Indiana University Overseas Study

NatalieS

Classes are such a perfect mix of cultural and academic education that sometimes I forget I’m technically in school. One of my professors puts as much effort into emails about the best markets in the city as he does into his thoroughly entertaining lectures about the UK political system. In another class, we spent an hour at the Science Museum learning about climate change and the makeup of our atmosphere, and later went to Whole Foods to examine their policy of environmental consciousness.

One of the main concepts I’ve learned inside the classroom is that the world outside the classroom is just as important. London has been exciting, overwhelming, surprising, and generally amazing. I’ve been on day trips to Hampton Court and Greenwich, witnessed the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, explored the Victoria and Albert Museum, and enjoyed Indian street food at the Borough Market.

As much as I am loving London, I needed an escape from the crazy city lifestyle for a weekend. One of my goals while here is to explore the UK as well as London and Europe, so a few friends and I signed up for a weekend adventure in Wales. With each stop on the train from London to Fishguard, a town in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, I felt myself drifting farther from the daily insanity of the city and deeper into the peaceful world of Wales. Each field, each sheep, each stone wall, each empty harbor awaiting high tide marked one more step into a dream that lasted two days.

We stepped out of the van at the Preseli Venture Eco Lodge and the only thing I could process was the overwhelming and perfect emptiness of the silence that covered the landscape like a heavy winter comforter. No sirens. No car horns. No voices. Nothing. Just a vast expanse of land dominated by more shades of blue and green than I knew existed. I hadn’t even seen the coastline, but I knew I was somewhere special. London and Wales taught me an unexpected lesson: Silence, something I had basically taken for granted before I began my semester abroad, is beautiful and rare.

I spent one morning coasteering, protected from the cold water by a thick wetsuit and helmet. The rocky cliffs of the Pembrokeshire Coast are simultaneously beautiful and fearsome. One second, I was guarding myself against waves that threatened to push me into the rocks, the next I had found a foothold and was balancing above the water, attempting to fully appreciate the majestic cliffs above me.

A minute later I was jumping from a rock nearly four meters high and feeling the water seep through my wetsuit as I broke the deep teal surface below, too exhilarated from the indescribable free fall feeling to notice the cold. I think I could coasteer every day for the rest of my life and never lose that feeling. Words honestly don’t do the experience any justice, just as I could never accurately describe the exact shade of blue of that water.

I’m convinced that in order to live in Wales, or to fully appreciate its unique charm, you must be deeply in love with the color green. Green is everywhere, from the breathtaking cliffs to the fields that stretch for miles down the coastline, dotted with fluffy white sheep and black-and-white cows. After a seven-mile trek along the coast (complete with stops every ten steps to take pictures of views that seemed so unique at the time but all turned out to look quite the same), we boarded the train back to Paddington Station.

I found myself dreading the noise and characteristic hustle and bustle of the city with a surprising intensity, considering how mesmerized I was by London only a few days before. I never wanted to leave Wales, or the Preseli lodge, or the fantastically refreshing people there, or the awe-inspiring cliffs or the sea that turned so quickly from deep navy to bright teal with the smallest glimmer of sunlight. I wanted the silence to come with me and bring with it the sense of wonder that encompassed my thoughts and drowned out distractions for those two short days.

I know I’ll never in my life have the same experience. I know hot chocolate will never taste exactly like it tasted by that campfire and I’ll never breathe the same way I did standing atop a cliff looking out at the endless Atlantic Ocean. And I know that three of my absolute favorite things in this world are blue, green and silence.

My weekend in Wales only further emphasized my convictions: The classroom is not the only place in which education takes place. Despite the fact that I never left the UK, I was exposed to an entirely different culture and lifestyle during my weekend in Wales. I had escaped from my London classroom and returned a very educated person, without cracking the spine of a single textbook.

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