A friend once told Lucas Reilly ’13 (Sayre, Pa.), “When the opportunity to go abroad presents itself, the answer is always ‘yes.’” That’s why the English and music double major jumped on the chance to spend the fall semester in London as part of Lafayette’s new faculty-led semester abroad program at Goldsmiths College of University of London.
“I had never gone overseas before, and I felt like London would be a good place to get my feet wet,” says Reilly. “The city is like a cultural appetizer – you get a taste of nearly everything. I can’t list the number of languages I heard each day while making the five-minute walk to class. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”
The city’s diversity was a living classroom, says Suzanne Westfall, professor and head of English, who led the program. Westfall has been leading study abroad experiences to London since 1990 and considers the Goldsmiths experience the best. She taught an Alternative Londons course focusing on the literature, culture, and arts of multicultural London and its marginalized populations.
“[Taking students abroad] has always been one of the most meaningful and important things I’ve done at Lafayette,” she says. “The opportunity to really get to know my students, to travel with them, to introduce them to places I’ve loved and watch them become citizens of the world – all this seems to be the best, the most important, the most experiential education.”
Nathaniel Kelley ’12 (Woodland Park, Colo.), a music major, enjoyed his songwriting classes and learning with students who had a talent and passion for music. The last day in the city was nostalgic for Kelley, who spent it taking a last look at some of London’s most famous landmarks.
“I got to interact with a lot of amazing musicians who had experienced a tradition outside of U.S. music, so I got a background in music I would have never received another way,” he says. “The last day I was in London was one of the few days where there was a clear sunset, and I was on the South Bank watching the reflections of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey ripple on the Thames with all the oranges and reds in the sky. Then, right after darkness came, I went up in the London Eye and saw the city that I called home for three months from a few hundred feet up. It was stunning to see the millions of lights and people living their lives.”
If it sounds like the students were changed by their time abroad, it’s because they were, says Westfall. A broadened world perspective is one of the most beneficial byproducts of living and studying among different cultures. In fact, that was the whole point of her Alternative Londons class – to showcase the cultural hub that is the capital of the United Kingdom.
“Some of them had little experience living in a city, and they learned to negotiate London very well,” she says. “The students at Goldsmiths are very diverse, so the Lafayette students really got to learn about all sorts of cultures – Afro-Caribbean, Muslim, Asian – and to live with people from all over the world. Many of my students who traveled to the continent all said that London was far more global than other countries. Studying the interaction of cultures in London was much more ‘foreign culture’ oriented than other destinations, language notwithstanding.”
Westfall convinced English major Shaun Banks ’11 (Laurel, Md.) to take the cultural leap, and he soon discovered a newfound courage to step outside the box.
“This experience changed my perspective on not only my major, but my life overall,” he says. “I watched how so many cultures blended together, and it granted me an opportunity to interact closely with people with different customs and norms. It gave me the courage to take on new things and seek growth and empowerment.”
The next semester-abroad program in London will be led by Andy Smith, associate professor of English and chair of the film and media studies program.