Flying on a commercial flight for the first time in my life was an incredible way to begin my journey at Wroxton. I sat next to a fellow student, and as we took off, he and I stared out the window until the ground was thousands of feet away. As the flight progressed and the world turned pitch black around us, I was able to see more stars than I had ever seen before in my life thanks to the utter darkness of the ocean.
That was only one of the many firsts I would have on my trip.
Nicholas Baldwin, the dean of the college, intimidated many of us for the first week we were at Wroxton. I remember when he pointed out that I had used the wrong plate for my cookies at tea time and I thought he was judging me for my American stupidity. However, we all soon learned that he, along with a large portion of the British population, simply has a sarcastic sense of humor that takes some time to get used to.
Their humor was only one of the many things we noticed was different from Americans. For one, British people are a lot more quiet and reserved in public. I remember feeling quite sheepish the first time we went into London when the students I travelled with were the only ones talking on the entire train as the British passengers just stared at us.
That entire first trip to London was quite the experience. Not only did we have to book our own place to stay for the weekend, but we had to navigate our way there without a map of the city. A friend of mine even got her luggage stuck in the doors of the “Tube.”
When we finally arrived at our hostel, I didn’t dare take a shower in the dirty communal bathroom, yet even then, sharing a room with five friends just felt like a big sleepover. I even got to meet an interesting man from South Africa in the common room of the hostel, as my friend tactfully handled an annoyingly flirtatious Greek man who said his favorite book was “The Kama Sutra.”
On a different trip to London, several of my friends and I saw something going on in Trafalgar Square and headed over to investigate, only to be caught up in a massive pillow fight. PETA had organized an animal protest, and as a result everyone was hitting each other with pillows. Feathers were everywhere on the ground and in the air as we fought through the crowd of frenzied participants. We ended up a street away, picking feathers out of each other’s hair like monkeys.
However, it wasn’t just the trips to London that produced interesting stories and memories for us.
For example, on our second day in Paris, France, a group of friends and I went to the beautiful Sacred Heart church. On our way, a kind but senile elderly woman saw me in a chocolate shop and began singing a song to me. I kept trying to explain that I didn’t speak French, but she simply kept smiling and singing. Afterwards, one of my friends explained that it had been the tragic and famous, “La Vie en Rose,” and to this day I’m not sure why she sang that song to me.
The food of course was delicious, and we met a self-proclaimed “crepe master” who made the best crepe I have ever tasted. Even the escargot was surprisingly good, seeing as I was eating snails.
As for our trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, it seemed as if the general consensus was that it was one of our favorite trips. I climbed a hill over 800 feet tall called “Arthur’s Seat” two days in a row. It was so windy once we reached the top, that I feared I would literally be blown off the side. Though my legs were sore, the view looking down over the city and the ocean in the distance was worth the climb.
Edinburgh also offered ghost tours at night where they took you underground and told gruesome stories of people who died there. The city was also the first place I ever attended a club. Even though the floor was sticky from spilled drinks and the music wasn’t all that great, it was a fun night.
It was during this trip to Scotland that I gained a lot of confidence realizing I could navigate a foreign city on my own.
There were so many more amazing trips, from exploring the ruins of Kenilworth castle to seeing a preserved ship at Portsmouth. But I would be remiss if I left out actual life at the abbey.
Each room was unique, and many of us got one of our own. There was an expansive basement where a lot of shenanigans took place. For example, one night several of us got together and built a massive blanket fort.
We also held a ping-pong tournament – which I sadly did not win – and played many games down there including Cards Against Humanity and Kings. We even had a little mouse friend named Matilda who would run in and out of the rooms at random times.
Other than the Buttery, which was the college’s own pub where we held all of our tea times and dances, the basement was one of our favorite spots to hang out. That is, when we weren’t stressing over the papers due that week, because yes, you have to actually do work when you attend this college.
In addition to our classes, we also had tutorials where groups of a few students would meet with the professor to discuss our research on topics related to class. Some of the professors’ stringent rules and unfamiliar teaching methods added to the stress of the class.
The work wasn’t easy, I’m not going to lie. In fact, nothing at Wroxton really was. Friendships that we formed could be very intense and supportive. But because we were around the same people every day, problems arose all too easily that could cause rifts between close friends. Similarly, there were times when I felt utterly exhausted from all the traveling and work packed into our busy itinerary.
However, what no one really tells you, is that coming back may be the hardest part of the entire journey.
For a while after arriving in America, I felt a lingering sadness and loss. I eventually realized that I was experiencing the reverse-culture shock I learned about in my Global Communication class. It was difficult readjusting to American life after having lived as an outsider for several months. Different aspects of the country, from cars and colloquialisms to politics and laws, seemed strange to me for a while.
Mostly, I realized that I had changed and so had my friends and family. They had lived their own lives while I was away in a distant country, and there are certain ways in which we diverged because of our differing experiences.
I also frequently find myself missing my Wroxton friends. After having lived with them for so long, it is strange not being able to simply walk down the hall to see them. Yet even with the difficult aspects of my experience, I believe it was all worth it.
On the rare occasion that people actually ask me in-depth questions about my time in England, I’m never really sure how to respond.
How can you explain the taste of the food, the beauty of European nature and architecture or the excitement of discovering your independence? How do you explain the simple enjoyment of spending time with friends in an abbey you came to think of as home? How do you explain that every single experience, from the grand expeditions to the simple encounters, will change your life?
Maybe I wanted to write this to find a way to explain what I experienced. Or maybe I wanted to write this to encourage even just one person to take a chance and study abroad.
All I can really say is that I believe you should go to England – because when you study abroad, you are more than just a student and Wroxton is more than just a school.