Unlike other students at the end of the 2013-2014 school year who were relaxing, myself and a few others spent the time doing last minute packing for Florida Southern College’s May Options.
On the day we left, all of the plans had been made, my forms notarized, my passport clutched in my hand as we went through security.
Our destination was Harlaxton Manor, a grand manor house that had been renovated into a college. For the next month we called it home while we studied Intercultural Communication and British Reality TV with Assistant Professor of Communications Theresa MacNeil.
“I would have to say that if I had a choice to go abroad, I would always choose that and teach,” MacNeil said.
For our class we dissected the popular TV show “Downton Abbey” and looked for different forms of communication between the characters and our surroundings. A lot of the learning took place outside of the classroom though.
“It really is about going out and experiencing these things yourself,” MacNeil said.
Breaks in the traditional classroom experience took the form of trips to York, London, Bath and Edinburgh. The group even split up to go to Ireland and France.
Others were a little closer to Harlaxton, but the experience could still prove tricky. For instance, the London Underground when we went to “The Making of Harry Potter” on the outskirts of London to see the original sets.
The different zones quickly got confusing, and we all bought Oyster Cards so we could just add money so we would not have to worry about changing zones.
“We learned to only stay in Zone One,” Junior Samantha Circelli laughed.
Circelli said some other challenges included learning the “different lingos,” such as the world ‘lift’ instead of ‘elevator.’ MacNeil said that a lot of the British humor “didn’t really jive” with her.
Some things still puzzle us. One night while we were in York we ordered food and asked for a box to take back some unfinished pizza.
“All we wanted to do was take our leftovers home,” Junior Rachel Belli said. “And we were threatened with arrest for trying to take pizza out of a restaurant. It was ridiculous. And false.”
We were told that we couldn’t take the pizza out because of health codes, and that it would get us in trouble with the police. Later that day our taxi driver said that he’d never heard of it before.
“We had no idea whether that was for real or not,” MacNeil said.
Then there were the problems of being in a group.
“The hardest part was coordinating with seven different people,” Senior Meagen Miller said.
Coordination problems combined with my biggest travel difficulty: an inability to figure out UK phones. A lost phone and a sim card that needed to be replaced led to me being without a phone, which in London led to a game of, in Miller’s words “Where’s Leah?” when plans changed.
Don’t worry: they found me eventually. I was just at the hotel, but it did cause some hilarity later.
“I’ve never laughed harder in my life than I have on this trip,” Belli said.
At the airport, after a month of adjusting to different words, train schedules, prices and more, we all came away with some strange new memories, as well as some revelations.
“You learn a lot about yourself in addition to the culture,” Belli said.
While only one of us had been to England before, the newness of the experience and taking chances was what made it fun for some of us.
“Do things you wouldn’t expect to do,” Senior Amy Upleger said.
And then there is, of course, the friendships.
“This is something that will bond us forever, this one summer for a month, that we shared,” MacNeil said. “But it was such a fun experience. I’m really, really happy that I did it.”