Learning in the land of Shakespeare

This article is part of the Summer Sojourns 2018 series highlighting the adventures of FIU students. In June, 22 students enrolled in Studies in English Literature traveled to England for two weeks, with the bulk of that time spent in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. There they attended plays and visited landmarks. Senior Jasmine Berge shares her experience of the trip.

The class at Broadway Tower in the English county of Worcestershire.

By Jasmine Berge

I know when I recall my time at FIU as an undergraduate student, the first thing to materialize in my head will be our Shakespeare in England program. It was an experience that not only exceeded my expectations, but completely tore them down, giving me precious time in a beautiful country with valuable people who will forever shape part of my identity as an FIU Panther.

It was a trip full of one mind-boggling experience after another, and the first day was no exception. After we left the airport, our group was taken to Kenilworth Castle, a magnificent ruin dating back to the 1120s and surprisingly well-kept for its age. It was a humbling moment, standing over centuries of history, and it left the mind to conjure images of powerful kings and queens sweeping the dim-lit halls.

Once we made it to Stratford-upon-Avon it was no less captivating. As an English major very much in love with her chosen field of study, I greatly admire and enjoy the works of William Shakespeare, so visiting the town of his origin and inspiration was like a dream, at first too astonishing to believe.

However, the reality of our location became inescapable when we entered the home where Shakespeare was born and raised, appropriately named Shakespeare’s Birthplace. Here, our group actually walked in the footsteps of the English language’s most revered writer. The town of Stratford was so heavily laced by the traces of Shakespeare that one could walk from his birthplace, to the site of his marriage home and end at his final resting place of Holy Trinity Church, in just a few hours.

Then came the plays. Every play we studied in detail before departing to England came to life inside the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theatres in the most invigorating of ways, eliciting different responses from each student so that stimulating discussions took place each day. One of the most surprising aspects of the trip for me were the numerous ways in which a script could be taken, interpreted and brought to the stage, either sticking completely to the script as you envisioned it or presenting something entirely different.

At the Shakespeare Centre, essentially our overseas classroom, we attended pre-performance lectures and interactive post-performance discussions where we delved deep into the matter of the plays and expressed the reactions specific performances elicited from us. We even got to speak with two actors! The theatrical performances and the heightened connection to Shakespeare in Stratford not only helped me grow educationally by increasing my knowledge of Shakespearean theatre, but at a personal level, reaffirming my passion to become a teacher.

While in Stratford, we took various day trips to other nearby locations. The first, and arguably some of the most picturesque, were the Cotswolds. These medieval villages surrounded by rolling hills, impeccable grasslands and limestone buildings decorated with bright flowers were reminiscent of the illustrations in fairytale storybooks. Two of my favorite villages were Chipping Campden, for its gorgeous church and village shops, and Bourton-on-the-Water, for its scenic river and bridges.

Berge in front of the London Eye.

An equally unforgettable trip was to Oxford University, the oldest in England. The campus resembled a fantastical movie set more than a school. As a matter of fact, the best part of visiting Oxford as a Harry Potter fan was entering the Great Hall, the actual filming location for some of the film’s most iconic scenes.

I adored the Cotswolds and Oxford, but the day-trip which stole my heart was Blenheim Palace. As the ancestral home of the iconic Winston Churchill, it was steeped in history, but its true beauty was most present in its breathtaking gardens and tranquil lakes. We had three wonderful hours at Blenheim, but I know we all would have willingly stayed three hours more.

On our last two days, we experienced the complete opposite of the countryside nirvana we were used and headed to London. The vibrant city left me energized, brimming with excitement as I saw every landmark from atop the London Eye. But is it strange to believe that we all missed quaint Stratford? I knew in that moment, looking at the people around me, that we would always remember Stratford with utmost happiness – that we would recommend our study abroad program to every fellow panther once we returned home.