My Life at Harlaxton

I have now spent over four months living and working at Harlaxton Manor. That means I only have two months left living in this storybook of a place in the British countryside, and that’s really starting to sink in.

It’s been a while since I last shared any of my experiences with you, but with travel and the first batch of students leaving, I’ve been lucky to even sleep (much less write). Since the spring semester is over and the summer students will not arrive for a while, I have a lot more time on my hands, which means a lot more blog posts about previous adventures are in the near future. But for now, I’d like to fill you in on what I’ve been really doing the last four months. Welcome to my life as the Harlaxton media intern.

The High Life

The elegance component is numero uno. These students live and take classes in this 19th century British manor that is borderline ridiculous. Borderline. It has French and Italian gardens and a grand ballroom and crystal chandeliers and blah blah blah. Refer to my previous posts for a taste of it. Since I work for the program, I get to live here too. While living in a place like this, it’s sometimes easy to get caught up in the grandeur moments, but it’s also easy to take them for granted.

Our traditional costume ball at the end of the semester had a Roaring Twenties theme. Catch me sporting the Gatsby pose.

These fancy elements are often the only ones people think I deal with over here. That’s fair of them to assume, because those are the elements people see. I often get comments from friends like “Oh, your life must be so hard living in your castle.” Don’t get me wrong, it is pretty luxurious. I’m definitely not complaining. I’ll post an Instagram story of the gardens or a Facebook photo of myself dressed up at an event in the manor. Yes, I can see that it looks like I’m parading around this place like a duke with my hardest decisions being where to travel next or in which room to have my afternoon tea. I assure you… there’s much more to it than that. But I do get to be fancy quite often. There’s sometimes formal dinners, VIP guests, and ceremonies in which I get to wear a robe and stole.

       I feel like a supreme court justice when I wear these things to events.

New Pins on My Map

There’s also the travel component. Every now and then, I get time to do my absolute favorite thing and see a little piece of somewhere new. Over the last four months, I’ve been to Germany, Czech Republic, and Hungary independently. More places are on the list in the very near future. I also get to do a little traveling for my role by couriering trips that students pay to go on. During those trips, I am the person who is in charge, who handles any sort of problems, and who is responsible for getting the little duckies from Pond A to Pond B. Doing so definitely presents challenges, but it also allows me to really hone some leadership skills while, again, traveling. Shout out to Harlaxton for giving me free trips to Ireland, Wales, and several spots around England.

       I led this splendid group to Caernarfon Castle in Wales!

I’m not helping my case with the whole luxury thing, am I? OK… work. I actually do a lot of it.

Write. Shoot. Post. Tweet. Snap. Update. Repeat.

I am technically an “intern” here because my job has a timestamp, but it pays, and trust me–it’s a job if I’ve ever seen one. My main purpose is to capture the student experience here at Harlaxton College to

a) document it for the current students’ memories and

b) project their experience to the world (i.e. prospective students, home universities, family members, alumni, etc.).

I mainly do that through social media. I am the sole keeper of Harlaxton’s official Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Flickr accounts, as well as a blog and monthly newsletter. You may be thinking “Big deal. I have social media. It’s not rocket science.” While you are correct, there is a vast difference in personal social media and media for a brand. There are analytics, strategies, and guidelines that I have to consider. I can’t just post a selfie because I feel like it.

Getting People to Say Cheese

Another huge component of my job is photography. You’ll often catch me bobbing around the manor with a DSLR camera around my neck. I have to be at every event the college holds–every karaoke night, dodgeball game, and fancy dinner–snapping away photos so the students can have them for later. It’s super fun because I always get to be right in the middle of all the action, even if the action gets a little stressful sometimes.

Every now and then, I get to do actual photo shoots. Whether it’s taking photos of the manor for promotional material or taking portraits of students for certain occasions, I often get to enjoy playing Rockwell. An example of one of the shoots I do–and probably one of my favorite parts of the job–is “Humans of Harlaxton,” which is a “Humans of New York” styled feature we put on our social media. I’ve gotten to know some very interesting people and their stories through “Humans.” Here’s an example:

“When I was struggling with things, my teachers really helped me. I want to do the same for somebody else. Things sort of hit rock bottom my sophomore year of high school. My family was in bad financial standing. On the day before Thanksgiving, my dad had a heart attack while doing his paper route and passed away. Then, a month later on Christmas Eve, my brother died in a car wreck. It was difficult, but I had to be the rock for my family.
It’s going to sound bad, but if none of that would have happened, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I started running cross country, managing ball teams, and getting out more. I went off to my university and joined my fraternity. Without all of the social security money and whatnot, I probably wouldn’t have been able to go to such a prestigious school or have the chance to come to Harlaxton. I also don’t know if I would be becoming a teacher now, because it was my teachers who helped me get through the hard times.
I’ve told this story a lot, but I tell it a lot less now because I don’t want it to be the reason that someone likes me—because they feel sorry for me. If anything, I want people to know that I’m a person who can help them. That’s why I’m becoming a teacher.”
–Austin Hopf, University of Evansville

Aside from being available to the students, the photos I take go into two of my big projects: a yearbook and a semester video. With a little help from a small student committee, I put together a yearbook that encapsulates the entire semester. The spring edition was inspired by the “Adventure Book” in Up and had a scrapbook theme. I also had to make a 20-minute video for the students and unveil it on Valedictory night. It was nerve-wracking, yet soul-satisfying. You can watch it here if you’d like.

A Whole Lot of Randomness

And then, there’s little things like making a weekly calendar for students, dealing with their weekend checkout procedures, and making any graphics the college needs here at the manor.

While all of these things directly relate to media in some form or fashion, there is a residential side to my job that has nothing to do with media, and that side is like a box of chocolates–you never know what you’re going to get. Since I’m living here with these students, I’m kind of one of the faces of the manor. I have a duty rotation that sometimes makes me the emergency contact for them. I sometimes have to play therapist–I have had so many deep conversations with them about homesickness, relationship problems, grades, and travel fails. Sometimes I have to get on them for not following the rules. I also just do what needs to be done sometimes in order to make things run smoothly for them.

My wonderful boss, Megan, is the dean of student development. She said something at the beginning of the semester that really stuck with me through this experience: “I have my PhD, and sometimes I do things that requires it, but sometimes I use my PhD to pick up dodgeballs in the sports hall.” That really encapsulates working at Harlaxton. This job has its big elements that can be important, challenging, glamorous, or all of the above, but it’s also made of the little mundane things that contribute to making the student experience the best that it can be.

It’s Not the Place, but Those Within It

There is another element of my role here that is perhaps the most beautiful: the people. Each term, this manor fills with students and professors from all over the states. They bring with them little pieces of their homes and their stories that have helped get them here. I live for those stories.

Over the last four months, I have made incredible friendships that I didn’t know I needed. I have loved the movie nights, the late-night pizza deliveries, the discussions while jigsaw puzzling, and the silly events that no one outside of Harlaxton will understand. These things are branded in me just like the image of this incredible place.

Like every job or internship, there are elements about being here that are not so great. For example, I barely slept for the entire last week of the semester in order to get the yearbook and semester video done. But through every hardship and every victory, I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. It’s inspiring and ever-changing and challenging and fun all rolled into one.

And then there’s the absolute best part.

Since I am living with these people and constantly taking photos of them, I get to see them though a lens both literally and figuratively. I get to do a lot of observing.

I studied abroad when I was in college and I know how it changed me in ways that I cannot express. Knowing that, I get to see students come here for the first time, taken aback and unaware of how their lives are about to turn upside down. And then I get to watch it happen. I get to watch them learn and experience and grow. And I get to capture that growth in little camera clicks so they can keep that growth alive forever. So if you were wondering, that is the life I am living at Harlaxton.

Harlaxton College Spring Class of 2018

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