For six months, I have lived and worked in a daydream. In a fairy tale of a place in the English midlands. In a mansion filled with unique souls, coming and going as they experience what the world has to offer. And with them, I have tasted a sweet piece of the world as well.
Every photo I’ve taken and every word I’ve written cannot encapsulate my time at Harlaxton Manor, but allow me to try to share a few of my experiences. I have not blogged as nearly as much as I would have liked throughout my time, so I’ll be posting blogs about my travels and adventures for months to come; however, as I am now at the end of this chapter, I would like to reflect on it. Stay tuned for a three-part blog series about the experience as a whole. Following this post will be one entitled Going British, which will touch on how I’ve adapted to life in the United Kingdom. The last post will be about leaving the manor the last time and my first few days at home. But I am writing this particular post with a few days left.
In six months, I have traveled to 10 countries/territories, sprained my ankle, witnessed a snowstorm that swept Europe, lived in England for a royal birth and royal wedding, had several visitors from the States, climbed mountains, got published in an anthology, rode bikes through cities, took part in Norwegian Constitution Day, toured castles, made friends, missed trains, watched a movie get filmed at my house, took over 15,000 photos, and had Nando’s peri peri chicken in five different British cities.
In doing so, I’ve lived a lot and learned a lot. With the knowledge I’ve acquired, here are some life lessons I’ve learned at Harlaxton.
No matter where you’re from, what you do, or how you think the world works, everyone has a story to tell. Whether it’s a quick instance that they’ll never forget or a lifetime of tales that reveal a person’s true character, everyone has some instance that makes them unique. On this adventure, I’ve encountered people who worked for the British train system for 40 years, who have an obsession with sharks, who have direct family ties to royalty, who went to China just to pet a panda, who have lived in five countries, and who have accidentally kicked Miley Cyrus at the St. Louis Arch. All of these stories make them the beautiful people they are.
A smile is the same in every language. When there is no bridge between one native tongue and another, a smile is still understood. With it, kindness and the desire to understand are always appreciated.
Being a student is always difficult in some capacity. I have pushed my way through 13 years of grade school, a degree, and a semester of studying abroad myself. But this experience has allowed me to heavily observe other students. I have watched the all-nighters, the coffee shop study sessions, the notecard flipping, and the excruciating stress. It’s all still present for students despite their studying in a castle.
It really is impossible to please everyone. I am a people-pleaser and I always have been. While I would say I’m on very good terms with almost all the students who have passed through the manor during my time, there are a couple of divas who would ask for Venus if you gave them the moon. I’m not losing any sleep at night because of them.
Homesickness creeps up on you when you least expect it.I have not been extremely homesick through this six months, but every now and then, the thought of something hit me and I missed it desperately for a little while. A person. A room. A feeling. A bowl of queso from my local Mexican restaurant.
Travel fails happen to even the most experienced travelers. I would like to call myself a well-traveled person at this point, but I’ve made a few wrong turns, ran through a few airports, and missed a few trains during my time here. It happens. You have to deal with it.
You have to give yourself ample time to get somewhere. It never failed—if I barely gave myself enough time, there would be a road closed, or a subway strike, or a delayed plane, or a two-hour immigration line.
Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities usually only happen once in a lifetime. On a small scale, I happened to be traveling to a different country during the weekend of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding. I had a wonderful trip, and I was still among all the hubbub, but I slightly regret not being in England when it happened. I missed it. On a larger scale, I seized the opportunity to work in a British manor house for half a year. It worked out pretty well for me.
Collect memories, not things.When I traveled the world previously, I was all about collecting little trinkets and different objects to commemorate my time in countries. While I’ve bought myself and my family a few souvenirs this time, I didn’t go as crazy with the physical items. I splurged more on the things to do. I got a Swedish massage in Sweden. I had a super nice dinner in Wales. I had a night out in London, which consisted of a fancy cheese bar and a trip to see Les Misérables on West End. I would rather have all that than a four-inch Big Ben figurine.
A picture is worth a thousand words, but a good picture has a better vocabulary.I once believed that I had to document every moment of my time abroad. I always had my camera ready, and I walked through cities constantly clicking. In doing so, half of those photos were terrible, but more significantly, I wasn’t fully taking in the atmosphere around me. I have learned that it is much better to stop and take a good photo every now and then, but to not just watch my surroundings through the camera. I was missing a lot.
When it comes to culture, “different” does not mean “wrong.” I learned this while traveling a long time ago, but it gets reinforced every time I go anywhere. Just because people have different foods, religions, slang, styles, and overall upbringings does not mean they are wrong. They’re just different. People from home have constantly asked me how I drive on the wrong side of the road while here. It’s not the wrong side of the road—it’s the opposite side of the road.
Some people love Americans. Some people hate them. While traveling, you shouldn’t always scream “American” in case you encounter the latter. If I have been asked about Trump while over here once, I’ve been asked about him 307 times. And country music. And New York City. And non-free healthcare. And cheeseburgers. It’s interesting because some people are infatuated with all elements of American culture and they want to be American. Some automatically assume you’re an arrogant bigot.
Always make time for tea. My schedule for the past six months has been a never-ending list of fun events, photography shoots, photo editing, trip-leading, graphic-making, and social media posting. I’ve never actually been caught up. However, I often had to make time to smell the roses (the non-metaphorical ones in the manor gardens). Some days I would deliberately take a walk mid-day or do some work at a local coffee shop. Some nights I made myself hang out with students instead of doing late work. And I had tea almost every day for six months. Why? Because I’d probably go crazy otherwise. It really is important to take some you time.
You won’t remember how tired you were. Squeeze in the 8am tour. Along with taking some time to chill, I learned to prioritize what I wanted. When traveling, for example, I would often be exhausted, and I would just want to sleep in, but when else was I supposed to climb a mountain in Budapest? While I was making sure to care for myself, I also pushed myself to the limits when necessary. I would have regretted it otherwise.
Don’t fear the unknown. As excited as I was, I also had doubts and fears coming to Harlaxton. Six months is a pretty hefty amount of time to be on your own in a different country. But with that fear, I opened myself to possibilities and allowed myself to try, fail, succeed, struggle, and thrive. I did all of the above.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I did that a lot. I get confused while working on projects in an office much like I can’t find the right bus stop while traveling. I’ve learned to swallow some pride and ask sometimes.
Make notes of the little details.For my last week here, I will be going around the manor to take detailed photographs and writing in my journal as much as possible. I don’t want to forget how the Great Hall looks when sun shines through its stained glass, or how the Refectory sounds during lunch, or what the Conservatory smells like.
Roll with the punches.No other time in my life has taught me flexibility more than this six months. I have learned that when the bus doesn’t show to pick up your 25 students, or when you’re consoling a girl who just got dumped by a text sent 4,000 miles away, or when you’re flight gets canceled and you’re a day later getting back to the manor, you have to roll with it. More so than ever, I embraced the British slogan that has been beaten to death but still rings true. Keep calm and carry on.