My name is Kaelie Blair Eberhart. I am a senior history major with minors in music and music history and culture. I am graduating in May of this year (2023) and will be going onto a master’s program to get another degree in history, but more on that later. A little over a year ago, I embarked on a study abroad journey, which happened to be one of the greatest decisions I ever made in my life. I took off on a plane from Chicago on January 6, 2022 at around 8 p.m., landing in London at around noon local time. Truthfully, I had no idea what to expect. It was my first international trip ever, my first time dealing with border control, and, most importantly, my first time in a country that I had been anticipating going to since I was a young child.
In my teenage years, I romanticized England, mostly because I loved 1960s rock bands from there: the Who, the Kinks, Pink Floyd, you name it, I was obsessed with it. As a 14 year-old, I had an ambitious dream of going to the University of Manchester for my undergraduate degree when I still wanted to go to school for music education. If I went back in time and told my 14 year-old self that I would end up living in England and studying there for almost six months, I would have spontaneously combusted. What 14 year-old me would have never anticipated though was the life-changing impact that studying abroad in England, specifically in Cambridge, would have on my life.
It’s really funny that one of the most impactful experiences of my life started off as a complete accident. Truthfully, I wanted to study abroad in Reutlingen, Germany. I knew of the German ancestry I had on my father’s side and had always been interested in the German language. I had been studying German and was fully prepared to take further German classes so that I could study abroad in Reutlingen. Since Reutlingen’s campus is a heavily business and engineering-oriented school and I am a liberal arts student, that option did not exactly work out. It was suggested to me that I apply for the Cambridge program instead. It did not really matter to me where I studied abroad, as I just knew I wanted to study abroad during my undergraduate studies, and I had always wanted to go to England anyways, so I took my shot and got accepted.
As soon as I got to Valpo’s Cambridge site at Westfield House, I immediately felt at home. My professors and coordinator all made me feel accepted and welcome in this new country. The small community of students at Westfield House, mostly made up of other American study abroad students, was tight-knit. The communal meals and Tuesday afternoon tea allowed us all to get to know one another better and talk about our individual travels outside of Cambridge. The class sizes were small at Westfield House, so I got the same individualized attention there that I get at Valpo. Every person involved with Westfield House seemed to be invested in my success, both in Britain and beyond.
Even when I went outside of the small Westfield House community, I felt accepted in Cambridge despite my loud American accent making me stick out like a sore thumb. The British students I studied history with at Anglia Ruskin University, immediately introduced themselves to me and welcomed me to the course. I still talk to many of my British classmates today and I am so grateful to have met them. All of this support meant that I was able to adapt quite well to the (sometimes not-so) subtle differences between American and British culture. I was able to live and study in Cambridge without ever having too much culture shock or homesickness at all.
My Cambridge experience allowed me to branch outside of the city, both with my classmates and independently. In the dining room of 26A, the flat that Valpo students stay in, we had a large map of Britain and it was so fun and satisfying to put pins into the places we had been to. Through my Christianity and the Arts class, we got to see beautiful cathedrals all over Southern England, including my personal favorite Ely Cathedral (which was the closest to Cambridge!). We also took group trips to areas of Britain that I had always wanted to visit . Scotland has to be one of my favorite countries — everything about it is gorgeous. Additionally, our trip to Wales meant I got to check an important destination off of my bucket list. I’ve always been interested in the Welsh culture and language (I can speak and read Welsh, fun fact!) so it felt great to finally see that gorgeous country. Stonehenge and Bath were also some of the most beautiful historic destinations we went to in the country.
However, Britain’s cities were the places I could check the most stuff off of my bucket list, especially regarding places related to the bands I enjoy. I got to go to two places that were like my personal Mecca as a Beatles fan. I cried at Abbey Road because of the fact that so many of my favorite musicians recorded there and was in such disbelief that it was actually real. In Liverpool, I got to go on a Magical Mystery Tour bus and go to Penny Lane and Strawberry Field. Manchester was my favorite metropolitan city in Britain though, not only due to its unique character, but also because it was the stomping grounds of so many of my favorite bands (Oasis, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, etc.). The first time I went there, I took a landmark tour based on one of my favorite Manchester bands, The Smiths, and had a great time viewing the different places that were either important to the bands or were referenced in their music. Through my travels around Britain, I not only learned more about the country and its culture, but I got to see musical landmarks I only dreamed about visiting and learned how to be an independent traveler.
Well, since I just gave a glowing advertisement and a large chunk of my experience in Cambridge, you probably shouldn’t wonder why I recommend it. However, I’ll give you another reason: cheap travel around Europe. I was able to fly to Vienna for around $30 and to Dublin for $10! I know, craziness, but trust me, Ryanair is a great but cheap airline. It will be your best friend if you want to go to Ireland or mainland Europe. And, as much as I recommend Cambridge, I would absolutely heartily recommend Dublin at least once in your life. What a wonderful city it is!
So why should YOU study abroad? Simply, because it could be one of the greatest learning experiences in your life. No matter where you end up in your study experience, you learn about others and your previous premonitions about countries and people are thrown out of the window. I met some of the greatest people in Britain and resonated more with their culture than I did with American culture at points. You may meet your best friends, whether it’s your fellow cohort or those from the country you’re staying. Or, like me, you could decide that Cambridge should be your second home and that you need to return for school. Luckily, in September of this year, I am going back to Anglia Ruskin University to get my master of arts in history. My time abroad not only shaped my identity and taught me more about countries I’ve always wanted to go to, but provided me with a path for my future.