This summer I jumped on a flight across the Atlantic. I planned to arrive at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge, England and study literature there. I had traveled to Europe the previous year and studied at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, so this trip did not give me the anxiety that I had felt before when I left the first time.
I was going to own this trip.
Unlike my first trip, I had plans to make this study abroad trip the single greatest experience of my life. I chose the best courses that gave me units towards a degree and that would also prepare me to write a thesis. My goals were to study like mad under my two University of Cambridge instructors, but also to make friends and see the beauty of England.
Making friends was a necessity because I was the only person from my part of California, and mostly everyone else in the program attended the University of New Hampshire which is a few time zones east from Fresno State. I made the most of my opportunity in England, and I set out to be the all-American student who would be smart, popular, and own Cambridge. This made sense because that is how I live back home, but it was not exactly what happened.
What actually happened was a cross between me making the most of a great trip and also an attempt to deal with the incidents that I could not predict.
Cambridge was one of the most beautiful towns in England, and it was also one of the most ancient. Thousands of years ago Romans were settled along the River Cam, and here I am walking along the same river to get a cup of coffee before class at eight.
I immediately felt at home in the town despite its intense draw for tourism, and I even started feeling a bit English as I started to settle in. Cambridge is indeed a beautiful city that could take a month for someone to visit all of the colleges, museums, and landmarks.
What surprised me was that the hundreds of students spending their summer abroad in Cambridge were not doing it for the culture. At night, Cambridge turned into a place for young adults to club and drink. With a legal drinking age of eighteen, tons of students flocked past the centuries-old colleges and into the clubs with booming pop music so that they could experience the party life that Cambridge offered.
When the group I studied abroad with first met, we also decided that the right move for twenty jet-lagged students is to go to the nearest pub. This was an easy task and soon we were ordering drinks and getting the best of English drinking culture. The other students and I were getting along well and starting to form friendships when I discovered that they were not drinking the traditional pint of English ale but instead following more American traditions of shooting tequila. After this discovery and the behavior that resulted from it, my expectations changed.
Studying abroad is great, but nobody tells you that staying with the same twenty people morning, noon, and night at their best and at their worst will affect your stay. What was unexpected for me on the trip was that every student attending was incredibly intelligent, but still, some were somewhat rude.
A majority of the students I stayed with and I experienced sleep deprivation, stressful assignment deadlines, hunger, fatigue, having a bit too much to drink, and hangovers before class. This all turned a trip that was supposed to be a beautiful time of new friendship into a time where people at their worst were getting annoyed by one another and causing fractures within the group.
After a week or so, the group had become cliquish and the majority of female students split off into groups of their own. Myself and the other three male students found ourselves living closely with groups of students that we could never really become a part of. Tensions started to run higher and friendly conversations turned into arguments after a visit to the local pubs. At times, the trip reminded me a lot of Lord of the Flies. All of the turmoil was a sizable damper to the trip, and it put me into occasional bad moods where I would have to find peace on my own.
However, it would take a lot more than not getting along with everyone in the group to take away from the adventure of a lifetime. Despite the disagreements among the students, I still formed friendships with very intelligent and friendly people in the group and we explored England and Scotland together.
I even managed to make a good friend with a University of Cambridge full-time student who was at the top of his class in aerospace engineering. This guy was brilliant and really made my trip better. He reinforced my self-confidence to go out and take in as much of the city as I could, and he introduced me to a lot of English culture that I could not have discovered on my own.
Meeting him and the other Cambridge locals, as well as other students studying abroad from places like Spain and Switzerland really made my trip fantastic and the cultural experience memorable.
The most beautiful time I had abroad was the classes' weekend trip to Edinburgh. There we saw the historic wall dividing the Romans in England from the Celtic Scots in Scotland. Hadrian's wall is the inspiration for George R. R. Martin's wall in the Game of Thrones series that protects the people of the seven kingdoms from the white walkers.
While in Edinburgh, I had some Haggis and Scottish beer; that meal alone was fantastic made the trip worth it. The group went on an Edinburgh ghost tour at night and enjoyed the haunted vaults under the city that were over two hundred years old. We toured the colossal Edinburgh castle that fended off many invasions from the English and was unlike anything you could see in the United States.
The best part of that weekend trip was our trip up a beautiful hill overlooking the city named Arthur's Seat at five in the morning to watch the sunrise. The view was unreal and the wind blowing over the summit made me feel absolutely alive and refreshed after a night out on the town. Sitting there at the summit as the sun rose was the most beautiful part of my experience I would not trade that feeling for anything. Edinburgh, Scotland was my favorite destination of the trip and I would love to visit there again.
Along with James Joyce's Ulysses and assorted works from Shakespeare, I learned a ton from my trip abroad. I learned that however much you prepare yourself, you can never fully conquer something that happens unexpectedly. I can not imagine another way of studying abroad because the experience is about jumping out of a comfort zone and embracing the beauty of the unknown.
Even with my experience of not getting along with everyone, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. The relationships I gained from the program made me treasure people who make an effort to have a friendship with me. I cannot thank enough those who made my trip better by being a companion through the often unexpected and challenging United Kingdom countryside. I appreciate everyone on the trip for what they've given me during the time of my life that I grew the most.
I will forever remember the beautiful Cambridge where I aced my favorite class and walked down the lane to grab a beer with my coolest professor.