From Students to Employees: What It’s Like Being a Harlaxton Student Development Intern

Pictured left to right: Meg Melbourne, Nolan Miles and Ashley Manka

Coming to Harlaxton College as a student is a rare and wonderful opportunity. Coming to Harlaxton twice is unheard of. However, for the current Harlaxton College Student Development Office interns, it’s a reality. Three former students, myself included, dreamed of the opportunity to step foot and immerse themselves yet again in the world that is Harlaxton. Weekend trips to Paris and Barcelona, living life in a grand Manor, and enjoying the English culture are experiences that many would say are irresistible. And while us interns soak up the little time we have left at the Manor, we quickly realized that being a student and being an intern are very different experiences.

“It’s so different in so many ways,” said Meg Melbourne, current student activities intern. “After arriving it took me awhile to mentally let go of my semester as a student — to let go of the expectation of seeing my friends around the Manor, but, it’s helped me embrace this semester in an entirely new and positive way.”

One of the biggest things that we have learned serving as the Spring 2017 interns is that we are part of a core team that helps shape the Harlaxton experience for the current students. It’s both a terrifying and thrilling thing — To aid in the development of what will be one of the best semesters of the student’s lives.

“There wasn’t a moment as a Harlaxton student that I didn’t remember the interns being involved,” said Ashley Manka, student activities intern. “I loved the idea of getting to enrich the experience of future Harlaxton students. There was something alluring about the idea of never having a single day be like the day before — It was blatantly obvious that this internship required not only flexibility, but demanded variability.”

Don’t be fooled by our enthusiasm, however. Living in a beautiful Manor in the English countryside is no walk in the park. To be honest, it’s a time-consuming and stressful job. Thirty-five-hour work weeks don’t exist — It’s more like 60 hours a week. We live where we work, so we’re never “out of the office.” With only a four-person student development team, we all have to handle emergencies and responsibilities that we are unfamiliar with. We live life without any expectation of what tomorrow looks like.

“It can be hard having ‘no’ days off,” said Meg. “We have some, but we’re always with students and coworkers for evening and weekend events. Sometimes you just want to sleep in on a Friday or take time to go into town alone on the weekends”

Despite the uncertainty of our job, the constant change in plans and randomly assigned tasks, none of us would change the experience we’ve had serving as the Harlaxton Spring 2017 interns. We have created bonds with the students, the employees and the building itself. We have invested the past six months of our life to a place that once gave us a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Yet, here we are having another one.

“Something I believe to be true of any place is, ‘the people make the place,’” said Ashley. “From day one I have met nothing but the nicest and most genuinely caring individuals at Harlaxton. I couldn’t be more appreciative of the hard work and continued kindness the staff have shown me and many others.”

So the question remains: Which Harlaxton experience was better? When we were students or while we are interns? For Meg and Ashley, they both say it’s hard to tell because they are very different experiences. And I would have to agree. However, as a student I didn’t know what to expect coming to Harlaxton. As an intern coming back I was prepared for another brief, life-changing experience. I was fully aware to soak up every moment with the students, every task of my job and every nook and cranny of the Manor. So as our time at Harlaxton comes to a final close, fully knowing we will never live here again, I am grateful for having taken advantage of my Harlaxton 2.0 experience by absorbing every second of my time in our “forever home.

— NM

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Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time there was a grand Manor, nestled on a hill overlooking a small, charming village. A majestic building whose stones blended into the English landscape surrounding her, the Manor was breathtaking to any guest who walked through the large, double wooden doors. Lush gardens, oversized state rooms, elegant suites and sophisticated architecture defined the Manor as “perfectly grand.”

And that she was.

Just like every fairytale has heroes, prince charmings, magical characters and plot twists, so does the tale of Harlaxton Manor. If walls could talk we would discover the many secrets absorbed by the nearly 200 year old structure — a structure that thousands would describe as “home.” From grumpy Manor guards and servants, to hobbits and artists who wander the corridors of the estate, the Manor has an elaborate story to tell.

An elaborate story that changes every six months.

The Harlaxton College Spring 2017 semester is a fairytale like no other. Just like the past students have a unique story tailored to their time abroad, so does the class that just departed. And while one rarely lives the Harlaxton fairytale twice, I am fortunate to have two Harlaxton Manor stories.

And I have to admit that my Harlaxton 2.0 fairytale was better than my first.

I told myself not to get emotionally invested in the lives of the Spring 2017 students when I arrived on January 1 as the new media coordinator. There wasn’t really an excuse for me to build relationships and connect with the students. My job required me to live behind a camera, distancing myself from the conversations of those around me in an effort to solely document their Harlaxton fairytale. But here we are, at the conclusion of the Spring 2017 semester and I find myself struggling with the now empty Manor. The floors creak, the silence is deafening and the anticipation of running into students around each corner is never satisfied.

The Spring 2017 semester was one that I found full of laughs, tears, drama and stress. A conglomerate of emotions that would make the old Nolan scream. But with the many laughs, tears and drama shared among the Spring 2017 students, comes opportunities for personal growth, bonding and developments of dear relationships. So while the students saw me as the sassy, sarcastic media intern, I saw them as marvelous individuals who taught me many things throughout the last four months. Individuals that I grew to care deeply about, despite the sarcastic and un-invested façade I often displayed.

Shout out to the students for teaching me things about myself that I didn’t think to discover at the Manor. I was challenged as their residence assistant, I was enlightened by their independence and courage, and I grew to be protective of their vulnerability to the world. I ended up caring about them to the point that I almost hated it. Hindsight is 20/20 and now that the students are gone I wish I had the opportunity to get to know each of them even more. But at Harlaxton we have a way of never saying goodbye because we all know we will reunite in the future. So I end by thanking the class of Spring 2017 for enriching my Harlaxton 2.0 fairytale and look forward to seeing you again to continue our newly found friendships.

And they all lived happily ever after.

—NM

“Now that we’re friends, you’re fired.” — My Boss

Probably not something you want to hear from your boss. Especially after you secretly video her on Snapchat singing Karaoke for the world to see. Fortunately, she was only joking (I think.)

However, there’s a lesson to be learned here. The word “fired” is gut-wrenching to hear. But often people my age assume they will never hear the words “you’re fired” (not a nod to Trump’s ‘The Apprentice”). Millennials (stereotypically) can be over confident in their abilities to successfully complete a job. Let’s refer to the American concept that “everyone gets a trophy,” an idea to spare the feelings of children who blatantly suck at something. An idea that provides encouragement while simultaneously surrounding kids in a bubble from reality.

TBH, I’m one of those over-confident millennials. And it’s taken post-graduate internships and jobs to make me realize I’m good at what I do, but I haven’t mastered the art of my profession… Yet.   And I’m willing to bet most my age haven’t, either.

I promise I’m anything but wise. I only just graduated from college myself. However, I’ve faced many moments of stress and panic now that I’m a big kid. From difficult tasks at my job to planning what my next big move is, I’ve realized that the real learning starts after school.

While it’s taken me some time to realize that I’m truly not ‘untouchable’ after years of being spoon fed by teachers, mentors, club advisers and college professors (like many who partake in the US educational system), I’m fortunate to have had some recent wake up calls before reality slapped me in the face, leaving a permanent mark.

The challenge for me (and I’m sure for many millennials) is that I struggle admitting when I make a mistake. Just like the word “fired,” people sometimes also fear the word “mistake.” So I’ll spare you from saying that mistakes are life’s greatest lessons because deep down we all know there is some truth to the phrase. But once you develop the courage to tell your boss or colleagues you’ve made a mistake and need help is when you start your training in mastering your profession. The reality is that you will most likely never hear the words “you’re fired” so long as you make the transparent effort to do a job well done.

Just don’t snapchat your boss singing karaoke.

Fortunately, I still have my job and my boss still considers me a friend.

Still employed,

—NM

I can’t handle any more tea time.

Back in the states when someone asked me to join them for “tea” it usually meant martini’s after a long day at work. In England apparently it’s not the same. When asked to take a “tea break” it actually means real, legit English tea. (Who would’ve thought?)

Of course, my American and millennial mind didn’t truly expect “tea time” to consist of drinking cocktails like what I’m used to back home (much to my dismay.) I was anticipating the routine, casual breaks to sip on tea while engaging in sophisticated conversation with my colleagues.

It turns out tea time isn’t like that in England, either. *Sigh*

I recently had the pleasure of participating in a British Red Cross first aid training course as part of my new job working in student development. As someone who cringes, gags and cowers at the site of blood and gore I was looking forward to three days in my own personal hell. Wasting no time, the first day consisted of learning CPR and using a defibrillator (Low-key “defib” trigger happy and looking forward to the chance to use it to save a life.) The first day also consisted of four thirty-minute tea breaks.

Four. 4. F-O-U-R.

*Insert Nolan’s impatience here*

While I’m all for a good restful break after a cardio workout (AKA CPR practice), my main objective was to end the day as quickly as possible with the hope I wouldn’t vomit before the course was complete. All I could think about was the fact my colleagues and I left at 4 p.m. when the course could’ve easily ended at 2 p.m. That’s an extra two hours I could’ve blogged. Or napped.

Now that it’s over, hindsight is 20/20. Despite being on the verge of telling the instructor and my peers to drink their tea quicker, I’m glad I didn’t. Here’s why: When someone is preparing to move to another country like I have they’re typically warned about the cultural differences between countries. “Never shake their hands, kiss them once on each cheek instead,” or “always take your shoes off when you enter someone’s home, otherwise it’s insulting,” or “to Americans, time is money, while some other cultures ignore punctuality for the sake of ‘living in the moment.’”

Despite being the “Mother Country” of the US, I’m rediscovering the many cultural differences between the English and Americans. It can be easy for one to become comfortable in a new country after so long, but that’s no reason to forget about respecting the lifestyles who share this world with you (Trump, please take note.) And while the celebration of tea time is only a minor cultural difference, my encounter with it at first aid training is symbolic of the fact international residents may be exposed to cultural differences at any moment. Being exposed to these differences, however, are the greatest “traveling lessons.”

That’s not to say that you must feel obligated to partake in cultural traditions that are different from your own. By immersing myself into conversations with locals in another country, I have an opportunity to learn about other cultures while also teaching them of my own traditions and beliefs. A win-win situation, really. The key, however, is to respect each other’s traditions, beliefs and differences. Even if it’s as minor as an extended tea break.

Don’t worry, though. As a caffeine addict I am always looking forward to a good coffee break, which is a respectful substitute for tea in England. So while I can’t handle anymore tea, may my coffee cup runneth over. Or my martini glass.

—NM

Gay, Balding and Abroad

That’s me. Traveling around the European continent with a receding hairline and a not-so-Irish giant rainbow floating over my head. No, that doesn’t mean I’m a leprechaun, but rather I’m a millennial gay man who is struggling to grasp the idea of growing older. Granted, being 23 doesn’t constitute as old, but there are many things that I assumed I would have accomplished by the time I turned this age. Maybe I’d have my master’s degree, a house, a new shiny SUV and 2.5 kids.

Instead, I received my undergraduate degree only last year after changing my major five times. Instead of working a 9-5 job with a 401k and a growing savings I work 65 hours a week making less than I did at my previous job. Instead of being straight, I’m gay. Instead of spending so much time worrying about the status quo and what people think of me, I’ve come to discover the joys of living independently.

This mindset to stray from the status quo is brought to the surface by traveling. Traveling makes you think about things in a way different than what you’re used to. It makes you question your way of life. It makes you question your upbringing, your education and what you thought you found most important. It challenges your beliefs and values. It makes you appreciate the beliefs and values of people different than you. It exposes you to a universal acceptance of all things different.

It’s this universal acceptance of differences that has encouraged me to live a life unashamed. Unashamed of who I am and where I come from. Unashamed of my own passions and interests. Unashamed of my own beliefs and views. Unashamed of my receding hairline, growing older and being gay.

What I am ashamed of is how long it took me to get here.

Rural Kentucky has its own culture. A culture that involves close-knit families, hard-working lower-to-middle class citizens and small communities. My hometown of Bardstown, a Catholic community that houses a thriving bourbon-tourism industry, was dubbed “the most beautiful small town in America” by Southern Living Magazine. So naturally, everyone knew everyone. And most everyone was a conservative.

I attended a small Catholic school with a class of only 10 boys, nine of them played sports. Two guesses for the one who didn’t? As a result, I was often the oddball out. At an early age I realized I was different than most around me. While everyone else played sports, I was often the only one taking art classes, favoring schoolwork and immersing myself into clubs and organizations my peers would shun.

I didn’t understand then that I was on the path of discovering my holistic self. I was in training to become a man that lives not by the masses, but by the guidance of his own aspirations. A veteran as a person who can muster confidence in the most nerve-wrecking situations. A man who would soon travel the world.

And while I still stress and panic over things I haven’t accomplished and judgement of my way of life, the only reason I do so is because I fear ridicule of people closest to me. My whole life I’ve lived by black and white rules, careful to never step over the line to being unconventional. However, as I sit in a tiny coffee shop in Grantham, England writing this post I realize that fear of being different is a pitiful excuse to keep me from living my own version of a holistic life.

So whether I’m a millennial gay man with a receding hairline or a man stressing about his next career move, I could not ask for a more fulfilling life. I’m thankful for not being tied down to a mortgage, a large car payment, children or my own insecurities.

—NM

Lake District Nostalgia

It usually starts with a flutter in the chest and a feeling of butterflies in the stomach. That feeling of romantic nostalgia that forces you to take a deep breath as you soak up the views of the English landscape around you. The Lake District is an area that inspires the most talented writers and the most simplistic people. From foggy views to waterfall climbing, the adventures to be had in the District are vast, making it a special experience as I share it with the students of Harlaxton College Spring 2017.

Here I go talking about being back at the Manor after a four-year absence following my time as a student in 2012. A trip that is unlike any other in Europe, the Lake District encourages students to become one with nature. For someone like me, that can be a task. However, as I reflect back on my time visiting the Lake District as a student while sitting in a café today overlooking Windermere Lake, I’m reminded of how surreal it felt to be exploring the most beautiful parts of the English countryside.

The second time around, however, it’s much different (better.)

This is the time in the middle of the semester that I start getting serious and sappy. When I was a student I remember how easy it was to get caught in the excitement around me (making new friends, trying to cram so many trips into the semester, etc.) This time I’m able to mentally compartmentalize my job from my Harlaxton 2.0 experience. I know that our time is coming to a close and I remember the struggle of leaving the place we’ve all called home for so long.  The one thing that makes this semester so much better than my first are the students.

*Gasp*

I’m usually not one to get attached to anyone. Nor am I person who gets warm and fuzzy easy, but getting to share this Lake District experience with the students I’ve grown to known and love is irreplaceable. I sit down and converse with them every day. I canoe with them. I get to know them as a person and not as student who I’m responsible for chaperoning. And it’s a true honor.

So my trip to the Lake District this past weekend was an eye-opening experience. It has hit me that I only have a few more weeks with the Spring 2017 students. And while I don’t want the semester to end, I’m reminded that our time together is precious and brief. I look forward to the remaining time I have with the students and prepare for our separation on April 19.

The Lake District is almost like a magical land. It surrounds you in a fairytale environment of woods, fog, lakes and moss. For me, it engulfs me in nostalgia and holds me back, encouraging me to take a deep breath and absorb the beauty of the landscape (and people) around me.

—NM

*Flight attendant starts speaking in French* “… well great” — Me

How I survived going to Nice without speaking a lick of French is still a miracle to me. From boarding the flight in London to finding our seats for the Carnaval festival, the struggle was all too real. And while I’ve been to countries in the past where the native language is not English, I (clumsily) gracefully cruised through my adventures without a worry of the language barrier.

This trip was a little different. As soon as I sat down in my seat on my flight from London the flight attendant began speaking solely in French. I looked to my friend and met her identical, confused and shocked facial expression.

Well, great.

How did I survive the weekend without speaking French and being surrounded by delicious food, beautiful beaches, beautiful architecture and even more beautiful people? Apart from walking around with a blanket expression on my face to warn people of my lack of language comprehension, I survived because Nice is a place where cultures collide.

Nestled among the mountains of southern France and just minutes from the famous Monte Carlo, Nice is a sight for anything but sore eyes. Something that two student development interns needed after spending months working 65-hour work weeks surrounded by enthusiastic and energetic college students. *insert sleep deprivation here.* Nice was a place where we heard dialects from all over the world — Spanish, German, Chinese and (thank God), English.

Admittedly, I previously never had a desire to go to France because of the number of negative stories I received from friends and colleagues who visited the country. I’m ashamed to admit I was a fool to give in to other’s perceptions of such an amazing country and destination. Such a beautiful place that I can’t put it into words, but rather made a video to document the cities stunning features.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCopZ25hIx8

“My American is showing” — My Colleague

One thing that we warn the students at the study abroad program where I work is to be subtle everywhere they go. We encourage them to make in effort to immerse themselves in the local culture without being stereotyped as American college students known for being loud and obnoxious. (I promise you I have never been that American college student…)

Sure enough, there were moments when I said stupid things. Far too often I found myself saying “sí” instead of “wé,” or “hello” instead of “bonjour.” Even ordering at Big Mac at McDonalds was a challenge. (Also, yes — We were those Americans who went to McDonalds. Twice).

The response I received from the locals was always the same. A little chuckle at my flub, a slight nod, followed by them resorting to speaking English. So this blog is an opportunity for me to thank the people of Nice of being so nice (I had to say it at least once, right?) Thank you for sharing your incredible city with me. Thank you for your hospitality. And thank God you all speak English.

—NM