Editor’s Note: This is the last in a series of stories by Cassidy Blackwell chronicling her semester studying abroad in England.
This semester has felt like a whirlwind of new experiences that I am insurmountably grateful for. Looking through the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken, I’m reminded of all the places I’ve traveled and the people I’ve grown close to. Exploring the manor the first week of classes feels like a lifetime ago, and yet it doesn’t seem like the semester should be over.
Since my last article, I traveled to Athens, Greece; Dublin, Ireland; and Reykjavik, Iceland. I have a friend from ETSU doing a semester abroad in Athens, and it was wonderful seeing a familiar face. She helped us use public transportation and warned us to not flush toilet paper as the septic systems cannot handle it. Without her advice, our trip to Athens might have had a few more mishaps.
Iceland was one of my favorite trips. We rented a car and were able to drive through a few of the Golden Circle highlights like waterfalls and geysers. The natural beauty of Iceland was astounding. The sun was low in the sky all day, casting everything in golden light.
After a late dinner, we drove outside of Reykjavik to see the northern lights. The sky was clear and we hoped it would be a good day to see them. We parked the car and waited for nearly an hour but didn’t see anything. The forecasts we could find said it wasn’t probable to see the lights so we decided to leave. As we were driving away, one of us spotted a green streak in the sky and we all erupted in excitement. Most of my pictures are blurry but it was amazing to see the northern lights in person, especially when we had given up hope on seeing them.
My last week at Harlaxton was bittersweet. We had our final class meetings and rushed to finish essays and exams. A group of students and some faculty went caroling in the nearby village. It was heartwarming to sing Christmas hymns out in the cold to some very appreciative locals.
On our last full day at the manor, the university hosted the valedictory ball which included dinner and a masquerade ball. All the students and faculty joined one last time to celebrate our semester. We took pictures in our nice outfits with the Christmas trees in the manor. It felt like a full-circle moment. I thought of who I was at the beginning of the semester at our first dinner to who I am now. We’ve experienced so much together over the course of a semester.
I struggled as it set in that I would be leaving soon. Most of the people I’ve grown close with attend the University of Evansville in Indiana. I knew they would get to finish out their school years with each other and I would go back home without them. I love ETSU and am excited to return, but it won’t be the same without everyone from Harlaxton. I ate nearly every meal since August with my friends and traveled with them every weekend. They mean a lot to me and I am so thankful I met them.
The coach to take us to the airport left at 2 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10. We scrambled to clean out our rooms and pack everything we accumulated. As the bus pulled away from the manor, the radio played Dirty Dancing’s “I’ve Had the Time of my Life” and we sang it through tears. I spent most of the morning either crying or sleeping. It was really difficult to leave my friends and go to my gate in the airport. I got several weird looks, but I wouldn’t want to cry in a huddle with anyone else.
Now that I am home, I am happy to see my family and have enjoyed sleeping in my bed again. I’ve finally unpacked and set my souvenirs throughout my room. I still can’t believe I’ve been to all the places I have gotten to travel to. I’ve grown a lot from who I was when I started the semester as an anxious student questioning if I was ready to leave home for a whole semester. I’ve learned patience and confidence. Though I am directionally challenged, I figured out how to navigate the London Underground (despite a few mistakes). Even if flights got delayed or canceled, we adapted and kept positive attitudes. I spoke with locals and realized how little I knew about British history and culture before coming.
I’m not sure how to wrap up what this semester has been like. The adjectives magic and unreal come to mind, but words seem to fall short. I have lifelong relationships with people I am so lucky to have met. I have been to places I’ve only dreamed of and grown as a person because of it. I am happy to be home, but after traveling for a semester, my definition of home is a bit bigger. Home is wherever you make it. Home is comfort with people you care about.