DISCLAIMER: This blog post received a lot of heat when I first published it. If you’re reading this now, which people are still doing at alarming rates, please know I am grateful to have spent a semester in the U.K. and that I did make forever friends during this process (if they still like me after I *apparently* implied in this post that I was a sexless-having loser with no friends (which is what I have been called on Twitter). Additionally, my experience, which is what this post is based on, does not invalidate your very positive experience or take away from it. We can have very different perspectives on the same thing! Also, if you’re angry that I am “dissuading students from choosing Harlaxton,” you’re right in labeling what I am doing and I am not ashamed or feel bad about that–but it’s on them whether they take this post to heart or simply choose to ignore it, which they also can do. Free will is a beautiful thing. As is freedom of speech and access to the internet and platforms where you can post whatever you wish (imagine being a 19 year old girl I do not know trying to police what I post on my BLOG because she’s “WORRIED” about my “BLOG’S REPUTATION”)! That being said, contain your anger, for there is no need to “drag me.” 😉
If you’re a WKU student or alum, chances are you know what Harlaxton is or know someone who has gone. Even if you don’t, you’ve probably seen someone walking up the hill in the famed and coveted maroon “HARLAXTON” sweatshirt. Perhaps, or especially if you’re an average, run of the mill Mahurin Honors College student, you have spent a Fall, Spring or Summer semester in this Hogwarts-esque castle in the middle-of-nowhere, England (no offense to those living outside of Grantham in the Harlaxton village but c’mon guys–who are you fooling?).
The point is–Harlaxton College runs through the veins of WKU just as strongly as Big Red himself. The on-campus study abroad office even has weekly specific advising sessions just for Harlaxton, despite there being nearly 1,000 study abroad programs listed on their website. If you’re an Honors student entering your freshman year, you’ll probably encounter a Harlaxton information booth at H4. It is everywhere.
If you’re reading this and have no idea what I am talking about, let me catch you up to speed. In 1832, construction of a manor outside of Grantham, England began. Eventually, it ended up property of the University of Evansville. Ever since, it has become a U.S. college student’s study abroad destination. Students live and attend classes within the Manor or Carriage House. The University markets Harlaxton as a “unique” study abroad program, offering a variety of general studies classes, all of which take place in a picturesque Hogwarts like castle–they even split you into one of four houses, Gregory, Mercia, Newton or Pegasus. But on Instagram and amongst students, Harlaxton is a home base for European travel and an illusion for those watching back home.
From the same sweatshirts to posing in front of the Manor and jet setting to a different European country every weekend, Harlaxton students live an Instagram Influencer lifestyle for four months and then reminisce for months, even years, later. I am here to write what most Harlaxton alum won’t: the culture surrounding Harlaxton is cult-like. To put it simply, Harlaxton College is the Scientology of the Study Abroad World. Here’s why.
To begin, this “study” abroad program lacks a lot of “study” for many students. Unless you save a lot of gen eds for your sophomore or junior year, Harlaxton’s course offerings are slim pickings–which makes total sense! With only a handful of professors and around 200 students, it makes sense to offer some niche classes scattered about Astronomy, College Algebra and World Literature. Generally speaking, Harlaxton caters to the following majors: nursing, sociology, history, English, and psychology. Of these classes offered, students generally only take 12 credit hours–6 of which are made up of the required “British Studies” course, which for WKU students comes over as a 3 credit hour Arts & Humanities course for the Colonnade. And like I said–let’s hope you didn’t fulfill that requirement in your freshman year like most! I say all of this to say: the very hyped-up, marketed way Harlaxton is handed out by WKU, the Honors College and the Office of Study Abroad & Global Learning, you’d think Harlaxton is a perfect academic fit for anyone. In reality, there are numerous study abroad programs that could place you in a university almost identical to yours with just as many course options. Or perhaps you could find an even more specialized program that caters wonderfully to your major! And guess what, most other study abroad programs, like Harlaxton, will still accept whatever academic scholarships you receive plus financial aid! Don’t let your study abroad office fool you! It is an affordable program because they do accept your preexisting scholarships, but SO many other programs accept them as well and even offer their own scholarships!
It is imperative to note these classes might take you nowhere on your journey towards a degree, but luckily, the physical location of Harlaxton is around that nowhere. Surrounded by acres of forest, fields, and a very small village, the Manor is in the English countryside. In order to get into the city, you’ve got to catch a ride in a cab or on the school’s shuttle, which normally ran in the morning until late afternoon (5 or 6 PM). So generally speaking, with expensive or few options to leave during the week, the Manor could get pretty suffocating at times.
Even more suffocating? The actual students of Harlaxton. I cannot speak for every one’s experience because that’d be a crazy thing to try and do (I am sure when Rami Malek was there, things were great), but in the semester I was there, my fellow students often created an air of toxicity. I was only 19 when I lived at the Manor and most of the other students were about the same age. However, it gave off some real rich kid, boarding school vibes. (The vibe existed even if you were poor (hi!! in my experience, that is how I digested the vibe OKAY!)) Students coming from Evansville or WKU generally already knew each other and had tight, impenetrable friendships. Perhaps the reason these strangely close friendships existed was because everyone was sleeping with each other. Like literally everyone was having sex with one another (we get it, teenagers do have sex and I am DEF OKAY WITH THAT BUT IMAGINE LIVING IN A PLACE WHERE YOU COULD WALK IN ON SOMEONE HAVING SEX 24/7! Students had sex in our classrooms! I am NOT IN PRUDE IN THINKING THAT’S A BIT MUCH). If your GF or BF went to Harlaxton, sorry to break it to you pal, but they cheated on you–even, or especially, if y’all were engaged. YIKES. I reached out to another person that went the semester before me to ask about their experience–and yep, same. Sex with anyone and everyone. People had competitions to see how many rooms in the Manor they could have sex in. Even the broom closet like Chapel, man…smh.
If you put a bunch of rich, entitled young college kids in a big house in the middle of the English countryside, chaos will ensue (à la MTV’s The Real World). Then add alcohol and watch all hell break loose. Harlaxton houses its own pub for students on the week nights. While we were technically not allowed to have alcohol in our rooms, they did not mind to sell it to us every night. So, to recap: selling alcohol to a bunch of kids who can’t legally purchase it in their own country leads to…onset alcoholism because let me tell you, they go crazy and drink as much as they can before going back to the land of You Must Be 21 or Up. I had classmates show up to our 8:30 AM lecture with alcohol in the House mugs they gave us, still drunk from the night before. The Bistro Pub was once closed for a week during my semester because someone, probably in a drunken state, “borrowed” a projector from one of the classrooms and didn’t return it until after they cut us off from the downstairs bar. “Immaturity Gone Wild” should replace “Beyond Your Imagination” as Harlaxton’s school motto.
When you’re 19 and spending your first semester abroad away from everything you’ve ever known, you should be nervous about meeting new people, learning a different language, figuring out public transportation and trying to find your way around the city (which is what I did two years later in Argentina). When you’re 19 at Harlaxton, you’re actually 17 at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, just without the promising future of being accepted into Harvard. It’s a Gossip Girl level of secrets and cliques and faux drama. Harlaxton College, the Manor and its students lie in a manufactured American Bubble.
I am not one to tell others how to live their lives but I will warn anyone interested in pursuing Harlaxton College as a “study abroad” option–this might not be what you want, need or deserve. Studying abroad should force you out of your comfort zone, not cater to it. Be braver than the enticing Instagram posts with their “Harlaxton Manor” geotag. Be confident in your ability to move to another country where you know no one. Desire culture shock: roommates or host families with completely different backgrounds or ones that have to communicate with you in broken English until your Spanish/French/Chinese/etc. improves. Crave a study abroad experience you can brag about.
I don’t wish to shame any Harlaxton alums or bully students who have their hearts set on Harlaxton due to their Harry Potter Hogwarts complex (which the school and study abroad offices CATER TO (Once again, I don’t have any qualms with people who like Harry Potter I am a total Universal Studio’s Harry Potter World SLUT, but when Harlaxton’s marketing strategy is to basically fetishize The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you gotta ask yourself, are they for real?). I only want to encourage the hundreds of students looking at study abroad options to stop going with the flow. Studying and living abroad isn’t easy so your choice of where to study abroad shouldn’t be either. You shouldn’t have a WKU SAGL helper every step of the way selling you an overrated college experience. The further out of your comfort zone, the more you will grow and enjoy your time abroad–this I promise you. Don’t feel like you’re missing out on something special when you can find it on your own.
And, lastly, if you want to read about a study abroad program I do endorse, check out my post about SOL Education Abroad here.