Hello, dear readers. My time in Cambridge is coming to an end. This Sunday afternoon I am taking a plane from London Heathrow to Minneapolis to Kansas City, back home. It is a 12:30 flight for which I must travel via taxi to the Cambridge bus station with a large suitcase, a duffel bag, my horn, and a backpack in tow to catch a 7:05 coach. It will be a long day–my flight arrives in Kansas City somewhere around 6:45, which will have been 18 hours since I got up on what is sure to be a short night’s rest. Hopefully I can sleep on the plane to mitigate the tiredness.
All in all, I’ve lived in Europe for about 8 months. I can’t believe it’s almost over. I’m currently at the same feeling most of us experienced near the end of high school classes; wonder mixed with confusion at how such a large part of our lives was coming to an end. In many ways, the year abroad defines the William Jewell Oxbridge student. It is the main reason why the Oxbridge Honors Program is popular and attracts good students; for all the hubbub of “teaching in a combination of British and American styles”, without the year at Oxford or Cambridge, all it is is a pretentious honors program (there tends to be that quality anyways, just between you and me–but that’s a topic for another time). From the second semester of my freshman year (I was a late starter to the program), I knew that this big, scary, and yet fantastic experience was looming. Sophomore year came. Second semester came. Still, the year abroad was in the distance. Summer came. Then, the Jewell schoolyear began and I was forced into full-on study abroad preparation mode. It was finally here! I couldn’t believe it! I was going overseas to study in ENGLAND!
Now, it’s done. Or, almost done–I have a very important orchestra concert tomorrow night as a finale to the year. And now it’s time for reflection. I’ll do so in a quasi-interview style, just because.
Q. Matt, how do you feel about England now that you’ve lived there?
A. England, as a country, is fantastic. Though everybody in the States loves an English accent, one gets used to it within a few weeks, and it even has caused a backlash in me (I’ve lately found quite a bit of enjoyment of Creed, and the only explanation I have for that is because my subconscious longs for American accents). But I have immensely enjoyed England. London is a fantastic city, and at this point, probably my favorite city in the whole world. The culture has its differences from American culture–it is generally more reserved and less self-centric than American culture. However, I have found the two to be pretty compatible. The food, though, is not as good, and the weather is dreary and not fun.
Q. Is Cambridge a good place to be?
A. Oh yes. Cambridge is very endearing. When talking about Cambridge, one usually ends up at Oxford as a comparison. While I quite like the city of Oxford, I don’t think it has the magic of Cambridge. The University music scene is vibrant, concerts by the best ensembles are sure to be great, and the best conductors seem to visit Cambridge rather than Oxford (Sir Mark Elder as the prime example). The city center cultivates a small-town feel, and one routinely runs into familiar people. It has all the amenities a university student would need whilst still maintaining a historic vibe as one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the entire world. I feel very humbled to be a part of the centuries old tradition.
Q. How have you grown as a person?
A. I generally don’t like to announce to people, “I’m a changed man!” because that sounds unnecessarily dramatic and, to me at least, quite obvious. Think about it; one never experiences a given 8 months and is not changed by the events that occurred within. But, yes, I have grown as a person. I am still me, and not fundamentally different or altered, but I’m a wiser, more experienced me. In late September, I had never been on a plane without my parents. Three (soon to be four) trans-Atlantic flights and three inter-European flights later, I am now quite familiar with air travel. In addition, I’ve been on all sorts of trains–from crotchety local trains to standard mid-range ones to fancy high speed trains–and am familar with train travel. Heck, I even had to figure out the London tube system by myself, and have since been on the Vienna, Rome, Naples, and Paris metros. I’ve taken buses within Cambridge and long-distance coaches to and from Heathrow and Stansted airports and taxis, both legit and not, in two countries. It’s safe to say that I’m comfortable with all types of public transport now. This is in stark contrast with my arrival, in which I was scared to catch a coach by myself to Cambridge.
I’ve matured in other ways, too; I’ve learned to eat on a small budget, how to schedule schoolwork around due dates and rehearsals with no input from anybody at all, and generally fine-tuned my time management skills. Most importantly, though, is the transformation that has gone on musically. Entering into Cambridge, I had lost my edge, my confidence, my ‘mojo’ for my horn playing. I tried out for the university musical society ensembles (the top undergrad ensembles in Cambridge) and won the principal spots of both the Wind Orchestra and the best large undergrad orchestra in Cambridge, the Symphony Orchestra. I had played my way into a position in which I was forced to rise to the challenge or wither away. Through the trials and playing opportunities over this past year, I have regained my confidence. This is huge, as horn playing is a huge part of my life.
Q. Last one–do you have an English accent?
A. No. Do not ask me this in person either. And I didn’t study in London either–Cambridge. The University of Cambridge in Cambridge, UK.
Being as this is my last blog post while in Europe, I thought I’d thank a few people here. These people deserve my thanks for one reason or another. My apologies if I’ve left someone really important out. Here goes, in no particular order. Thank you:
Will–for being a great choir-buddy. Singing is always more fun when there’s an American to make fun of, huh?
Hannah–for helping me along in the beginning times and during Philadelphia (that was a loooong time ago, huh?) and for attending multiple concerts of mine.
Kasia–for being a great pizza buddy and for good, old fashioned, American companionship.
Everyone in the 2nd floor corridor–for being helpful and kind to me (and for Switchfoot tickets! Go Jessie!)
Every horn player I performed with–for helping me to realize that horn players do, in fact, exist, and for making great music with me. Specifically, my CUMS I orchestra friends:
Tom–for being a fantastic and hospitable friend to someone who needed it.
Sam–for being a great bumper and fun standmate.
Katie–for being kind to me and being constantly cheerful.
I’ve experienced some of my best memories here with you four. Extra points to Sam and Katie for hanging out with me on my birthday. It would not be the same without you.
I fear this is becoming too sentimental, so here is a picture of a chair.
And now the moment you’ve been waiting on. The verdict. Will I miss Cambridge, or am I ready to go back?
The short answer is, yes, I will miss Cambridge and, yes, I am ready to go back. That’s a boring answer I’m sure, but it’s also accurate. I have had not a whole lot to do these past few weeks while everyone else has been busy, so I’ve had a bit more time to warm up to the idea of going home where friends are more accessible and I have a Wii and Xbox with a backlog of games to play (MASS EFFECT 3 YEAH!!!).
Within the previous sentence, though, lies the key reason why I’m ready to go back (no, not ME3). It’s the word, “home.” Though Cambridge, England, and even Europe have been great to me, I’ve come to this conclusion: they’re not home. Home is where I can drive, on the right side of the road, across town to get some Chik-Fil-A or good Mexican food. Home is where I can watch baseball, on live tv, at a reasonable hour of the day. Home is where my parents, friends from the past two decades of my life, and my lovely girlfriend live. Home is where my cats sleep, eat, sleep, eat, sleep, and sleep. The United States is my home. Kansas City is my home. No matter how beautiful Cambridge may look, no matter how exciting London is, no matter how awesome the food in Italy is, none of those places are my home. Will I live in England again? Maybe; I really do like it, and I haven’t ruled it out.
But for now, I’m ready to go home.