I have been going over plans for a two-week trip to the United Kingdom in March to conduct research for my large-scale sabbatical project.
I’m excited for the project, which explores the role of a community newspaper in Manchester, England. But I’m also excited to re-visit spaces I fell in love with more than twenty years ago.
In 1992, I spent a semester studying at Harlaxton College, near Grantham, England. Over the course of the term, I completed my history minor by taking interdisciplinary coursework in the history of the U.K., the history of British music, and medieval European history. I lived in a manor house that looked more like a castle to my Midwestern American eyes, and I indulged a need to see everything my young romantic heart wanted to see.
I walked the walls that circled the city of York.
I danced with friends in the courtyard of Nottingham Castle, and sipped a cider in the oldest pub in England.
I drank single-malt whiskey on the moors outside of Haworth, thinking about the Bronte sisters and visiting their home there.
I waited with friends at the front of the line for day-return tickets to see Phantom of the Opera in the West End, and we put out a hat on the street corner to catch the coins we earned while singing there.
I saw Les Miserables for the first time, also in the West End.
I watched Guy Fawkes fires burn across the countryside on my train trip north to Scotland from Grantham. I toured the Scots Whiskey Heritage museum on an empty stomach, and made my way, typsy on good single-malt, down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. I stood on the beach where Chariots of Fire was filmed in St. Andrews, and stood silent at the chapel there on November 11.
I wandered around Stonehenge, and took enough pictures to waste an entire roll of film. I fell to my knees in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, in prayer, and my phantom eyes saw the complete walls of my monks’ cell.
I saw Byron’s original writings, under glass in his home, and the Crown Jewels, under guard in the Tower of London. I saw the place Anne Boleyn was beheaded, and heard the stories of the princes in the Tower from the Yeoman Warders.
I toured Windsor Castle before part of it was destroyed and rebuilt in a fire.
I explored the Roman ruins of Caerleon in Wales, seeking connection to the tales of Camelot, and I finished my Christmas shopping under the lights of the castle at Cardiff.
I woke up, and I embraced life.
My trip in March will not encompass all of those things. It’s not possible, in two weeks, to cover all that ground, especially when research will take most of my time. I do plan to catch a show in London, and hit a couple of the museums I missed the first time around. My plans to visit the British Museum one day in 1992 were unwittingly sabotaged by the IRA, so I plan to make up for it in March. I also want to visit 221B Baker Street in London, and the Beatles Museum in Liverpool.
It’s because of my experiences as an international student that I will always advocate study abroad for my own students. Aside from seeing all these things I’d always longed to see, the overall experience helped me to see outside of my self and my own culture, and opened my thinking up to embrace new ideas. As a scholar, I gravitate toward cultural studies even now, and as an historian, I look for narratives that fall under and around those that have already been established.
I look forward to March, and I wish for all of you to do one thing this year that you’ve never done before, but always wanted to do. Cheers.