What I Learned during My Study Abroad Trip

This subject might not be expected from a guest faculty column, but this winter break was indeed outside the realm of normal — at least for me. While there are a few faculty road warriors, the trailblazers of Trinity’s faculty-led study abroad trips, this was a first for me. Let me assure you, it certainly won’t be my last.

While many members of the Trinity community were basking in post-holiday daze, head men’s soccer coach Paul McGinlay and I joined Callum Squires (henceforth referred to as The Mayor) and 12 Trinity undergraduates for a two-week sojourn in the city of London.

“The people that you meet and the books you read.” These words from coach McGinlay’s lecture on Jan. 2 served as the foundation for our trip and, more importantly, impacted my life in meaningful ways. The least important — or perhaps the most important — change for me was becoming a fan of Queens Park Rangers Football Club (join the family at @QPRFC). Something about the West London working class fan base really connected with me. Something about touching and tasting the air in Loftus Road connected with me. Something about hearing their former manager give a guest lecture on leadership left me with a better understanding of the importance of my job. “The books you read.” We wouldn’t have watched QPR play if for not coach Ramsey’s relationship with coach McGinlay. “The people you meet.”

Anyone who has studied abroad knows these questions “What’d you learn?” and “How was the trip?” all too well. Having been on the asking end of those questions before, I’ve been somewhat dumbfounded to hear students respond with a refrain similar to “it was life changing.” End of sentence. End of answer.  I’ve pulled my hair out trying to get more out of them, but after my (entirely too short) experience, I feel like I have a little glimpse behind the curtain. I now better understand the hesitancy to offer more details.

Everyone coming back from a study abroad trip should be able to articulate their learning, but they should also be issued an “It’s a Study Abroad Thing, You Wouldn’t Understand” t-shirt.

Coach McGinlay and I required our students to keep hand-written journals each day on the trip, giving class time and space during lectures and tours for them to do so. We even modeled this by keep our own journals, mine written and Paul’s photographic. (He took nearly 5,000 photos!) It is our firm belief that without immediate reflection, we all lose the ability to articulate the significance of an experience. With that said — given the complexity and depth of our experiences in London, coupled with the intimacy and bonding experienced by a group of 14 people tripping over each other 24 hours a day — it is DIFFICULT to articulate the value of the experience to someone who wasn’t with you.

Who else experienced sideways rain in 35 degree weather at Hampton Court? Who else walked 4.5 miles during a 3-hour tour of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park? Who else ate Indian food with coach McGinlay the night they watched Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time? Who else ate lunch at a table filled with The Mayor, his family and 14 of his high school friends at a pizzeria in Finsbury Park? Who else yelled for the Rs at Loftus Road — the night AFTER hearing their former manager give us an impromptu guest lecture in Camden Town on New Year’s Eve? How can you possibly explain the impact of hearing The Lord’s Prayer delivered at Bath Abbey, or the bitterness of the  “fresh” water at the Roman Baths? If you weren’t there, then Holburn, Pret, Ainsley, Rodney, Chris Ramsey, David Henwood, the Wembley Roar, Wong Kei, the grass at Wimbledon, the five values of English Rubgy and the question “What’s in a meat pie?” probably aren’t meaningful to you. And no amount of enthusiastic explanation can ever put you in my place while I was able to help coach McGinlay’s celebrate his birthday — at HIS college hangout in London. “The people that you meet and the books you read.”

So, we resort to the fallbacks: “It was amazing” or “It was life changing.” Not because we’re lazy, but because we still want to be friends with you.

Our class has had the good fortune of being back at Trinity this semester, meeting every Monday. Last week’s reading on racism in Scottish Football, juxtaposed with the previous week’s reading on the intersection of sports and the American Civil Rights movement, provoked some outstanding conversations about privilege, hegemony and media agenda setting. While I’ve had conversations on those subjects with Trinity students before, there was something different about last week. Something raw. Something honest. Something that comes from holding hands while ice skating in Hyde Park. Something that comes from studying abroad.

By the way, QPR have moved up from 17 to 12 in the table since the night we watched them play. Did I mention that the trip was life changing?