Engineering Castles and Cathedrals of England and Wales–Step Reflection

In the study abroad program Engineering Castles and Cathedrals, I was assigned the medieval castle Conwy located in Wales, which I researched and presented on to the class. Then we traveled over England and Wales, saw the historic site, as well as the others that classmates were assigned, and each student acted as the tour guide for their site, giving historical and engineering facts on the building and how it was constructed.

During this trip, I was sent to a country I had never been to with 19 people I barely knew. I had always considered myself a more reserved and quiet person, so I was a bit nervous about the trip and not knowing anyone. As it turns out, I should not have been. The group was fantastic, and I felt like I made instant friends which doesn’t happen that often. This trip also made me really appreciate Wales. I feel as though Wales is this country that gets forgotten, because I got a lot of questions like, “Wales? Where is that again? Why are you going there?” from friends and family who I told this trip about. However, Wales has such a rich and interesting history along with very friendly people and gorgeous scenery. You can look out one way towards the coast then turn around and see mountain peaks behind you, separated by lush, green fields. It’s one of those moments where you actually have to stop doing everything just so you can take it all in. Also, experiencing London and seeing first-hand so many places I had heard and read about was such a thrilling adventure. This experience overall has led me to grow as a person in more ways than one.

First, the instructors of this program are fantastic, and made the experience so much better. Dr. Hempson and Jamie showed such excitement for all these locations we learned about and visited (reasonably so), which just hyped everything up and made it all so much more exciting. They were like the cool aunt and uncle that let you have fun, explore, and learn as long as it’s not at the expense of you falling off the top of a castle or mountain or something. They made sure we immersed ourselves in the unfamiliar culture, urging us to try the country’s staple dishes and talk to the locals.

Visiting all the sites and learning the histories behind them is something that I will always cherish. The views looking out from the tops of castles, or up into cathedral spires, or down from the top of the Great Orme are indescribable. How they were created in the times they were and have lasted hundreds of years is even more mind-boggling. While it might not necessarily be knowledge I use as a biomedical engineer, learning about the purpose and meaning of Edward I’s iron ring of castles, or how the flying buttresses supported the weight of the cathedrals, or the significance behind Stonehenge’s location are tidbits I will never forget, not just because they were so interesting to learn about and see in person but because the people there with me, presenting and listening and commenting and asking questions have become such good friends.

As I mentioned earlier, going into this trip pushed a lot of boundaries for me in terms of friendships. From the end of the trip looking back, I was nervous to start, but soon realized I shouldn’t be. As the trip progressed, I forged new relationships and enjoyed all of these adventures so much more because I was experiencing it all with friends. These are life-long relationships I’ve formed with people I plan to hang out with in my remaining years of school and keep in contact with afterwards.

Now, from the end of the trip looking forward, I have this newfound confidence with which I approach life. Don’t be afraid to explore, to learn, to experience things and change with those experiences, even if they may not pertain to what you want to do with your future. These moments are the ones that define you as a person, that you will look back on forever and say to yourself just how happy you were that you decided to push your boundaries and do things that not everyone does, regardless of the opinions of others. If it’s something you’re passionate about, pursue it, and I guarantee you there are others who think it’s cool you can befriend along the way.