Much to the dismay of Harry Potter fans around the world, it is impossible to travel to the United Kingdom and study at Hogwarts, the fictional school of witchcraft and wizardry. However, it is possible to find a place to study if a magical curriculum isn’t an absolute requirement.
Every spring, a handful of Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM) students spend a semester enrolled at the University of Lincoln, a school located 120 miles north of London in the heart of England.
This is part of a long-running exchange between the two universities that also brings a handful of Lincoln students to MSUM each fall term.
Seniors Cayne McCaskell, advertising, and Shay Dahle, film production, joined three other Dragons six time zones away from Moorhead in the spring of 2017.
Apart from the difference in time, many aspects of the school’s operation differed from its American counterpart, despite having the same language and a similar culture.
According to McCaskell, there wasn’t busy work to check the students’ progress. Instead, each class had as little as one large project or essay due at the end of the term. He welcomed these changes and new concepts, but Dahle had a different reaction.
“You don’t do very much throughout the semester, and then you have a bunch to do at the end, which was hard for me to get used to because I like all of the little stuff along the way,” Dahle said.
One of Dahle’s classes was even taught by three seperate professors with different kinds of expertise throughout the semester to facilitate specialized learning. That change came a little easier.
“Once you got the hang of it, it was nice,” Dahle said. “Then, if you don’t like one professor, you only have to see him once a week.”
An education abroad is the reason both universities sponsor this academic endeavor, but for students, the reasons for leaving their safety net are all unique. In those reasons, the word “school” was nowhere to be found.
McCaskell had always entertained the idea of studying abroad whilst in college, but before the summer of 2016, he hadn’t acted upon it. As he sat in his basement, eyeing his final two years as an undergrad student, he realized he had to do something out of the ordinary. He was bored.
“I just went for it,” McCaskell said.
Acting rashly and making a bold decision was a foreign concept to the South Dakota native.
“Usually, I’m one of those people where I’ll sit down and plan something for so long, and it never happens,” McCaskell said. “This was a big change for me.”
Dahle’s motives to study abroad were slightly different.
Hailing from Watertown, South Dakota, Dahle has always been obsessed with the idea of England: the history, the culture and the accents. To some, the option of going on the Lincoln exchange was a small perk to being a student in Moorhead. To her, it held a little more importance.
“Even when I was transferring to MSUM, my prerequisite was that they have to have an England study abroad program,” Dahle said. “I don’t care where it is, but it has to be England.”
Upon arriving in England, the rush of physically being in the country of her dreams lasted a few weeks, but intense homesickness can set in early for someone that comes from a tight-knit family.
“I texted my family everyday,” Dahle said. “I know that was ill-advised. We weren’t supposed to do that, but it helped me.”
For McCaskell, his biggest struggle was with money. It wasn’t the lack thereof, but spending it in the wrong places.
“You’re not working while you’re there,” McCaskell said. “You’re basically living on scholarships and loans and whatever else you spend of your own money … I had to call my dad a couple times to give me some (money) towards the end.”
Money problems aside, McCaskell found his trip to be well worth it. Gallivanting around Europe in countries such as Spain and the Netherlands has that kind of effect on a person.
“I think I was able to do something for myself for the first time in my life,” McCaskell said. “It wasn’t like I was getting this job because of this or going to school because of this. I’m going here because I want to.”
For Dahle, struggling to find her place in a new environment every couple weeks gave her a new appreciation for individuals visiting her home country.
“Being in so many different countries and not knowing what I was doing was really stressful,” Dahle said. “It really opened my eyes, not only to different cultures, but how people must feel from different cultures coming to America. … When we went over to other countries and we didn’t know their language, they accommodated to us. It would be better if we accommodated to them.”
Despite those short-lived problems, her desire to return is evident.
“I want to go back as soon as possible,” Dahle said.
This spring, life returned to normal for Dahle, McCaskell and the three other MSUM students, as their feet are firmly planted back in Moorhead, Minnesota. Now, a new group of Americans have made their way to England.
Junior Anna Sandmeier is a multimedia journalism major at MSUM and has been studying in Lincoln since January. Her parents live in Switzerland, but Sandmeier has been stateside since her senior year of high school when she lived with her grandparents.
After arriving at MSUM in 2015, studying abroad was a priority, and though she had always wanted to go, attending a university in England seemed like a pipe dream. It remained a dream until Dahle filled her in on the fun she had. At that moment, Sandmeier was convinced.
Early on, living in England did not feel like a dream.
“At first, students weren’t really talking to me and the other international students in our classes,” Sandmeier said. “I was really bummed because I was really looking forward to becoming best friends with some cool British people.”
Making friends wasn’t the only thing that made Sandmeier’s dream feel like a nightmare. Being away from her loved ones took a significant toll.
“After settling in and getting used to England, I started to miss my friends and family and wished they could come to England and travel with me,” Sandmeier said. “I didn’t always have the best time when I was living (in Lincoln), and then when I felt alone, I had a few panic attacks. … I just start to cry and you can’t really stop it from happening, you just need to let it happen.”
Eventually, things seemed less dark. Not only did she make British friends, she also became extremely close with the other Americans studying in Lincoln.
“The other exchange students and I have become really, really good friends,” Sandmeier said. “Without them, the first couple of months would have been harder to get through.”
When she wasn’t bonding with the other MSUM students, she traveled.
One of the unique things about the United Kingdom is that someone could take trip after trip to every corner of the historic country and never run out of things to see. However, the location of the island country provides an unparalleled opportunity to access the countries of mainland Europe.
Sandmeier took full advantage of that opportunity when she traveled to Italy.
“I couldn’t believe I was seeing the Colosseum in real life and all the different ruins,” Sandmeier said. “I even saw the city of Pompeii. It is crazy how much history is there.”
Italy isn’t the only destination on her list of places to see. Sandmeier plans on traveling extensively during the entire month of May.
“I’ll be going to Brighton (UK), then I’ll head to the rest of Europe and see how many places I can go before all my money is gone,” Sandmeier said. “There are too many places I want to see.”
Before she took the leap of faith across the Atlantic Ocean, she listened to a friend. Now, she wants others to know that even though her time was incredibly enjoyable, there is no light without the dark.
“I think certain life experiences can play a big role in how you handle new experiences,” Sandmeier said. “I don’t want to scare those that want to study abroad and make you think it isn’t fun or anything, because it is. It helps you grow so, so much. You wouldn’t believe it, but I also don’t want to shy away from the reality of it all.”
On a study abroad trip, successes are celebrated uniquely, and struggles are handled individually.
For these three MSUM students, their experiences are different, but none of them are perfect.