The Genius of Study Abroad: Revolutionary Imagination

I sit here, cramped and crowded, on the plane flying at mind-boggling speeds toward familiar oceans. The window is dark, wet with clouds turning surprisingly quickly into beautiful patterns of ice. I lay my head back and consider the time I have been away from my little corner of the world. I have had the incredible opportunity to travel throughout Europe over these last three weeks, and I have learned a great deal from my adventures and experiences during this time. I have examined in great depth and detail the meaning of “travel” and of “place”, and I have considered what each of those terms means in relation to myself. I have departed Portland, Oregon as one person and left Paris, France entirely another. In order to understand the true meaning of “study abroad”, I have followed in the footsteps of symbols and figures of the world in a myriad of disciplines, and attempted to understand why they chose to go abroad in their own time and how that experience affected their work and their own perceptions of the world.cliffs-of-moher

I arrived in Ireland, meeting the nine other students who would become my traveling companions. We excitedly traded stories of our flights and embarked together to University College Dublin, our first home away from home. Dublin is full of landmarks, though none so well known as the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben. Ireland’s capital city instead offered a contrast to such dramatic manmade exhibitions. I found myself appreciating the role nature played within the city (and outside it) far more than any architecture. One of my favorite memories was a day trip I and another student took across the country to see the Cliffs of Moher. It was an unforgettable experience and offered a unique view of Ireland. The trinity-college-dublinshockingly green, stunningly beautiful rolling hills and the cloudy gray skies created a beautiful color palette against which to appreciate the culture. I remember it vividly; recalling these hues also brings forth a memory of euphoric music and laughter, the trademarks of the friendly Irish people.

The stunning city of Oxford was filled with the most elegant buildings I had ever encountered. The entire city appeared almost as a single, sprawling castle. Everywhere we went, throughout tours, walks, and strolls, I found myself gazing upwards in awe at the grace and beauty of the colleges. I especially loved visiting the Bodleian Library. This particular collection was incredibly large and full of treasures, on display in exhibits for the public to appreciate. The original draft of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the Magna Carta – all of these amazing artifacts added to my wonder. It was a massive building, more modern than the rest of the town but open and accessible to any who might wish to enter. The library to me represented Oxford well; a hub of learning for any who might wish to search for it and full of historical treasures waiting to be admired. I fell in love with the tranquility of the city and the way I felt while there, and promised myself I would return someday.

The most surprising city, London, was unlike any other European city big-benI had visited previously. Leaving Oxford behind, London was the next step into the 21st century. Bright, loud, and busy, the city was excited to be alive. Londoners walked by their world-renowned sights and symbols on their morning commutes. I stood in front of Big Ben in awe; it surprised me with its elegance. I had never spent much time examining photos of the gigantic clock, believing it to simply be nothing more than a timepiece. Now I stood irresolute, jostled by the hurrying crowd and saw for the first time the intense detail that had been placed within the monument. London is the home of so much of human culture. We had the astonishing opportunity to visit both West End and the Globe Theatre. Attending those performances of The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, and Macbeth were experiences I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Paris is unique to itself, and I believe that is why so many, myself included, feel their hearts pine for it. It is full of beauty, romance, history, and literature, but it is a living city, and reflects this in its dirty metro stations and streets. The Eiffel Tower is famous, but I was more interested in la Cathedral de Notre Dnotre-dameame – the Church of Our Lady, sitting in the heart of the Left Bank. I sat for a long time in front of the church. The sun was setting, and it was bathed in orange light. The crowds were thinning, and the people were quiet as they began to consider dinner plans and their evening activities. I quietly examined each arch and window of the façade, looking at each carved face and wicked grinning gargoyle. I imagined a small silhouette reaching up to ring the bells, and felt literature come to life. I focused so intently on the architecture, without a camera or distraction of any kind. It evoked in me a sense of peace and a sense of loss, on my final evening in the city. The church was serene, overlooking the Seine with the patience of ages and looking down on tiny me with the same tranquility. I stood, vowed to return as soon as I could, and walked back along the winding streets in the twilight.

The world is both bigger and smaller than it seems to one looking out at it from their own window at home, and this paradoxical state seemed to be in constant flux for me as I traveled. I walked streets that were filled with people just like me. I felt as though the world was not truly as alien and mysterious as it sometimes seems from far away. I felt confident in the knowledge that though this place was new and on the other side of the world, it was really no different than the small quiet streets of my suburban home in Oregon. This illusion was displaced nearly as quickly as it formed, however, as I gazed in awe upon buildings older than I could fathom and landmarks both huge and beautiful. This incredible adventure was meaningful beyond all expression, and I am forever grateful to everyone who made it possible. I have been changed for the better in so many ways by my experiences abroad. I will cherish my love for these places forever, and hope someday to see them again.


-Delane Cunningham, Summer 2016 happy

Meeting Idols, Getting Involved

I loved everyone in our group of nine, but Adrienne has to be my favorite. Everyone was there in London to learn more about theater costuming and historical clothing, but Adrienne and I were passionate about the subject in serious way. At least once we both threw ourselves on a museum floor to look at the insides of an eighteenth century gown. We got in numerous animated discussions standing in front of paintings, conjecturing at the structure of clothes.

One day she told me “I e-mailed Cathy Hay. She’d love some help.” I think I made some kind of high pitched noise. Cathy Hay is famous in costuming circles for running a subscriber website that is a compendium of historical sewing knowledge, as well as for her ambitious projects. Her latest effort is a reproduction of a 1902 Worth dress that is encrusted in silver and goldwork embroidery. It had started as an inventive for a fundraiser to help victims of the Haiti Earthquake, but Cathy quickly realized that it would be impossible to finish the dress in any reasonable amount of time by herself, and at that point in time, she had blown out her wrists embroidering.

Adrienne and I picked a day to go and booked train tickets to Nottingham. We were both nervous and excited to not only meet an idol of ours, but to help on this project we had watched come together through Cathy’s blog. An hour’s travel through London, three hours on the train, and an additional hour on public transportation through to the suburbs of Nottingham and we arrived at a parking lot where Cathy picked us up. She greeted us warmly and thrust bottles of water at us, which I thought was very thoughtful.

On the car ride to her house, we managed to not make fools of ourselves. She introduced us to her cats, and her partner Demi and then showed up pictures of the original dress and we discussed how it might be constructed. Then she took us into her workroom and showed us her project. I had seem bit she had finished online, but it looked much smaller in person. And so much shinier. It was then I realized how much of an undertaking this project really was. I may or may not have squealed “Oh my gosh it’s real! Can I touch it? I’m gonna touch it.” Cathy probably thought I was insane.

Then she gave us a demonstration the embroidery process. It was much simpler than I had feared. (This is the point where I admit that I have no patience for embroidery, but I really wanted to get up close to this dress.) Adrienne and I set to work for a couple hours. Cathy made us take breaks, as well as feeding us dinner. She told us about how weird it was to be famous in certain contexts, when she herself felt incredibly ordinary and like she was just doing the things that excited her. I think it was then that I realized how accessible the famous and extraordinary can be. They’re just people, pursuing their passions.

Cathy and Demi took us back to the train station, hugged us goodbye and promised to keep in touch. Adrienne and I arrive back in London close to Midnight on that Sunday, completely excited and satisfied.

Two or three weeks ago, Cathy formally announced plans to send parts of the dress worldwide, so that it could be completed that much faster. I’m absolutely going to help.

Elina Levkovskaya, London, United Kingdom

Finding Fantasies in London

Like many of the students on the Fantasy on the Fringe program, I grew up with 3Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley. They were my friends and they were my heroes. J.K. Rowling’s novels were some of the first fantasy books I read on my own and were one of the main series that made me fall in love with literature, and fantasy in particular. Imagine then my delight when I discovered an entire program based on fantasy and in the United Kingdom to boot. Eleven months later, I was touching down for the first time in London, England!

Arriving in London was like something out of dream. I had been imagining the city since I first read about Harry going with Hagrid to get his school things. In my travel-induced, sleep-deprived state, everything—the trains, the streets, the cars, the buildings—seemed wildly different from the United States. However, after wandering around the neighborhood to find dinner and a good night’s sleep, I found a world which seemed much less foreign. It was bustling with cars, noisy with construction, and brimming with people going to work or the grocery store or to a meeting. Yet somehow there was still an unfamiliar, unexplored feel to the world around me. There were large parks, building with ancient architecture, and historic 1places on what seemed like every corner. This harmony between familiar and unfamiliar was one of my favorite parts about the program, finding the things that I recognized but which had a different role in the United Kingdom.

Interestingly, these differences, to a smaller extent, could be found within the program participants as well. Having lived on both coasts of the USA, many of the differences didn’t surprise me. However, I loved getting to know all of the other participants and hearing about their various universities and towns and lives.

In the movie adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Trelawney talks about broadening your horizons. This program has not only helped me broaden my view of the world but it also taught me to broaden my own experiences, both academically and personally. The program helped me to be more confident and showed me that the world is simultaneously a lot larger and a lot smaller than I thought.

Senna Steward, Harry Potter in the UK, London

So Much To See, So Little Time!

As part of our curriculum, our class participated in many excursions around the UK. We got to visit some of the most beautiful and popular museums in London, as well as many less well-known attractions. One highlight for me was seeing A Mid Summer Night’s Dream in the Globe Theater. I will never forget this abroad as a whole, but that experience in particular will always be close to my heart.

Each day we had class and an excursion, beginning at 10am. We saw wonderful sites in our excursions, but there is so much to see in London and Edinburgh, and there was certainly not enough class time to see everything. This meant that my friends and I in the program would take any free time we had to explore the city. We found wonderful sites and neighborhoods on the weekends or after classes. There is so much natural beauty in Edinburgh especially, and we made special trips to hike the beautiful terrain.

With so much to see, free time became engulfed in exploration. However, I was there for academia, and there was still homework to be done. One major challenge I faced while abroad was finding time to accomplish the homework we had been assigned for classes in the midst of exploring a new country.

Every college student procrastinates at least slightly, and while I admit I have done the same in the past, I usually like to get things done as soon as I can so I don’t have to worry about it. But while abroad, I found myself often putting off work because I wanted to see the city.

At one point during the abroad trip, we had an essay due that was a major part of our grade. I had put it off until the night before because it was a weekend and I wanted to go see Hyde Park before we left for Scotland. I was panicked and extremely nervous that I would not finish in time. My best friend that I made on the trip, Alyssa, stayed up with me and worked on her own assignments so I wouldn’t feel so alone in my endeavor. We took “rain breaks,” where we would go outside and dance in the rain as to get our heartbeats up and help us focus when we returned. Once I finished my assignment, I was so grateful to her for helping me through an otherwise stressful night.

From this experience, I learned that even though I was in a new and exciting place, getting my work done first would allow me to enjoy my studies abroad more fully. I plan to go abroad again in my college career for a longer period of time, and so learning this lesson when I did will help me greatly in my future studies.

Austin Skelton, Harry Potter in the UK, London

“Health is Important: I’m not Kidneying”


You can’t plan for everything. It was the final week of classes and I was working on my final papers for my political and arts journalism courses. I hadn’t been feeling too well, but I didn’t think much of it. I convinced myself that I wasn’t feeling well because I had eaten some gluten earlier. But the pain didn’t get better; it got worse.

I couldn’t get to sleep the night before the last day of classes. I was uncomfortable and the pains were stabbing my left side and migrating to my back. It became so unbearable that I couldn’t think straight. It was midnight when the pain grew to a crescendo. I decided that I had to do something about it. I made my way downstairs to the security desk at the dorms and informed them that I was in extreme pain and asked them to call the hospital for me. The dorm staff called the hospital, I described my symptoms, and the hospital said they would send someone to get me.

I waited in the lobby for an ambulance. Intense pain rushed in waves over me and I felt nauseous. After an hour we called back and the hospital decided to send a taxi because no ambulances were available. I had emailed my mother back to let her know what was going on. I told a classmate to let one of the program leaders know in the morning. I realize now that I should have called one of the program leaders immediately, but it didn’t cross my mind in my delirious state.

I sat alone for several hours in the waiting room at the hospital. I was terrified that it was going to cost me money that I didn’t have, but I did my best to remain calm throughout the situation. Eventually I was taken in to the emergency room. They did some tests and found out pretty quickly that I had a kidney infection. They sent me back to the dorms in another taxi at four in the morning, but this time I had medication.

I went to class in the morning and talked with the program leaders. They assured me that they were there to help me and would have been fine with me calling them in the middle of the night. The director told me he would have personally driven me to the hospital at midnight. I should have had it in the front of my mind that the directors are there to help me at all times. I should have communicated with them to the best of my ability. I only stayed in class for half the day, but everyone understood. Before I left, I communicated directly with my teachers and was given extra time to turn in my work.

Nobody wants to have health problems while abroad, but it’s a possibility that it can happen. While you’re abroad, it’s critical to understand that your health is important. You need to take care of yourself, mind and body. You need to understand the systems of health care in the country you’re traveling to and how to communicate with them. In my case, since I was in London, everyone spoke English, and the emergency room visit and medication turned out to be free. This isn’t the case in every country. It takes some insight to make good decisions in adverse situations, but it’s possible. At the first sign that something might be wrong, the best idea is to talk to somebody about it rather than suffer alone.

Jackie Haworth, London, Italy