Study abroad has been the best decision I’ve made in my college
career, hands down.
I’ve been at the University of Reading seven weeks now
(can’t believe it’s been so long!). Adventures have abounded, including but not
limited to: Almost getting hit by cars, exploring abbey ruins, and making
friends with a llama. Oh, and classes. Because studying abroad does involve
But to catch you up without writing a novel, I present for
your enjoyment: My Top 5 study Abroad Experiences (so far).
5. Walking Along the Beach in Wales
I was in Wales meeting up with my sister
for an epic Wales-Ireland-Switzerland-Germany-Switzerland-England trip.
staying in a small port town, so I left early one morning and went to the
The dunes were amazing—covered in fog,
taller than the hills at Berry. I followed the locals and climbed higher and
higher, admiring the views and enjoying traditional Celtic reels on my iPod. It
was like walking out of civilized England and into the wilderness of legends. I
came back wet from a brief rain, cold, hopelessly windblown and covered in sand,
but grinning so hard my face hurt.
4. The Book of Kells and Trinity Library
My journeys took me to Dublin, an
opportunity I seized to go see the Book of Kells. If you don’t know, the book
is the most ornate illuminated manuscript in Irish history. To me, the book
also symbolizes the vital role of the Irish in preserving literacy. While the
rest of the world was falling into darkness, the monks of Iona worked as
scribes composing this book—“turning the darkness into light.” (I’d highly recommend The Secret of Kells, which was up for best animated film against Up a few years ago and was made by an
Irish animation studio. It’s a gorgeous film and story, influenced by the
legends surrounding the Book of Kells.)
Ahem. Is my nerd showing?
After spending nearly an hour in the two
rooms of historical background information, I finally made my way to the book.
By that time everyone else had rushed through, and I had the entire exhibit to
myself. I bent over the pages until my nose almost touched the glass. I stared,
stared, stared for a long time. The intricate designs were mind-blowing.
I thoroughly examined all the pages on display before reluctantly leaving the
room. I climbed some stairs and went through a doorway, only to rock to a stop.
I was in Trinity Library. I'd seen pictures before, but hadn't realized I was there.
My jaw dropped, and then I started giggling. The security guard looked at me
like I was nuts.
It reminded me of a cathedral plus a library--beautiful high ceilings, dark
wood, spiral staircases, and volumes and volumes of leather-bound, worn, old
books. I walked around twice just to take it all in. If I was going to run away
and live in a museum (a la Wonderstruck or From the Mixed-Up Files of
Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler ), this is probably where I'd go. Except then I
would starve to death because there is no food (other than the Eternal Food of
3. Doctor Who Experience
This will probably only impress those of
you who are familiar with Doctor Who,
the longest running television show in history and a huge part of British pop
culture. Basically: Time lord (time traveler) runs about with humans and saves
the world and is awesome. Now go
watch it. I give you permission to start from Season 1 in 2005.
Suffice to say: Imagine your favorite TV
show. Then imagine being in an episode of your favorite TV show. Then add time
travel and Doctor Who. Then multiply that by about one hundred. Then you’ll
have what the Doctor Who Experience was for me.
I got to fly the TARDIS (space ship/time
travel machine), walk around Ten’s TARDIS set, see life-sized villains from the
show, and on top of it all the Doctor told me I was brilliant for saving the
world. (By the way, you’re welcome for that.)
Basically the day was filled with me
running around and giggling like a small girl.
2. Literary Tour in Bath
I visited Bath (which remains my favorite
city in England to date) a few weeks ago.
As I was poking around, a fellow in
costume (including cape and top hat) approached me and made some remarks about
the neighborhood I was in. We started talking, me asking questions and him
explaining the significance of the history and architecture of the Crescent and
As the conversation began to wind down, I
remarked on the ha-ha wall in the grassy area before the Crescent. He looked at
me very closely and chuckled. "You know, you're one of the very, very few
people who I've met who know what a ha-ha wall is!"
I explained that I used to live near Mt. Vernon, George Washington's estate.
For those who don't know, a ha-ha wall is a wall created by making a sort of
ditch in the ground. It's practically invisible when viewed from above, which
makes it ideal for landscaping--and for tripping up unwary walkers (thus the
name). I told the fellow that I used to take my friends out to Mt. Vernon, I'd
tell them to wait and then I'd run and jump down the ha-ha walls and disappear.
He found this quite amusing.
He said he had about 45 minutes before his
next tour, and asked if I'd be interested in having him show me around the
literary sites of the city. Um, yes please!
I got my own private literary tour of Bath, because I knew how to recognize a
ha-ha wall. Random historic facts are useful after all!
1. Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
I took a spur-of-the-moment weekend trip to Barcelona,
Spain, with another study abroad friend near the beginning of term. While
there, we decided to see the famous Sagrada Familia. They began building the
Sagrada Familia in 1883 (estimated completion is 2026). When I was getting
ready to see it, I wasn't sure I'd like it. Modern? Not so cool. But it was
actually one of my most amazing experiences I've had in a cathedral.
My jaw literally dropped when I walked through the doors. It was
massive--bigger on the inside--with white marble and tree-like columns. It felt
like walking into a white forest (or Lothlorien), with your eyes constantly
drawn up. It was huge, but it felt light and airy.
They were having mass and singing in the church. It was
ethereal, listening to the songs under the white marble trees.
Those are my top five experiences… at least, the ones
outside the classroom. Stay tuned for more adventures from across the Pond!