4,000 Miles Apart: ETSU student witnesses history in England

People gather at the gates of Buckingham Palace to pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth II following her death. Photo by Cassidy Blackwell

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories by Cassidy Blackwell chronicling her semester studying abroad in England.

I left my home in Cleveland, Tennessee, on Aug. 24 to drive to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. I had spent the summer preparing for my semester abroad in England: scouring blog posts about travel dos and don’ts, gathering essentials like a rain coat and boots, and obsessively checking travel requirements.

Finally packed and ready, I started the two-hour drive to Atlanta with my family. I sat in the car watching familiar mountains and trees pass by, racked with nerves, realizing I wouldn’t see I-75 again until December. All of my planning and hopeful wishing had come to fruition. I was hours away from boarding a plane to live in a place over 4,000 miles away from Tennessee. I have never been out of the country and the farthest I had moved from home had been to attend ETSU. I was excited for the opportunity to travel, but I was anxious to leave behind my friends and family and the university I had grown to love.

My mind ran fervent with what-ifs: what if I don’t fit in with the other students, what if I get lost in the airport and miss my plane, what if I experience culture shock, what if I miss my friends and family too much to enjoy myself? I was consumed by everything that could go wrong, rather than looking toward what could go right.

I landed at the Heathrow airport in London and met other students participating in my program: Harlaxton College. The University of Evansville in Indiana owns and operates a manor house in Grantham, England, allowing students from the University of Evansville and partner universities across America, like ETSU, to study abroad at Harlaxton College.

As the group bus entered the gates of the place I would live and study in for the next three months, I was amazed. The manor house is gorgeous and is nestled among acres of gardens and woodland.

ETSU student Cassidy Blackwell in front of Harlaxton College, where she will be studying during the fall semester. Cassidy will provide monthly dispatches from the United Kingdom detailing her experiences overseas and her observations of British culture. Photo by Cassidy Blackwell

My first few weeks at Harlaxton have already been filled with wonderful trips along with simple joyous moments with my friends. Amidst the bustle of our first few days at Harlaxton, I sat in my friend’s room as she played guitar from her window seat, swaying together to the music. One evening after dinner, we walked through the woods to find a bunker behind the manor, laughing together about our poor choice in timing as it had just rained and it was getting dark. I have enjoyed growing closer with the people I have met here as we travel and go through this semester together.

I intended to dedicate the rest of this article to the trips I’ve been on and what I’ve learned about British culture, but a momentous historical event has occurred. Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in British history, passed away peacefully on Sept. 8. All of the students and some of the faculty and staff of Harlaxton College were enjoying dinner in the refectory with BBC news on in the background as the media had been following Queen Elizabeth’s condition all day. While we were eating, a reporter came on to officially announce the death of Queen Elizabeth. The room went silent. Our eyes were glued to the screen in shock. Some of the British faculty began to cry. The national anthem, “God Save the Queen,” started to play over videos of Queen Elizabeth and we rose from our chairs in respectful silence.

Harlaxton College had already planned a trip for students to stay in London that weekend and decided to continue with it. So, on Friday, Sept. 9, a group of about 40 students including myself traveled to London. After arriving, I went with a few other students and the director of student experience to place flowers at Buckingham Palace on behalf of the university. As we neared the palace, I saw masses of people unlike anything I’ve seen before surrounding Buckingham Palace. I grabbed onto the others in my group as we maneuvered through the crowd to ensure we wouldn’t be separated. We eventually made it to the road that runs in front of the palace. I saw news reporters from ABC interviewing people just in front of me – including our director of student experience and an intern from Harlaxton College – and stood beside a French radio broadcaster. It was surreal to be standing in front of Buckingham Palace for the first time in my life the day after Queen Elizabeth’s passing.

Coincidentally, King Charles III arrived at Buckingham Palace while we were there. I watched his motorcade pass in front of us and was even able to see King Charles and his wife Camilla, the Queen consort, wave to the crowds surrounding Buckingham from their car. Although we were gathering for a mournful occasion, there was a buzz of excitement to be witnessing history in the making.

King Charles and Camilla, the Queen Consort, wave to the crowd as their motorcade enters Buckingham Palace. Photo by Cassidy Blackwell

Standing amongst the crowd of a nation commemorating their Queen as an American student living in the United Kingdom for a semester left me feeling like an outsider. I sympathized with what these British citizens were feeling, but I could never truly understand the pain or perhaps frustration and confusion that comes with losing a monarch and witnessing a new King come to power. It was an overwhelming, but invaluable experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Check back next month for Cassidy’s next dispatch from the United Kingdom.


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