The beginning of my semester, like many students, was rocky and unexpected.
On top of unanticipated homesickness, I experienced nightly anxiety attacks and lack of sleep from the time change the first week abroad. After the first weekend spent here, I received a phone call from my parents which set a rough opening scene for my whole semester.
A perpetrator broke into the home of my best friend’s brother and shot him before leaving. He was in critical condition from multiple shot wounds.
After hearing the news, my mother immediately thought about my mental state and wellbeing, concerned about how I would process the news. At about this time, I met my Meet-A-Family.
I, along with two other Western Kentucky University students, Susan Creech and Rebekah Huffman, have had the joy of calling Reverend John and Christine Bruce our English “Mum” and Dad this semester.
Established in 1983 and now celebrating 30 years of success, the Meet-A-Family program of Harlaxton College was made so visiting American students had the chance to meet and build relationships with local families in Grantham. It’s also designed to involve students in the community and give them a sense of British identity while spending their semester abroad.
Before I met John and Christine, my mother let them know of her worry for me after the news. A mother and father themselves, John and Christine immediately reached out and invited me and my other semester sisters to their home before the Meet-A-Family program officially started.
Although meeting for the first time in the midst of a stressful and gloomy event, they opened their home and allowed us to be our goofy, American selves in their cozy family room from week to week. Being in a home rather than a grand manor during those hard first weeks impacted my time at Harlaxton immensely. If I didn’t have my Meet-A-Family to find my home away from home, I would have crumbled.
Each week since the beginning Susan, Rebekah and I have gone to John and Christine’s home every Wednesday night, shared a lovely home cooked meal and watched a film to finish the night.
It’s almost habit now, anticipating John’s message to schedule the specific time he would pick us up from the Manor via FaceBook. It was the one thing we could always rely on each week as our lives were filled with homework, homesickness and travel.
John and Christine, although wise from age, are young at heart. Now retired, they both have more time to pour into students each semester and influence and be influenced by each set of students that come to Harlaxton semester after semester. John’s youthful personality and Christine’s lovely tenderness are genuinely welcoming and make it easy for one to feel right at home as soon as you walk through their front door.
The Meet-A-Family program has impacted my life by teaching me more about British culture, more about the difference in generations, and the importance of relationships. John and Christine have taught me much more than I could have learned in a classroom during my time abroad, and they helped me cope with a rough beginning of the semester.
From our family outings to the town in which they grew up, to walking around the church they were married in, to them allowing us to play with their loveable dog, Katie, my times with John and Christine will never be forgotten. I can now say that I have a Mum and a Dad in England, and that’s all thanks to Harlaxton’s Meet-A-Family program.
From left to right: Reverend John Bruce, Susan Creech, Katie Greiner, Rebekah Huffman and Christine Bruce enjoying a family outing to John and Christine’s native Spalding, England.