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Elizabeth Schondelmayer: A lesson in every day

March 8, 2017

Elizabeth Schondelmayer is a sophomore majoring in history and communication and a member of the Social Science Scholar Program.

When you think of England, what comes to mind? Double-decker buses? Noel Gallagher? The Tower of London?

If you had asked me this question a year ago, my mind would have wandered in a similar direction (plus or minus a few "Monty Python" actors or aging rock musicians). Since visiting the country over the summer, however, my answer would be totally different.

Now, I immediately think about the incredible street performers showing off their skills outside the London Art Museum, the haunting grey skies hanging ominously over Stonehenge and the feeling of joy and excitement I felt after seeing "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" performed in Shakespeare’s Globe theater by some of the most talented actors I’ve ever seen (see the photo below of our group with one of those actors, Ankur Bahl. That's me in the back, peeking over the top!). Though I've had great opportunities so far on campus, the best academic experience yet has been the Scholars Study Abroad trip.

group of students in London

During this excursion, I was able to do some soul-searching — and not the clichéd, meditating-on-a-beach soul-searching, but some real self-discovery. I found out, for example, that I have an unrelenting obsession with photographing sheep (like the photo I took below), I don’t hate English meat pies as much as I thought I would and I’m actually athletic enough to climb a mountain! Who knew?

sheep on a hill

Joking aside, this trip was my first time leaving the continental United States so going in I was pretty terrified. After suffering mild terror during takeoff, it was smooth going from there: the group was easy to travel with and Dr. Waller and Dr. Fore made sure we were adequately prepared for everything the UK threw our way. Removing the stress from our travels made room for time to truly take in the sights and sounds and smells of England (mostly good, some bad) and really gave us the chance to unwind and absorb.

When you visit England with a group of Americans, you usually see the “tourist-y” stuff: the Tower of London, Big Ben, maybe a red double-decker bus or two… and then you go home. When you go with a Brit like Dr. Waller, however, you gain an understanding of the ins-and-outs of the country, including the good, the bad, the ugly, the comedy clubs, the Dr. Marten’s store in Camden Town…you see everything. From the busy streets of London to the rolling hills of the Lake District to the rock monuments of Stonehenge, there’s not a place you can’t explore. You feel far from home, but at the same time, you feel at home. You’re able to get up close and personal with the culture of England, and it feels welcoming and familiar rather than intimidating and foreign.

I need to make one thing clear, however: this trip is not a vacation. While it’s fun, it’s worth your time and effort academically. The scholars are there to learn, and Dr. Waller is there to teach. Although the traditional classroom will be nowhere in sight, there is a lesson in every day.

By traveling on the River Thames on a variety of river boats, floating east and west, we studied the history and politics of Roman, medieval, Tudor and Victorian England. We tracked the course of the world’s first industrial revolution from the remote cotton mills in the Peak District to the giant, now-derelict factories of Manchester, the ‘shock-city’ of the industrial age.  We spent several days among the remote mountains of the Northwest coming to understand a landscape that has barely changed for millennia. We learned about the role of the slave trade in the growth of cities like Liverpool and, in Oxford, we were taught about new technologies that are helping climate scientists combat the effects of global warming. All of these topics allowed us to put what we’d learned on campus in the previous two semesters into a broader, international perspective.

What’s truly great about this trip and the Scholar’s Program in general is that it makes these opportunities not only available, but also highly accessible. With the help of this program, I was able to obtain enough scholarships to cover the entire cost of this trip, save for food and personal expenses. And I’m not by any means an exception to the rule. In large part due to the kindness and generosity of our alumni supporters, all scholars received subsidies for the trip, and Dr. Waller and Jenn Arbogast spent a lot of time helping us find resources and scholarships to help foot the bill. No scholar was left behind. It’s for these reasons that this trip remains one of my favorite experiences I’ve had through MSU and the Social Science Scholar’s Program so far.

Reused with permission from the College of Social Science