I can remember wanting to study archaeology in England since I was eight years old. My brother and I would go to the wash (flash flood canal) in the back of our house in Phoenix, Arizona and look for fossils and Indian arrowheads. Of course, you are never satisfied with what you have already, so I wanted to study something beyond Native American archaeology and little more human than dinosaurs. I remember looking at pictures of the great British Universities, such as the historic libraries and halls of Cambridge and Oxford. I didn’t want to just learn about history, I wanted to learn about in a place of history. When my mom and I moved to France, I saw this as one step closer to fulfilling my dream of moving to England and attending an English University.
Now, mostly for the better in the long run, life often shows us our cards in a different order than we originally imagined. I went from an all-girls Catholic school is Phoenix with 600 girls in my graduating class to a British-based international school in Bordeaux, France with 10 kids in my graduating class. Having completed my Freshman and Sophomore years in Phoenix, I completely changed systems halfway through. I was meant to take the International Baccalaureate, but given the limited amount of students in my year when I started at the Bordeaux International School, they ran the program of British A-Levels. Again, my dream had always been to go to British University, so this wasn’t a problem for me. However, if I did want to attend an American college, far fewer accept British A-Levels than those that will.
For anyone who thinks picking up and moving to a new country will be easy, it won’t. This is not to say that it won’t be exciting, an adventure or positively life-changing. Particularly for a 17 year old girl who grew up in nothing but a conservative education, my beliefs were challenged on every level. I can honestly say that in my first five years in Europe, no singular day was as I expected it to be. I lived with two host families during my first year in France (lets just say, things weren’t… compatible with my first host family. Nor were the perfect in the second.) No matter what, when going to a new country for any extended period of time, it is important to go with an open mind and without exhaustive expectations.
You will meet fantastic people, people who have completely different experiences, goals and beliefs than you do. The ones who are the most different can become some of your best friends. At the same time, it is a test to the relationships that you have. The distance along with the simple diversity in experience I found was the ultimate test to who were the true friends of my adolescent life. Friends that I had for no more than a couple of years have stayed my good friends despite geographical distance. While friends that I had since I was 7 years old I fell out with over disagreements that could not be resolved over emails and who I haven’t spoken with since.
All of this, along with the change in the education system (and believe me, the British versus the American educations systems are very different), is going to affect the perfectly straight path that you originally imagined for yourself. My perfect 4.0 GPA which would have led me to Oxford or Cambridge had been affected by these unthought of changes. I was no longer on a path of perfect academic success, but one with many more obstacles and life experiences. And yet, this still led me to University of Sheffield. Sheffield Uni is still a Red Brick University (an Ivy equivalent) with an excellent archaeology program. One of the reasons I decided to go there was because of their Archaeology and Biblical Studies programs, one of the only remaining secular studies of the Bible left in the country. In fact, I was in the final year of students able to study it in this way. The program changed in the following year, as they felt there was more potential applicants with a theology based program.
Moving to England was like taking a mini-step back to the culture I had known in America from what was so different to the way of life in France. France is very slow paced. Just like the differences between U.S. states, the French have a very strong way of thinking and way of doing things. England is still a different culture entirely, and perhaps it was just because I came here for higher education, or that there was no fear of a misunderstanding based on the language barrier, but my whole being and experience was much more at ease here than it was in France. Southern France is a place to relax, drink wine and sleep by the sunflower fields. For me, England is a place to engage in philosophical conversations over tea or a pint, to go on crazy nights out and stay out until 6 am (especially in Sheffield) and to reach self-realisations on the person that you are and where you see yourself in the future.
For this reason, no matter the hiccups along the way, I could not have landed in a better place to complete both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. My undergraduate in Archaeology and Biblical Studies showed me an academic love for reading and interpreting a text that is over 3000 years old, viewing it against the material presence left behin, and how this is interpreted or misinterpreted today. My Master’s degree in Aegean Archaeology took me further geographically, showing me the interaction of civilisations during one of the first strong migrations of people through trade during the Bronze Age and the effect this had on ancient cultures. Looking back over my own adventures, I think my life, in all of its experiences, boils down to nothing but ideological understanding based on first hand experience.
Having studied the differences in thinking patterns of the past, and experiencing them in the present, it is easy to see how people have little changed over the last 3000 years. We are still strong willed, strong minded and are blinded by misunderstanding. My degrees showed me a love for the Near East, research and writing. At the same time, the current political climate between ISIS, the Near East and the rest of the world (particularly the West) has taken away my dreams of archaeological adventure, travelling to the Levant in search of the next great discovery. The world we live in is far more dangerous now than it ever has been. I hope that what makes this current world so dangerous, our ability to easily travel and to communicate, will ultimately be what bridges this misunderstanding and brings us back together. I certainly cannot believe that what ISIS extremists are doing relates to misunderstanding. Extremists do not follow reason and only look to manipulate for personal power. But those who are blinded by false promises and lies may one day be able see the world in a clearer view based on experience and knowledge. I would be surprised if every ISIS follower was ‘in the loop’ of their ‘conversion’ tactics to behead children. Those ruthless tactics do not win wars but create stronger enemies. My vision of adventure in the Near East will no doubt be put on hold until this is idiocy is over. Until then, I will happily follow this English path that I am on, hopefully to a quintessential English cottage (but who can say, the cards will fall where they may!), where I may continue to research, write and explore without fear for my life.
To end on a happy note, and to make this page a little less of a political rant, I see England as my home, not for the lush green fields and forests that I hold so dear, or the closeness to my mother and the wine-induced naps by the sunflower fields, but for the love that I met along the way. Home is where the heart is and an Englishman has mine. For all the adventure that life has allowed me to have, I could not imagine it would bring me to a person with so much ambition, kindness, humour and intelligence. At least I know that whatever adventures we may go on in the future, we’ll always be home.