Note: I am leading Lamar University’s study abroad group to my home town, Brighton, to study travel writing and photojournalism. As well as writing features about Brighton and beyond, I’m keeping a diary, of sorts, about the class experience. Here is part 6.
BRIGHTON, England — When the idea was first suggested about me teaching a study abroad travel-writing class in Brighton, I thought I would be able to really give the students some insight into British — and specifically Brighton — culture. After all, it’s my home town. Even though I haven’t lived there for 30 years my family is still there and I had researched what I wanted to show the students when I came on a fact-finding visit last year.
I still think I am in a great position to immerse them in the culture, but I was not prepared for how much insight they would give me. Seeing the familiar through unfamiliar eyes has really pushed me to see my home town in even more detail — in many ways to appreciate it even more.
Nostalgia can cloud one’s vision and a small part of me wondered if the students would embrace the town and enjoy it as I have always done. I needn’t have worried. From the first day (well, really the second — they were too jet lagged to appreciate much of anything except the prospect of sleep the first day) the gang has dived into every activity with gusto.
I admit I am a hard taskmaster. I keep them running all day, for six or seven hours at a time with lots of walking around the hilly terrain. My original itinerary for the 15-day program would have taken 40 days to complete — there’s a lot to see. They have learned the buses (for the most part, although Morgan and Abi took a nice detour the other day, but they found their way to the right bus eventually).
I found things to do that I had not even done myself (the Old Police Cells Museum did not exist when I lived there), things I had not done since I was young (such as the revamped aquarium), and other places I am sure I must have visited at some point but truly can’t remember. At each step the students have been effusive with their love of it all. Several had not only not visited Brighton but had never been outside of the U.S.
I had made sure in the initial proposal to point out that while the language is (somewhat) the same, this is still very much a “foreign” country. They have noted and embraced the differences and there has been a lot of discussion of social issues that this progressive town has implemented that could be applied back in Beaumont.
Through their eyes I have seen even the most mundane in a fresh way. Their excitement has rubbed off. Sunday was a planned day at the sea front. I chose a weekend day so they could get a feel for what it was like to be in a tourist town. It also coincided with the London to Brighton Bike Run so the area was pretty crowded (although as much as it will be in July when the schools are out. British schools run through mid-July and return after September Bank Holiday, the equivalent of Labor Day in the U.S.).
The Bike Run meant that several sea front attractions were closed so a return trip is on the cards (flexibility is the key in all things). The morning was drizzly so we hit the North Laines first. I have written about it before, but it is a hipster-renovated former poor area that is full of specialty and antique flea markets.
My sister Tracy joined us to walk around and she also enjoyed watching the students’ excitement and amusement. “It’s really good to live here,” she said. “It’s good to be from here,” I thought.
The students have decided they are going to stay in Brighton, joking about whether they can afford an apartment between them — I think that happens with a lot of study abroad groups, the romance of the new. But they can’t stay. In another week they will be on the plane home.
But their eyes have been opened and now that they have passports I hope they will take the opportunity to explore the world. The more we understand other cultures, other ways of looking at things, the more global we become. In the world of today we seem to be focusing only on the “other” as something to be feared. Travel breaks down those fears. Olivia said she had never felt more calm. Cassie said she had never felt happier. Claire spent all day in one location just talking to random strangers and said she could have stayed there forever.
A study abroad class is about so much more than exams — although these writers are champing at the bit to develop their stories for publications. It’s also a chance to become a better person and a true citizen of the world.
There are many wonderful and cool places in the world — some maybe even as cool as Brighton.