'Life's an Adventure': Reflecting on Nottingham
Imagine leaving Luther, living in a different country for an entire year and immersing yourself in a different culture while going to school in a city with innumerable experiences at your fingertips. That is what twelve Luther students do every year when they sign up for the Nottingham study abroad trip.
Students live in a flat leased by the college and attend the University of Nottingham while also taking courses taught by a Luther professor leading the program. Now in its 41st year, the Nottingham program has provided many Luther students a welcome sojourn from the grind of American college life.
Associate Professor of Communications Studies Mark Johns was the 2011-2012 Nottingham program director. He and his wife lived in Nottingham for over a year, moving into their house in late June two summers ago.
“[The program is] unique in several ways,” Johns said. “The students live together in close community so there’s a little of the Luther bubble that they take with them. At the same time, they are studying at a British university and traveling around Europe. It’s that combination between the close Luther community and being thrust out that makes it a unique experience.”
Living away from friends at Luther can be a challenge, even for Natalino Guterres (‘13), who studied in Norway prior to coming to Decorah.
“At first it was really hard,” Guterres said. “I missed everyone from Luther. It’s a big university so you don’t really get to know people. [The Luther students] had different schedules so we didn’t go together to the Uni.”
If you’re sick and tired of being swamped with schoolwork here at Luther, you might appreciate the university system in England. At the University of Nottingham, students take courses that meet about once a week for an hour or two, and homework is almost nonexistent. Sound appealing? That’s because it is. The only downside is that the majority of the course grade is based on one final paper or exam, which may prove stressful for unaccustomed students.
“Over there, it’s a lot more individualized where you put in what you want to get out of it,” Ben Feldkamp (‘13) said. “I really liked that for a change of pace. It gave a balanced perspective on life. You don’t have to be in a mental state all the time about school.”
Given that school basically consists of a few hours devoted to classes each week, students are left with obscene amounts of free time. Nottingham, with its numerous art galleries, museums, music venues and sports arenas, offers many opportunities for those willing to put in the effort.
“After being in small-town Decorah, it was really nice to be able to jump on a bus and twenty minutes later you’re in the center of Nottingham with all kinds of shopping and interesting things to do,” Alex Forbes (‘13) said.
Named one of the top ten city destinations in the world by travel publisher Dorling Kindersley, Nottingham’s magnificence is a glaring contrast to the humble lifestyle of Decorah.
“We only have Roscoe’s here, but over there they have a lot of bars and pubs,” Guterres said.
Since the drinking age in England is 18, students were able to consume alcohol at the various pubs in town.
“Sometimes you’ll hear of churches that have pubs in them,” Feldkamp said. “Schools have pubs; universities have pubs on campus because they assume all students are of legal age. They’re not super strict about ID because there’s this honor system of university students learning how to handle alcohol.”
Drinking, however, is not the main focus of the Nottingham trip. Students are also expected to get involved in the community through volunteer work, which adds another aspect to life in Nottingham.
“There were so many things to do, so many kinds of food, so many different people to meet and hang out with and activities to get involved with, especially charities or volunteer organizations,” Feldkamp said. “I volunteered at a food kitchen in a church hall once a week, for the second half of the year. That was really rewarding. I got to help people who were unable to care for themselves. It gave me a really healthy perspective on Nottingham life to get out and meet all these different people living there.”
Students also get time during the year to travel wherever they want around Europe. For some, this is the most exciting part about the program.
“I just think that it was beneficial for me because over the breaks, you’re locked out of the flats and you have to do your own thing,” Forbes said. “I traveled all over Europe and gained so much independence. Sometimes when you’re traveling you’re all by yourself and you can’t rely on anyone. It was scary. I had never done anything like that before.”
Among all the varied experiences that students have, one thing seems to be certain: You will learn something about yourself, whether you want to or not.
“I learned a lot of what it means to forget what people will think, to look past what people will say and to live in the moment,” Feldkamp said. “A lot of people [are always] planning for the next fun big thing, but every moment can be like that if you choose to put in the time and energy. I took so much out of it, that sense of ‘if I want something I’m going to go for it.’ Life’s an adventure.”