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 the final part.
BRIGHTON, England — The students’ last morning in Brighton was hectic. We had to be at the airport by 8 a.m. so that meant catching the 7 a.m. train. Cassie had the best of it as she was staying in Europe for another couple of weeks and didn’t even bother to get up to say goodbye to her classmates. They all agreed that if the shoe was on the other foot they wouldn’t have got up either.
The mood was relatively somber, the result of tiredness and a general sadness at having to leave. It is up to them to write about what they got out of the program, but they seemed to enjoy the experience.
As for me, the program was pretty much how I hoped it would be. The students were enthusiastic and inquisitive. I was pleased that they found Brighton, my home town, to be an exciting place (which I think it is, but one never knows and I had been talking the up trip for ages so I worried it wouldn’t live up to its billing).
I always think a good teacher learns from his students and I learned quite a bit from this program.
I learned that volunteering to make breakfast every day was a double-edged sword. It served as a way to get everyone together and up and moving (except for Morgan — ah, Morgan). It was also a pain in my ass. There were several mornings that I just wanted to stay in bed and let them starve, but I had to take one for the team.
I learned that not everybody shares my love of Brighton’s hilly terrain. Overall they did great, but there was quite a bit of complaining about walking uphill. At the end of one day in town, as we walked up to the bus stop to go home, I got tired of the whining. I told them I was taking a short cut and led them straight up Ship Street. And when I say straight up, I mean it. The last 50 yards to Queen’s Road are excessively steep. It looked like the end of a mountain stage in the Tour de France, when the group stretches out down the hill. They quickly realized it was no shortcut and some of the language…! I got a good laugh out of it. The students, surprisingly, didn’t think it quite so humorous.
I learned that English food is not bad, it simply has a branding problem, according to Claire.
I learned to teach on the fly. And that a classroom can be a bus or train, or just while walking.
I learned that after the apocalypse, the giant seagulls will finally take their rightful place at the top of the food chain. They dominate the sea front, plucking food out of the hands of unsuspecting tourists. I saw one actually spear a doughnut from one man as it was two inches from his mouth. On the first day, Morgan warned everybody to be aware if they take a picture of their doughnut from the pier. This was about a minute before a seagull swooped in and stole hers as she held it out to take a picture.
I learned that exposure to hot tea is the key to world domination. Coffee’s dominance was broken for most of the students, with several texting me photos of their newly-purchased boxes of PG Tips when they got back to Texas.
I learned that for all of the historic sights and activities planned, sometimes just taking someone to one’s parents’ house where they can sit in an English garden and eat scones with clotted cream can make a dream experience. Thanks Mum and Dad.
I learned that flexibility is key. I had a pretty solid itinerary which was rarely followed. Students would discover random things they wanted to follow. We covered everything I had planned — though not always in the order I initially scheduled — and much more besides.
I learned that not everyone likes cockles — and that Vy will eat anything (which, considering she’s a food blogger is a good trait).
I learned that Abi is quite comfortable taking more bags than everyone else combined, and as long as I don’t have to carry them it’s not a problem. Besides, she needs the extra space to carry the stuff she bought.
I learned a bit about Jhocelyn and I hope she comes to work at the University Press in the fall. Mainly, I learned that, despite being the smallest of the group, she is a shark — a perpetual feeding machine. Where does she put it all?
I learned that Morgan is not a morning person. If the deadline is 9 a.m. she will not be ready. If the deadline is 10 a.m. she will not be ready. I think if the deadline had been 5 p.m., she would not have been ready. Fortunately, she is good at her job and I look forward to seeing the videos she produces.
I learned that Claire, a vegetarian, can always find something to eat, although I worry about her obsession with the aforementioned scones with clotted cream and jam.
I learned that Susan loves research and shared my amusement at the youngsters and their craziness.
I learned that Olivia, who will be University Press editor in the fall and is very intelligent, is capable of some incredibly dumb questions. Here is a person that can break down complex political issues in a story, yet has to be talked through, step by step, on how to make a cup of tea with a tea bag. Sorry, Olivia, but it’s too funny not to share (just ask her about directions, like distinguishing the difference between left and right).
I learned that there is nothing I like more than being around thoughtful, wry, sarcastic, inquisitive, intelligent people.
And I learned that I want to do this again.
Studying abroad expands students’ horizons. They see possibilities they never imagined. And I got to see if through their eyes, through their reactions to the experience. I hope they are better people for the experience. I know I am a better teacher for it.