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Welcome: Harlaxton - Rated in the 'Top 25'

'The Student's Guide to the Best Study Abroad Programs'.

The Harlaxton College Study Abroad program was recently cited amongst the top 25 programs of its type by 'The Student's Guide to the Best Study Abroad Programs' (Tannen, G. & Winkler, C., 1996, Pocket Books: New York).

The following excerpt is repeated in its entirety without amendment or omission. We are grateful to the publishers for their kind permission to reproduce.


Overview

     "It was like a dream."

Looking out on the grounds of the estate, contemplating the woodwork and murals inside, or simply staring at the 100-room, nineteenth-century Victorian palace, students might fantasize hearing, "Another crumpet, my lord, or perhaps some more tea?"

A picture-perfect setting for examining British studies (as well as other topics), students of the University of Evansville's Harlaxton College actually reside and study in a lavish manor house built in 1837. The program offers solid academics, and it also organizes countless optional trips around the U.K. (with a few to mainland Europe as well). Additionally, students can "adopt" local families to get a closer look at the English culture through the "Meet a Farnily" program. If you are a little nervous about being in a completely foreign country, want to live in a palace, soak up the English culture, and receive a solid academic semester to boot, then this program is for you.

While students are free to choose their classes from a variety of subjects, there is a mandatory British culture survey course.

"Everything is great, from the grounds to the faculty."

This class covers Great Britain from the start of its recorded history up until the present day, examining British literature, art history, and politics. Other courses offered range from Medieval Artto Principles of Macroeconomics, and are taught by a mixture of British and American professors.

Throughout the entire semester, the administration is very active in getting the students out into other parts of the U.K. and Europe, to experience the history and cultures they are studying firsthand. There are scheduled optional trips every weekend, offering students a hassle-free way to get to a variety of destinations, and the program supplies them with enormous freedom once there. For those who want to travel by themselves, the administration is more than happy to help with the arrangements. Travel is a big part of the program, and students usually have three-day weekends to take advantage of, since there are no classes on Fridays.


Environment

     "It was like our own little world."

Of course, the first thing that everyone wants to know about is the palace, or castle, or manor house, or whatever one chooses to call it. There is something innately romantic about living in a nineteenth-century manor house, but it is also historic, and many said that it set the academic tone for the program. They were, after all, living in a piece of architecture that they could enjoy and study at the same time. Of course, it's also everybody's dream at some point to live in a castle. More than one person said they felt like Cinderella or King Arthur. (The manor is described in detail in the "Housing" section.)

The village of Harlaxton itself is not much to look at, but it does offer students a post office, the Gregory Arms pub, and is only a mile down the manor driveway. Grantham. is a slightly larger town three miles away, and the college runs a regular shuttle to and from it. This is the more frequented town, as it holds all the basics that students overseas need-including a McDonald's, a Woolworth's, a Marks and Spencer, a market, a small mall, a bank, post office, and numerous pubs from which to choose.

Most people mentioned the pubs in Grantham-as pubs are basically the social setting all across the U.K. There are many different demeanors of pubs in Grantham, ranging from the more typical American bar for the younger crowd, to the quiet pub for those seeking conversation rather than a pickup game of snooker.

"The Gregory Arms pub had a weekly trivia night-we lost every time, but we met a lot of people."

The beer is very British, of course, and usually lukewarm. It is also very good, and can be quite strong. A big difference between pubs and bars is the fact that the pubs announce last call at around eleven o'clock, sometimes earlier.

Of course, the city of London is a mere hour away by train. Many students opted to use their weekends to go there to sightsee, take in a play or an opera, visit one of the museums, or just be in one of the world's great cities. London is not only a cultural center, but also a gateway to the rest of Europe-with daily flights from Heathrow, a quick jaunt to Switzerland on a three-day weekend is a very real possibility.


Housing

   "It was like living in a museum. except nothing was off- limits."

You approach the manor house via a mile-long driveway, pass through the gates guarded by the Harlaxton lions, and enter the courtyard and circular driveway. In front of you is something out of a fairy tale.

"Oh my God, I'm living in a castle."

It has everything a castle should, including secret passageways, grounds with walled gardens, a great hall, and more. There are three sections, really, to the Harlaxton manor-the main manor, the Cottage Block (now Carriage House), and the gym.

To start with, it is very large. So large, in fact, that many students claimed they were lost for the first few weeks, and that there were times when they suddenly realized they hadn't been outside of the manor for days. There are over 100 rooms for students to explore, as well as 110 acres of grounds and gardens.

Rooms/Cottage Block (now Carriage House)

Students live either in the old servants' quarters in the manor or in the old stables (you can make of that what you will). Surprisingly, the old stables, called the Cottage Block (now Carriage House), is the prefer-red lodging. The rooms there are preferred simply because they're away from the manor and force students to get outside that building.

Most rooms are doubles, but there are some singles available. Rooms range from large and beautiful to small and a bit shabby. All come with sinks, beds, desks, chairs, and a small amount of closet space. Not all rooms have windows, but those that don't are supplied with skylights. Room selection is done by lottery, so it is only luck that puts someone in a great room. The Cottage Block (now Carriage House) has its own laundry, as well as study lounges.

The Manor

The classrooms are by far the most talked about rooms in the manor. These are decorated in a manner one would think that most of the rooms would have been decorated back in 1837. Angels stare down from the ceilings, numerous mirrors hang from the walls, and gold trim adorns the doorways, which themselves are elegantly carved out of rosewood. They are, typical of the style, gaudy and beautiful at the same time. As one student said, "Even in the last weeks of classes, 1 was still noticing new details about the rooms."

Other inspiring rooms include the Great Hall, a mammoth room made of stone and wood, complete with an enormous fireplace taller than a person. Weekly meetings are held here, as well as all of the dances and the Super Bowl party during spring semester. The Conservatory is also a wonderful room for studying or socializing in, with a ceiling composed entirely of glass, climbing vines scaling the stone walls inside, and even a goldfish pond.

The Bistro, housed in the basement, is the center for student activities at the manor. Besides drinking, there is something going on there almost every night, ranging from movies to pajama parties. It's also the meeting place for the societies that are organized, with past societies even including a Star Trek society and a Cricket society. There are also weekly functions, including a fancy dress ball, a formal, a beach party, as well as the infamous "Drain the BistrJ night at the end of the semester.

The dining room is apparently unremarkable in its capacity, being simply a large room with tables. The food is done cafeteria style and is reportedly of average quality. On Sundays there is a formal meal. which is generally lamb or roast beef. Students from the year we interviewed asked for, and received, a vegetarian option for each meal. There is also a gift shop that has small items such as candy and drinks for sale.

The Gym

The gym is separate from the main building, and contains step machines' stationary bikes, and free weights. There is a decent indoor basketball court, and outdoor tennis courts are located behind the manor. Sports play a vital role among the activities of Harlaxton students. School teams, including football (that's soccer to Ameri~ cans), rugby, and even basketball vie against the local English college teams. Students can also take horsemanship through the college at a nearby stable, or borrow mountain bikes to bike into town or explore the countryside.

The Grounds

The grounds of the manor are just being "rediscovered." Yorkshire Television's expert gardener explored the 110 acres of wilderness and overgrown gardens around Harlaxton, and he decided that they could be turned into one of the best gardens in England. He and his crew, along with student volunteers each semester, have been working on the grounds since the summer of 1993. They have already discovered a forgotten lake, an ornamental canal, numerous pathways and avenues, as well as stone seats and steps with beautiful views of the Vale.

However, it needs to be mentioned that it isn't all a fairy tale, as the manor can become a little too oppressive. Students eat there, sleep there, study there, take classes there, and do just about everything there. There is nothing else around, really, except the Gregory Arms pub down the road. Luckily there is the shuttle into Grantham, and the three-day weekends to travel in.

Another complaint about the manor is that the students, as well as most of the administration, are all American, which stifles the amount of cultural immersion possible. "There is the danger," warns one student, "of the school becoming its own island of culture-American, regrettably." The school used to accept students from all around the world a few years ago, and past participants would have liked for this aspect to still be in effect.

Meet-a-Family

One of the many attractive aspects of the Harlaxton semester is their "Meet-A- Family" program. Designed to get students in touch with their neighbors, this endeavor matches up participants with families and other people from town. This program got consistently good reviews from students, and most found new friends in their "adopted moms and dads." The families are always a great way to get away from the manor, or just to get a home-cooked meal. Some students in past years even went on weekend trips with their adopted families-to London, their summer cottages, or even the coast.


Academics

     "It's not just a building or a school, it's an entire experience."

The academics occasionally take a backseat to the traveling, but they are still the main focus of this program. The simple fact that students are in the English countryside, living in an architectural wonder provides the inspiration for academic discipline. After all, to be studying Henry V and then go see a production of it at Stratford is a wonderful opportunity few people would pass up. Of course, the main studying is done from Sunday night until Friday at noon, because of the traveling.

The only required course is the British Studies course, which meets twice a week. Other classes either meet three times a week or twice a week, Monday through Thursday.

Courses

The British Studies course, or what the students call simply "ID," is the main course of the semester. It covers the aspects of British history from the beginnings of recorded history to the present. Topics include the British Empire's influences on philosophy, literature, and theology, plus the developments within those disciplines. ID is the only mandatory course in the Harlaxton curriculum and, unfortunately for non-morning people, is held bright and early at 8:30A.M. twice a week.

ID is primarily taught by British professors, and the majority of class time is spent in lectures. This course can be taken on the 200-level, or, for those who require a higher level course, at the 300-level as well. Requirements for this course include essay exams and an extensive reading list.

"The classes weren't easy, and they were always enlightening."

The rest of the courses offered are anything from politics to economics. Typically, there are twenty-five to thirty courses offered each semester. All classes are comparable to classes in the U.S., with the same intensity and workload. Students generally found their courses to be interesting and informative, especially the ones that had a British or European theme to them. Past British courses include Shakespeare, British Culture, English Literature, British Politics, and British Social Problems. Requirements for classes typically include a large reading list, a few papers, and a few exams.

The attendance policy was repeatedly stated as one of the worst things about the program. The policy is this: If a class meets three times a week, you are allowed to miss that class three times. If it meets twice a week, you are allowed to miss it two times. Students felt the policy was unfair, as it made it practically impossible to plan long weekends. Harlaxton has no plans to change the policy (and we don't find it particularly harsh, anyway).

Faculty

The faculty is a mix of American and British professors, which was a small sore point for some of the students. They would have preferred it either one way or the other, as each nationality seems to have very different teaching styles and expectations. British professors tend to lecture more, and their tests are centered around essays instead of multiple choice or true/false tests. Students reported that they tend to grade a little tougher as well. Perhaps demonstrating what is wrong with American education today, one student said, "The British professors really expected you to think for yourself."

Some of the professors live at the manor itself, and most are readily available and very approachable for whatever questions students may have, even if it is to simply have some tea and discuss British culture. Although the American professors were perhaps a bit more personable, students were on a first-name basis with nearly all of their professors.

Field Trips

Both mandatory and optional field trips are common in most classes. As mentioned above, trips to Stratford to see Shakespeare performed in the Bard's hometown are offered, as well as trips to Lincoln, York, Bath, Stonehenge, Oxford, the Lake District, and Cambridge.

Additionally, there are trips offered every weekend that are not class-related (although certainly educational). Several very popular trips mentioned were to Scotland and Ireland.

"Do everything while you're there, or you'll come back with regrets. "

The trips are extremely well run and, from the students' accounts, reasonably priced as well. They are certainly a value-the school takes care of all travel and hotel arrangements, and some meals. Once at the destination, they give students a sheet of recommended things to do and see, and then allow them to go off on their own (lectures are also held beforehand to supply historical background).

There are also two week-long trips offered at the end of the semester. Typically, they go to either Rome, Florence, and Venice, or Prague, Vienna, and Munich. They are organized and run in the same way the weekend trips are, allowing students freedom while taking care of all the "busy-work." All organized trips are highly recommended, although most students suggested eventually traveling on your own as much as possible. One said, "This program gave me the confidence that 1 can travel anywhere, by myself."

Facilities

Facilities are more than adequate for what is required of the students. The library is open to students twenty-four hours a day, and is well suited to fulfill the needs of the curriculum of the program.

COURSES (1995)
A large and varied curriculum is offered.

Those needing additional materials can go to the library at Nottingham University, part of the British Library system. The computers are mainly IBM compatibles, and in "crunch time" it's hard to get time on them.


Off the Track

With a three-day weekend nearly every week, as well as two fourday weekend breaks, students have plenty of time for their own explorations. Here are a few of the things that happened to students of Harlaxton College:

Hiking in the Swiss Alps was a highlight for one student. He managed to get himself to a remote little town, and took one of the small, winding trails up the mountain. After hiking alone for two hours, he was startled when a hang glider sailed into sight-a mere thirty feet above his head. The ridge he had just gotten to is evidently notorious for its favorable winds and gorgeous views.

One student decided to walk the three miles into Grantham rather than take the shuttle. On her way she got lost and asked directions from a woman working in her yard. The woman said that she could give her directions into town, but insisted that she come in for tea first. The two became close friends, and the student had an open invitation to come for dinner anytime she wanted.

Tradition is important in England, and it is no less so at Harlaxton. The mile-long drive was used daily as the perfect jogging ground for students, either to get to town or for exercise. However, tradition decrees that those who do so must participate at the end of the semester in the "Naked Mile" (you have to find out about this yourself!).

One student's adopted family was her most memorable experience while in England. Arranged through Harlaxton's "Meet-AFamily" program, she started out simply having dinner once a week with them for a home-cooked meal. But they all soon became very close, and the family would take her to the local sightseeing stops, and even took a weekend with her up to Edinburgh.

A few students "accidentally" wound up in a nude bar. They claim complete innocence, even though the women they were talking to at their table were dressed only in their underwear. The surprise came at the end of the night, however, when they were charged 250 pounds for the conversation.

Switzerland was the favorite country for one student. He and a friend went to Zermatt to go skiing and encountered one of the winter's biggest snowfalls, with drifts up to five feet. On that trip he discovered that one could ski from the town of Zermatt across the Swiss/Italian border-so you have to ski with your passport.


Advice and Warning from the Students

  • "Don't be the loud, obnoxious American!"
  • "Take sweaters and jeans and turtlenecks-it gets cold and rainy!"
  • "Understand that Britain is an entirely different culture, and try to learn as much as you can about it."
  • $3,000 to $3,500 is a good amount of money to bring for personal expenses, including travel.
  • "Make sure you get out of the manor as much as you canl"
  • "Bring film because it is expensive in Europe!"
  • "Try to find the secret passageway in the manor that you open by 'moving the shield.'"

The Best + The Worst

For your general enjoyment and information, here are a few of the best and worst things that happened to former students of the University of Evansville's Harlaxton College program:

Thumbs Up The traveling
Thumbs Down English food
Thumbs Up The manor house
Thumbs Down Too many Americans
Thumbs Up The "Meet-A-Family" program
Thumbs Down The attendance policy
Thumbs Up Seeing Shakespeare in England
Thumbs Down The pubs close early
Thumbs Up ID class
Thumbs Down The fact that there were no good science-related classes
Thumbs Up The Bistro nights