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

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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