How Studying Abroad Inspires a Soul
Words & Images by Rebecca Rice
Have you ever looked at pictures of a place or heard someone talk about their most recent destination and thought, "Wow, I just really want to go!"? I was sitting in an English literature class and the professor had two students come in to talk about their recent creative writing and hiking study abroad in the south of England, and I had one of those moments. I am not a stranger to those moments, but rarely am I able to act on them. The reality is that school, work, and money get in the way of acting on those urges to pack up and explore.
I knew for certain I wasn’t going to be able to apply for the trip that summer, but maybe the following… Those two girls' voices stayed in my mind throughout the following year. I was going to have to take a creative writing class over the summer if I was going to graduate on time, and the more I thought about it, the more reasonable the idea of making it a study abroad became. I argued that if I was going to have to borrow money for a summer class I might as well make it count! Then I started researching. By talking to an adviser in the English department, I found that the department provided scholarships to students majoring or minoring in English who were applying to study abroad programs within the department with little extra effort on my part. I was a member of an honors society that also had a fund for members who were looking to study in a foreign country. The testimonials of those two girls kept spurring me on. I wanted to get myself on that trip and if I had to work with the Global Study Department to do it I would.
I started looking up pictures of the “home town” for the trip and that convinced me even more. If you don’t believe me look up Lewes, East Sussex County. Yep, there’s a castle in the middle of the town. So it was decided, I would apply to the program. I credit my eloquent entry essay about how England has always been a dream locale for me and how much both writing and hiking were integral parts of my life for my speedy acceptance to the program.
The town of Lewes is situated on a hill, making the relatively small castle stand out from a distance. The streets are made of cobblestone, with little flower and ivy wall covered lanes begging to be walked down. The South Downs surround the town. The Downs are where we spent our days walking. Up and down, up and down. The Downs are for the most part slow undulating hills and valleys with a large walking path, called South Downs Way, snaking its way across them. There are branching trails that we would take as well, but every day began and ended on the South Downs Way. I wish I could describe the colors to you - the green of the fields, the white of the chalk gravel trails, the explosion of red or purple from wild poppies and orchids. The air was slightly briny since we were only a couple miles from the coast, which we could see from some of our higher vantage points. Our soundtrack was driven by the crunch of boots on stones, heightened by the quiet ponderings that come up so easily when walking through nature, and sprinkled with the laughs of people that were slowly becoming more comfortable with each other through the act of walking together for hours each day and the camaraderie of a shared pint at night. I often looked up the trail ahead or back at my fellow wanderers and smiled. The trip was inspiring my soul.
The reading that our trip required was all focused around walking, and the writers and creatives that utilized walking regularly for inspiration. Writers like Virginia Woolf and her sister, Vanessa Bell, who walked the very same South Downs Way that we were then trekking along. The more I studied these writers' testimonials the more I wanted to get out and walk, and the more I walked the more inspired I became. I started coming up with ideas at a faster rate than I could put them down. On breaks during our hikes, train rides, and simply waiting around for friends I was scribbling down ideas. The more I explored the more I needed to write! The required writing was all open to interpretation so each of us on the trip simply had to follow our own inspiration and where it took us. Late afternoons were spent in the hotel lounge, all of us with headphones in, heads down, feverishly typing away. The complete combination of the elements of this trip made me feel the most inspired I had ever felt. I wrote without hesitation. I explored the town and surrounding countryside with unwavering curiosity. I never knew when or where inspiration would hit and it was exhilarating!
Looking back, I understand those girls that came into my classroom gushing about their trip. I understand the inspiration they must have experienced. In that moment I was hit by the desire to explore. And I’m so grateful I followed through on it.
Rebecca is a die hard romantic who fell in love with stories and has never recovered. She volunteers as the blog manager for Love True in her spare time, and spends every other second perfecting her baking, badminton game, and being the best aunt to her nieces and nephew she can be.