By Lauren Pinch ’18
A local PLU student took the non-traditional route her junior year when she immersed herself in the deep culture of Lancaster, England where she studied away for an entire year.
Senior, Rachel Wacker has always been adamant about traveling. Wacker said that she moved from her hometown in Oregon to Pacific Lutheran University specifically because she loved the study away opportunities that PLU provided. During her sophomore year, she laid out a plan of where exactly she wanted to study away. It was a lengthy process but she said that it was well worth the experience. Eventually it resulted in Wacker being enrolled in three different universities. She was accepted to Lancaster University in England whose program was through Arcadia University in Philadelphia, which then transferred back to Pacific Lutheran University.
According to the Lancaster University website, the university offers over 280 undergraduate degree programs, and is ranked in the top 10 of UK universities and in the top one percent globally.
Wacker said that her decision to pursue Lancaster University was because it had the classes that she needed as well as a friend, Michelle Johnson, needed that was also studying away at the university. While Johnson was only studying there for fall semester, Wacker said she wanted more. This is when she decided to study in Lancaster, England from Sept 2015 until June 2016.
“I didn’t think 3 months was enough. I wanted to know what they did during Christmas and how they would go home to their families. I wanted to see the differences. When you are there for only three months you only see one part of the year,” Wacker said.
According to the Wang Center, 45 percent of PLU students study abroad at some point in the academic year. Studying abroad for an entire academic year is an option for students but is a unique one. Only one to three students choose it every year.
Wacker was able to be one of those unique people. Wacker packed up all her belongings and flew to Lancaster, England where she began her year long journey. Wacker stayed in an apartment style flat with 8 other students who were also studying away, coming from different places like Chicago, Whales, England and Congo.
“One day we all made pancakes from our own cultures and ate them. It was amazing. Those small things to learn and share with one another,” Wacker said.
Wacker described the culture as something completely opposite from the American lifestyle and said that it was a big learning curve to fully adjust to the academic and social culture of Lancaster University.
The positive side to the learning environment Wacker explained is that students were in class for a shorter amount of time compared to PLU. This flexibility in the schedule gave her time to explore the city as well as surrounding areas.
Wacker and Johnson said they were able to travel together to different places on the weekend. These were experiences Johnson said she wished could have lasted longer than a semester but did not regret doing with Wacker.
“If I had been able to work, or maybe just live in the culture without being in school, that would have been fantastic,” Johnson said.
Wacker explained she and Johnson went to Rome and toured the ancient ruins one weekend. In awe of the scene that surrounded her, Wacker showed a video of her time in Rome where she stood in the brick paved road next to a river with stone buildings in the distance while a gentleman played soft music from an accordion. Wacker described the experience as something straight out of a movie scene.
With less time in the classroom, she explained that she was also able to be immersed in the social life that Lancaster embodied. Wacker explained that social life was thought to be just as important as learning. She said that drinking was a social thing to do throughout the day. She recalled her first week there called Freshers week where they took the freshman and transfer students to all the clubs in Lancaster.
The benefits to studying away for an entire year Wacker explained is that you get to experience different aspects of the year that you wouldn’t otherwise. One experience in particular that Wacker said she would never forget is when she went home with a friend for Christmas to an English farm. Wacker said she was astonished at the beauty that the city held.
“I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I got to feed goats Christmas morning. It was stunning. Yorkshire had pastors and stone buildings,” Wacker said.
While there Wacker explained she was welcomed into the family with open arms. She describes Christmas morning as overwhelmed with joy as she unexpectedly received presents from everyone in her friends family.
Another experience Wacker had a deep appreciation for was when she went home with another friend for two weeks in Wales. She lit up when talking about the generosity and the kindness that this particular family showed her. She explained that she was welcomed into their home as if she had been part of the family her whole life and were so happy to show her new things.
“I met her family. I got to meet her Nan. It was amazing to experience someone’s home… The people were so generous. My heart was full being with them,” Wacker said.
Wacker’s journey eventually come to an end. She packed up the home that she had built for herself in England and returned back to PLU in America. Although Wacker knew she had to come back eventually, she said she didn’t expect to have the culture shock she did upon coming home nor the re-immersion depression she would struggle through the months that followed.
“I made a home for myself there. That was such a loved home there and coming home and having it be so different here. It was exhausting coming back for the next few months” Wacker said.
Wacker explained that being immersed into a different culture, there was a lot of adjustment but when she came back home she had to readjust to her own culture again. With time, she was able to get back to her lifestyle in America again and is now a strong advocate for studying abroad.