I stepped off the plane onto the open tarmac, greeted by an overcast sky and the glint of a sun struggling to escape out into the open. I could hardly believe it. We had made it. We had arrived in Manchester.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the chance to study at the University of Manchester in Northern England. I will forever be grateful to the Goodnight Scholars Program and NC State for supporting me in so many ways to be here. This experience has been transformative and eye-opening, and it’s allowed me to grow in ways I never could have imagined. Being here has allowed me to reflect on my way of life, my identity, and how my various communities help shape who I am.
Manchester is full of character. The city has started to feel smaller as the weeks have gone by. Since it’s semi-urban, I can get everywhere I need to by bus or foot. Day to day life here is so different than life in Raleigh: for one thing, you’ll always here “You alright?” in the place of our tried and true “How are you?” Responding gracefully to that in an American accent is a next level skill. Gone is my beloved American small talk, getting a laugh even if the joke isn’t funny, and Southern hospitality, but in those glorious moments when the sun reappears, Mancunians light up too. On a particularly bright day, the ticketer at the train station asked me, “Are you trying to cause trouble?” and I responded with a nod and a playful smile. To that he said “Good, that’s exactly what we like to hear.”
Being in Manchester has also affirmed my identity as an American. Whenever someone asks where I’m from, I respond “North Carolina,” and to my surprise, I am often welcomed as a North Carolinian and an American – no questions asked, no follow ups. In some cases, when I feel the need to explain my identity further, I’ll share where my family and I are from and where I’ve grown up – allowing me to reflect on the unique identities I possess. Exposing myself to British culture has challenged my identity, allowing me to look at it through a vastly different lens than I ever have before. I understand that I have this unique position as the daughter of my parents, a daughter of a diaspora, and a daughter of my communities back in the US; a powerful tool that allows me to learn from people from many walks of life. This opportunity has helped me sharpen that tool by offering the chance to connect with British students as well as students from all over the world.
My time here has shed light on something so crucial that the Goodnight Scholars Program and NC State have afforded me: agency. The agency to live miles away from home and to learn how to walk on my own. The agency to move through my life with confidence and a sense of intention. And the agency to soak up and absorb every moment, learning as much as I can to shape who I am. I am so grateful for my college experience at NC State and the Goodnight Scholars Program, for the warmth of my friends and support system back home, and for extending my education around the world.
I would love to share some thoughts from places, to save precious moments from slipping through the cracks. I would love to unpack these experiences while the memory is still fresh in my mind.
York & Liverpool – 1/26/19 & 1/27/19
York took my breath away because it was the first trip we had the opportunity to go on! I found the city to be very cute and quaint, and I didn’t want to leave! There was this roadside called “the Shambles” and it reminded me of Diagon Alley! Apparently, it reminds everyone of Diagon Alley because there were a bunch of Harry Potter themed novelty stores. The canal in York lit up as it got dark, and I found the city to be very refreshing and a great way to kick off my semester.
Liverpool was windy! We nearly got blown away! We went to The Beatles Experience, which is a museum that walks you through the history of The Beatles. They really got me at the end with a kind of memorial to John Lennon. I actually didn’t know about the situations surrounding his death, and I didn’t know the extent to which he was a public figure against various political acts of his time. I also didn’t know that he was deported! And the memorial at the end was so moving in a way that probably can’t be described in words, but I’ll try to come close. They played “Imagine” in the background in a minimalist, open, white area, with a white piano, faded song lyrics in gray, and a single picture of John Lennon. I was particularly moved by the lyrics, “Imagine no possessions,” and then came the immediate irony of how a gift shop was placed right after that part of the exhibit. I hesitated for a bit before I bought a really cool poster of The Beatles. They got me.
Oxford & Caernarvon (Wales) – 02/02/19 & 02/03/19
The people in Oxford were simply phenomenal! People were very warm and willing to tell me about their portion of Oxford, help me take a picture, or recommend good books! I especially loved going to the Christ Church College of Oxford because that’s where scenes of Harry Potter were filmed, and I met some really nice people there as well! I also just sat and relaxed while I watched the sun set behind the college grounds. That trip helped me see myself at Oxford as a graduate student, and pretty much cemented my desire to apply to master’s degrees in the UK and the EU, as well as NC State.
Caernarvon was also amazing! On the way there, you can see the seascape, which was both melancholy and beautiful. We saw some castles in two different parts of Wales; the first part of Wales was considerably sunnier and the second part a little more overcast, but all the more cozy. I got a chance to talk to some Welsh young women at a restaurant, and they were so nice and welcoming! They even taught me a few words in Welsh, including croesco which means Welcome. I remember running back up to the castle to just enjoy a balcony view of some ships docked on a thin canal, and the edge of this tiny town. The wind caressed my face, and I really took time for myself in that moment. I am trying to return to that level of being in touch with myself – these past few weeks have been go go go, and I don’t want to lose sight of that part of this journey. In that moment, I even wrote to myself, I love watching birds glide on the wind… do they fly of their own volition or do they just allow themselves to be carried away? And I used that thought as a muse for my own journey.
London, UK – 02/09/19 to 02/10/19
London, London. I went to Platform 9 and 3 Quarters, and also got to see the Queen’s place of residence at the Buckingham Palace. I also made sure I went to Notting Hill because I have a soft spot for Hugh Grant’s romcom of the same name. There was something about that part of London that was romantic in its own right. I somehow stumbled upon the house of George Orwell. It was only fitting that he lived in a bright blue house, distinct from the bleak worlds he called attention to.
Basel & Interlaken, Switzerland – 02/14/19 to 02/17/19
The serene lake reflected the sky and the snow-capped mountains – to the point where you couldn’t tell the real from the reflection. This time last year, I really wanted to grow and push myself way beyond my comfort zone. I never imagined that might mean I would literally leap off of a mountain, and inhale the crisp, sharp air above a gorgeous landscape of the deepest blues and richest greens.
Paris, France – 03/02/19 to 03/05/19
Paris was simply something out of a fairy tale. It was phenomenal, and it surpassed the hype surrounding it. I got to see the view of the city from the Sacré-Cœur, which is one of the highest peaks in the city. The sun cleared up, and I was in awe. So many stories hustled and bustled around those streets, and I had an eagle eye of all the stories coming together. For the past eight years, I’ve slept next to three posters alongside my bed: square canvases of New York, Paris, and London. And there I was, doing the Tour d’Eiffel in real life. It was surreal and I had to take a moment to reflect and understand it was really happening!
I also had the opportunity to visit the Louvre, where we saw Michelangelo sculptures in the flesh and Leonardo da Vinci’s great work, the Mona Lisa. I had the opportunity to see art in person that I have only ever imagined or seen the Wikipedia thumbnail for. I am so thankful for that. I got to see a Calder mobile drifting in the wind. I got to see Monet’s impressionistic works in real life, and see for myself whether I liked it better up close or farther away. I was surrounded by works of art and a magnificent city.
I am forever grateful to the Goodnight Scholars Program for this opportunity. I hope to cherish my time here in my days to come. The sun has taken center stage today in the Manchester sky. And I hope to soak in every moment of it.
Signing off for now,
Photography credit: Chandra Manivannan/Goodnight Scholars Program