An aspect of a Holy Cross Study Abroad experience that most students in a non-English speaking country find integral to their experience is the home stay living arrangement. This living arrangement grants a student an unparalleled opportunity to gain an intricate knowledge of the country’s language and culture; in addition, the home stay living arrangement also provides a social network that serves as a foundation for integrating oneself in the local community. In this living situation, the student literally becomes a member of a family; it’s an extremely tight bond that one creates for an entire academic year. For students studying abroad in English-speaking countries, the living situation is quite different. We’re all housed in university accommodation, which is absolutely fine considering the fact that we already possess an intricate knowledge of the language and culture (there are so many times, though, that I’m convinced that Americans and Britons speak a completely different language). Our knowledge of the language serves as our entry into the local community, so the home stay living arrangement isn’t really a necessity. There are times, however, that I have been quite envious of the living situation that my friends studying abroad in non-English speaking countries enjoy. Now, I’m not exactly a homebody (okay, okay, so I did cry on Freshmen move-in day. But my parents will attest that I ran through security and jumped on my plane here. They’re waiting for the day that I call and ask if it’s absolutely necessary that I return), but there are days that I think it’d be nice to have that familial atmosphere. Granted, the students have kind of replicated that atmosphere in our university housing, just like at Holy Cross, but it is quite different (and sometimes difficult) knowing that your family is about 4,000 miles away from you.
This is why I’m quite glad that I joined my Latin coach’s dance studio. The people that I’ve met through Rubies Dance Centre have (almost overnight) become my family. From the first competition that I danced with Neil’s school, all of the people were extremely welcoming. There was no need for an introduction; in fact, I think I was introduced and known as, “the Yank that Neil teaches at Oxford” (at least it’s unique…?). Although I was so nervous on that day (see the post below), they all made me feel right at home and were encouraging despite my nerves. Every time that I’ve seen them since, they’ve all been the most generous people, despite the many jokes that they’ll crank out about Americans (hey, I’m usually there adding in my own social commentaries. Sometimes I join in making fun of Americans; sometimes I make fun of British people. I mean, have you seen Sequence Dancing? It’s basically like right out of a Jane Austen novel. You cannot get more stereotypical British than that.). The familial atmosphere with which they’ve provided me this year can only be encapsulated by my birthday weekend. On the actual day of my birthday (which was Friday, in case you didn’t read the post below), I was fine. I talked to my parents, sister (who is now a college graduate! Congrats, Caitie!), uncles, aunts, and grandmother. I also spent the day with Jess, Jo, and Denise (who are some dance friends), who made a picnic lunch for me. On Saturday, however, I started to feel a bit homesick. For those of you who have been following this blog, you know that I haven’t felt homesick at all this year (well, okay, I did on Thanksgiving. And I’m sure that my parents love reading that line…). But there was something about spending my 21st birthday away from my family that just made me homesick. However, those feelings of homesickness that I had on Saturday dissipated on today when I had my dance lesson in London. During our break, Corrine and Neil stepped outside. We continued talking about how terribly we had all done the Foxtrot routine (yeah…it was bad). All of a sudden, Corrine and Neil came back in the room and Corrine was carrying a birthday cake. But wait – it gets better. Not only did they sing “Happy Birthday” to me in British accents (believe me, it makes it so much better), but Alex (Corrine’s son) made the cake in the shape of the American flag. It even had 49 stars (I told Alex to not worry about that minor detail; the Carolinas finally settled their differences and merged into one state). And please remember that Neil even took time from our class so that this could happen (that’s big for Neil. As in…Red Sox winning in 2004 big). It was just so perfect, especially considering how I was feeling on Saturday.
So, yes, my year abroad has been a bit atypical due to all the dancing with which I’ve been involved. Don’t worry, Mom and Dad, you haven’t been replaced. But, thanks to the people at Rubies, it’s been a fantastic year that honestly has felt like home away from home.