I Found a Secret Place in Cambridge

My secret place really isn’t a secret, but to most of the other students studying at Cambridge through the PKP program, it probably is. I have never seen anyone I recognize from the program here. This is a building that everyone has probably seen, but few have been inside. This place is my sanctuary, the way I start each day, and my home away from home. This place is Our Lady and the English Martyrs Catholic Church.

The church isn’t a secret in Cambridge with its tall gothic steeple that pierces the clouds, and it is a place I have come to call my own while I have been here. I come here every weekday at eight a.m. for Mass; the familiar words of the service help me to feel at home here. Similar to going to Mass during my first year of college, Mass in Cambridge is the stable force that has helped me to find my place in a foreign location. Through the Mass, I am able to connect with God through his Son Jesus and this helps me to find my way in unfamiliar places and circumstances. This time each morning centers my day and stabilizes my perspective on my day and on my life. Whenever I am feeling lonely, I can go to this place and take comfort in prayer and meditation.

This “secret” place has also been a place of growth for me this summer. I have grown in my faith, my zeal for the Lord, and my need for God. By being alone here in Cambridge, without the family or friends who root me in my faith at home, I have been inspired to find my own solace and hope in my Creator. My faith in a God who unconditionally loves me and always cares for me has been strengthened. This faith connects me to home and to the people I love because it is something I share with them.

The church is my home. It is a place I can go when I am struggling or when I am joyous. This is a constant source of comfort to me whenever I am traveling or am going through a time of change. God is not limited by place; He is anywhere and everywhere at the same time. Wherever I go, I will never be without Him. The Catholic Church is remarkable in its universality. The symbols, prayers, words, and rituals are the same at any Catholic Church around the world. I am reminded that wherever I go, I will have this special (if not secret) place.

Arriving Home

It is a little over a week before I will board a plane back to Minneapolis, Minnesota and I have a million questions running through my mind. I didn’t expect this. I had questions, uncertainties, and anxieties about coming to England, but I didn’t think I would have any problem going back home. Up until now, I have been excited to go back: excited to see my friends, excited to see my family, excited to sleep in my own bed, and excited to see familiar things again. It’s not that I don’t like it here, but I do miss home. But now, questions are popping into my head and I don’t know what to do with them.

How have I changed? Will people think that I am different? Will my friends think I am weird? Will anyone understand my experience? Will my relationships with my friends and family change? For better or worse? Will I be disappointed when I return home? Will I miss England? Will it be hard to explain my experience? Will everyone have changed while I have been gone? Will everyone be the same as when I left? Will I fit in? Will I feel left out? Will it be hard to readjust? Will I just pick up like I never left? Will I keep in touch with the friends I have made here? Where do I belong now? How will my trip change the way I think or act? Will I be different? Will anyone care about my trip, or will people just ask the simple question “how was your trip” and not actually care?

When I arrive home, I have only three days before I have to jump right back into life. There are big changes ahead. First, my little sister is starting her first year at college and I am helping her move in. Shortly after that, I am moving into a new house for the school year. Then, I am starting a new job and new classes. And, finally, this is my first year of being a leader in Saint Paul’s Outreach, a Catholic group on campus, and the first week of school is our big kick-off with activities every day. I am going to have to deal with all these changes within the first week of being home. I am both excited and nervous for all that is coming my way.

So these are the things running through my mind as I enter my last week in Cambridge. I am trying not to think about all these questions and changes too much so that I can enjoy the rest of my time here. But going home will be an adventure and a journey, just like coming here, where I will learn more about myself and my ability to deal with uncertainties, questions, and change.

Leaving Home

Dear Teresa,

As I look back at the first pages of my journal from this trip, I want to tell you that it will all work out. Don’t worry about packing, maps, and tube stops. All the uncertainties will turn into the biggest adventure of your life.

So, this is the first page. What kind of adventures will fill the following pages? Who will frequent the lines and what places will be mentioned again and again? Will I even make time to write it down?

You cannot imagine the adventures that you will have on this trip. You will make new friends, some closer than others, and you will find a few places (like the CUS café, the Pembroke library, and the church) that will come to feel like home. Are you ready?

What an adventure this will be. How do I feel about it now? I am definitely both excited and nervous at the same time. I know it is going to be an incredible time, but it is a little nerve-wracking to look forward to eight weeks in another country. What an adventure this will be.

You are right; this is an incredible adventure. It is interesting now to look back at what I felt when I was coming here. I am feeling similarly about going back home now; I am both excited and nervous. It will be another big change to adjust back to living at home.

So here I am at 35,000 feet above the earth, hurtling through the air at 500 miles per hour. We will arrive at Heathrow in about half an hour. I figured out that the total distance between Minneapolis and London is 4000 miles.

It is hard to even understand that kind of distance: four-thousand miles. Actually, the physical distance won’t seem as far with email and Skype. It will be the six hour time-difference that makes your family seem so far away, but that will cause you to savor the time you do get with them.

 The whole trip is real now that I am actually on the flight. I have seen and read about London so many times in movies and books and now I get to see it in person. I am excited to see the city, meet the other students in my program, and learn more about what I will be doing in the next eight weeks.

Contrary to what you think now, you actually won’t like London when you first get there. The city will be too big and crowded. But you will get used to it, and by the time you go home, it will have a special place in your heart.

Above all, I wish I could tell you to take a deep breath, and know that it’s ok to be nervous and it’s ok to miss your family. You will love this trip. What an adventure this will be.


Introduction #3

As I have said the last two days, one of our assignments for my travel writing class was to write introductions. We read three styles of introductions written by three different authors and then we had to use those as models for writing our own introductions. This piece is modeled after the way Charles Dickens began his book The Uncommercial Traveler.

Who am I?

Let me first start by telling you who I am not.

I am not a wandering spirit. I am not here because I want to move here someday. I am not here to get my foot in the door for graduate school. I am not here to stay forever. I am not here with a friend. I do not know anyone here.

But I am still here.


I am here to learn, both about myself and the world. I am here to live. I am here so that I can learn from and about others. I am here to explore. I am here to experience.  I am here to meet people. I am here to broaden my horizons. I am here to do something different. I am here to study. I am here to see.

Introduction #2

As I said yesterday, one of our assignments for my travel writing class was to write introductions. We read three styles of introductions written by three different authors and then we had to use those as models for writing our own introductions. This piece is modeled after the way Henry David Thoreau began his essay Walking.

Often, I find myself thinking about place. Places to travel, places to pass through, places to visit, places to go, places to call home. I believe that places are important to us. They have a hold on us: something between a firm grasp and the lightest touch, but they do have an impact on who we are and what we do. I also believe that places must not only be seen, but they must be experienced, not just by doing, but by being. In today’s world of media, technology and information, it is a true skill to just let yourself be. Not many know how to do it. I have to work at it. It involves being quiet (in your voice and in your mind), not “doing” anything and being a sponge, taking everything in with every sense: seeing, listening, feeling, smelling, and tasting.

I don’t pretend to be good at this, but I think to truly attempt to know a place, one must at least try to just be.

Introduction #1

One of our assignments for my travel writing class was to write introductions. We read three styles of introductions written by three different authors and then we had to use those as models for writing our own introductions. This piece is modeled after the way Rory Stewart began his book The Places In Between.

I turn out of the arched entrance of Pembroke College and enter onto the sidewalk filled with people. After the peaceful solitude inside the walls of the college, it feels jarring to be out on the city streets that are packed with tourists. I have class soon and I am impatient as I weave through people on their holiday gawking at the extravagant buildings and intriguing shops.

This is now a familiar experience. How quickly I have stopped calling myself a tourist and have become one who walks these streets every day to go to class, the grocery store, and church. Now this place is familiar.

And that was part of my purpose for this trip: to become part of this place so I can call it home for a bit instead of being a complete nomad as I travel. I left Minnesota wanting to come to another country and see what it was like to live there. I am only going to be here eight weeks, so I will only get a glimpse of what living in Cambridge is like, but at least I’ll get the chance to see a tiny bit.

By going to class and living like a Cambridge student, I want to get a somewhat authentic experience, but regardless of how “authentic” the experience really is, it will be a learning experience like no other.

A Walk to Grantchester

As I walk out of Cambridge, the red brick walls of the colleges soon give way to small, ivy-covered houses. A cat sits in the walkway of one of the residences and looks at me, tilting his head as if to ask me what I am doing on his street. I continue walking, every once and a while pausing to check my paper to make sure that I am on the right street. Soon, I arrive at an unmarked road that according to my directions must be Grantchester Road. I am a little unsure because I don’t see a sign, but I don’t see any other roads that look like the right one, so I start walking down this road. A small part of my brain is confused because this is definitely not a pedestrian road, but this is what the map had said. There is no sidewalk, so I walk in the grass on the side of the road, alternating sides when the tall hedges block my path.

After about fifteen minutes, I round a bend in the road and see a small black and white sign marked “Grantchester.” I pass a big house with a blue door and I wonder what is behind it. Even more, I wonder what was behind it. How old is that house and who has lived there before? I keep walking, passing an inn, a pub, and the town hall. I keep walking and come to a church. I am curious. As a Catholic myself, I attend church regularly, and I am interested in learning about the differences between Catholicism and Anglicanism. The door to the church is open, and I quietly walk inside.  I like the quiet peace that fills the building. I walk back outside, and decide to stroll through the cemetery outside the church.

And that is where I find myself now, listening to and feeling the sun and wind. The breeze blowing through the trees makes a background noise of a soft continuous rustle of leaves. In the distance, I hear the faint sound of the freeway and the distinct whine of a motorcycle as it speeds by. For a quiet place, there sure is a lot of noise. Suddenly, a bird comes flapping out of a tree. Children yell and giggle in the distance. The church bells signal the hour with six short chimes. I feel the sun warm my skin and the sky is clear blue with not a cloud in sight. The breeze blows, just strong enough to counter the heat of the sun.

It feels good to be here by myself. I feel a peace in just sitting, in the escape from the hustle and bustle of Cambridge. Although I am not very many miles away from Cambridge, I feel very far away from the city. Less than an hour ago, I set out with a piece of scrap paper with written instructions of my route according to Google, and now I sit here, still, peaceful, and in another world.