Perhaps it’s the curious journalist in me, but I’ve always had a thirst to know, and experience for myself, what the world is like. I started traveling at an early age. My father, a college English professor, led a 4-month study abroad program to Louisburgh, County Mayo, Ireland when I was in 5th grade. My family tagged a long, and immediately I fell in love with Ireland.
An Expat for the First Time
At that point, I’d only been on one big trip to the Rocky Mountains, so moving to Ireland was a cultural 180 for me, a Minnesota-born kid. We lived in a tiny white cottage just five minutes from the beach. I went to the national school there and made a few friends. During our stay there, my parents often pulled my three younger siblings and I out of school for side trips around the country. Ireland’s lush rolling hills, massive french fries (“chips” in Irish terms) sheep, skinny streets, folk music and stretching beaches fascinated me. To the eyes of a 10-year-old, Ireland was a fairy-tail country, and I was living one. After our time in rural Ireland was up, we traveled around England for 17 days visiting some of the highlight cities–York, Bath, Cambridge, Oxford. Then we went back to Minnesota and normal life of soccer practice and piano lessons resumed. But not for long…
A Year in England
When I was 12, Cambridge University accepted my father on a medieval research sabbatical. So, we packed our suitcases, this time for a year. Looking back, this was one of my best childhood years. I transitioned from my small Catholic elementary school in Minnesota to Cottenham Village College in England with a 24-building campus and hundreds of students. At the English school I took French, German and Latin in addition to a rigorous literature and science curriculum.
For a while, my British peers called me “The American Girl”. And at first, it was a title I loathed. I only wanted to fit in, but other than the black-and-white British uniform, I was American through and through–my accent, my mannerisms, my diction. Within a month, the novelty wore off, I was no longer Cottenham Village College’s “new girl” and I made a group of close friends, who I still keep in touch with today, years later.
My family and I still took side trips all over England on weekends. Over our spring break we ferried from Dover to Calais, France, camping through France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg: the Black Forest, the Normandy D-Day Beaches of WWII, Chateau Thierry, Chatres Cathedral, Belleau Wood and Rouen.
Goodbyes and USA
Goodbyes aren’t my strong point. But saying goodbye all of my British friends, my British life, and England in June 2002 emotionally tore me apart. I didn’t know if I would ever see them again. It was stressful and traumatizing in a way that’d give any 12 year old a painful heartache. My family had made a life there, and when our visas expired, we had no choice but to leave.
So we came back to America and lived in Minnesota for a few more years. I did make it back England two summers later, in 2005, on my first solo trip to see my best friend, and ironically I was there for the London bombings, as I had been for September 11 four years earlier. At 15, this was my first solo trip.
I’ll never forget the day of the London bombings. July 7th, 2005. My friend Jemma and I took the train from Cambridge to London the day before, shopping, walking and sightseeing. We got back to Cambridge safely that night and went to bed exhausted. The next morning at a bowling alley in Cambridge, all of the score screens flashed from our games to the BBC. London tube stations, the very buses and Underground trains we had taken just a day before were on fire…
As junior in high school, my family and I went back to Ireland on the same study abroad program. And I absorbed much more, getting older, writing about it for an Irish newspaper. Living abroad was never turned out how I anticipated, but I found over the years as I remained open and flexible, it continuously turned out to be so much more.
And as I get older and travel more, I’m thankful for this wide-ranging childhood opportunities that have molded who I am today.