NOTE: This post first appeared on Medium.
A map of the world was spread across the table. I stared at the outlines of various countries and wondered where I would be in a few months. The director of the International Programs Office just finished a lengthy explanation intended to make me feel better about my monolingual skills. The words took a moment to sink in. Basically, I could study in any country where English was the primary language. My options were limited.
I wasn’t feeling too bad though. I studied English Literature so I probably had a far better grasp of the language than any native speaker. After all, I corrected people when they said they spoke “good English.” I was nearly an expert.
She pulled the map away. For a moment I thought I failed some test and she would send me on my way. What was the last thing she said? Why was I daydreaming again? This is probably the behavior that led to my limited comprehension of Spanish after five years of classes. Por que Brian, por que?
I was about to ask her to repeat what she said when she placed another map in front of me. Ah, Great Britain. Dozens of cities operated host programs for students to study abroad. Now we were talking. I had options.
She explained that not every university had programs for English Literature majors who minored in Film Studies. The more she spoke the fewer choices remained. In the end there appeared to be a university in each of the far corners of the remaining empire. It was either that or she had pointed out where the pieces of Sir William Wallace’s body were placed after his execution.
I felt my grand adventure slipping away. What was the point of living abroad if I was being told where to go? I needed to leave something to chance before all of the air left the room.
She took the lead again and said that there were many wonderful schools to choose from. That’s when I saw it. Canterbury. I studied The Canterbury Tales several times like any future holder of an English Lit degree.
Before she could say another word I put my finger on the dot next to the city’s name.
I didn’t know that I would live in England for three years or attain a postgraduate degree in the namesake of Chaucer’s stories. I had no idea that I would graduate from within the walls of the famed Canterbury Cathedral or that I would be awarded Most Valuable Player of the university’s American Football team. I was unaware that within the next year I would meet lifelong friends and with them my future wife who would show me her homes in Germany and Hong Kong. I just didn’t know…and that was the point.