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At an English boarding school, lessons for life

Published August 20, 2006

After my first week at Kingswood Hall I was a blubbering mess insisting that this summer school gig just wasn't for me. I'd much rather be serving oysters on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg than dealing with moody European teenagers who don't speak English or listen to me when I am.

It has been weeks now, and I'm supervising a tiny Russian girl with a long blond braid, a 6-foot Saudi boy with braces, a dramatic brunette girl from Poland and about 15 other students from all over the world. Their arms are linked, and they are hunched over a glowing karaoke screen singing We are the Champions, and I'm crying again. Only this time it's because I don't want my time at the Egham, England, boarding school to be over.

Having spent an intense six weeks supervising up to 280 international students while they learn English, explore Britain, fall in love, dance to Shakira, miss home, sneak around their dorms at night and make life-long friends, I've come to realize that the students aren't the only ones riding an emotional roller coaster or going through this process of self-realization.

It's true that camp accommodations can be suffocating, and that working, eating, living and socializing with the same handful of people day in and day out can be monotonous.

But by being here I feel like I've been on a tiny trip around the world because I've been exposed to so many cultures, languages and nationalities. Besides, we needed to make money to finance the rest of our European vacation.

I've surprised myself with a growing sense of patriotism. I admit that I left home feeling disappointed in America, at times event to the point of disgust. Ignorance seems to be universal, and I'm witnessing the same close-minded attitudes here that frustrate me so much at home.

America may not be flawless, but now I see that we're not alone in our imperfections.

The students helped boost my American pride. Whenever they learned I was from the States, particularly Florida, their eyes grew wide and their jaws dropped. From what they know, America is the greatest source of music, films and celebrities, as well as the glamorous lifestyle that goes along with all those things.

So we're off to Belgium now with fattened wallets and plans to meet up with lots of the staff members we met at Kingswood Hall.

In the next three months we'll be taken in by 11 friends - all but two we met at the summer school - in five countries. Not only is this going to save us a lot of money, but we'll have experts who can give us the insider's tour.

Plus, for the rest of our lives, we can boast about how many friends we have around the world. And what's traveling without the gain of a few good bragging rights?

Although I hadn't thought of our time in the tiny town of Egham as much of an adventure, I figure it may as well be. At the least, it was an emotional adventure, as well as a nice warm-up to all the different tastes of life we'll experience as we ramble across Europe.

Kate Wilson of St. Petersburg is writing periodically about her European travels during her five months abroad. Read more on her blog,

[Last modified August 18, 2006, 09:04:27]

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