An Ode to English Majors Upon the Not Having Left Yet

Thursday, May 28, 2015

We are hyper-caffeinated.  We try to be loquacious, inundating our vernacular with verbose locutions we can barely define.  We only use the Oxford English Dictionary.  We say we enjoyed a book even if we didn’t because it seems like everyone else did and we, of course, must be seen as intellectual equals.  We all know the puns (I’m not austentatious and no, I’m not Donne).  We’re writers, dreamers, Christian hipsters, poetic — it’s pathetic — but we’re unapologetic.  We’re all smitten with Britain, with the raw and the real, with the way that we feel when we even think about traveling.

But we haven’t even left yet.

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It would seem that some had missed that memo.  I mused with a sardonic smile at the end of our first week that there was a heaping dose of romanticism among the Wheaton in England participants — and I don’t just mean that literarily.  The way we English majors talked about England was starting to grate on me.  It was as if it would have no faults, no imperfections.  It would be idyllic with its cobblestone streets and history-filled halls.  It would be like Dante’s climbing heavenward, like Elizabeth’s seeing Pemberley — and I was getting annoyed.

“We’ll see all the markets, old shops and bookstores!  There’s Kensington
Gardens and we must see a show at the West End.  But dress nice, be kind, don’t smile, fit in.”

For all our talk of being travelers, not tourists, I began to fear that we might be ill-fating ourselves.  If we talked too much about something then couldn’t we run the risk of diminishing its surprising beauty in the moment?  It would be like spoiling the end of a good book.  No true English major could approve of such an atrocity.

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But Wheaton in England has proven me rather hasty in my jesting.  Our classes, ranging from 17th century poetry to Literature and Place, have been met only by my classmates.  True, they fit the stereotype bill one hundred and fifty percent; they read fast, talk faster, drink tea and know all the hidden nooks and crannies around Blanchard to sink into the shadows and read.  And they are intelligent.  They’ve taught me how to listen, especially when my narrative is different.  I soon found that they didn’t think England would be perfect, they only valued the suspense of optimistic anticipation.

Being a traveler who hasn’t traveled yet is really like being a student who hasn’t graduated.

Perhaps that’s part of what makes studying abroad so ideal, as it provides the occasion and outlet for both roles.  Traveling requires mental preparation.  In the same way that a student occupies a hybrid of spaces, a time to develop and cultivate strengths before emerging into the adult world, so traveling begins before you even leave.  We English majors now know this to be true.

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