Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Misadventures in Birmingham

Or How I Survived 7 Uncomfortable Situations in 26 hours
Shelby Preston, Spring 2017

This weekend, I went to Birmingham with my friends. The plan was to meet up with my friend’s relatives, who live in the city. We were strikingly unorganized for this trip, so I wasn’t expecting much--which was a good thing, considering how unexpected the trip turned out to be.

There are seven Uncomfortable Situations in this list: three of them include trains, one includes a taxi driver, two include alcohol, and one involves the repercussions of being Americans in Europe, which comes with uncomfortable-ness on its own.

Situation 1.                       The first situation began while we were on the first train--a good omen for the rest of our trip, honestly. Here, we learned for the first time that while tourists are best to remain quiet and respectful on trains, English people can do what they want on them. We desperately tried to use headphones to block out the sound of the very drunk, very loud, very English girls sitting by us. Headphones don’t work for this purpose.
Situation 2.                       The second situation also takes place on a train, but it’s much more exciting. We switched trains at Nottingham; and, about halfway through, as we were all settled down and ready to finally reach Birmingham, heard the train voice offering us another fantastic omen for our trip--“There has been a fire on the tracks at the Birmingham station. All riders need to get off here.” We found our replacement train, though--after walking around for about fifteen minutes asking anyone in a yellow vest where to go and getting completely different answers each time. The fun part is that these two experiences happened on my first train ride ever.
Situation 3.                        Finally--FINALLY--we made it to the Birmingham train station. We got a taxi, gave him the address to the place, and settled down, again, for the trip. This being my first ride in an English taxi, I wasn’t expecting the driver to suddenly inform us that he couldn’t find the address; and I most definitely wasn’t expecting his solution to this problem to be “I’ll drop you off here and you can walk around and find it.” In other words, four female American tourists, holding luggage and using our phones as maps, were wandering around at 10 p.m on a Friday night on the back roads of the second biggest city in England. Don’t tell my parents.
Situation 4.                       The interesting part of the weekend actually begins here. We met up with my friend’s family, her cousin, who took us to the flat that we were going to be staying in for the weekend. He then gave us an offer: he would take us out to an “authentic Birmingham pub” and buy us drinks. We didn’t understand the gravity of this offer, at least not at the time. This man was a...drinking enthusiast, and he liked the people he was with to be drinking enthusiasts, too; this meant rounds and rounds of alcohol were being served to us. Don’t want another drink? Sorry. Haven’t finished your first? Too bad. This did not bode well for me and my three American friends, as none of us had had a real taste for alcohol yet.
Situation 5.                       Luckily, we all managed to survive this; we all were able to get out of his insistence on continuing to buy us drinks. However, we were not able to get out of his insistence on getting us an authentic English serving of chips to take back to the flat with us. Back at the flat, we luckily found a way to insult all of England by determining that this enormous serving of chips was subpar to American fast food fries. We apologize, England; please don’t send us home.
Situation 6.                       The next day, we went out to dinner with my friend’s family--about 12 people total. They were fascinated with us, as were we with them; but the questions were more answered than asked on our part, because if anyone was going to talk, we’d rather it be someone with a British accent. This is when the dinner became uncomfortable. We managed to both break some of the American stereotypes they had...and to confirm some of them.
                        Things we reassured them about:
1.      No, we are not diehard Trump supporters; no, we did not watch the inauguration with popcorn and sodas
2.      No, sorority life at UE is not like sororities in the movies
3.      No, not all Americans are used to warm weather and are dying slowly in this England cold (just some of us).
Things we, unfortunately, left them with:
1.      Yes, of course Taco Bell and White Castle are all Americans’ favorite restaurants, and they are definitely authentic American cuisine
2.      Yes, we are perfectly comfortable being hugged and kissed on the cheek by every member of your family
3.      Yes, of course we are going to go out and party tonight; sleeping and Netflix were in no way the original agenda
Situation 7.                       On the way home, we encountered the last and possibly most scarring Uncomfortable Situation: the train at 9pm on a Saturday night. A train full of drunks sat right behind us. We prayed they wouldn’t be loud; and then they started singing. We prayed they wouldn’t be messy; and then they spilled an entire beer in the aisle and stared at it until someone expertly offered, “We spilled that.” And we prayed they would get off at one of the many stops before we reached Grantham--at ANY of the 5 other options--and then we heard a slurred “Is this Grantham?” “No, it’s not Grantham!” “Well, how long ‘til Grantham?” and so on (with some other choice insults, naturally). We did escape, eventually, to enjoy another--luckily uneventful--cab ride back to the manor.  

All of these situations made the trip to Birmingham very...colorful. Despite the unplanned parts, of being scared for our lives and whatnot, we did manage to see some beautiful sites in Birmingham--this lovely statue of a bull, for example, with whom we posed on the notion of “Oh, it looks cool, let’s get a picture with it” This reasoning is similar to how we explored the Birmingham city center, and how we’ve explored and gotten lost in most places we’ve traveled so far.

The best part of traveling to Birmingham wasn’t experiencing so many things. It wasn’t casually pretending that we felt uncomfortable accepting free food and cab rides from my friend’s family; it wasn’t getting more experience in dissecting heavily accented British sentences; and it wasn’t even the fact that every British person we meet that finds out we spent a weekend in Birmingham repeats “Birmingham?” with shock, even though that’s been my favorite part so far. I suppose I will say that the best part of Birmingham was getting to explore it with my friends.

Monday, 20 February 2017

From Kid to Classmate: My Harlaxton Experience, 2.0

Anna Siewers, Fall 2012 (Harlaxton 'Kid') & Spring 2017 (Harlaxton Student) 

Almost two months has passed since the Spring 2017 class of Harlaxton College arrived at our new home in Grantham, England. Many of my favorite moments so far have been the number of ‘firsts’ that my classmates and I have encountered— first time in a new country, first time living away from home and family, first time planning independent excursions, and of course, first experience living in a beautiful manor home on the English countryside.

However, my first experience living here is a little different than most. It actually occurred a little over four years ago, during the fall of 2012. And instead of attending Harlaxton as a college student, I was a Harlaxton "kid." My father, a professor at Western Kentucky University, had applied for and accepted a position as a faculty member for a semester at Harlaxton College. This meant that not only my dad, but my mom, younger sister, and I packed up our lives (at least, as much as we could fit in a few suitcases) and headed to England for four months. 

Of course, that experience was quite different from the one I'm having now. Instead of the renovated servant's quarters that I'm currently calling home, my family and I lived in two spacious rooms on the Blue Corridor that were just about as ornate as the fancy state rooms that I now attend class in. My mom, our resident travel agent, planned all our weekend trips for our family. So, just like the rest of my classmates, I am most definitely learning one weekend at a time how to see all of Europe in a semester without going broke.

The transition from family life in America to family life abroad was not necessarily easy. My dad was traveling for his job, so he simply had to acquire a work visa (easy enough, right?). My mom took four months off her work for our travels, and my sister and I (aged 12 and 15 at the time) enrolled in all-girls public school in Grantham. Before this, we were the type of kids who had gone to school with the exact same people since kindergarten. So, naturally, a school with uniforms, a bi-weekly block schedule, houses (think Harry Potter), no boys, and not a single familiar face caused just a little bit of a culture shock.

 Don't get me wrong, though, I wouldn't trade my semester at Walton Girls' High School for the world. As soon as it was discovered that my sister and I were American, we were asked about a million and a half questions each day for the remainder of our time there. 

"Do you live in California? How long does it take to drive there?" (this question was always followed with looks of disbelief when I answered.)
"Have you ever met any famous people?"
"Does your house look like the Kardashian's does?" 
"Do you really go to school with boys?"
"Wait, Kentucky? As in KFC?" (we're leaving a great legacy, y'all)

Schoolwise, Walton couldn't have been more different from my many years of experience in the American public school system. Tests, quizzes, and homework were not the daily occurrence that they were back home. My classes included dance, 
religious studies, and even a free period when I attempted to teach myself the curriculum for my AP United States History course back home. I quickly    learned that math class was referred to as "maths", you were to say "yes, miss" instead of "here" during roll call, and that backpacks were definitely not the cool way to transport your books.

Since homework was basically nonexistent, I would come home from school and spend my afternoons roaming the manor and grounds, playing snooker, watching movies, you name it. To this day, I still know all the secret passages and best hangout spots in and around the manor like the back of my hand. This semester, however, time outside of class is spent crying over British Studies or crying over my bank account as I plan out my next weekend excursion. Instead of watching the older college students compete in house competitions, I’m competing myself with my own teammates. Rather than hanging out in the Van der Elst faculty lounge with my family, I can often be found in the Schroeder Lounge or the Bistro with my friends.

But as different as my experience four years ago was, so much is just the same this time around. Many of the same friendly faces on staff are there to greet every person each day with a smile. The refectory food hasn’t changed in the slightest. And the manor itself is exactly as I left it-- in fact, I distinctly remember that feeling of awe that washed over me as I caught my first glimpse of the majestic building back in August 
of 2012. And just a month ago as our bus of bleary-eyed college students pulled up to the gate, that feeling that washed over us was just the same.          
As a sophomore in high school, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life after graduation (surprisingly, I'm still figuring that one out). I did, however, know that I would do absolutely whatever it took to return to Harlaxton as a college student. At only 15 years old, this place opened my eyes to an entire world outside of what I had always known. It left me with an inexplicable desire to travel, experience, and create my own 
world view. My time at Harlaxton gave me a greater understanding of different cultures, languages, and people. And at 20 years old, it's doing exactly the same.

They say ‘you only Harlaxton once’—and for many, that is true. But if you’re like me and ever find yourself with the opportunity to study abroad or travel the world all over again, take it. The ­­­­people you’ll meet, the lessons you’ll learn, and the experiences you’ll have are ones that you will carry with you for years to come.

Spring 2017

Friday, 17 February 2017

Why You Should Ask for Directions: Adventures in Cardiff

Rachel McCoy, Spring 2017


           This weekend I went to Cardiff, Wales with Georgia McMaster and we got a little lost because buses are confusing, especially when you can’t find a complete map of the system. We were trying to use Google Maps but the Wifi was iffy at best. Regardless, we were pretty sure we’d found the right bus stop, evident by the bus parked at the stop. The only problem was we weren’t sure if it was the right bus, so we decided to ask an older couple that was also waiting for the bus. Here’s how that conversation went:
I cautiously walk up to the couple, “excuse me, is this bus going to the Bay?”
            Older lady turns to me and says very politely, “no, this is a park ‘n’ ride bus.”
As I try to hide my disappointment I respond, “oh, thank you,” and walk away with Georgia.
We proceeded to huddle against a wall in order to get wifi and realized that the bus we wanted would be there in about ten minutes. To our surprise, however, the older couple asked the bus driver if he could still give us a ride while we waited. With two bus drivers present for the changing of shifts, the one who was coming off shift said “If it was my bus, I’d definitely take them” and the current bus driver also agreed.
Georgia and I looked at each other, shocked that it was really happening, but the older gentleman gestured for us to get on with him, saying “pretend you're in my car.”
Once seated on the bus Georgia said to the couple, “you're so nice, thank you very much.”
And the lady replied “of course we are, we’re Welsh.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for directions/help/whatever you need from someone who looks like they know what they’re doing because it can really pay off. Also, totally go to Wales. A short trip from Harlaxton, Wales is the location of many historical places as well as several iconic places from the Doctor Who universe. One of my favorite things Georgia and I did was walk a few trails in Bute Park on Saturday morning and, despite being a cold day in January, the sun had called plenty of people (and dogs) outside. Bute Park is next to Cardiff Castle, and has extensive cycling and walking trails for those who fancy the outdoors. Not only did we walk several trails but also climbed some trees and leisurely soaked up the sun in the beautiful place.
The beautiful city is also the location of great little shops all within walking distance of one another.  While we were there for only two days, there’s plenty more to explore including several museums, Sully Island, and Principality Stadium. In Wales, you can simply walk down the street with a guarantee to find something to do.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Love Stories from Harlaxton Manor

Harlaxton not only brings together students for a semester filled with adventure, but it’s also known to bring together couples destined for love. Over the past 45 years, young men and women have started their lives together on the grounds of the 19th century country home. So this Valentine’s Day Harlaxton College wants to celebrate some of the love stories that started and blossomed during their time at the Manor. From sitting next to each other in classes to competing against one another in House competitions, you never know if you’re going to meet your future spouse at Harlaxton.

Hayden and Abby, Spring 2014

“Our story begins in the hotel lobby on the first day of our London trip: several of our mutual friends from Western Kentucky University were gathered in a group as we waited to set out on our excursion to the Tower of London. This is where we were first introduced.
As the weeks at Harlaxton College flew by, we began to see more of each other—in the refectory, on group outings into Grantham, and movie nights in the Pearson room. Eventually, we found ourselves talking into the early hours of many mornings, getting to know each other very quickly. As time passed, we became nearly inseparable: celebrating our birthdays together, spending our weekends exploring the Manor, and creating the best memories with our fellow students. We went on our first date at the Barcelona Zoo, a trip we will never forget.
           When we returned to the U.S., we spent all summer traveling to see each other. We knew our Harlaxton romance was special and on June 25, 2015 we got engaged. We spent a year planning for the wedding and our future as the Hickeys. On June 4th, 2016, we got married surrounded by many of our Harlaxton friends. As this time of year comes around, we frequently reminisce about our time on the English countryside and thank Gregory Gregory for the beautiful Manor, built perfectly to give us the opportunity to fall in love.” — Abby 

Sean and Cheyanne, Fall 2012

“Cheyanne and I met the night of the Ceilidh dance, one of the first events of the Fall 2012 semester. We were both from different schools but as fate would have it, my parents live in the same town as her university. Thus proving again how travel makes the world seem a bit smaller for us global citizens. On our first date, Zyggy drove us to town in the shuttle for a romantic ASDA trip. The magic of the Manor was strong and after a trip to Paris and many more dates at that finest of Grantham establishments, The Goose, we knew we had found something special. We're both so thankful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of falling in love in a Manor house in the English countryside. It must have been all the Shakespeare and Austen we absolutely had time to read. We will soon be celebrating 3 happy years of marriage at our home in China. Harlaxton gave us a love for traveling together. So much so we are typing this blog post from our Airbnb in Tokyo! The journey never ends! Pegasus House for life.” — Sean  

Tyler and Lorissa, Spring 2014

“Our path to one another was based on a lot of slim chances going our way; if one thing had changed, we would have never met. From both of us choosing to go to one of the few schools that sends people to Harlaxton (I’m from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Tyler from Wabash College) to Tyler having classes with professors on the study abroad committee and getting an informal offer to make the trip abroad, and from me changing my plans to study in Limerick, Ireland to Harlaxton, England. We look back now and realize how truly lucky we were to end up in the United Kingdom.
It was an even happier coincidence that we managed to find ourselves seated next to one another in Dr. Bujak’s World War II class. I had a crush on Tyler from the minute I laid eyes on his beard (just kidding...kind of) but was way too chicken to approach him. Tyler had no idea in the slightest that I had a crush on him. Tyler introduced himself eventually by talking trash about my beloved Green Bay Packers (he’s a Chicago Bears fan), a tactic that only worked because I’m such a big football fan in the first place.
After that we became friends, he even got to meet my family in another chance encounter, until eventually things came to a head at an incredibly classy establishment called Faces. After Tyler danced with my good friend, Sonja (he still didn’t know I had a crush on him), our mutual friend Chrissy finally revealed that I really liked him. Even though Tyler tried to be as dashing as he could by asking me to dance, I rejected the offer. After trying a couple more times, I eventually gave him a shot. It’s truly amazing to think that that night has led to us being officially together for three years this April and working towards moving in together in the very near future.” — Lorissa  

Austin and Makayla, Fall 2013

“Our story began while studying at Harlaxton during the Fall 2013 semester. He was a student at the University of Evansville and I was a student at Baker University. The first time we met was the day the house cup teams were selected. We were both placed in Pegasus, and from then on, we couldn’t get enough time together. Neither of us were looking for a relationship, but we never expected to grow so close in just three short months. We started traveling together on the weekends and towards the end of the semester we knew we didn’t want it to end. When we got back to the states, he went home to Indiana and I went back to Kansas. I made the seven hour trip to Indiana less than two weeks after we returned. We made the long distance work for our first semester back, it only took 10,000 miles on the road in four months. After that semester, I made the big decision to transfer to a school in Evansville. I made the big move in May of 2014, and from that point on, it has been nothing but great adventures together!
Our adventures together have taken us to nine countries, parasailing on the Gulf Coast, rappelling down waterfalls in Costa Rica, and zip lining over the rain forest in Central America. Harlaxton was the greatest adventure either of us had ever experienced, but because of that one semester abroad, we are about to start our next great adventure. We are getting married in September!” — Makayla

Jordan and Chelsea, Fall 2012

“Chelsea and I met for the first time at the High Table dinner when we first got to the Manor. We went to different colleges, so we had never even seen each other before. It was a rather brief introduction, and honestly neither of us really thought much of it. A couple of months went by and some people at the Manor decided to order pizza and have a Lord of the Rings marathon. The Pearson Lounge was occupied, so we all crammed into one of the little rooms down in the Bistro. Well, once there, this girl, who I though was rather cute, offered to teach me how to play Hearts on my computer. She did, and then proceeded to take her seat on the other side of the room. We watched the first movie, and then learned the Pearson Lounge was free. We moved our group upstairs and I strategically seated myself on the couch next to this quiet, charming girl whose name was Chelsea. After that, we travelled together on a lot trips throughout the semester. We explored Caernarfon Castle, saw Stonehenge and explored the Louvre together, which we consider our first official date, which was the last time we saw each other while in Europe. She studied abroad another semester in the spring, this time in Costa Rica. We dated for about a year and a half before getting married June 6, 2015. And here we are, married for a year and a half and always planning our next adventure.” — Jordan

Michael and Sarah, Spring 2015
“Sarah and I met each other for the first time early in Harlaxton, but we didn't really start talking to each other until one day when I spotted her in the DVD room. I started talking to her about my writing, and soon we grew into friends. I would hang out with her and her friend group every Monday, and then more often. Sarah and I were friends for a while until I went to Gibraltar, where I realized she had feelings for me. We talked, cuddled and I asked her out. We had our first kiss, but for a while we wanted to keep it away from the friend group so as to not create drama. We had an amazing time traveling together to Bath and Stonehenge that we decided to tell our friends after returning to the Manor.  Then I was hanging out with her every day. We grew in our relationship, and after I got back from France we told each other "I love you". The month of April was hard for us because we knew that we would have to say goodbye soon, but we wanted to continue long distance. We even had a talk about it in the Gold Room on how we were going to make it. Leaving her at Heathrow was the hardest thing I have ever done. Despite the fact that I spent the next two weeks with my family in Europe, I missed her so much. When I got back home, we planned a flight to see each other. I flew down to Austin Texas to see her. Three times that summer we saw each other, and each time was special. Sarah and I made a promise to see each other in person every month, and so far we have kept it. I have flown and driven the full 18 hours to see her numerous times. This winter was my 6th trip to Texas by car.” — Michael

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Most Common Mistakes Students Make When They Get Here

By: Brittney Diehm, Spring 2017

When we all go through the decision-making process about whether or not to completely exit our comfort zones for an entire semester, I think many students turn to friends that have already come to Harlaxton or studied abroad somewhere else. At least, that’s what my friends and I seemed to do.

The advice I received ranged from, “oh my gosh Brittney you have to do it, it will change your life forever” to “you will grow so much in such a short amount of time,” and even “you will forever want to go back even though there will be times you will want nothing but to just be home.”

Looking at these messages now… wow. In only a few short weeks I can see how all of this advice can relate to so many people. And let me tell you, we’ve all grown and learned a lot and January isn’t even over yet. People make mistakes, and we have a lot of mistakes to make here.

We were put here at Harlaxton to figure life out. To make mistakes, and be our own people in our own little ‘Harlaxton Bubble’. So let’s talk about the mistakes made already.

As far as my travel experience, the second week I was here I booked the wrong flight and immediately panicked. I think I was overwhelmed looking at flights, times, trains, taxis, and many other tabs opened on my computer while trying to plan the perfect weekend trip. I took a second and simply searched how to switch my flight. Although it cost me an extra 30 pounds, it was so easy to do and I guess I experienced #adulting for myself.

One student also made the mistake of playing me in basketball. Don’t do that. I’m pretty sure he has pneumonia now.

There have been much worse experiences, however. Groups have missed shuttles to the train station, missed trains, had the door of the train shut in their faces as the rest of the group happily carries on without them, and flights have been delayed placing students behind on arrival over 20 hours.

Every mistake is a learning opportunity, especially when travelling. However, as study abroad students we learn to make the most out of our mistakes and develop stronger relationships.

Like I said before, we are all here to learn, grow, and make our own mistakes. Everyone has made their fair share already, but we’re all continuing to thrive. We can’t complain. What are a few mistakes compared to living in a castle and travelling to a new country every weekend? 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Roaming the Streets of Cambridge

By Alexander Erny, Spring 2017

Recently, I traveled with some of my fellow student’s to Cambridge, England, for the chance to explore the town and to see what the historic home of intellectual thought had to offer for a traveler like me.  Before our group arrived at Cambridge, however, we first stopped at the Cambridge American Cemetery, kept in pristine condition by the American Battle Monuments Commission. 

Our tour of the cemetery was short, due to the freezing conditions outside.  However, our tour was not hampered, nor was its effect diminished, as the tour and pictures we were shown was truly humbling and made me personally feel extremely sad for the loss of many great and gallant American crews and servicemen.  After our tour of the Cemetery, we had but a short trip to the actual town of Cambridge itself.  We were dropped off by one of the bigger streets on the outskirts of the town, and proceeded to wander through the city to discover what Cambridge had to offer.  On our way into the town, we were pleasantly surprised to see the Mathematical Bridge, a wonder in the town reported to be completely free of nails, screws, or anything else that would normally be used to fabricate bridges.

Moving past this architectural wonder, we made our way into the town to sample the marketplace.  One of the bigger attractions to Cambridge, the marketplace was filled with trinkets, food stalls from foreign places, and even an outdoor bookstore.  Personally, the marketplace was one of my favorites, and a great way for our group to start the day.  After that, we made our way through many of the museums and attractions in the area.  While most of the colleges themselves were unfortunately closed, there were still plenty of other things that were highly interesting.  We traveled to multiple museums scattered around the campus.  A couple museums that were located next to each other were the Sedgwick Museum of Geology, and the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology.   The Sedgwick Museum was great for all geologists, and contained many different rocks and other minerals within its walls. 

The Museum of Archaeology was also excellent, containing rare artifacts such as a three-story tall totem pole, canoes, and even human remains found throughout history.

A block away from the geology and archaeology museums was the Fitzwilliam Museum, filled with different artifacts, stories, and even an entire room dedicated to medieval armor and weaponry (my personal favorite).


In conclusion, I thought that Cambridge was an excellent place to visit for intellectuals, and general tourism.  Even after the rather sobering experience of visiting the Cambridge American Cemetery, I was still able to pull back and enjoy the experience of Cambridge.  I highly recommend visiting the marketplace, and if you have any form of intellectual interests there is something there to see for just about everyone.