And Then There Was Harlaxton: 20 Years Since My First Big Trip

And Then There Was Harlaxton: 20 Years Since My First Big Trip

Twenty years ago this month I left North America for the first time and headed to England for a semester abroad. While England isn’t a particularly exotic location it was an adventure to me. At the time I believed that it would be my only chance to ever travel internationally on such a scale or really at all.

I probably did not put as much thought as I should have into my college search. I was eighteen…what the hell did I know? You want to know how I narrowed down my list? I picked the three schools with the best basketball programs in the MCC (Butler, Evansville and Xavier) simply because they were the ones with which I was most familiar. (My brother graduated from Butler.) You might as well go to a school that has a shot at making the NCAA tournament, right? Butler wasn’t going to happen because I didn’t want to be that close to home. I wanted to leave town and go somewhere new. A place where no one knew me and I could reinvent myself a bit. That left Xavier and Evansville. I visited both of them. I was leaning toward Xavier.

Then one day I received what might be one of the best pieces of pure marketing genius I’ve ever seen in my life. A well designed, brightly colored, well bound piece of recruiting literature that was more a catalog than a magazine. It laid out section by section all the things that were great about UE: the programs, the faculty, the facilities, the opportunities. But what really got me was the cover. Nothing more than a picture of this:

Image of Harlaxton Manor
Photo courtesy of Harlaxton College.

Accompanied by the words, “Harlaxton: University of Evansville’s British Campus.” I didn’t even need to finish reading the article. That was it. It was the only school I applied to. Seven semesters in Evansville, Indiana for one semester at Harlaxton seemed like a fair tradeoff.

After squandering my first three semesters by studying, shooting pool and playing video games (probably more of the latter two), I decided to try again and headed to England for a semester. I had three and a half months with an English manor house in the Lincolnshire countryside as a home base. I behaved like an idiot for most of that time and had a fun time doing it. I stopped being an anti-social ass long enough to make a lot of friends. Some I am still friends with to this day and see on a regular basis. Some I haven’t talked to since last century but I still remember the laughs and the lessons they imparted.

Image of Grantham train station
Breakfast at the Grantham train station.

I didn’t have a car in college and I was born and raised in one of the worst cities for public transportation. Knowing that there was a train station three miles away that could take me almost anywhere I wanted to go was a new feeling for me. It was a resource I put to frequent use. It also hooked me on a travel lifestyle I didn’t think I’d get to experience again. I traveled solo several times during my semester at Harlaxton which was a great learning experience. It’s funny to think about how bashful and paranoid I was on my first trip: Worried about someone at the hostel stealing my stuff and too self-conscious to walk into a strange pub by myself. Those hang ups quickly disappeared.

Image of Cliffs of Moher
Hiking the west coast of Ireland in February…almost as dumb as surfing the west coast of Ireland in February.

The combination of being of a legal drinking age there and having a very unfamiliar level of personal freedom led to some interesting experiences. I remember most of the stories but my friends are always willing to remind me of the ones I’ve forgotten. “Did I really say that?” I started to write some of the stories for this post but even going into detail for one of them would be too much. Those will have to wait. Some of my personal highlights? Getting stranded with three friends on the west coast of Ireland with no money and no transportation and having to hike down the coast along the Cliffs of Moher in February. Getting picked up by the police in Inverness Scotland because a friend and I were having an argument in the middle of the night in the middle of the street. Attending the annual costume ball dressed as Jesus. Then there were the trips to the dean’s office. There’s a long list of stupid.

Image of Air raid bunkers at Harlaxton
What better place for a party than a WWII air raid bunker. Is that a cassette player?

What is my fondest memory? There isn’t a single thing or event. It is more of a feeling. That group of people, in that particular location at that particular time. It is a mix of youthful optimism and the warmth of a cozy pub. Sitting at a table with a handful of friends and telling a bunch of bullshit stories over a few pints of beer, but without the weight of any adult responsibility.

The experience changed not only the rest of my college career but the overall trajectory of my life. My love of travel wasn’t born there, but it was certainly given room to grow in such a way that the dream of long term travel took up permanent residence in my brain. I’m curious to see what effect this current experience has had on me when I make it home. One thing I do know, it was very strange returning home after four months abroad. I can’t imagine what it will be like returning after 15 months.

8 Responses to And Then There Was Harlaxton: 20 Years Since My First Big Trip

  1. I still have the army jacket and Ottowa baseball hat. The Jacket has been dry cleaned and is still useful. The hat despite how much I try to clean it still smells like death.

  2. I have two questions. First, what’s with Kells and the wigs? Second, do you have any pictures of Matt without the stunned surprise expression? Or is that a pharmaceutical expression?

  3. The Harlaxton Experience was the single most important aspect of my collegiate life and just maybe my life period. My year there as a freshman in ’86-’87, when it was still an international school, was a very similar experience that you speak of Mark, and I suppose many other’s too. It is the little things that we all took for granted and all of the sudden they weren’t there and we had to adapt, overcome or peacefully accept. I surely would have gone straight jacket crazy by now living in the Caribbean (aka the 2nd/3rd world) had I not gone to Harlaxton so many years ago (or never even moved here in the first place)!

    BTW, I just saw where Harlaxton was voted the #1 Study Abroad Program of US colleges and universities.

    Cheers,
    DeMooseMon

      • that was actually easy. I told them the ONLY reason that I was applying to UE was to go Harlaxton. I told them if not, then I will go to DePauw. They tried to give me the blah blah maturity speech and I whipped up some ‘mature rebuttable’ to their hokiness and the next thing I know, I was ‘approved/accepted’.

        I had no intention of going to UE, even after Harlaxton, but DePauw (in their arrogance), told me that they wouldn’t accept any of my credits from Harlaxton (ala UE) and that I would have to start as a freshman in the fall of ’87. So, I ended up at UE afterall. I found this out in April of ’87, needless to say, I wasn’t real pleased, but I have no regrets of both Harlaxton and UE.

        There were actually 8 of us from the states that went to Harlaxton as freshman, only 4 of us made it through (2 chaps didn’t even make it through the first semester). There were five others from the UK and Germany that were living abroad for whatever reason….military (3) and daddy was a high roller (2). We were all tight. Only three of us ended up at UE afterwards.

        BTW……Jeff Jenkins, our PKT brother, went his 2nd semester freshman year, and that is where I met him in Jan of ’87, along with fellow PKT bros Charles Whelan and Brent Kaufman….three very very different dudes. PKT became appealing to me at that point.

        Oddly enough, I received a mailer from Harlaxton in the early fall of ’85, not UE, and that’s how I found about it. Then I read the small print and it said UE and I asked myself, ‘who the hell are they?’. Harlaxton sent to me because of the study abroad question that I had answered that was part of the ‘personal interests’ section of the ACT.

        Had I not answered that question on the ACT and then Harlaxton mailing me their flyer, my life would be completely different!!

        Cheers to Harlaxton!

  4. I dont remember a mailer but I’m sure I received one. My first introduction to the words Harlaxton College came through a college fair where UE had a booth. Every year Franklin and Brentwood High Schools held a joint college fair and my Jr year the event was hosted by Brentwood in their gymnasium. Each school had colorful backdrops and tons of giveaways. I wandered from booth to booth taking free pamphlets and pencils. I distinctly remember the huge photo of Harlaxton Manor on an easel. I want to say it was more prominent than Olmstead Hall.

    Like Mark I applied to one school and got in early. I had every intention of filling out additional applications over Christmas break but that didn’t happen.

    • Indeed DK, very similar to what happened to many. UE certainly knew (and still does) how to market Harlaxton, although it was a very different type of program when I went there. I think that all changed in ’90 or so, when Dr. Rowland (Principal) retired and they brought in a new chap and a whole new academic plan. It was no longer an opportunity for the ‘average student’ to attend, which I think is a real shame. But, UE was also changing too with the retirement of Dr. Graves and the regime of Dr. Vinson, beginning in ’88. They had raised the bar and so I guess it seems logical that Harlaxton had to do so as well.

      Harley High and The Harlaxton Country Club were no longer.

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We quit our jobs at the end of 2013 to backpack around the world. We're sharing our stories, travel advice and hopefully some inspiration. Read more...

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