For any student with even the slightest desire to study abroad: I encourage you to do it.
Let me first say, it’s important to have the means. I’m so fortunate that my family was able to help support my month studying abroad, but just because you may not have the financial means doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Plenty of schools and organizations have opportunities to send students abroad to learn about the culture of other countries or even to go immerse them in the language. Whatever it is, by whatever means, studying abroad is something every student should try to pursue.
For me, my trip to Cambridge in England was one that pulled me out of an American stupor. There was a phrase my peers kept saying “England thinks a hundred miles is a long distance, and America thinks a hundred years is a long time.” For a country that has the same language as we do, there are so many differences that were important to explore.
In California, some of the oldest pieces of Christian history you can run into are the missions down the coast (as every fourth grader in California should know). In Cambridge, a walk down the street to grab some gelato will land you right next to where the White Horse Tavern stood, which is allegedly where English protestant reformers met to discuss Lutheran ideas.
On the flipside, I spent a weekend hiking with some friends and professors. In one of the hostels we stayed in, I was talking with a woman who had just dropped her parents off.
“It’s about a four hour drive so I figured I’d stay the night mid-way before continuing on,” she’d explained to me. Coming from someone who’s driven from Oakdale to LA without a bathroom break, I was rather surprised, but realized that this was just normal for her.
On a school note, I completed four units in my three weeks in Cambridge. Beforehand, I’d spent a few days in London with my mom and cousins, and afterward I’d spent a weekend in Paris with a few friends. In those two bookend instances, I was irrevocably a tourist. When in Cambridge, I was part of the city.
Mornings were spent doing classes. Torrey Honors Institute, the classical learning program I’m part of at Biola University and the organization that I was doing my units with, runs classes as Socratic seminars. Essentially, there isn’t a lecture; the students discuss whatever book we’ve been assigned to read for three hours with the help of a professor and an opening question.
I love this way of learning, and it was especially valuable because the professors designed a curriculum centered around Cambridge. When we read the sermons of Charles Simeon, we did our session in Holy Trinity Church, where he’d preached over two hundred years ago. During the time, we’d read works from authors like Milton and Spenser and then we could go visit the colleges they studied at and the gardens they’d sat in.
I don’t know if I would describe anything as culture shock, as they were really just cultural quirks in comparison to my American life. When I visited Bath, one of our group had fallen and twisted her ankle. The workers there cared for her well and quickly, but didn’t seem concerned with us suing them or anything like that, because that’s just not how things are done there. They were just naturally kind and polite without any ulterior motive.
There were a few other quirks in Cambridge and just England altogether: cows were allowed to roam through parks, tea was offered at every establishment, jaywalking is a social norm, and major historical sites are tucked into every corner.
Being part of the city meant participating in interesting things. A headline from Cambridgeshire Live the weekend we arrived was “The massive python slithered past my house and now I’m searching for it.” The rest of the trip was spent getting updates on the python and stalking his rather funny twitter alter-ego. But part of the city also meant maneuvering around peaceful protests that were rallying against climate change and shutting down major roads for a “car-free” weekend.
There were a few American things I did miss. On the Fourth of July, we didn’t see any fireworks. However on the fifth of July, some colleges were celebrating their graduating class and then we got to see some fireworks. We pretended it was patriotic.
My favorite part of traveling abroad was the amazing sights. The gorgeous greenery, the vibrant views, the historical homes. We’d walk around London and casually see the London Eye in the distance, wander around a town in the Lake District and find William Wordsworth’s grave, take a ride down the Cam and see some of Cambridge’s oldest colleges, or just walk down the street in search of a book store and find the Corpus Clock, unveiled by Stephen Hawking in 2008.
Altogether it was so interesting and valuable to see what the world has to offer outside of America. I got homesick, don’t get me wrong, but it was eye-opening to see what I’d been missing and just how old the world is. England was wonderful, but I’m setting my sights farther now, and I’m ready to get out and explore again.
Autumn Neal is a summer intern for The Oakdale Leader and will be returning to her studies at Biola University in the fall.