888 Hours in Europe: My Experience Studying Abroad


When I first learned about Harlaxton, I was immediately intrigued. Listening to Hope Rouse’s experience definitely sparked my inner writer/traveler in me to learn more. As months passed, the Honors College was able to inform students about possible scholarship opportunities—both partial and full. When I applied, however, I found out soon after that I was awarded a partial scholarship, that, although a generous amount, would not be enough to cover my experience abroad.

As I pushed the whole Harlaxton idea out of my head, I was on I-20 with a close friend of mine heading to Dallas to see a concert and disconnect from school for a while. Ironically enough, my friend and I were discussing Harlaxton and how cool it could have been to attend. As conversations dwindled and awkward silence prevailed, an unexpected phone call made us both jolt from our seats. Dr. Waters was on the other line and he gave me the news that would drastically change my summer: “I wanted to inform you that the Honors College was able to gather more funds and award you a full scholarship for Harlaxton.”

After what felt like a thousand “thank you’s,” I jumped in joy and my friend did as well. “You’re going to Europe, man,” he said. I let those words sink in, I smiled once again, and as I rode the narrow highway, I began preparing myself for the exciting summer ahead.

During my trans-Atlantic flight from Texas to London, many thoughts seemed to storm through my head. As I laid back in the semi-spacious plane chair, I closed my eyes and pondered about the next six weeks of my life in a different continent. It would be a lie to say that I was not scared out of my mind throughout the plane ride. What if I don’t really fit in? What if Europe isn’t for me? What if…

All the “what if’s” that pestered me gave me anxiety, and frankly, I wanted to land in the place I would call home for the next six weeks and get it over with. Sitting next to Dr. Mark Waters, we both felt apprehensive and excited. Between eating airplane food and watching countless movies during our six-hour flight, Dr. Waters and I both were experiencing some type of jitters. We discussed all the new things we would try, what places we were excited the most to see, amongst other things; however, what was not discussed during those six hours was how the next six weeks of our lives would drastically change the rest of our lives.

The long, six hours had finally concluded and we landed in London. I had never been out of the United States other than my second home of Mexico. As Dr. Waters and I—both jetlagged—were retrieving our luggage, our third companion, Shawna Johnson, met us to finally head out to Grantham, where the mystical castle they called Harlaxton was.

Waiting for the shuttle, I met several other scared, anxious college students from around the U.S. From marketing majors that called Florida home, to Philosophy/Economics/Political Science majors from a small town in Indiana, I knew that we were all on the same boat: ready to sleep, settle in our new home, travel, and experience Harlaxton.

The ride to Grantham—a scenic transit from urban London to the close countryside of Lincolnshire—was one that I regretfully did not experience fully. Yes, I napped on the way there, and about 95% of the students on the bus were also asleep. However, I was awoken from several “woah’s” and “damn’s.” From my slumber, I rubbed my eyes and the castle slowly came into view. What seemed like an annex in Hogwarts was now my home for the next six weeks.

As students and faculty stepped off the bus, we were all greeted amiably by the Harlaxton staff. It felt like I was a freshman all over again. “Don’t forget about orientation at 5 PM!” Said the director. Although everyone was tired, jetlagged, hungry, amongst other feelings, we were all surprised by the magnificent opening ceremony that Harlaxton provided.

After an inspiring speech from Harlaxton’s principal, Dr. Daniel Seaman, a piper above us played a serene tune to welcome us to a different world. The sound of the pipes will always resonate with me because, as I heard the pipes and saw every one of my peers’ smiles, I forgot about my anxiety, apprehension, and nerves.

Life at Harlaxton picked up quick. Classes began almost immediately after our short two-day orientation and break. Students around me were excited and eager to tackle not only a semester abroad, but also countless travelling that Harlaxton offers throughout its academic sessions. Throughout our six-week summer course, we all had classes throughout the morning, Monday through Thursday, in order to have our weekend free to travel the marvel of the “Old World.”

One of my apprehensions before going to Harlaxton was travelling—possibly alone—to a different world where I knew nothing and no one. However, Harlaxton put all my worries at ease as the staff worked tirelessly to coordinate trips in which they provided transportation and accommodations. Of course, every student has the option of whether or not doing the school-coordinated trips, or travel on their own.

The first weekend was the urban, industrial monster of London. A man once said that every monster has its charm, and, boy, was he right. As we entered London, the urban environment spoke many languages, wore different clothing, and saw things differently than any of us Americans awaiting a fun weekend ahead. With some acquaintances I had made during the first week, we had planned an exciting weekend: Westminster Abby, the Tower of London, the London Museum, the changing of the guard, Buckingham palace, etc.

I ventured out to London with my friends and saw worlds and thousands of years of history at the London Museum, I admired surreal and timeless pieces of art at the Tate Gallery, and witnessed Big Ben himself. However, what made my London trip—and ultimately my entire trip—was my personal “literary tour” of London, specifically my stop at the Charles Dickens Museum. Witnessing another world before me, and being in the former home of a writer whom I admire highly, I had an epiphany of sorts, in front of Charles Dickens’s writing desk. I concluded that humanity connects us all.  We all have stories, we all have a past, a potential future, dreams, goals, etc. Each and every person at Harlaxton had ambitious plans for the future, and we were all connected through one mammoth castle we all called home.

The weeks strolled along, and life at Harlaxton was getting easier and more surreal. The castle’s unbeatable views from any spot provided comfort for any situation. The colorful gardens and courtyard offered a quiet, peaceful spot to study or read. The junior common room—much similar to the McMurry’s Nest—was a great place to disconnect from school and play snooker (the British version of billiards), watch a movie, or have a nice poker night between friends. However, one of the most interesting spots at Harlaxton that provided a release for all of us was the bistro. Yes, there is a bar (or should I say “pub”) at Harlaxton. The bistro was not a dive bar or a place to get intoxicated. Rather, it was a comfortable niche for all of us to share a couple of pints, laugh a little, and fraternize amongst each other.

Throughout the six weeks, we all had house competitions. Everyone was divided in to houses, similar to Harry Potter, and we all had fun and competitive house competitions each week. My house, Mercia, came in last place in the house competitions. Although the house competitions were for bragging rights, each house competition was different and fun in its own way. From an adrenaline filled dodgeball game in the gym, to karaoke in the bistro, each house competition made the Harlaxton life a little more unique and competitive.

Halfway in to the six weeks, my nerves and anxiety seemed to disappear almost immediately. Although one can easily feel alone in the immense castle that is Harlaxton, it was impossible to not have some type of company, regardless of the hour. I made many friends whom I know I will stay in touch with for many years to come. What we all had in common—no matter the region where we were from or what we were studying—is that we all wanted to experience. We all wanted something new, something away from the dog-eat-dog American society we were used to. We all wanted the cherry on top to our young adult-hood, and what better way than to travel across Europe and live in a castle that seems to only exist in a movie for many of us Americans.

The six weeks were coming to a close. Final tests to study for, essays to write, projects to be done, and we all couldn’t believe how fast the six weeks went. From being nervous in our best Sunday outfit in a beautifully decorated marble room, to everyone smiling and hugging in the bistro, Harlaxton became a family close to the end of the summer term.

Traveling through Europe, I never failed to always wear a McMurry shirt. One valuable lesson that I cherish the most is to never forget where I come from. Thanks to McMurry, my family across the pond, cheering me on at every instance, I was able to sit in the cafes where my favorite writers once sat at in Paris. Thanks to the grand opportunity that the Honors College provided, I was able to eat authentic, delicious, and unforgettable Italian food in Rome. Thanks to my family—the family whom I have grown to love and cherish for the past three and a half years of my life—I was able to live one of the best experiences of my young life.

Without McMurry, Europe seemed a whimsical dream in my young writer mind. I always dreamed of going, but always thought of it as a pilgrimage I would do at a much older age. In retrospect, I am thankful that my original plan failed and I was able to enjoy Europe while I am still young. My eyes saw and experienced a different world that will forever be embedded in my memory.

One of the best pieces of advice writers give to other writers is to experience and to “show and not tell.” Thanks to Harlaxton, I could finally describe a surreal Paris café, surrounded by small hills that decorated a chapel in Montmartre. However, thanks to McMurry, I would forever be able to show others my experience. I want to use my experience to inspire others as well. I want others to dream big and aspire to go to Europe. Not everyone has the opportunity to go to a family driven school like McMurry, and everyone at McMurry should bask in the advantages that our family has to offer.

I was sitting on the trans-Atlantic flight from London back home to Texas. Now, my nerves transformed from what if’s to I should have. Once again, sitting next to me, Dr. Waters and I were able to recount all of our adventures, our favorite aspects of each city we visited, and the surreal experience we just experienced.

“Seems like just yesterday we were going the opposite direction,” said Dr. Waters.

We both smiled and wish it could have never ended. As we have both adjusted back to life in Texas—with our primary family at McMurry—I think it’s safe to say that we want everyone and anyone to experience the unforgettable moments that both Dr. Waters and I had in Europe. I encourage everyone to research Harlaxton and aspire beyond your wildest dreams. Most importantly, don’t forget that wherever you may go, wherever you may roam, there will always be the shadow of the War Hawk, soaring high above you, watching your every move.