Discovering a Brave New World

By David W. ’19
Photos by David W. and Mr. Miller

The importance of travel cannot be overstated.

English writer Aldous Huxley once said that, “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” Despite our apparent existence in a world with no boundaries, the fact remains that no one truly knows about a society without having lived within it or having travelled to it. A Google search cannot explain a culture. A Wikipedia article cannot adequately describe a people. CNN cannot present a report that provides a holistic understanding of a foreign country. All of this is exactly why Lancaster Country Day School created an eighth grade trip to the United Kingdom.

In early June, 11 members of the class of 2019 and three brave teachers set off on a seven-day trek across the U.K. designed to teach the students about culture, understanding and friendship. And in the end, it wasn’t the castles and cathedrals that had the greatest impact on the 11 student travelers.

Our first stop on the trip was Edinburgh, the picturesque capital of Scotland. Stunning views of the North Sea, the oldest crown jewels in Britain and the Scottish National War Museum awaited us at Edinburgh Castle. The most memorable sight, however, was a street performer whose extraordinary production included a dramatic sword-swallowing and some colorful jokes that helped raise the day into the realm of the unforgettable.

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Aberdeen, a small and welcoming town nestled into the Scottish countryside, was our second stop. After taking a tour of Robert Gordon’s College we met with our host families. Culture is best experienced on a personal level, and staying with a family gave us that experience. Shadowing our hosts taught us that everyone has misconceptions about foreign cultures. One student was especially taken aback when a teacher asked him if plastic drinking straws existed in the United States. Another was dumbfounded when a host student asked if Americans knew who Winston Churchill was.

“So do you guys think that Americans are fat?” a Country Day student asked.

“Um, no. What?” the host responded. “People really don’t use that stereotype over here. At all.”

York, our third destination, was visually stunning and the towering York Minster cathedral could be seen from almost anywhere in the city. Although impressive, it was not the enormous cathedral that made York a town to remember. It was the small pleasantries that we encountered, such as the generosity of a small-business owner or the kindness of a passerby. Tourists and citizens alike said hello to us without hesitation — and Mr. Miller gave his own stern, “Hello?!” (also without hesitation) when he noticed us surreptitiously wandering off. The White Rose City welcomed us with open arms and sent us on our way with unforgettable memories and a taste of English culture.

Our final stop was London. We were greeted by the Queen’s Guard, whose march was characterized by fortitude, strength, patriotism and heritage. Despite fatigue from the nonstop travel, all of us remained positive with the help of cheerful “good day’s!” from strangers and vendors. Despite our obvious tourist status, everyone waved to us as equals, our foreign nationality notwithstanding. By now we were convinced: Much of the conventional wisdom about this place was a misconception. Except for the stereotype about tea, that is. Tea was firmly engrained in Scottish and English culture.

As we boarded the plane bound for the United States, many of us were quiet. Some of this came from the exhaustion we felt after traveling for so many days; however, some of it was rooted in our desire to sit back and take in everything we had just experienced. Shortly before takeoff, a student quietly uttered remarks that could speak for everyone.

“People often say Americans and the British are incompatible. And one of us always has to be better. Does it have to be that black and white? Do you have to be superior or inferior? Can’t you just acknowledge your differences, reconcile, and enjoy your dissimilarity? After traveling here I learned that it’s different, but not incompatible. It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s interesting and it forces you to see things from a new perspective. And after hearing what all the critics say, in all their accusatory tones, at some point when you visit somewhere foreign that’s been unjustifiably defamed by the media, you have to step back and say:

‘Man, this place ain’t so bad.’”