I have recently taken up the nearly indefensible claim that Northfield, Minn. is the greatest place on earth.
I’m writing from my study abroad program in Aberdeen, Scotland, and, somehow, when I talk about my home university’s primo locale, people aren’t quite sold on Northfield. No matter how much I extol the glory of a $9 Pause pizza delivered to your door in sub-zero temperatures, they seem to only hear the latter part of that particular statement. I describe the gorgeous autumn leaves, the quaint downtown, the cookie-scented Malt-O-Meal air, and still, Scottish folks get hung up on Northfield’s lack of centuries-old castles.
The point is this: though I’m enjoying my semester, my time spent in Scotland and at the University of Aberdeen has renewed my appreciation for St. Olaf.
There’s just something about it, I guess. Northfield has a distinct charm that, for me, is yet unrivaled. I’ve had an incredible time traveling, seeing Edinburgh, London, Amsterdam and more, but part of me keeps coming back to St. Olaf in my mind. Admittedly, it’s pretty unexpected; I thought that I’d fall in love with every city I visit, never wanting to return to the States. But, every coffee shop I visit just isn’t as good as Blue Mondays and no chicken tenders have even challenged those of The Cage.
Also, the cultural differences can be staggering, especially academically. While St. Olaf students get one day off to prepare for finals, Aberdeen students get a full week. Professors have a singular office hour, and, perhaps most bizarre of all, the library is only open until 8 p.m.
Oles. Can you imagine the riots (seriously, the RIOTS) if Rolvaag closed at 8 p.m.?
However, St. Olaf has followed me here in ways that are unexpectedly rewarding. I found myself enthralled in the National Gallery in London, where all of my half-forgotten Great Con knowledge rose up in me and overflowed as I recognized paintings I’d studied and written about. I wandered through the Portrait Gallery, reminiscing on Karen Marsalek’s Renaissance Literature course, seeing the faces of all the poets, playwrights and politicians we learned about. It’s truly thrilling to watch your education come to life.
And this, I think, is why I’ve been so homesick for the Hill. I can go anywhere in the world – tour museums, hike around isles, and still the connection to St. Olaf is truer each day. I have learned quite a lot from the professors and peers in my life that is transferrable to living abroad.
For instance, I couldn’t imagine navigating discussions of international politics here without first having those conversations with my politically-minded friends back home. I feel lucky to be an international writing tutor at St. Olaf, and sometimes I’ll go over papers with my friends here who speak English as a second language. St. Olaf manages to infiltrate my life in Scotland in seemingly minute but integral ways, making me all the better in the process.
So, Northfield may not have historical castles, a vibrant night life, or a lower drinking age. It’s not a cultural, political, or social hub. In all likelihood, it’s not the greatest place on earth. But, my life there has made my experience abroad a more colorful one because of the friends and professors I’ve had, and that, I know, is something you can’t dispute.