while it's true that most of us won't be seeing Harlaxton manor again, I'm sure each and every one of us can agree it will always be our home away from home.

Break Out the Wine Because This Good-bye is Going to be Cheesy...

How do you sum up an experience like Harlaxton?  I've been here 104 days now; I've been on 13 trips; I've caught the Harlaxton plague twice; I've taken four classes; and I've written nine papers.  But I guess I can't really put a number on the good times I've had.  I've met too many amazing people to count, seen too many beautiful places, and done too many cool things.  How do you put a number on that?  I will miss living in a Jacobethan English country manor house with students and teachers that have come to feel more like a vast extended family rather than almost perfect strangers.  I will miss the kind English hospitality I feel wherever I go, even to the grocery store (I think the cashier there calls me "love" at least twenty times per visit).  I will miss a little bit of everything here.  Harlaxton has become my home.

Proof of me kissing the Blarney Stone
But mostly, I've learned a lot.  Not just in British Studies and my other intensive classes, but about people in general.  I've become close to people I didn't think I would and learned more about some of the people I now consider close.  But mostly, I've learned about myself (I know, I know, but just bear with me).  I learned that I can be gutsy.  Not just brave, but gutsy as well.  Brave is moving to a new place where you don't know anyone, and I'd already done that when I moved to Evansville.  Gutsy is something entirely different.  Being gutsy is doing something stupid or crazy and passing it off as being brave with spirit.  After this trip, I can proudly say that I have plenty of spirit.  I've had plenty of interesting conversations with strangers--like the Welsh man at the bus stop who only liked Americans and Australians and the two Irish men who laughed at American politics while we had a cup of coffee--and I actually spoke to them without tripping over my words and sounding like an idiot, a common side effect that my shyness usually brings on.  I was also able to ask for help without feeling stupid and self-conscious.  I also went on several ghost tours to explore the haunted sites the UK had to offer: a big feat for someone who hides under the covers at the mere mention of ghosts.  These may all seem like small things, but they're big for me, and they only keep getting bigger.  For instance, I learned that I'm gutsy enough to travel by myself.  I had a brilliant time wandering around London, and it was fun to see all of the things I wanted to see without worrying that I was boring my travelling companions to death.  Most importantly, I learned that I can do all my own stunts.  Before I never would have thought it possible for me to bend over backwards across a four foot gap to kiss a stone 400 feet above the ground just to receive the gift of the gab, and I certainly never would have guessed that I would climb all over the ruins of a three hundred year old castle just so I could get a view of the Irish countryside 700 feet above sea level.  There are so many more things I did that I know the me four months ago would have called me crazy for.  Therefore, gutsy is waiting in a queue for two hours in five degree (Fahrenheit) weather in a skirt and light jacket, purposefully looking ridiculous in photos when you know they're going to be plastered all over facebook, planning a trip based on what train is the cheapest, running all over a city so you can see as much as humanly possible, trying foods like haggis when you know perfectly well what they are, sleeping in an airport terminal so you know you'll catch your plane, meeting new friends over drinks in the Bistro during karaoke night, and getting close to an English family you didn't think would mean that much to you, but actually turns out to feel like family.  So, my advice to any incoming Harlaxton students, as well as to the world in general is be gutsy.  Get outside your comfort zone and surprise yourself at what you can do.  Just be sure to do it with plenty of spirit!

The Next Adventure

I leave Harlaxton tomorrow. It’s one of those feelings that you can’t really describe. Part of me knows I’ll miss this manor, with its secret staircases and classrooms adorned with gold. I’ll miss drinking tea and eating flapjacks (which, in the UK, are oak bars— not pancakes!). I’ll miss taking runs around Harlaxton Village, passing the picturesque stone houses and fields of dandelions. I’ll miss saying “cheers” instead of “thank you.” I’ll miss being able to feel sophisticated and mature when ordering a glass of wine at dinner. I’ll miss the travel, and the friends I’ve made here— especially the ones returning to different universities, that I may never see again.

Sitting with friends and enjoying Harlaxton's secenery.

There will be some things I won’t miss, though— like the currency exchange rate, or my purchases always taking extra time because of my American credit card. I won’t miss the rainy weather, or the language barrier between British and American English. Most of all, though, I won’t miss always missing my boyfriend, family, and friends. If anything could’ve made my experience at Harlaxton better, it would’ve been having the people I love here with me.

The biggest element of a semester at Harlaxton is travel— so, it seems only fitting to end it with my top five favorite trips. I’ve chosen these out of all the countries I’ve been to (England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany). These five— in no particular order— hold memories that are irreplaceable.
1.      Killarney, Ireland
The scenery was simply breath-taking. I’ve seen many beautiful places, both in Europe and back in America, but nothing compares to this.
View from Blarney Castle.

2.      York, England
This town embodies everything British: outdoor food and clothing markets, classic architecture, and wonderful tea shops.
Tea time at Betty's Tea Shop.

View of the water at sunset.

Inside the beautiful York Minister.
3.      Inverness, Scotland
The Loch Ness was simply stunning, and perfect for a boat cruise. I made a wonderful friend here, who was originally from New Zealand but was traveling around Europe. My friends and I had a great time getting to know her, comparing our different cultures, and having fun celebrating St. Patrick’s Day together!

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day with Georgia, our new friend from New Zealand!

View of the water from Urquhart Castle.

Enjoying our cruise on the Loch Ness!

4.      Paris, France

This is the city of food. I can easily say the best food I’ve ever had has come from Paris: escargot, orange glazed duck, chocolate éclairs, crepes, crème brulee, fresh bread… And while devouring these delicacies, you can walk around the wonderfully historic city, passing landmarks like the Arc de Triomphe or Notre Dame.
A delicious chocolate eclair!

The best creme brulee.

Having a nice lunch outside while enjoying a glass of white wine.

Duck glazed in oranges, with roasted potatoes and green breens.

My favorite place at night was the Eiffel Tower: at the start of every hour, a fabulous light show would start, lighting up the sky.

5.      Lincoln, England

Lincoln is full of architecture and history: it holds a beautiful cathedral with breathtaking stained glass windows— and if that weren’t enough, it’s across from an 11th century castle sitting on a hill. Lincoln holds special memories for me, as my British friends attend Lincoln University. I met them on a Christian retreat in February, and now I’ve visited Lincoln twice to see them. I spent my last weekend in England staying in Lincoln with my friend Rachel, who graciously let me stay at her flat and invited me to church the next morning. My friends in Lincoln will be my last ties to England after I leave, and I’m so thankful to have met them.  
My friend (also named Rachel) and I playing in the snow!

Enjoying a cup of tea with great company.

Walking the streets of Lincoln together.

Enjoying a cup of hot chocolate on a rainy Sunday.

While there’s definitely some sadness in leaving, I’m ready to begin the next phase of my life. Traveling abroad has made me so appreciative of my home, where I come from, and the people I’ve been blessed with. Going back to America doesn’t mean that all my adventures have to end— if anything, I feel like they’re just beginning.


Friday, 13 April 2012

Winding Down

The end of the semester is nearly here--just a few finals to go, and this wonderful semester at Harlaxton will be at its close. It's hard to believe this is my last travel blog already, but the time has come.

Churros and chocolate.
Since last I posted, I've been to Spain, where I got to try out my Spanish skills and learn that even five years of Spanish cannot prepare you for that Spanish accent, or for trying to communicate that you need "something for my pain in head," as I so eloquently put it. Language barrier aside, Spain was a wonderful experience, full of sunshine and sand and paella. Oh, and chocolate. A LOT of chocolate.

On the way home from Malaga, I learned a very important lesson about traveling--sometimes, things do NOT go as planned. My phone adamantly refused to call out and we weren't able to book our own cab back from East Midlands. I was tired, I was developing the plague, and I just wanted to be in bed. So, even though usually I'm relatively calm in these situations, this particular time resulted in a sort of catastrophic meltdown that lasted the entire flight back home. Despite my worries, however, we made it back to the manor safe and sound, and even on schedule. Which brought me to the realization (or perhaps reminder) that most of the time it's never as bad as I think it is.

 Spain was my last big trip of the semester, and surprisingly enough I'm happy to spend some time relaxing in the manor and seeing things that are closer to the place that has become my home over the past few months. Although it's been fun hopping on those Ryanair flights and jetting off to see all of these amazing places, the past couple of weekends have involved "traveling" here at Harlaxton, whether on little day trips or exploring the manor in search of clues for the murder mystery party. I went to Nottingham to watch a cricket match (which was great, but also really made me miss baseball) and tomorrow I'm hopping on a train to London to tour the HARRY POTTER STUDIOS (because yes, that must ALWAYS be said in all caps). Either way, I've learned to love traveling, and I think that love has inspired me to continue my quest for discovery when I return home to the States, of which I have seen tragically few outside my own Ohio and, of course, Evansville. While it certainly won't be quite the same as taking a short flight and being in Germany, or Spain, or Italy, it's still something to keep the adventure going, and I'm really looking forward to it (especially since, to my knowledge, we pretty much all speak the same language).

I can definitely say that all of the trips I have taken, the places I have seen, and the people I've encountered have taught me a lot and changed who I am, in a very good way (I hope). I know I'll probably never get tired of saying things like "When I was in Spain..." even long after everyone else has gotten tired of hearing them. Thankfully, I'm sure all of my wonderful Harlaxton friends will be happy to tell and retell their stories, too, and in that way we can keep a little piece of this semester alive (along with the scrapbook I'm going to make. Probably).

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Lessons Learned

After four months of balancing traveling, school, and being an RA, I've definitely had my fair share of mistakes and wonderful happenstances. Prior to coming to Harlaxton, I wish I would have known just a few things:

1. Don't pack your whole wardrobe.
Though I definitely did not pack my whole entire closet's contents, I certainly brought more than I needed. One (not two) jacket was enough to last me. 3 (not 5) pairs of shoes would suffice. I didn't really take into account how much I would buy over here. Being a T-shirt hoarder, I should have known that I would have ended up with 7 new shirts (a proud collection of 2 Shakespeare, 1 Germany, 1 Harlaxton, 1 Ireland,  1 London Olympic, and 1 BBC television centre) and probably a few more by the time I return from my Italy extravaganza in about a week. Now, I'm worried about the weight of my suitcase upon return to the US, and if the security men at the airport tell me it's too heavy, I plan on wearing as many clothes as I have to so I don't have to pay the fees.

2. Check your schedule. 16 times. 
Too many times did students, in haste and excitement, book a flight before they looked at the school schedule and saw that we had class on Friday, or that a British Studies exam was at the same time they were supposed to leave. Fortunately, this did not happen to me. But I checked. 16 times. Every day. I actually did miss British Studies once when I went to Germany, but I was aware of the conflict and had some spare absences to use. But this is probably the biggest issue for students because they lost a lot of money paying for things they couldn't do because of exams or classes. And professors warned us at the beginning that we couldn't miss exams for traveling. Don't say they didn't.

3. Allow extra time for travel, but not too much.
Being neurotic about being on time and saving money, when booking travel I always made sure I had plenty of time in between legs of my trip. But I got carried away. I wish someone would have sat down and explained to me that it was unnecessary to have 7 hours to kill in Gatwick. My first train to King's Cross left at 9:19 am. I arrived at about 10:45, then hopped on my second train to Gatwick and arrived at about 11:30. The train was even late. And I still had this much time to spend in Gatwick by myself lugging around my heavier-than-me backpack. I did the same thing on the way back, finding myself wandering around King's Cross for 4 hours before my train arrived. I didn't want to be one of those students that didn't think about travel time and missed a flight, but I went overboard.

Me in front of Luxern in Switzerland

4. If you want to do something, do it. 
For the first month I was here, I was intent on spending as little as I possibly could. I panicked about having enough money to last me four months. While I have depleted a large sum of my bank account, I have a small amount to spare. I realized by the time I went to North Wales in mid-February that I was probably never going to be back here, or if I was, it wasn't going to be in the next 8 years or so. So I'd better start doing things that I really wanted to, and I should suck it up and pay money. I have been so much happier since I did. Yes, I'm going back with less money than I initially intended. But I've done so many incredible things because of that. And if I could go back and do this semester again, I'd spend more money on the first places I went because there are some things I missed that I regret not doing. And my parents have been hugely supportive in this process, helping me out whenever they were able.

I've learned so much this semester, and as it comes to a close, it's a strange feeling. In one sense, I could hop on a plane now and rush home. And I'd love that. But in another, it's going to be weird back in the states. Driving again, paying sales tax, ordering tea and forgetting that it generally comes cold with ice. I'm so ready to go home, but I know I'll miss this place as soon as I leave.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Willkommen: My Journey in a Foreign Country

At the beginning of the semester, England was a foreign country. Now, it's the place to which I return after traveling somewhere else for the weekend. About two weeks ago, I ventured for the first time in my life to a non-English-speaking country.

Oh, and I went by myself, too.

I never thought I would travel by myself, but upon learning that I had family that lived in Germany, I emailed them, and before I knew it, I had bought plane and train tickets to get myself to Freiburg, Germany. Then, during the last weekend of March, it began to sink in that I was really traveling alone. I started to panic a little bit, but Wednesday morning (when I was supposed to be in British Studies), I headed to the Grantham train station and began my venture. And I loved every minute of it.

I finally made it to Basel airport, where my dad's (some kind of) cousin picked me up. I went to bed pretty early because I had ridden 2 trains, waited in Gatwick for about 5 hours, and then finally flew 2 hours to Germany, losing an hour in the time-change process. I thought I was going to get up and do my own thing. I was so wrong. Marie and Gabriel (Marie is my family's cousin and Gabriel is her husband) had planned my entire trip and had taken off work to do so. So Thursday morning, Gabriel loaded up the car and the two of us headed off to France. Freiburg is an extremely southern city in Germany, and it happens to sit right on the border of both France and Switzerland, so we explored all three!

Early in the morning, we headed to Murbach, France, which hosted an old Roman cathedral and sat along the edge of the Black forest. We then made our way to Riquewihn, another city. This was a lovely town in which we explored shops and even stopped for the best pastry I've ever eaten!

Then for the rest of the afternoon, we spent our time in Strasbourg, a relatively large French city that hosted a lovely cathedral complete with a really famous astronomical clock. It also had a canal running down the middle of the city, and we had lunch outside at a restaurant that sat on the canal. It was a gorgeous afternoon.

After some gelato and shopping in the markets, we went to a small museum on the history of Strasbourg, which turned out to be way more interesting than I ever thought. Turns out, Mr. Gutenburg lived and worked in Strasbourg before moving elsewhere to invent his printing press, and he left a bunch of his original designs and works in Strasbourg, so they had a lot of really old and really wonderful books and printing mechanisms.

For day two of the trip, Marie took over, and we spent the day exploring Freiburg. We went to the Munster early in the morning, which is their gorgeous cathedral, and we even climbed up the highest tower that looked out over the city.

After that, we strolled around and learned a lot about the history of the city. We went to a Freiburg museum, which had a lot of the old statues and gargoyles from the Munster that had become too delicate to keep on the cathedral. It's made of sandstone, so they had to take some of them inside. Some of the artwork in the museum was gorgeous, too.

We met Marie's youngest daughter, Laura, after she got out of school, and we all went and had lunch at the most wonderful Mexican place I've ever been. It was fabulous.

After I bought about 20 pounds of gummy bears, we headed back to their house for a quick break, then headed back out to a small town near their neighborhood to see another church (they found out I really enjoy cathedrals). On the way, we stopped at a place called Caffe Decker, which was a traditional German patisserie. They were all out of black forest cake (what they're famous for), but I had some kind of almond schnapps cake, which was SO STRONG, it was ridiculous. I also had Orangina, which I fell in love with. It's a carbonated orange drink, but not like Fanta or something. It's more juicy with a little bit of fizz.

Then we went to the church. This one was baroque-style, and absolutely gorgeous, but my favorite part was taking a walk around the outside of it. The sun had just begun to set, and the church sat in the hills of the black forest. It was cool and lovely outside.

Day Three was a Saturday, so both of their daughters, Anne and Laura, had off school, so we all went to Luxern, Switzerland. This was my favorite place of the three, and I was legitimately ready to move to Switzerland by the end of the day.

My first sight was this:

I cannot even describe how beautiful this place was. Everything was so clean, like the whole town was waiting for royalty to come, or someone was taking pictures for postcards. It was all so wonderful. And there's nothing I can say to describe the feeling of standing at the foot of the Alps in Switzerland.

After walking along the lake for a while, we went to a traffic museum. I was a little worried, but it turns out, this was my favorite museum I've been in EVER. It was a big circle, and in the center was a courtyard where you could do space bungee-jumping or riding a little train around the museum. We spent 5 hours in the airplane part, and didn't even make it to 7/8 of the museum. There was so much to do, and even though it was all in French and German, I still had fun doing the different activities.

I took so many pictures of Switzerland because I was just in love with Luxern, so below are a few more. Traveling by myself, though scary, was the best thing I've done all semester. And I realized I could do it. The hardest part was actually not being able to understand the language — fortunately my family spoke about 6 different languages, so they always translated for me, but it was still extremely difficult not being able to communicate. But for all future study-abroaders, I would highly recommend traveling by yourself somewhere at least once during your stay — it was so much fun!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Spring Has Sprung

Last week, something incredible happened.

The sun shone for five days straight. The weather was warm. Not just warmish, legitimately pleasant. Like in the 70s (Fahrenheit, of course). 

Shorts were worn by those many hardier than I. For my part, I dared to expose my ankles to the sun. Scandalously, of course.

Spring sprang. There may have been frolicking in a field of daffodils and jonquils. In my imagination, there were lambs gamboling to birdsong and lines of ducklings followed their mothers across idyllic country roads, although perhaps I was carrying it a bit too far. While I miss the tulips and tiger lilies which hearken spring in Minnesota, these flowers did a lot to lend a bit of color to an often drab landscape. 

Heathcliff knows how to moor-stried
Here’s the thing, though – it’s been so cold and grey here for so long that those five days were revitalizing to the soul. While the winter was not bitterly cold, it was what one friend of mine described as “unweather” – invariably grey, misty, chilly and grim. Depressing weather that made me want to stride across a moor in a cloak, reciting dramatic love poetry to a tempestuous lover. Most of us were suffering to greater or lesser degree from the winter blahs. Apathy was reaching epidemic proportions. Apathy and cabin fever. My friends and I constructed elaborate fantasies about Turkish baths, Jamaica and mojitos on the beach.

But for those five days, the air of weariness dissolved completely. We were still tired, but life seemed somehow more bearable and assignments less stressful, even though a lot more time was spent playing out in the sun than in working on British Studies papers. The fact that daylight savings time has begun only adds to the holidayesque atmosphere – the days feel longer and brighter, again, very welcome.

The gorgeous weather, however, has disappeared and it is chilly once again. But the heady sense which accompanied the sun and warmth has stayed. There is a sense of anticipation in the air. There are six class days left. And while I have a massive amount of homework due to a misguided choice to take two German independent studies, most everyone is wrapping up their last assignments. What more, we leave this place which has become our home two weeks from tomorrow. Four months felt like an eternity back in January. We had all the time in the world to explore Harlaxton, England, the UK, Europe.

Now, though, it’s crunch time. Two weeks and we’re done. Many are going to Italy. Others of us are traveling on our own. France, Greece, London, anyplace we want to go, really. And others are going home straightaway.  But no matter what, this sense of spring, of beginnings and endings, is with us all. Soon we’ll be back in the good old US of A, different people than who left four incredibly long and unbelievably short months ago.