Opportunity Knocks Softly

Some of you may know that I spoke at my high school graduation. I guess I’m still proud of that speech, for the most part, but there’s one part in particular that sticks in my memory:

“Right now, I’m still a little scared. But I’m not going to face my future like a deer in headlights, because it’s my future. And it’s exciting.”
I have a confession to make: I lied. At that time, I wasn’t excited about the future, or scared either. I didn’t know what to think, because I don’t usually think that far ahead. All I knew was that I was looking at another long, hot Minnesota summer and at the end of it, I would be going away. I certainly couldn’t have guessed what I would actually be getting myself into. Change was coming, and, ironically enough, I was exactly like a deer in headlights (without the imminent threat of death, I suppose.)

During high school I came to develop an image of myself, a certain set of things that Mitchell Rysavy knows about himself and what he believes and what he wants to do with his life. Actually, if there’s one thing I’m most sure about, it’s my future self. Past Mitchell can be a jerk sometimes, but I’ve found out that future Mitchell is a pretty cool guy that you should totally hang out with sometime. So I’ve learned I don’t need to be too concerned with the future, because if I do my part now, future Mitchell’s got my back. Or… front? Whatever.

My freshman year ended up being the best and most challenging year of my life up to that point. Gone were any expectations set by anyone who knew me, and gone was any preconceived ideas of what Mitchell Rysavy would or should do when he walks into a room. Unlike many, I don’t think I changed that much, but I did notice that many of the truths that I held to be self-evident about myself started crumbling. I started to question their use as a foundation for Mitchell as a person, and in doing so I slowly redefined myself in this new light. I gave myself a tuneup, if you’re the kind of person that uses car metaphors for everything.

The point is, after a successful freshman year at UMD, I somehow managed to ensure that I wasn’t going right back for a successful sophomore year – instead, I’d be going to Worcester taking a gamble in the success department. Why? I get this question lot from everyone, and from myself most of all. Why did I come to the University of Worcester? Why Worcester? Why England?

The truth is, even after three months here, I don’t have a nice, prepackaged answer to these questions. I don’t really know – but logically there must be a reason. I didn’t really choose the University of Worcester specifically, and – interestingly enough – I didn’t come here for academics. I just came because I saw an opportunity to do something different, and it fit with the new Mitchell – the same Mitchell who found his way to classroom on his third day on campus, and listened to a presentation about coming to some place called Worcester.

I didn’t do it because I have some greater life plan that it fulfills, because I still don’t think that far ahead. No, I came here because I saw that I was changing and I liked it, and I trusted that post-Worcester Mitchell would be near-unrecognizable from the person that gave that speech not so very long ago – I just needed a little push to get there.

Romancing the Stone(henge)

(for the record, the intro for this video was inspired by the opening credits of my favorite movie, School of Rock, and I regard it as the best 30 seconds of video I have ever created)

At some point on my train journey to Liverpool, I realized that I was:

  1. Alone
  2. Not Lost
  3. Still Alive

It didn’t even feel like I was traveling very far – although, to be fair, I spent more time on trains than I did in Liverpool itself. But I did it – I arranged my own travel and left Worcester by myself. That may not sound like a big deal, but it was to me!

Most of the rest of my time has been spent between Reddit and Netflix on an ordinary school schedule – wake up, eat, class. Eat a few more times. Get outside. Watch Buffy & Angel. Rinse. Repeat. The promise of routine helps keep me sane, but obviously I didn’t come all this way to do exactly the same things I do at home.

A couple weekends ago the UMD group went to Stonehenge and the city of Bath. Stonehenge is cool because it’s Stonehenge – a tourist mecca. I’m pretty sure England doesn’t even count your visit to their country unless you go there. They reenact ritual sacrifices every twenty minutes. And the laser show – did I mention the laser show? You should go sometime.


Well, not really.

It is a pretty unique experience though. Even the clouds parted for us.

It’s pretty humbling to tread on such ancient ground that’s so much older than not just myself, but my country and just about everything else I have ever seen or loved.
Of course, the same applies to all of the city of Bath, a city that’s famous for its remnants of Roman settlement. The city is noticeably different from other English cities I’ve visited – everything is made of similar grey stone. According to our tour guide, this is one reason that both Charles Dickens and Jane Austen both hated it. Appropriately enough, Bath is owes much of its popularity to the three hot springs within its border – the only three in the United Kingdom! In fact, the Romans liked the springs so much, they built a bath house over it.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I was told about the “Roman bath” I pretty much figured it was a glorified sauna. I guess the Romans took their bathing pretty seriously, though, because an entire complex was built around the bath houses – and they are bath houses. There’s even a temple. Well, there was a temple. But by far the most interesting part of the museum built around these ruins was their coin collection.

The coins found on this site span hundreds of years! I tend to think of Roman times as being within a single generation – I know that’s not true, but I don’t have a benchmark. But these coins… they’re such a simple thing, but they represent so much history that is lost forever. I mean, did people throw them into fountains and make a wish? Did they get what they wanted? Did they like their emperor? Did they think about how they would be remembered?

I still think it’s crazy how I can walk into town every day and walk through buildings older than the United States, and in the grand scheme of things, that’s not even old. They told us that the water in the hot springs of Bath first fell 10,000 years ago. That’s pre-Roman. Even Stonehenge has only been around for a few thousand years. Listen to me, a “few thousand.” Like it’s nothing. 
It certainly is humbling.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Let me give you the low down on my school week:

  • Monday: No class
  • Tuesday: Human Geography, followed by a seminar
  • Wednesday: Educating the Human Brain, followed by Social Constructions of Britain
  • Thursday: No class
  • Friday: Biology (all morning)

The whole “having to sit in class for more than one hour” thing is really throwing me off, but I think I’ll live.
Anyway, I was sitting in Tuesday afternoon geography listening to the lecturer talk about what makes a place. “Place” as a concept here – a “place” could be your seat at the dining room table just as much as your home town is a “place.” He showed us pictures of some of his favorite places, and asked us to think about what some of our favorite places are. I thought about mine:

  1. Duluth, Minnesota
  2. My basement at home
  3. The bike trails back home

All of sudden, it hit me. Harder than anything I had felt on this trip so far.
I was homesick.
I missed Netflix on the worn couches in my basement. I missed the exertion of biking up and down hills. And I missed waking up near the awe-inspiring majesty of Lake Superior.
The feeling soon passed, but I was left considering how “home” had changed over the last year and a half.
Last year, as myself and hundreds of other freshmen settled in to college life, I would occasionally hear someone refer to their dorm or floor as “home.” And this was always weird to me. I mean, yeah, it kind of was – it’s where we slept and kept our junk. But to me, it was never “home.” My room here has a much stronger claim to the term – considering I have my own bathroom and kitchen, and I have to do my own shopping and everything – but it still isn’t “home.”
Home to me is still the place where I grew up, all the way back across the Atlantic. I know this will eventually change, and that it’s starting to change already. But they don’t call it “homesick” for nothing.

And now for something completely different!

My first few weeks have been full of… well, stuff. Lots of stuff. I’ve taken three major trips: a walk through the Malvern Hills, the Natural History Museum in London, and the Lake District near the Scotland border.

The Malvern Hills were apparently J.R.R. Tolkein’s inspiration for the Shire in The Hobbit. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any Hobbits on my walk, but the view was pretty inspiring.

The Natural History Museum was fascinating in the way that only hundreds of taxidermied animals and glass cases of minerals can be. I did get up close and personal with a marble statue of Charles Darwin, though:

I also got to see a dodo, and I was pretty excited until I found out that it couldn’t have been a real one.

The whole from from UMD went to the Lake District, specifically, to the Priestley Centre on Coniston Water. I went canoeing for the first time, and the next day I walked, climbed and crawled all the way to the top of the Old Man of Coniston, the twelfth highest hill in England. I didn’t get many pictures of this trip, but I made sure to get a picture of the old man as a souvenir:

And that brings me to today. I have been laying low and going to class for the last two weeks, and I think I’m finally starting to settle in. I don’t have any big set plans for the coming weeks and months yet, so only time will tell what I’ve done when I next decide to write…

Pregame

My name is Mitchell.

In September I will be, in order:

  1. Quitting my first ever summer job
  2. Packing my backpack and a suitcase
  3. Traveling by plane for the first time
  4. Leaving the great state of Minnesota for the seventh time
  5. Leaving the United States for the first time
  6. Begin attending the University of Worcester, England, for nine months

As you can see, it will be a very busy time in my life.

This is me:

Last September, I packed my belongings for the first time and came to the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and this year, I’ve decided to take it even further.
So what do I expect to get from a year across the pond?
I don’t know yet. I guess I’ll find out.