Ashley McNeill '17

Throughout my college career, many people have asked “do you think your college has prepared you for the rea world? If so, how have they done this?” Time and time again I reply, “Gettysburg College is a great school with a rigorous curriculum and a wonderful alumni network; I am forever grateful for all they have provided me.” As a strong believer in the saying that “the best things in life are intangible; unable to be learned, but capable of being experienced”, I believe the experiences that have best prepared me for all that is to come in the real world were my study abroad experiences in London, England. I thought that it would be best for me to take a semester away from “the Gettysburg bubble” where I currently resided in order to encounter those untaught experiences of the “real world.” This is the primary reason why I chose to pursue my fall semester of junior year abroad. 

Fall 2015 in England, was one of the best semesters of my college career. I was able to study in an environment completely foreign to the one that I am accustomed to, while being able to explore the wonders of a new continent. My program started with a seminar entitled “London on the World Stage: Theatre, Architecture, and Society”, there I learned about the beautiful architectural styles popular throughout Europe, specifically in London. I was able to interactively learn about English culture, both the architecture and cityscape, as well as the theatrical district of London. Each day, we visited some of London’s most popular attractions – Big Ben, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Kensington Palace, the British Museum, Hampton Court, amongst other places. The Theatre portion of the class involved several classis dramatic texts that we analyzed and then saw in different theaters. We saw a production of “As You Like It” at the Globe Theater, “Othello” at the Shakespeare Company Theater at the birthplace of Shakespeare – Stratford Upon Avon. We saw “Our Country’s Good” and “Beaux Stratagem” at the Olivier Theater. This helped me to gain a better understanding of English culture, and an in-depth comprehension of these artists and popular works. As a result of the London seminar, I developed a new found love for plays, Shakespeare, and works of historical literature. 

Following the London seminar, we went on to pursue studies at Lancaster University. Initially, I was anxious to study at Lancaster because I wanted to sample the Politics discipline from an English perspective. Their political system is quite different from the American system. The courses I enrolled in at Lancaster were some of the most interesting ones I’ve taken during my college career. My favorite, “Politics of Global Danger” examined topics of danger, fear, and insecurity in the modern sphere of politics. In addition, as a potential law school applicant, I wanted to obtain an understanding of what it actually meant to be a law student. Lancaster has an established credibility for their Law school. This allowed me to determine whether or not law school was the best fit for me.

The courses I completed at Lancaster University helped me gain some perspective about an educational system completely different than at home in the United States. It made me cognizant of the fact that everything the teacher says is not always true. I realized this through my Politics lecturer’s teaching style, which was quite unconventional. He routinely presented the class with both sides of the argument for each topic, leaving the ultimate decision of what to believe up to the student’s discretion.

As learned, the real world is not a replica of Gettysburg College. The real world is an amalgamation of diverse cultures, backgrounds, people and experiences. From my perspective, the best way to tackle these and gain a taste of the “real world” is to displace yourself from your comfort zone and enter a space that is unlike the familiar. In this way, you can indulge in an unfamiliar lifestyle and meet people with backgrounds and experiences different from your own. This is one way that we as humans are able to learn and grow and gain a new perspective on life. This is exactly what I did during my fall 2015 semester abroad. As a result, I was able to grow as an individual while immersing myself in a culture foreign to me. I encountered a new experience that I would never have had on campus at Gettysburg College. 

As a Political Science major, this experience allowed me to gain a better understanding of the interconnectedness of our world, and better understand the commonalities and contrasts between the American political and policing systems and the English systems. It allowed me to realize that each international actor has their own history, experiences, and culture that are relevant in defining their current state of affairs and patriotic identity. And though these are all different and unique depending on the country, we should use them as a means to bring us together, rather than separating us.

I was honored to study abroad in the United Kingdom and participate in this program that allowed me to travel to some of the places I always dreamed of visiting such as Paris, London, Barcelona, and Amsterdam. All of this was made possible through the study abroad program at Gettysburg College, which I urge all students to take in and embrace.