Summer study abroad program run by Southern Utah University faculty. During the program students will travel between Cardiff, Edinburgh, and London. The focus of the program is on English Literature and writing. For more information please visit our website.
I've traveled to London and Edinburgh on three separate occasions for study abroad trips. The one experience that stands out above the rest happened in Maymester, 2013. I came to study Harry Potter and Poetry, but left with much more than curricular learning. While my classes were spectacular, what happened outside the classroom actually changed my life.
The study abroad experience is more than an interesting class in an unusual setting. What happens in your free time can be life changing. A few experiences I had on this particular trip that changed my outlook on life and brought the wide world closer to me personally:
I met Tom Baker, Ian McNiece, and Mark Gatiss in a stamp shop. I did an impromptu scene with Danny Devito at the Savoy (from the front row while he took his bows for Sunshine Boys). I managed to snap a picture of the Queen in her carriage as she left Buckingham Palace for Parliament. But the most sublime, perfect experience occurred on the cold streets of Edinburgh.
It was unseasonably cold for May. The street performers had mostly packed it in because of the frigid temperatures, except for a few truly dedicated diehards. Among these was a small, deformed woman in a wheelchair, bundled from head to toe in a purple coat, pink leggings, and several scarves. Her toes, however, remained naked. With those amazing toes, this young woman painted the most exquisite flowers on small canvases for those inclined to buy.
As a poet and artist myself, the true art this woman produced moved me more than evry other paining, sculpture, or literary work I'd ever observed. There on the cold streets of Edinburgh, I experienced beauty beyond Picasso, rhyme more potent than Shakespeare, music more profound than Mozart.
I stood and talked to this wonderful human being for the better part of an hour, leaving the entire contents of my wallet in her collection tin. It wasn't enough, but it was all I had. The experience was utterly priceless. If you are an artist, you understand. If not, there are no words I can string together sufficient to explain the epiphany. I only hope that each of you can someday experience beauty in the way I did that frozen day.
R. J. Durborow, known to his friends as Chaos, is a currently senior at Northern Kentucky University with majors in Creative Writing and Theater. His study abroad experience began in May 2011 (while a student at Southern Utah University) and consists of that trip followed by additional outings in 2012 and 2013, all to the UK. Although R. J. is considered a non-traditional student, he is intimately involved in academic life and serves on the board of Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society, and has served as an officer in Golden Key International Honour Society and The National Society of Leadership and Success.
What did your provider do for you and what did you need to do on your own?
The GEC provided the academic courses, complete schedules, food and lodging, and all the information I needed. They also arrange for course-related travel and lodging, tickets to shows, and the like.
I had to make my own travel arrangements, purchase an Oyster card for travel and a cell phone to keep in touch. I took a number of side trips in my free time, and had to schedule those on my own as well. The balance between course work and free time worked out quite well. I think it was good to have the students pay for a few things as well.
Why did you decide to go abroad with your provider?
My study abroad experiences have thus far been through Southern Utah University’s Global Engagement Center. The center provides the complete package and covers all the bases. Before students leave, we are briefed on safety, what to expect, sites to see, and what to do in case of emergency. During the trip we stick together, even in our free time. We are encouraged to keep journals and take lots of pictures, some of which are published on the GEC’s website to inspire future study abroad students.
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Describe your most meaningful souvenir and why you love it?
My most meaningful souvenir is, of all things, a Q-tip. It came into my possession at the Savoy theater in London. I was fortunate to obtain a day-pass for Sunshine Boys (Danny DeVito, Richard Griffiths) front row, center seat. The show was amazing and as Danny DeVito took his bows feet from where I stood, he picked up a discarded prop from the stage: a Q-tip. “Look,” He said directly to me, “a see-stick [what they called it in the play].” The Q-tip I kept was not that Q-tip, but came from a Tesco. Still, it represents an experience I will always cherish.
What is one piece of advice you'd give future students traveling with your program?
The main piece of advice I would give is to step past your fears and go. A number of my friends wanted to go on these trips, but were afraid to step so far outside their comfort zones.
My advice is to choose a reputable provider and take that step. You will not only experience learning no conventional classroom can provide, but you will create memories to last a lifetime. The last thing I want to say in my dotage is, “I wish I had done that.” Don’t you say that either. Go for it. Live your learning.
How has this experience impacted your future?
As I stated earlier, these experiences have inspired me to pursue my post-graduate studies abroad, if possible. These experiences have also guaranteed that if my children wish to study abroad, I will make it happen. I encourage everyone to do this at least once.
Every one of my classmates and I had some experience or series of experiences that changed our world view in a profound manner. Unrealistic stereotypes we might have had previously lay shattered in the streets of London, Edinburgh, Margraten, and more. My personal experience has drawn me closer to my heritage and family and reduced the size of the planet in my eyes. I feel more connected to myself and to the world.
Describe your program socially and academically.
Our program was academically challenging and forced us to think outside the box. As we were studying the world of Harry Potter, the social experience was inextricably intertwined with the academic. We were sorted into houses before we left and conducted ourselves as Hogwarts students the entire time we were there. That was several years ago, but we still keep in touch… all of us.
We created a Facebook page for the class and continue to keep up with each other through that still active page. We don’t pay too much attention to houses anymore (truth be told, we never really did), and everyone is interested in what everyone else is doing. I was Gryffindor prefect and my best friend is a Slytherin.
Tell us about any interesting cultural tidbits you noticed about your country.
I could mention all the words that have completely different meanings in London-English than in American-English (cheers, mate, love, etc.), but the cultural “tidbit” that stood out most was a matter of absence. That is, I was struck by what I didn’t see and hear more than what I did.
For instance, I never heard a racial slur come from a native. I never heard a gunshot fired because someone wasn’t wearing the right colors. Still, some of the things I saw had the same effect. I saw Russian, Arab, Christian, Muslim, Black, White, and every shade in between treating each other with respect. Men regularly got out of their seats on the Tube so women could sit.
The color of skin didn’t matter. I saw a man in a fine suit buy a meal for a man in rags. Perhaps what I did and didn’t see and/or hear were isolated things, but I think not. That kind of universal respect and caring is something I can never see enough of.
What made this experience unique and special?
My experience was unique and special for one glaring reason: because it was my own. My fellow students had similar experiences, but no one’s was exactly like mine. I brought my own history, my own stereotypes, expectations, and requirements to the experience.
I can’t vouch for the rest of my group, but I for one got what I came for. Yes, I learned about Harry Potter in a way I never thought of before, but I learned more about people and places that were not my own. They are now. The overwhelming feeling I had upon landing at Heathrow was one of homecoming…every time. I feel as if I’m part of a much greater world than I was before. And I am. Nothing will ever look, smell, taste, or feel the same again. What could be better?
Do you think your program changed you as a person?
Yes, I do. If what I have shared thus far does not make it clear, my study abroad experiences have changed me forever. I am a poet (among other things) and see the world around me in shades of love and hate, prosperity and despair, beauty and ugliness.
In order to appreciate the world as it really is, you must see it, touch it, feel its pulse. My study abroad experience has allowed me to do those things and opened the wide world to my view. I will continue to travel as often as I can. I’ve seen a fair bit of Europe now, perhaps New Zealand or Chile next? Who knows? The one thing I do know is that study abroad was just the beginning.
About Southern Utah University Study Abroad
The Global Engagement Center fosters empathy, cultural and global understanding, experiential learning, and personal enrichment by providing SUU students, faculty, and staff with the resources and guidance necessary to enhance their learning and research in safe, intellectually stimulating programs in a variety of locations worldwide.