Monday, September 30, 2013


Special thanks to my friend Claudia for this photo.
This is the last post, folks.

It's been quite a ride. I've enjoyed writing this blog, just as I've enjoyed every minute of my Fulbright experience, but as we know, all good things must come to an end.

When I first left my house for the airport, I was excited, but nervous. Nervous about making friends, nervous about my classes, nervous about finding my way around campus, like everyone is when they first start at a new school. I was also scared. Scared of a lot of things actually. Missing my flight. Plane crashes. Being too homesick to enjoy anything. Low trees. Some of these fears were definitely more rational than others, but all of them flitted through my mind at least briefly (except for the low trees - that fear came later). And all of them proved to be unfounded (except, once again, for the low trees. Okay that joke's stale now).

I wasn't sure what to expect when I arrived in England (certainly not the heat). I thought I would have a great time and I was vaguely aware that the experience would probably change me in profound ways, but trying to see into the nebulous future was of course, impossible. So, it is with great pleasure that I say that my experience in England was far better than I ever could have imagined.

My friends and I on the Seal Isle boat trip in St. Ives
It was challenging to be sure, both physically and psychologically, but also extremely rewarding. I saw sights that I had only ever read about or seen in the movies. I saw sights that I never knew existed, but were nonetheless wonderful. I climbed up steep embankments in Dartmoor, sailed along the Cornish coast (twice), trekked through an indoor rain forest at the Eden Project, retraced the steps of the Romans in Bath, braved the no-longer-wobbly bridge in London, and trudged up and down the endless hills in Exeter. There were little adventures along the way too, maybe not as grand or dramatic as those I mentioned above, but they all had their own, quiet sort of magic about them. I drank in darkened pubs, canoed along the shimmering, swan-filled Exe, browsed art galleries and shops, ate scones and clotted cream. I wandered through tree-shadowed gardens, gazed dreamily at sunsets, and ate lunch in the shadow of an ancient cathedral. I watched meteors burn across a star-strewn sky, while I lay on my back talking philosophy with a girl who lives halfway around the world from me. I studied. I photographed. I explored. I danced. I laughed. I cried.

Dear readers, do you want to know what the best and worst part of this whole experience was? Making so many wonderful friends and then having to say goodbye to them with the realistic expectation that I probably won't see most of them ever again (not to be a bummer but hey, let's be real here).

My Global & Imperial History pathway class.
Special thanks to my friend Sandy for this photo.
So it's hard sometimes to remember England. When I came back home, I was bitterly homesick for my adopted city of Exeter. I missed the view outside my window, the gentle rolling hills with their forests and farms, lined with the occasional hedgerow, periodically dotted with cows and sheep. I missed walking down to the cathedral, strolling along the quay, and even trying to cross the murderous traffic circle by the clock tower that plagued us every time we walked into or out of town. When I came back home, I longed for flapjacks and cream tea, pub atmosphere and pitchers of toffee cider. When I came back home, I missed the friends that had become my adopted family. I missed their jokes, their smiles, and all the wonderful things they had taught and still have left to teach me, about their countries or states, their cultures and customs, about themselves, about me, about life. Some of you may be thinking, "But you only knew them for a few weeks!" To that I say - you'd be surprised how close you can get when you're dropped off in a foreign country with no other social contacts. You forge bonds like no others.

Nothing like sharing a cream tea with friends
The hardest part is coming back and leaving those friends behind. It hurts very badly sometimes, but it is a good kind of pain, a good kind of ache. That is the mark of how strong those friendships were and still are. That is the mark of how wonderful the entire experience was and still is in my memories. I wish so very much that I could go back and relive every minute of it, even the moments where I was homesick, afraid, or struggling to haul my out-of-shape butt up the side of Dartmoor's embankments in the baking heat, fearful that I was going to go tumbling down into the void of pain, possible death, and an awful insurance claim.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is when the worst part of any experience is that you don't want it to end, that means it's a pretty damn awesome experience.

The Fabulous Fulbright Four
I loved my Fulbright experience. Every single moment of it, even when I thought I was going to get hit by a bus (this happened twice) and even when I had a bus driver deny me the student discount rate in Falmouth because he was quite frankly an a------ [word redacted for the benefit of polite company]. (As you can see, I had a lot of unfortunate encounters with buses.) In all seriousness, it was perhaps the best experience of my life. I learned so much, both inside and outside the classroom. It opened my eyes to the world and what's out there and more importantly, who's out there. From Hong Kong to Turkey, from China to the Netherlands, from Ghana to Thailand, from England to the U.S. state of Montana, I now have friends from around the globe that I will never forget.

Karoake night at The Ram, Exeter's on-campus pub
And that's the most important part of life, isn't it? The most important part about history, my chosen field of study. The relationships that people form with one another is what drives and has driven our world for thousands of years. Relationships, connections between people, even ones who lived in the past (especially for me, as a historian-in-training), are what make life worth living, places worth traveling, subjects worth studying. Both Fulbright and ISS, at their cores, have always been about forging these connections and I am
intensely grateful that I was able to form so many wonderful ones in Exeter.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the US-UK Fulbright Commission for making this experience possible, Valerie Schreiner for coordinating the Fulbright programme and being so gracious and understanding with me when I showed up to one of our meetings a half hour late (oops), Lyndon McKevitt and Lucy Thompson for coordinating the University of Exeter International Summer School programme and going waaaaay above and beyond the call of duty, and last, but certainly not least, Professor Clive Sabel, who led the Fulbright week with spirit, humour, and passion. You guys are the best.

Our group photo - be sure to click to make it larger!
Photo Credit: University of Exeter International Summer School
To my all my friends reading this - my fellow Fulbright participants and ISS students, the Exeter buddies, program coordinators and professors alike, I miss you and I hope our paths cross again someday. We can share a pitcher of cider or Pimm's and reminisce about old memories and create new ones (Fulbright and ISS reunion anyone?)

It's always hard to say goodbye. So I'm not going to. During my last night at Exeter, several students gave beautiful and poignant reflection speeches at the gala dinner. One student ended their speech with a quote that went something like this, "It's not goodbye. It's see you down the road." See you down the road my friends.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful blog! This is what it's all about. I am happy that you had such a great experience and you write about it so eloquently. Best of luck to you and I hope you think about coming to Exeter/UK again soon. Cheers!