Wednesday, 8 April 2015

My Meet-a-Family Experience

I didn’t know anybody coming to Harlaxton.  Studying abroad meant that I would leave my family, my friends, and everything I was familiar with for four months.  That’s the longest I have ever been away from home—let alone having the experience take place overseas.  Some of my biggest fears at the beginning of the semester included homesickness and not being able to immerse myself in the British culture.  I worried about how much Harlaxton would feel like home.  How could it?  I would be living in an architectural phenomenon—nothing short of a miniature fairy tale castle. 

I expressed my concerns to a friend at my home campus that had previously done a semester abroad at Harlaxton.  She informed me about the Meet-a-Family Program offered in Harlaxton.  After filling out a short questionnaire application, any student could potentially be matched with a local family for the semester.  Of course, the student to family ratio didn’t guarantee a placement in the program, but I decided it was worth taking my chances.  And I am so happy I did.

The Meet-a-Family program has been a blessing throughout my semester at Harlaxton.  As the semester draws near to an end, I reflect back on how much I have gained through the opportunity.  My host parents, Jan and John, invited me into their home and treated me as if I were their own daughter.  They took the time out of their busy schedules to make England feel like home.

At the first Meet-a-Family dinner, I remember giving my host mother a jar of maple syrup in a container shaped like a maple leaf.  We got to know each other and discovered mutual interests in Downton Abbey and desserts (or pudding).  It marked the beginning of my English family.  The relationship I’ve built with them traveling the English countryside, over home-cooked meals, and at their cozy cottage is a relationship that I will always value.  From taking me to Sempringham for my British Studies research to buying me chocolate from a candy shop to visiting Woolsthorpe Manor to solving crossword puzzles together in the afternoons to getting to know each other better over Afternoon Tea—I made some of my favorite Harlaxton memories with Jan and John.  They even offer to let me do laundry at their home—something unusual for families in the program.  I couldn’t have asked for better host parents. 

At the end of the month, Jan and John are taking me to Oliver!, a musical in Uppingham. Both acted with the company in previous productions, so I am excited to learn more about the musical theatre world through their commentary.  It makes me sad that it will be my last visit with them for the semester, but I know that because of my time with them through the Meet-a-Family program, I forever have a family in England.  I plan to visit my English “home” again one day.

I am so thankful I got the chance to participate in the Meet-a-Family program during my time at Harlaxton.  Any fears and reservations I had at the beginning of the semester have disappeared.  I have truly gained a second home.  I would recommend the Meet-a-Family program to anybody coming to Harlaxton.  Wonderful people like Jan and John make the Harlaxton experience even better.
-Mackenzie Amundsen

Planes and Professors

The Gold Room at Harlaxton Manor is packed. Students and visitors alike are patiently waiting to attend another installment of the lecture series held in the building.

                Amid the soft chatter, Professor Edward Bujak stands calmly at the front. His black suit and white dress shirt, unbuttoned at the collar, make a fine representation of his personality: confident, professional and yet somehow easy-going.

                 The doors close and the audience becomes silent. Bujak describes the manor grounds as they were a hundred years ago, swarming with bi-planes and aspiring fighter pilots.

 Bujak is a British Studies professor at Harlaxton College who is all about history. As a man whose research interests lie in country houses, Harlaxton Manor house seems to be a perfect fit.

Bujak found himself at Harlaxton after teaching part-time at East Anglia University, the school where he earned his PhD. With no job options available at the time, he began searching outside of the mainstream for employment and stumbled upon an advertisement for Harlaxton.

“On the basis that it was interesting, and different to what I had planned on doing, I thought I would give it a go,” said Bujak. “Luckily, I got the job.”

Bujak is one of four British studies professors who lead lectures and conduct seminars. Along with British Studies, he also offers other classes ranging from Renaissance and Reformation Europe to British Politics Since 1945.  Currently, Bujak is teaching a class on Word War II.

An important quality for any teacher is a passion for the subject, which seems to be no problem for Bujak. He has always considered history “more of a hobby than a career.”

This hobby carries into the classroom and the enthusiastic atmosphere helps students to become excited about history as well.

 “He makes the class very energetic and easy to engage in,” said Jessica Toney, a junior in Bujak’s World War II class. “It’s a nice change of pace from professors that read information from PowerPoint slides.”

Bujak has no problem describing events in history with the intensity level of an action packed novel.

“He’s a man with boundless energy and is really someone who doesn’t put up a front.” said British Studies Professor Bianca Leggett.

The concept of learning between Americans and the British on the manor grounds didn’t begin with the college itself, however; it originated during World War I.

After discovering an aerial photograph of a bi-plane over Harlaxton, Bujak decided to focus on a history lying just outside of his window.

Curiosity behind the photo became the inspiration for Bujak to tell the tale of a different kind of classroom that existed near the manor.

The grounds at Harlaxton served as a training area for pilots who hailed from across the British Empire as well as American mechanics.

By digging deeper, Bujak uncovered numerous interesting details on the successes and failures of young men from across the globe learning to harness the power of a new weapon, the airplane.

“You find this one little piece, and then you keep digging and digging,” said Bujak, describing the photograph and research process. “And you end up with 65,000 words in a book.”

 Bujak’s book Reckless Fellows: The Gentleman of the Royal Flying Corps will be available in the fall of 2015

During Bujak’s installment of the Gold Room lecture series, he described the new pilots earning their wings while throwing in a brief Top Gun reference, deriving a laugh from the American students.

The combination of attentive eyes and laughter in the room, prove that Harlaxton’s century-old tradition of Brits and Yanks learning together is far from over.
-Patrick Henry