Gretchen Otness with friend Iris

yourHarlaxton

Learning to navigate the world.

“Exploring new countries is now at the core of who I am.”

Gretchen Otness

Attended Spring 2007

Did you have any unique experiences during your time at Harlaxton?

Honestly every experience at Harlaxton was unique! No two trips or countries visited were the same, and they all gave me such incredible memories. One of the highlights for me was being able to travel and visit people I knew from back home who were themselves in Europe for different reasons. A high school friend was living in London at the time, so I got to visit her, and she showed me all the great London sights, which greatly helped me as I would navigate London a number of other times during my semester at Harlaxton. I also had a childhood friend who lives in Ireland. I went on the school trip to Ireland and then was able to spend extra days with her and got the true, authentic, Irish experience without all of the touristy stuff! I also got a chance to visit a friend who was a foreign exchange student in my hometown my senior year of high school and lived with my family. She was from France, and while I was studying at Harlaxton, she herself was studying in Spain. I spent a jam-packed weekend with her in Spain and will never forget the chance to see her again: that was incredibly special.

One other event that was unique to me was rock climbing in the Lake Country. I love to rock climb and being able to do it for the first time in another country was an experience I will never forget – it was cold and wet but it was exhilarating!

Does Harlaxton still feel like a second home? Have you returned since studying abroad?

It absolutely does! All someone has to do is mention the word England and I can't stop talking about my time at Harlaxton. I would love to go back. A group of us from Spring 2007 had a mini-reunion in St. Louis, Missouri, back in 2014, and although we had hoped to have a 10-year reunion back at Harlaxton, it didn't pan out. I would love to make it happen at maybe year 15 or 20! Thanks to Facebook many of us still keep in touch and we have a Facebook page for Spring 2007 to continue to share memories and stay connected.

Gretchen Otness rock climbing

Did your experience at Harlaxton have an impact on your future? Was it a life-changing experience?

Harlaxton for me was the most formative four-month period of my life. It was challenging in many respects, while also being adventurous and exciting. It pushed me academically and socially, gave me an avenue by which to explore entire cultural systems, and forced me to grow as an individual and as a young adult. When you're thousands of miles from the comforts of home and relationships with family and friends (and in 2007 the use of only Skype, email, and calling cards to stay in touch with those people), you quickly learn you are capable of incredible things on your own. You learn to lean on others and become quick friends (especially when you're both stuck in a train station overnight trying to get to your next country for the weekend), and you problem-solve and navigate in ways you didn't know you could.

I returned from Harlaxton with a greater appreciation for the world around me, a better understanding of what I was truly capable of, and with a burning desire to continue to travel and learn from other cultures. Harlaxton is one of the reasons I took the opportunity for two years after college to be a part of a music ministry that traveled world-wide, using our access to travel and our talents in music to reach populations and regions that have not heard the good news of Jesus Christ. I continue to be a part of that ministry to this day, and it has completely changed the trajectory of my life, both professionally and personally. Without having gone to Harlaxton, I don't know if that is where my life would have led. Exploring new countries is now at the core of who I am, I am a total wanderlust at heart and get the itch to travel all the time.

Gretchen Otness headshot

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