I recognized this fact early so my images of the British Isles were limited to my grandparents' recollections and what I was able to read. Neither totally satisfied my interest but it was all I had and I never missed a chance to learn more and I became content with the idea that I would likely never have the opportunity to visit England.
The summer between my junior and senior year in high school, however, changed everything. I was suddenly provided with an opportunity that changed my life forever. Through the efforts of one of my teachers I suddenly became aware of a group in my community, the International Institute, whose purpose was to promote international relationships. As part of this effort, the organization was sponsoring a writing contest where the prize was a trip to England so I began learning as much about the International Institute as I could in preparation for entering the contest. The result of my efforts was my being able to submit a winning essay that provided me with the trip of my dreams. In the weeks leading up to my trip I spent hours dreaming of spending time traveling the streets of London, Windsor and Oxford connecting personally with the things that had always represented family and tradition to me.
As my plane landed at the Gatwick airport I was filled with anticipation. I was anxious about spending the next week in a foreign country far from home and away from everything that I have ever known but comforted by the fact that at least I was in a country where they spoke my language; or so I thought. Within moments of landing in England I was exposed to new words and expressions that were totally foreign to me and a strong accent for which I was not prepared. I would not, however, allow these minor difficulties serve to curb my enthusiasm. This was the trip of my dreams and I intended to make the most of it.
Riding through the countryside on my way into London, my imagination took over my every thought. It allowed me to envision my ancestors working behind the hedgerows and in the fields. It allowed me to see myself running through the streets playing with my friends and family. As my bus, entered the many little towns and villages that dotted the route, I wondered how my life would have been different if my grandparents had never left this place.
Over the course of the next week, I was able to not only visit my family's ancestral home but I was also able to experience first-hand the various places throughout England that I had been reading about since I was a young child and which had impacted not only my life but the life of my entire country. Being able to stand in the shadow of Big Ben, walk among the halls of Parliament and Hampton Court, and, most importantly, stand on the banks of the Thames River in Runnymede was a profound experience. Standing at the site where the Magna Carta was signed, at the very place that began the political and philosophical thinking that resulted in the formation of my own country, the United States, caused me to appreciate even further the close ties between my English heritage and my American life and the importance of those ties.
My week in England was truly a dream come true for me and every aspect of the trip was educational and enlightening. Through my travels I was able to reflect on the stories and experiences that my grandparents had shared with me and develop a deeper understanding of how the British and American cultures are similar but also distinct. It was an opportunity for which I will be forever thankful and one that has transformed me. Too often the importance of history and tradition in our lives is overlooked but I was provided the chance to witness first hand where my family originated and how they lived while also being able visit the landmarks that played such a significant role in my country's history. Whether I will ever be able to repeat my experience is unknown but I will never forget the magical week that was provided me. It was a life altering experience.