It doesn't seem at all like 20 years have past since my freshman year of college. On this date in 1987 I was packing my two allotted suitcases and bursting with anticipation of spending my freshman year abroad in England.
I had grown up in a small town in Northern Kentucky near Cincinnati, Ohio and I never fit in with 98% of my high school classmates. My 11th grade guidance counselor looked at me as though I sprouted horns when I clearly stated my intention of studying in England for my first year in college. "You mean, you don't want to go to UK [Univ. of Kentucky]?" he asked incredulously. A large percentage of my college-bound classmates were headed there. I was furious with him, but then I was furious and impatient with people in general in those days. So I embarked upon my own mission to find a college program where a freshman could study abroad. My mother and the Cincinnati Public Library's resources helped me in my quest. From the library I found an address for the Council on International Education Exchange. They sent me a 3/4" catalogue of study abroad programs. I narrowed it down to three programs that permitted freshman to enter their program, but one of the three leaped out at me from the page and said something like this:
Study in a stately home built in the 1830s by industrialist Gregory Gregory. Take liberal arts classes taught by British and American faculty in state rooms and live on a manor with 6.5 acre walled garden and formal gardens. . .
When I applied to the University of Evansville for admission to Harlaxton College all those years ago, I had no idea how much it would change my life. For the first time I felt like the world was huge and mine for exploration. I found my profession, art history, there influenced by one of Harlaxton's eminent faculty members, medieval scholar Lady Wedgwood [Dr. Pamela Tudor-Craig]. Even though my parents are professional artists, I had no idea that you could think, talk and write about art as a job before attending Harlaxton and sitting-in on Lady Wedgwood's amazing lectures. I also took four courses in British history and literature, and a wonderful science course on Physical Geography of Great Britain. I absorbed quietly like a little sponge and adored every minute of starring up to a ceiling of gilt Victorian grandeur or stone masonry.
And I traveled. Every weekend I went somewhere, all around the island of Great Britain, including North Wales, Edinburgh, York, Lincoln, the Cotswolds, the Lake District, and of course, many trips to London. Each semester were had two four-day long weekends for travel and so I went to the Ile de France, to Venice, to Rome, and explored the seaside town of Ramsgate where my great grandmother Anne left behind those shores for the New World.
I met some wonderful people art Harlaxton and found myself immersed in diverse cultures. It was truly an international community with students from the UK, Europe, the Middle East all blended together. I went to pubs and imbibed good British cider and bitter. I ate Indian food for the first time. I became friends with students from Chicago, rural Indiana, and Germany. I'll never forget the evening that the Turkish students invited us to share strong coffee and Turkish delight with them. I won't for get the fall evening of the Guy Fawkes Night Bonfire and an evening ramble to explore Harlaxton's creepy gatehouse. My friend AC and I explored the punk clothing stores in Nottingham and played Warhammer role-playing games in the evenings. The American students put together a haunted house for Halloween and a one-mile line of British teens were lined up to go inside (back then, haunted houses were an oddity in England). We rented costumes and enjoyed a fabulous masquerade ball in the great hall each semester.
It would be impossible for me to encompass that entire year into one short essay and do it justice, but I can only hint at the richness I learned by seeing, touching, hearing about things that were far older than any European settlement in the United States. I had such a hunger for anything antique or ancient. The tangible contact with all that history changed me. It grounded my future and raised my awareness to things beyond the tiny, provincial community where I had lived most of my then 18 years.
Now sitting here twenty years later it is difficult for me to separate the strands of my life that were affected by this grand tour experiment of mine in my freshman year. I would be a different person now, if not for Harlaxton. I would venture to guess I am a more interesting and better education person for having been there, too.