4,000 Miles Apart: Finding home in the UK

From left, Anna Watson, Melisa Dubon, Cassidy Blackwell and Evan Slover visit the Palace of Versailles in France.

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.

It’s hard to believe that I am already seven weeks into my semester abroad. Our midterm essays and exams are quickly approaching, along with a much-needed fall break. When I initially applied to study abroad, a semester seemed like such a long time to be away from home. Now, it feels like I am running out of time to squeeze in trips while balancing schoolwork.

Since my last article, I visited my host family’s home for dinner. Although I live and study at Harlaxton College, students still have the opportunity to participate in the Meet-a-Family program where you get to meet with a local British family throughout your semester. Myself and another student were assigned a very kind couple who hosted us for dinner at their home. We had hand-rolled sushi, homemade miso soup, and finished the meal with little moons (mochi) and Japanese tea. The table was set with seaweed wraps, sushi rice, and fresh fillings like chicken, tuna, smoked salmon, prawns (or shrimp), avocado and cucumbers for us to make our own sushi rolls. Everything was delicious, and a refreshing change. We stayed at their home talking for several hours, exchanging stories about our diverse backgrounds and the differences between American, British, and Japanese culture. They were extremely welcoming and it was pleasant having a sense of home away from home.

Although I am beginning to settle into life at Harlaxton, my study abroad semester is still very surreal. In the final weekends of September, we traveled to the Lake District and Paris. The Lake District is a gorgeous area in the north of England where famous artists and poets found reprieve from the bustle of London. The hostel we stayed in was nestled in a picturesque town, overlooking Lake Windermere and rolling hills. As I was brushing my teeth one morning, I glanced out the window to find old stone buildings with steam rising above them and a grassy hill with sheep milling around. I paused and felt grateful for the moment I was experiencing, knowing I will warmly look back on this time as a student in a new country for years to come.

Cassidy Blackwell in the Lake District, an area in the north of England popular for those looking to find a reprieve from London.

The next weekend, my friends and I traveled to Paris. Though our outbound flight got canceled, we finally made it into the city on a bus ride that turned into an 11-hour trip after what felt like never ending traffic. Once we arrived, we couldn’t stop exclaiming, “we’re actually in Paris!” I spent two years of college studying French and learning about their culture, dreaming of Paris, but never considering it a reality. Yet, there I was, muddling through with my dwindling French skills and visiting famous sites like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, and the Palace of Versailles. My friends and I had a great time, even if it took us several minutes staring at the self-service kiosk to buy tickets to the metro and we had to rely on Google Translate to know what we were ordering at restaurants.

The trips I’ve been on so far have been wonderful, but life at the college has also been a highlight of my semester so far. I get to have class and do homework in gorgeous rooms with large windows overlooking the gardens. I am also enjoying the cool fall weather, and it really doesn’t rain as much as I thought it would. I’ve tried quintessentially British meals like bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes) and sausage rolls (sausage cooked in pastry dough), and have grown to love chicken curry. Although the food has been delicious, I will be requesting to have one of my dad’s homemade cheeseburgers and southern biscuits and gravy once I get home.

I started my semester at Harlaxton as the only student from ETSU and one of a few partner-school students, but now that feels irrelevant. The other students and my friends have been welcoming and a joy to get to know. We reminisce about our colleges and compare our favorite hometown foods. On nice evenings we go for walks, laughing endlessly. Despite being in a new country at a new school with entirely new people, I feel at home here.

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


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