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Shared experiences develop close relationships

“Students discover they can do more than they thought they could through their travels and come home with a broader understanding of the world.”

Cris Hochwender, PhD

Professor of Biology

I have taught at Harlaxton several times, including both spring and fall semesters, as well as during the summer. Most recently, I have taught an environmental science course that allows non-majors the opportunity to explore a science-centered perspective on how humans can invest to reduce the environmental harm that we have caused; we explore both American and British examples. Because Harlaxton has recently increased the property surrounding the manor, I have also offered research and internship opportunities to explore biodiversity, restoration, and land management questions from an ecological/environmental perspective.

One of the best parts of teaching at Harlaxton involves trips. Students travel on their own many weekends, exploring great European cities and countries, from shorelines to mountains. But opportunities abound to connect learning to local and regional areas in England, as well. In the summer of 2018, students and I framed out some environmental discussions by (1) walking Harlaxton’s woods and gardens, (2) traveling to a nearby canal, (3) touring a restored forest, (4) visiting the shore, and (5) seeing the largest reservoir in England. Having a “grand day out” gives students first-hand experience – seeing biodiversity (plants, birds, mammals) and giving them real-life environmental examples to restore natural systems. We even got to bring those experiences back to the manor, where we worked to establish a native meadow.

Cris Hochwender outdoors and with students

Shared travel has been a great part of class dynamics. The last time I taught a summer course at Harlaxton, my class and I got caught out at Cambridge Botanical gardens. Unbeknownst to me, the botanical garden expected a reservation to be made by any group coming to their property. Fortunately, we were able to have five separate, but very similar experiences by entering at the second entrance – now as five separate sets of visitors. New things are learned by everyone at Harlaxton, including the faculty.

While shared travel between faculty and students builds a connection, one of the distinctive aspects of Harlaxton is the special way student-faculty relationships develop, partly because of the shared travel, but also because students and faculty are both privileged enough to live in the manor house and carriage house. The beauty of the building and the views from the gardens are amazing. Every time I teach at Harlaxton, I remember what a privilege it is to be here; this is especially true, given that my whole family has been able to join me several times.

I am always amazed and impressed by how much students grow because of their experiences at Harlaxton. Their confidence grows as they learn to travel around Europe, as does their perspective and understanding. By the time they return to the United States, students have truly had a life-transforming experience. But the same can be said for everyone who comes to Harlaxton. Two images that show my growth include: (Left) playing the role of Idle Jack during a Panto (a type of British musical comedy); I was never a thespian, but participating in Dick Whittington was amazing. (2) dressing as the green man (the wild man of the woods, which is carved into stone in many churches around England—representing the power of nature) for the Halloween party.

Cris Hochwender In costumes

Student lives change at Harlaxton, not because faculty take on absurd roles or put on loads of green face paint; still, like the characters in a Shakespeare comedy who find their true selves by leaving their traditional roles and going into the forest, students discover that they can do more than they thought they could through their travels, and they come home with a broader understanding of the world by meeting people from a diversity of cultures in the context of the other people’s world.

Advice to students: Go to Harlaxton! Be prepared to learn. Learn in the classroom, but expect to gain much more through all of the other components involved with the Harlaxton experience. Also, bring good shoes for walking!

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