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.