More Than a Memory

Harlaxton College is a study abroad program many Honors students at WKU take advantage of. I wrote this reflective piece about my semester in Europe for the Honors College newsletter.

You’ve seen the pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower, and you’ve read the Facebook statuses about weekends spent in Spain. But what you don’t know about is all the relationships you inevitably become a part of at Harlaxton College.

Spending a semester at Harlaxton College is an easy decision to make. What’s not to love? An eighteenth century manor house reminiscent of Hogwarts, located in the simple English countryside; three-day weekends to spend traveling across Europe; and a comparable, if not equal cost to a semester spent at WKU. When I first heard of the program as a freshman at H4, I immediately knew there would be no other option: I was going to Harlaxton.

And so I went in the spring of 2010. It’s impossible to explain how incredible the four months I spent traveling abroad were. How will I ever get the feelings across to someone who wasn’t there? Staring up at the Eiffel Tower in France, the sun gleaming off the metal structure. Standing in the same exact spot where Anne Boleyn was beheaded in the Tower of London by Henry VIII’s decree. Navigating through Munich not knowing a word of German and visiting Dachau, the first Nazi camp in Germany. Climbing to the top of Arthur’s seat in Edinburgh, Scotland, the entire city visible below, wind whipping so hard it was like another world. I traveled to seven different countries and all around the UK, seeing and experiencing things I had only ever seen in pictures or heard about through family and friends. I will not forget those things, but there are other things I will remember the most.

I will remember Doug, the Scottish shuttle bus driver, who took me into Grantham, the town 10 minutes from Harlaxton, so I could buy my shampoo and Ritz crackers; Doug, who shared his most personal, tragic experiences as a soldier in World War II. I will remember the refectory workers, who kindly served me English cafeteria food, which basically all tastes like nothing with gravy on top; the refectory workers, who didn’t tell on us when we caused the toaster to start smoking because we craved melted cheese on our bread. I will remember my meet-a-family parents and sisters, who couldn’t believe there was such a thing as Cheez Whiz in America; my meet-a-family, who helped me perfect my English accent and taught me the difference between chips and fries.

I will remember Dr. Bujak, my British Studies seminar leader, and possibly the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to know; Dr. Bujak, who refused to give me anything higher than a B on any assignment I turned in, but made me a better, smarter student for it. I will remember Mariela, the Spanish native I stayed with in Barcelona who so graciously opened her home; Mariela, who made us authentic quesadillas at midnight because we were hungry, and let us play with her gato, Romeo.

And most of all, I will remember the friends I made at Harlaxton. I went with a few acquaintances from WKU and came back with more true friends from all across America than I ever dreamed I would make. I spent four months with the same 150 students. We all drug ourselves to British Studies lectures at 8:30 in the morning, and spent several nights studying and panicking over our exams. We hung out in the Bistro and threw more than one ridiculously themed party, and we learned to like coffee when it was served for free in the afternoons. We traveled together and found our way around foreign countries where sometimes there was no English. We went to the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, English fútbol games, and Broadway shows in London; we got lost, learned how to say “thank you” in multiple languages, and stayed in cheap hostels together. Those friends became my family for four months, and I miss them constantly.

Not a day passes that I don’t think of my semester abroad, and I know that eventually the memories will grow more and more dim. But I will never forget the relationships I forged at Harlaxton College—the people who have helped define me today, and are still a part of my family.

Written by Katie Knecht for Areté, 2010. Photo by Clay Simpson.

© Katie Knecht, 2010.