The Impact of Harlaxton
Words cannot do justice to the transformative experience that is Harlaxton College for me, and also, my family. Two generations of Reeds have studied, learned, and grown in the setting that is ever changing and yet unchanged. The Reed journey began with my eldest brother Len who attended in spring 1975 when UE’s adventure in the Midlands of England was raw. Simplistic accommodations and bland food were unimportant against the backdrop of intense learning, deep friendships and the excitement of exploring the Isles and the continent. From the moment we received his first letter, I knew I wanted that adventure for myself.
I decided to attend the University of Evansville for its theater program and the hope of attending Harlaxton. Once I had arrived at Evansville, studies in theater and many friends began to push away my dream of Harlaxton. I was worried that I could not finish my BFA and take a semester off for study in England. On a Labor Day trip to visit my brother and sister-in law Cynthia (Harlaxton alumni ’73), they pressed me for reasons why I was not planning to go. The more I argued for staying home, the more I realized my arguments rang hollow. Late in September or early October, I heard the deadline to apply was closing. Without warning, I called my family and told them I had applied and been accepted. I did not know how I would afford it or what it would do to my BFA plans, but I could not pass up this opportunity.
I left UE at the end of the quarter to work the six weeks before my departure. At Christmas, I travelled with my brother back to New Jersey to save the airfare from Cincinnati. On a cold and dreary January in 1980, my brother and sister-in-law dropped me off at JFK to board the international flight and begin my journey. The first person to greet me at the airport was a UE student I had met earlier in the semester, Lynn Foshee. Little would I know what that meeting would mean.
Everyone who has ever arrived at Harlaxton from the A607 remembers their first vision of the Manor. Mine is undoubtedly no different. Awaking from an uncomfortable slumber after an overnight flight, an interminable wait at the airport and long coach ride from London, I stared at the Manor rising from the mid-morning winter haze. I had seen many photos, but reality is both softer and harder than images on a page. From that moment, I knew my world had been altered forever.
The friendships of Harlaxton are those of stone. Carved in the darkened corners of the Great Hall and cemented in ale and travel and bonds of honesty. One of those friendships was to Lynn. Married now 33 years, we are a true love story of Harlaxton. We both came seeking refuge from other relationships and a way to experience the world well beyond our provincial homes. We found in each other a love of learning, an appreciation of English and Europe culture and deep understanding that our future would be molded by what we found in ourselves in this place.
Harlaxton was different from the early 1970’s Len and Cynthia had haunted its halls. By 1980, it had become a layover for international students transitioning from many lands to Evansville. The Manor was a United Nations of its own with students from Turkey, the Sudan, Libya, Europe and the Middle East – including Iran. The self-important boy from Cincinnati who thought Evansville was a village learned quickly that his perceptions of the world were more than naïve.
Only a few months before, the US Embassy in Tehran had been seized. US citizens were captives of a brutal regime. Yet I would learn from my fellow students that the individuals who inhabit nations do not always believe in their government’s actions. In the case of one Harlaxton student, her nationality, not her politics, would prevent her from going to the US to study and it would separate her for a significant time from the man she learned to love at Harlaxton. She found her soul mate behind the limestone walls just as I had found mine. I learned that the world was a far more complicated place than I had imagined and that if we are to survive, we must begin to think globally not locally.
At Harlaxton, I met many amazing teachers but none more so than Dr. Sam Longmire. What a complete joy to sit in his class and learn about Fielding, Hardy, and Sillitoe. When would I ever have the chance to study the “Mayor of Casterbridge” then actually visit “Dorchester” and walk where the characters walked while Dr. Longmire explained the symbolism of “Maiden Castle.” It was on one of those bus rides, that Sam told me he thought I would be good in student affairs. While I scoffed at the absurdity of me being the person in charge of the same kind unruly collegians as myself, he pressed me saying I could find a home in the collegiate setting. Although I had many great encounters with caring and interesting teachers, none would have more impact on my life than those classes and bus rides with Sam Longmire.
I returned to the US after travel throughout Europe. As all who have had their semester abroad can attest, one may return to your place of birth, but the perception of oneself and one’s home is never the same. Three years later, the magic of Harlaxton would again direct my life. When I was approached about applying to graduate school in student affairs administration, the words of Dr. Longmire rang in my head. For Sam, I would try the thing called student affairs. At that moment, my spouse and my career had come from my Harlaxton experience.
I started my graduate classes with the firm idea that I could go back to Harlaxton to be the Dean of Students just as Lee Anne. The problem was that Lisa Gaus, a Harlaxton Alum and friend of Lynn was there for 2 years. She would still be there when I finished my degree and would need to find a job. The Fates would have it otherwise. Lisa decided she needed to come home and the position of Dean would open in summer of 1985. Lynn and I were exuberant beyond words. After a brief meeting with Graddon Rowlands and an interview with Jim Dawson, we were confirmed as the Dean of Students and a Math teacher for Harlaxton. Our infant son Michael would join us for his adventure.
I could tell the story of those two years but I will leave it for another day. I will say this. Because of Harlaxton, my children have all studied overseas. Michael, our intrepid Harlaxton toddler, I firmly believe was imprinted with Arabic and Mid-East sensibilities from the “Jordanian Girls” and various other students from the desert climates, has his degrees in International Relations and Middle East Studies, understands Arabic and Pushto and works for the State Department. Our daughter Hana is named for friends from Harlaxton and is a Harlaxton alumni from 2007.
I know this is long and but it should be longer. I have not told the tales of friendships formed and lost to untimely deaths; of world perspectives that shape every day of my work in university administration; of the experience of growing as a person and as a citizen of the world. What is most amazing is that my experience, although extended by my time as Dean, is not unlike the thousands that have walked the Manor drive or stood alone in the Blue Corridor waiting, hoping, praying to experience something unearthly. It is in the sharing that this study abroad program becomes so more. It is the Harlaxton Experience.