A manor, once full of youthful voices and magical energy, sits empty and awaiting an adventure just like so many students at the University of Evansville. Harlaxton Manor has not housed students since March 14, 2020, and many people on both sides of the Atlantic desperately want to change that.
For thousands of individuals, Harlaxton holds a special place in their hearts. On average, the manor has housed around 120 to 150 students each semester since 1971 when the University of Evansville acquired it. From British Studies lectures in the Long Gallery and seminars in the State Dining Room to late nights in the Bistro and early morning breakfasts in the Refinery, countless memories will live on forever. In many of those memories are British faculty and staff, who are equally lonely without their American companions.
When it was announced that students’ semester abroad would be cut short, Harlaxton faculty also had to leave the manor.
Dr. Nicola Boyle
“It was an unbelievable moment and really brought home how serious the pandemic was,” Nicola Boyle, professor of British studies, said.
Students at Harlaxton had heard about COVID but didn’t quite understand its severity. Still, the idea loomed over them, despite their efforts to put it out of mind.
“The announcement [of our departure] seemed to come out of nowhere at the end of a British Studies lecture,” Crayton Chestnut, a junior business management and marketing major, said. Some were in total shock and others cried, while professors did what they could to console them.
Halfway through the semester, everyone returned home and prepared for video lectures and Zoom seminars. Boyle said she set up shop in the dining room – her husband on one side having business meetings while she talked about Shakespeare on the other side. It was definitely not the way she expected to finish the semester, but it was her new reality.
While disappointed his semester abroad was cut short, Chestnut is grateful he experienced Harlaxton and traveled to the few countries he could. Meanwhile, students like Jessica Smith, a senior music therapy major, had their trips cancelled before the adventure even began. She was scheduled to study abroad during the summer of 2020, but slowly accepted the reality that her Harlaxton experience would not happen.
“I looked forward to gaining independence from my parents and seeing the world,” Smith said when asked what had excited her most about going to Harlaxton. This is a dream many college students have, and one Harlaxton is often able to fulfill.
The manor needs to be filled with the voices of young people,” Boyle, who has visited the manor many times since lockdown, said. She misses hearing students’ stories and turning a corner to find theatre majors doing something crazy.
Students at Harlaxton College have those same feelings of turning the corner and finding a new adventure. Dalton Selvidge, who studied abroad the fall semester of 2018, loved the mystery of going through one of the manor’s passages or down an odd corridor.
“I was discovering something for the first time, but it had already been discovered so many times before by others,” Selvidge said. That’s the beauty of Harlaxton – it doesn’t change, but we do.
Truman Schulz, who studied with Selvidge that semester, mentioned that the professors became a big part of his life.
“I built relationships with them I never would have been able to in the States,” Schulz said, because professors would often eat lunch with students in the Refinery or attend house competitions in the Great Hall.
Meredith Warren, who attended Harlaxton in the spring semester of 2019, loved the British Studies course taught by native British professors.
“They teach differently than American professors and truly take time to hear their students’ thoughts and opinions on the country’s history,” Warren said, fondly recalling her seminar classes.
During the week, it’s all Britain all the time. On weekends, though, students break out of the manor and for new experiences in different countries. While sitting in a coffee shop on a cloudy day in Evansville, Selvidge reminisced on walking down the back streets of Athens, Greece. He liked visiting what he called the “non-touristy places”, where people don’t often speak English. Noticing meat kabobs spinning in a window, he walked into the shop and ordered…or at least, tried to order.
“The man muttered something in Greek to which I responded in English and neither of us could figure out what to say,” Selvidge said. The man brought out his daughter, so Selvidge thought he might actually be able to order. Unfortunately, she didn’t speak much English either and he ended up leaving to find another “back street place” that could understand him. He loved those kinds of adventures, though.
When thinking of her own semester travels, Warren cherished one of her last weekend trips. Her roommate, whom she had only met three months before, longed to travel to Poland. Warren had never thought of going to the Slavic country, but it sounded exciting and she had nothing else planned.
“We did things very different from other trips, like making pierogis in a cooking class,” Warren said. She and her friends were the only participants of the class, and once they finished making their pierogis – a kind of dumpling – they sat around the table with the instructors and talked like old friends. If she hadn’t been assigned a random roommate, Warren might never have gone to Poland and had that experience.
As we continue with online classes and working from home, those who have been to Harlaxton treasure the memories they made while those who have not long for the day they can. Though the manor is a dream in itself, Boyle said her favorite part of Harlaxton is the life the students bring to it.
On his last night in the manor, Schulz broke off from his group of friends and wound up sitting in solitude in the Great Hall.
“After a semester that was often busy, the introspection hit all at once that I was leaving,” Schulz said. The most amazing four months of his life thus far had come to an end.