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The wonders of wandering in a foreign country

“Not all who wander are lost,” said famous British writer and all around awesome guy J.R.R. Tolkien. Well, guess what? Sometimes you get very, very lost. Or, you surprisingly don’t get lost and end up at a meeting point an hour before you are supposed to be there. Either way, wandering is definitely something that you get better at the more you do it. Unfortunately, we are slow learners. But we are working on it.

So far, as part of our class, we have travelled to the cities of Liverpool and Manchester and the smaller towns of Grasmere and Galgate. We have also been to several tourist destinations on class trips, including John Ruskin’s home in Brantwood and Styal Mill in Cheshire. These trips are carefully planned by the professors—it would be pretty hard to mess them up. You need to be certain places at certain times, guided tours abound, and coaches carry you everywhere you need to be. Despite the description, sometimes these trips are the best ones. It’s nice to know exactly where you need to be and when, and you definitely have more of an educational experience if someone is literally walking in front of you pointing out all the things you should be pointing your iPhone’s camera at.

Our out-of-class trips have also been learning experiences—and they are certainly more chaotic. We went on a Saturday day trip to Birmingham with a group of other international students. Spending the two hour train ride asleep with your head mostly on the shoulder of a fedora-clad Wisconsinian sophomore you met just a few short days ago is truly an experience, but luckily, one of us (who shall remain nameless, but her name definitely starts with an “S”) got to experience it.

The worst and best thing about travelling is no Internet. No Internet, and no data, and no texting; it is a lot harder than you might think. A day trip means a solid twelve or more hours of extremely spotty internet connection and praying that you see the little blue checkmark next to your Facebook messages to your friends. Of course, the lack of Internet can be a blessing. In the states, with the Internet constantly at our fingertips, it’s easy to check our phones several times during a single conversation. On a long day trip, we might check your phone hundreds of times, even if only for a few seconds. It’s refreshing to spend some time unplugged– even if we are taking photos of about every second thing we see. In a world that is totally connected in so many ways, it is fun to get a little lost.

Worse than not being able to text anyone, we find ourselves in constant need of the helpful tourist maps that cities post for poor, helpless wanderers such as ourselves. These are super helpful, but if you want an easier way to mark yourself as a non-local, you might have to rent a billboard.

Speaking of finding your way around, there’s really nothing like learning the train system in a new country with no Internet connectivity. Fortunately, we figured the train system out, and we all made it back to the Preston station before any real catastrophes happened, except for the small problem of our connecting train being cancelled. Luckily, only an hour later, we were able to catch another train back home to Lancaster. We really can’t do anything right the first time. Our American ignorance to the world of public transportation is slowly being replaced by a general (if not vague) understanding of the British Railways system, which should come in handy later in our semester, if our future travel plans pan out (London, anyone?).



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