A castle to call one's home

Have you ever asked yourself, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” This summer, I answered that question.

In November, when I was accepted to attend the summer term at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC), affectionately known as “the castle,” flying across the Atlantic Ocean seemed like a lifetime away. As the days until I left decreased, my excitement increased exponentially.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect, other than I would be studying in a 15th century castle. Little did I know an incredible adventure awaited.

The two months I spent at the BISC were academically intensive, sometimes socially awkward and a wonderful whirlwind of epic proportions. Not only was completing three courses in six weeks a daunting task, but making friends was even more intimidating.

You’re essentially in first year again, with a roommate, cafeteria and the same old residence shenanigans. In the beginning of the term, I felt like a frosh. The constant worry that I wouldn’t make friends, the slight homesickness and possible regret of travelling so far from home loomed in the air.

In all honesty, I was afraid. Yet, as days past, I realized I needed to be brave and embrace this amazing opportunity to meet and travel with new people from numerous backgrounds and academic disciplines.

From tea dates in local villages, field studies in London and around East Sussex, to a weekend trip to Paris, you essentially discover different things about your surroundings, and yourself every time.

Knowing how to use the tube, asking for a café Americano and keeping calm if you ever got lost were essential things to learn. I also learned that sometimes just walking through the different boroughs of London helped you embrace the culture more than visiting crowded tourist sites.

If I were to sum up my experience at the castle in one word, it would be surreal. Wandering the halls of Herstmonceux Castle can be a hauntingly romantic experience. It’s as if every crack in the wall has a story, each spiral stairway its own legend.

From the allegedly haunted Drummer’s room to the charming courtyard, the castle grounds appeared to be the setting of a fairy tale. It was the castle and the people within its walls that really helped me let go of my fears and allow me to become re-enchanted with life and all its endless possibilities.

Above all, what I’ve learned from my time at the castle is that life has a funny way of introducing you to fantastic people on opposite shores. Even though I was only there six weeks, the castle began to feel like home. I hope to one day find myself wandering those halls again.

My advice to those itching to travel to the castle or elsewhere? Be adventurous, be brave and have a ridiculous amount of optimism. There’s no need to be afraid.

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