By Brenna English-Loeb
When I was in middle school, I read the “Song of the Lioness” quartet by Tamora Pierce and I was hooked. I wanted nothing more than to become a knight in medieval England—but if that wasn’t possible, I wanted to at least visit England. By the time I was able to go to England this past semester, I had learned that the Middle Ages were not exactly a time period I really wanted to visit (no personal hygiene, for one), but by then I had discovered the glories of British and Irish accents. So I achieved a practically life-long goal when I was able to spend a semester abroad in Bath.
Bath is a World Heritage Site because of the Roman Baths, a natural hot spring that the Romans seized from the Celtic peoples as a much-appreciated reminder of warm Italy. Bath is also the sometime home of Jane Austen (although it turns out she didn’t really like the city all that much) and centuries of culture. Because of its World Heritage status, Bath has remained in much the same condition as it was during Austen’s day, with walkable streets and beautiful stone buildings.
The program I attended, Advanced Studies in England, housed us in real homes across the city, and our classes took place in one of the last remaining houses that belonged to Lord Nelson (which features many portraits of the man decorating the building). I lived with seven other students from several different universities in the United States. We became a very close-knit group, traveling and experiencing the country together as we did. Our house was on the opposite side of town from Nelson House, about a mile’s walk.
My route took me near the Royal Crescent and through the Circus, both prominent Bath landmarks, as well as the city center. The city center had tons of truly British pubs and shops as well as gifted street performers. The Roman Baths, the Pump Room and Bath Abbey are all in this area. Almost all the buildings in Bath are made of the same distinctive stone, and that in combination with the many green and flowering parks makes Bath one of the most bewitching cities I’ve known.
But my time abroad was much more than sightseeing. By spending so much time living among the British, I got a taste of what life there is really like. I now know the value of constantly having a cup of tea and what real chips are like (Hint: They’re not thin and crunchy; we’re talking about what we call french fries, only better). I even mastered the act of looking the right way when crossing the street.
Besides visiting England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, I also toured Greece and France. It was my first time going anywhere so far away or for so long without my family. In addition to experiencing the vastly different cultures of all these places, I learned to have confidence in myself and my ability to navigate the often confusing and intimidating adult world.
I am most proud of my trip to France, which I took when my semester in Bath ended, because I went completely alone. I was forced to practice my rusty French and found that people were really impressed with my speaking ability. While visiting the Louvre, I spent a half hour talking to a man about the differences between France and America as well as our favorite art.
Now that I’m back in the United States I miss England terribly. I miss the way everyone walks or takes the train instead of driving, the sense of history and the way one minute I could be in serene countryside and the next in the middle of a thriving city. I miss all the great friends I made in my program as well as the Bathonians I got to know. Needless to say, I have been planning my return since I got back.