Friday, 30 December 2011

Introducing Cassie Gutman

8 December 2011

One month.

Actually, less than a month. Less than a month from this moment, I will be on a plane, going to Harlaxton. I am literally living out my childhood dreams of living in England and going to Hogwarts (it's a little later than I originally thought, since I expected my letter on my 11th birthday, but I'm finally getting to go to England).

It hasn't really hit me that I'm leaving yet, and as finals week officially strikes tomorrow, I'm going to be focusing on how to survive the rest of this semester. But the thought that I'm leaving is always in the back of my mind, making it difficult to focus anymo
re on classes here. My mind is constantly making lists of things I need to do and things I've already done, and I just pray that I don't forget anything.

Flight ticket? Check.
Passport and all kinds of weird immigration forms? Check.
Tons of new winter clothes? Check.

And I keep wondering about little things. I think my brain doesn't want to focus on the fact that I will literally be out of the country for four months. I keep wondering about how inconvenient doing laundry is going to be, or how I'll live without a diet cherry coke in the morning, or how wet my feet will get since I decided not to bring my rain boots because they'll simply take up too much packing space.

But I'm also equally excited for the little things. I can't wait for hot tea-drinking to be the norm. I'm thrilled that dressing up is acceptable for no reason whatsoever because I hate wearing jeans. And I'm hoping that if I'm there long enough, I'll develop a really lovely accent that overpowers my Floyds Knobs, Indiana one. And as a former soccer player and current soccer fan, I am beyond ecstatic to be going to a country that actually cares about the sport. I also keep hoping that Harlaxton will look like this when I arrive. I fear I will be disappointed when it's about 20 degrees and misting a light, yet still freezing rain. But I can hope, right?

The packing, though, I haven't given much thought to. I imagine I'll wait until the last day to pack (though I'll have sworn to my mother that I start weeks in advance), and I'll probably regret waiting until the last minute to try and cram as much as I can possibly fit into my suitcases as physically possible (even using vacuum space bags).

But mostly, I keep thinking about how this upcoming semester is going to be the greatest so far in my life. I already know it, and I haven't even gone. I keep calming myself down because I don't want to expect too much and then be disappointed, but so far, I've failed at remaining calm. And the closer January 5 gets (my official flight date), the more unbearable my excited-ness becomes. Sometimes I literally hyperventilate from anticipation. My mom always told me when I was a little kid that I needed to be excited on the inside. She still tells me that. Well, for Harlaxton, it's not working. I cannot contain the enthusiasm I feel for being so fortunate as to be able to spend an entire SEMESTER studying abroad at a fantastic manor and being able to travel across Europe.

This is literally the adventure I've been waiting for my whole life. And it hasn't even begun yet.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Introducing Gina Filo

1 December 2011

There are a lot of things that I should be doing right now. There is a massive German paper lurking guiltily around the edges of my conscience. There are three upcoming exams for which I really ought to be preparing. And there's a healthy pile of Ramen-encrusted forks lying on my desk, waiting to be washed and silently indicting me for my neglect.

But I can't.

A college student procrastinating at the end of the semester, how novel, I know. This time, though it is more than just the run-of-the-mill Facebook,, and aimlessly prowling the hallways hoping to run into someone with whom to share my time-wasting.

Today was the last meeting before we leave for Harlaxton, and my head will not stop going! Most thoughts are full of excitement and anticipation for sure - I'm going to ENGLAND! - but every once and a while, my euphoria is undercut by nerves and worries. Some very trivial (How will I survive four months without Diet Coke?) but some very real (How am I going to manage both school and travel?).

I've been overseas once before. After my senior year of high school, I spent three weeks in Germany with a school group. It was a fantastic experience. But compared to this trip, it was a piece of cake. It was summer - no schoolwork. Our entire trip had been pre-planned - we didn't have to stress about arranging day trips. We lived with families, and the homey atmosphere was relaxing. And my German was good enough that, other than an unfortunate incident in which I said "Gift" (poison) instead of "Geschenk" (gift), the language wasn't really a problem. The whole trip was three weeks of soaking up the local culture, meeting new people, and eating delicious bread, cheese and chocolate.

But this time is different. This time we're adults. This fact is exhilarating (FREEDOM!), but a little scary. And I know that the wonderful staff at Harlaxton is not going to abandon us in the middle of the woods. And my brain is aware that I'm fully capable of taking care of myself. These facts don't stop me from worrying, however. While I know this experience will be worth every penny and more, I have real, grown-up concerns about the resilience of my bank account. I've also got worries about the balance of schoolwork and travel. Will I be so focused on schoolwork that I forget to have fun? Conversely, will I be having such an incredible time traipsing through the United Kingdom that I let my grads fall by the wayside? And even contemplating the packing process is stressful - four months in one suitcase and a backpack. What clothes will I bring? More importantly, what novels can I bring? Mind-boggling.

For the most part, these worries don't weigh too heavily on my mind. My daydreams revolve around exploring London with my friends, living in a real manor house, shopping at Topshop, and seeing a Shakespeare play at Stratford, and my preparations are largely practical - calling my credit card company and buying all-weather boots are on my to-do list. But every once and a while, anxiety begins to creep in. At the end of the day, I'm a little nervous, but even more, I'm excited to experience a new culture and a way of life with some of my best friends. About one month from now, I will be in England. Fancy that.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Introducing Amanda Oaks

1 December 2011

Harlaxton Preparations: The Expectation, the Excitement, and Mostly, the Nerves

Just a few days ago I received what is, quite possibly, the most exciting email of my life - my plane ticket to HARLAXTON! The sight of it sitting there, tangible and official, in my inbox left me almost without words. In fact, in a Facebook status typed up just a few moments after I opened the email, all I could say was "Oh my gosh. Plane ticket. Electronic plane ticket. But still, there it is, in my inbox. It exists. It's happening. Oh my gosh." As you can clearly tell, I'm incredibly excited about the upcoming semester.

In fact, the closer it gets, I find myself getting more and more excited, but I also find myself scrambling to make preparations and to be sure I have all the information I need, which means I'm also getting more and more anxious. Whenever I think about it, my heart starts pumping so that I'm almost certain other people have to be able to hear it.

Added to the usual stress of getting prepared to travel is the fact that I have never been out of the country, or even flown on an airplane. I have to admit, the idea of getting into this giant

metal contraption and soaring across the ocean terrifies me. Heck, I'm even afraid to brave the legendary terrors of airport security. I imagine taking off shoes, having something been in the metal detector, getting on the wrong plane, and many other disasters, and that's nothing to how I expect I'll feel once I'm in the sky, of all places. I know flying is a routine thing for some people, but for me it's this impossible thing hanging between me and my semester abroad. Even so, all of these (largely illogical, I'm sure) fears can't curb my enthusiasm.

In a few mere months - provided I survive the flight without succumbing to full-on panic - I will be overseas in Europe! I have dreamed of going to England since I was very young, a desire no doubt fostered by growing up with the Harry Potter books and going through an intense
phase where I read series and the Mates, Dates series -light, fluffy reading I confess, but I enjoyed it and became somewhat infatuated with England. I want to see it all with my own eyes, form my own opinions, perhaps even have an adventure or two.

It is probably partially due to this infatuation that the entire thing still feels a bit unreal - even though I have gotten a passport, purchased a ticket, made down payments on various trips, and have a set of bright purple luggage sitting in my basement, a part of me still doubts that I will ascend into the sky and then descend in another country. A part of me stares in disbelief at the pictures of beautiful Harlaxton Manor, thinking surely I could never actually be in such a place. As I passed around a picture of the manor at Thanksgiving, finding myself the center of attention, I felt every bit as surprised as my family was that I would be living there, studying there, in a matter of a little over a month.

Yet it will be real, and it's approaching rapidly. Time is passing more and more quickly, the information meetings becoming more and more vital as I scramble to understand everything I am going to need for the journey and for my time there. My classes are scheduled, my trips booked, and I am using the idea of a different climate as an excuse to buy myself a few new wardrobe additions - even though I cringe at every little decrease in my bank account because I want to be sure it's prepared to survive the excited spending I anticipate in every single new place I visit.

Despite my misgivings about planes and my worries about being prepared, the emotion I feel most strongly as I get ready to study at Harlaxton is excitement - I can't wait to learn about another culture, to live in another country for a short time, to catalog hundreds of new experiences, as well as take what I'm sure will turn out to be thousands of new pictures. Terrifying death trip across the ocean aside, my Harlaxton semester is drawing near, and I think it's safe to say I have never been more excited, or more anxious about what's to come. Regardless, it's sure to be a memorable and wonderful semester.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Introducing the Spring 2012 Bloggers

Over the next four months, you will get a first hand account of life at Harlaxton from five student bloggers. They will talk about what it is like to live and study at Harlaxton, share their experiences travelling, and much more!

The Harlaxton Student Bloggers for the Spring 2012 Semester are:

Amanda Oaks

Kelley Vrevich

Rachel Hoge

Cassie Gutman

Gina Filo

Over the next few days, they will introduce themselves and share how they are preparing for their semester at Harlaxton!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

A Farewell

A month ago, I was excited to go home. Now, I’m feeling the same trepidation about getting on the plane as I was in late August.

Pretty soon, I’ll be back in the States. I’ll get funny looks when I ask for hot tea with milk. I’ll have to stop spelling words with extra “u”s, and change all of my “s”s back into “z”s. Pence will be cents again. Everyone will drive on the wrong side of the road, that is to say, on the right. The dry wit will disappear. The Indian food won’t taste right and the fish and chips won’t even come close.

No longer will I play sardines in a Victorian manor on boring nights. No longer will I take spontaneous weekend trips to the continent. My christmas tree at home will be less than half the size of Harlaxton's. The streets won’t be cozy but wide, and parking will actually exist. So will indoor heating that works, but I won’t wake up to a view of the English countryside.

I am leaving England, and it’s more surreal than arriving was.

It’s hard to measure how far I’ve come this semester, but writing a farewell blog, it seems appropriate to try. I can quote all kinds of European history that I never knew before, and I’ve read more literature than I care to even think about. I’ve made some amazing friends. I feel stronger. I guess surviving the gauntlet of moving to a foreign country, having travel fiascos all semester, school work, homesickness, drama, and going hungry in the refectory can do that. This semester has proven to me how much more I am capable of.

Well, I’m happy to be going home soon (visiting Paris first!) but I wouldn’t trade this for anything. In trying to keep the trite yearbook-ish sayings to a minimum, I’ll be short. There is little I have done for myself in this lifetime more worthwhile than these past four months. I will miss everything about this place, and carry it with me throughout my life. As Dr. Kinglsey has famously made us sing this semester, “Someone bless these seeds I sow…til the rains come tumbling down.”

Well, England weather has started in earnest now, so I guess our time has come.

Farewell, Harlaxton.

May you see many future generations.

-Katelan King

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Prepare for Boarding

There are too many things to say as I fight my souvenirs into my suitcase. So, for lack of a better goodbye, I’ll condense everything I feel and learn into a list…or two…one for the good and one for the not-so-goods about studying abroad at Harlaxton.

The Good

1. Harlaxton is a great base camp for travel
2. Harlaxton allows you to relax (USA!)
3. 3 Months abroad allows you to enjoy leisure time and not feel like you need to cram everything in
4. Being from UE, I immediately had something in common with a majority of the students
5. The course-load isn’t that bad
6. Meet-a-Family (while I didn’t do it), according to most, is a very positive and worthwhile experience
7. All of the staff (the grounds crew, maintenance people, and drivers) are very friendly
8. You can choose how much you want to spend, and if you’re smart you can do a lot with a little
9. My outlook on American culture and our future has become more optimistic
10. I’m well prepared to travel anywhere!

The Not-so-Good

1. The food…no offense, Refectory, but we’re not used to potatoes and rice 5 times a week
2. Grantham has a fun nightlife, but besides that and ASDA there isn’t much to do (and it’s expensive to get into town once the shuttle stops)
3. 3 Months is a long time
4. Travelling is exhausting, but well worth your time, except when you have to balance it with school work
5. While the Bistro offers an alternative for going out and a fine study break, it breaks the bank and is only open on weeknights
6. The school-sponsored journeys are over-priced field trips, but allow you to travel with lots of people and not deal with logistical issues
7. The exchange rate blows…
8. Yes, it is comfortable to be around Americans, but if you’d prefer to study with more immersion I’d pick somewhere else
9. These…walls…are…closing…in
10. Packing sucks

This list is nowhere near exhausted and is comprised of only my personal opinion. As I prepare to depart for home the great experience I’ve had is starting to all come back to me. Living in the UK has made the greatest semester of my life happen, and as I look back I’m glad to know my experiences will only become more apparent as time passes.

-Brennan Girdler

Thursday, 1 December 2011

How to Feel a Goodbye

At the beginning of one of my favorite books, The Catcher in the Rye, the protagonist Holden Caulfield explains that he is “trying to feel some kind of a good-by.” He says, “I don’t care if it’s a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it.” I’m not sure I completely agree. I’d certainly rather my last days at Harlaxton were good ones. But he has a good point. After spending three months in a completely new world, how can we make it real to ourselves that we’ll be leaving? In seventeen days, I will be sleeping in my own bed, feeding my own cats, and stringing lights on my own Christmas tree. It seems impossible! In seventeen days, everyone around me will talk funny, and I will no longer have an accent.

I, like Holden, am trying to feel a goodbye. Perhaps tonight will help—it’s the Valedictory Dinner, where we all get gussied up one last time and sit in assigned seats in the Long Gallery, enjoying Harlaxton’s finest catering. Some of us will attempt to get drunk off the wine, and my table will, inevitably, be the one asking for more water. But there’s more to it than that. Tonight we’ll hear from Dr. Kingsley, and from our own students and faculty. We’ll share memories of England and our travels around Europe, and hopefully we’ll be making a few last memories to take home with us.

I don’t really know how to sum up this entire semester, what we’ll be leaving behind and what we’re coming home to. So I’d like to open it up the rest of Harlaxton. I hope some of you will comment on this blog and say a little about your own experiences. What will you miss? What can’t you wait to do/see/have again when you get home?

I’ll start: I think I’ll miss the everyday things the most. The weight of a one-pound coin in your hand, good notebook paper and binders with two holes, pubs. I’ll miss trains that run on time and the way every town has a cathedral, a market, and a distinct accent. Reading the newspaper on the Tube, decent television, Indian takeout. And I’ll miss the extravagant things: a plane that can reach Amsterdam in an hour; a view of the ocean from the beach in Normandy, or the bay in Cardiff; London from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral. And I’ll miss our Manor—our idiosyncratic, spectacular Manor, which, I’ve only recently come to appreciate, might not be here at all if it weren’t for us. I’ll miss the library, with the best selection of Shakespeare films I’ve ever found, as well as everything you ever wanted to know about the English country house. I will miss literature classes in the Gold Room, which are often so interesting that it’s not even tempting to look up at the ceiling. I’ll miss the Christmas tree in the Great Hall and the smell of a fire in the fireplace. I will not miss the food. But I will miss getting to act in a play and sing in a choir when I never really thought I had any talent, and I will miss watching potential disasters turn into good performances in the last week. I will miss exploring the bunker in the woods and playing hide and seek in the Manor (which might have been against the rules…sorry). And I will miss you. I wish all of you the best in your studies and your travels. Thank you for everything.