The English Channel: Sunderland

Have you ever felt like the little kid in the Tootsie Pop commercial?

“Mr. Owl… How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”

Then the sly old bird says, “Let’s find out…One…Two-hoo…Three…” Crunch.

Now let’s apply this to everyday life.

The kid is probably thinking one of two things:

1. “Three! Thanks Mr. Owl! You’re the best!”

2. “What the hell. You just ate my sucker.”

Maybe it is the lack of contentment that lives deep within my bones, but I lean toward option two. One question with one unsatisfactory answer normally leads me to ask more questions until I find answers I can hold onto.

I have been asking the hypothetical, wise Mr. Owl for years what the air in England tastes like only to see him fly away without me, cooing, “Let’s find out.

So, I taught myself how to fly. I rounded up all the scholarships and grants I could manage, booked a plane ticket, jumped the pond and registered for classes at the University of Sunderland in Northeast England.

Here I am. In Sunderland, England.

The air tastes great.

And here, on your digitized screen of sorts, is where I am going to be posting a weekly column about my study abroad experiences.

I’ve been in Sunderland for five days. I live in a flat called the Clanny House with five suitemates: Gaber from Hungary, Nathaniel from Connecticut, Sammy from Colorado, Sylvia from Texas and Peter from Ukraine. The freezer is twice the size of the fridge, there are recycle bins everywhere and I have not seen a pickup truck anywhere.

The Uni, short for university, is beautiful! My classes are on St. Peters campus on the mouth of the River Wear (pronounced like tear, |ti(ə)r|). My first class was held inside a cinema. It had the grand screen and drapery-lined walls just like a typical movie theater back home, but here, it’s used as a classroom.

It was evident that I was the only American in the room when I spoke for the first time. Apparently, my accent is much stronger than I thought. The professor immediately stepped up to the microphone, “Are you American?” My face felt hot and I heard whispers in the local, nearly impossible to understand dialect.

I said yes quickly and let the culture shock seep in.

Everything is different here; the language, the apples at the Tesco, the looking right-left-right at each intersection and the constant desire for a warm beverage in my hands is as unsettling as it is invigorating.

The differences are not right or wrong; each adds to this culminating feeling inside me. Not the ‘little yellow butterflies in your stomach’ kind, but instead I think I might have six of those giant brown moths beating against my insides.

There is intensity in everything.

I am learning more about the world with each footstep. And, ironically, the grass is really greener over here because of all the rain.

I can feel the hard Tootsie Pop between my teeth now. Crunch.

Yes, this English air tastes great, but you do not have to take my word for it!

Bite into that Tootsie Roll center for yourself, because nobody but you knows how many licks its going to take. I highly recommend visiting the Office of Study Abroad.

Cheers and beers,


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