Going Home and Saying Goodbye to My Fulbright Year

Well, that’s it. It’s time to go home.

I arrived 402 days ago on August 28th, 2016 and headed into Southampton for the first time in the company of my brother. Everything in the city was new, exciting, and terrifying. I ate more cake and drank more tea than humanly thought possible in the first week I was here and visited every measly tourist site in Southampton.

Over a year later, on September 22, I walked into the National Oceanography Center and turned in my dissertation. “Development of a Copper Resistance Determinant as a Selectable Market in the Genetic Transformation of Marine Picocyanobacteria.” It was 74 pages long and was the culmination of nearly five months of work. I’ve pretty much been working on my dissertation as long as I’ve been dating Julia!

It still surprises me when I remember that I’ve been living in the UK for over a year now. I’ve been so lucky. Sure, I worked my butt off to get the US-UK Fulbright scholarship for study here, but I have been so lucky to find the friends that I’ve met here. And I’m especially lucky to have found Julia, especially so soon after I came out.

At times, this year was extremely difficult. When I arrived in the UK, I felt so distant from my friends and family back home. The school system was not what I was used to or what I expected. To top it off, I was keeping a big secret from my family about who I was.

Now, it feels so wonderful to look back on how far I’ve come over the past year. Not only will I be heading home to reunite with my family, but I will also have a master’s degree, have come out, and be coming back with my girlfriend. I am so lucky to have such a supportive family that is welcoming us home. And my luck doesn’t stop there:  I also get to look forward to a 17-day trip out west in the United States. We’re going to get to see Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, the Tetons, Redwoods, Yosemite, Canyonlands and Arches. I absolutely cannot wait!

Packing Everything Up

Since I turned in my dissertation, Julia and I have been working hard to pack up her apartment and my room. It was such a headache to go through all of the clothes that I’ve accumulated while I was in the UK, but after taking three giant bags to the charity shops, I think I’m finally ready to head home. But we eventually had Julia’s house ready to be loaded up into the moving van on Thursday.

Saying Goodbye

Before leaving the UK, Julia took me up to Birmingham to visit with her family. While we were there, her mom took us to an amazing museum called the Black Country Living Museum. It’s an open-air, reenactment museum located just outside of Birmingham, and it focuses on the era of coal mining during the late 1800s.

There are around 50 building that were moved to the property and set up like an old mining town. The place is complete with a fish and chippery, clothing stores, a bakers, a candy shop, a movie theater, a blacksmiths, a tool shop, and an assortment of houses.

The weather on our visit was notoriously grim with a constant drizzle and a cold chill in the air. However, it really helped to recreate the struggles of life back in the 1800s. We actually snuck into two houses just to sit by the fire and thaw for a few minutes. While these fires were bright and relatively smoke-free, the older fires were made from fragments of coal which burnt poorly. We also saw a few scary outhouses right next to the laundry houses and herb gardens. 🙂

Because of the rain, there were not as many reenacters out on the streets, but we did share a very special half hour with one inside her house. She had successfully made an apple pie from scratch in the coal-powered oven and was preparing to divide it up between her co-workers.

On our last day in the UK, Julia’s mom and Huw took us to Stratford-upon-Avon. We started the day with a delicious carrot cake from Huffkins Bakery which we ate on the edge of a crafts market.

Afterwards, we headed into the Royal Shakespeare Company and took the elevator tour to the top floor of the museum. There, we could look out across the whole town at the old buildings Shakespeare frequented in his lifetime.

Afterward, we headed to a little restaurant where an impromptu barbershop quartet set the mood.

That evening, we stayed near the airport at an AirBnB. Julia said her farewells for the next three months, and we settled into our rooms. Later, we chatted with our host, a retired publisher/world traveler extraordinaire.

Goodbye for Now!

We arrived at Heathrow earlier than I want to remember. We held our breath while checking the bags (mine weighed in at 22.7/23 kilograms). And then…it was time. Our bags were checked, our bodies scanned, and Julia and I walked straight into duty-free shopping where we were offered some Kentucky Jim Bean. Welcome to America.

Our flight was painfully long, but level 2-5 of Luxor and the couple sitting in front of us kept us entertained. I played a fun game called “How Many Times Will They Accidentally Hit the Button to Call the Stewardess?” and “Who Reclines That Far Before Snacks Even Arrive?” and “Why Did That Man Select Children’s Movies as His Preference?” In between games, I would sometimes even participate in the very popular, Trans-Atlantic game “Has The Little Airplane Moved At All in the Last Five Minutes? No? Not Even a Little Bit? Could It Actually Have Moved Closer to England?”

But we had fun, regardless. Once we landed, we grabbed a tea in Detroit and kicked back until our tiny plane shuttled us to Louisville. Let me just warn you:  do not drink a large tea and a Diet Coke on a tiny airplane flying from Detroit to Louisville without first checking that there is a bathroom on the airplane.

“Was there a bathroom on the plane, Natalie?” you ask, your curiosity piqued.

“No. No, there was not.”

I ran off the flight in record time, pushing past a few people exiting in front of me. I heard their whispers behind me. Their shocked, hushed voices. I didn’t care, because I was running too fast and too panicked to care. Julia remained in the airplane, patiently waiting to collect my stowed carry-on.

Home Sweet Home

We walked through the exit gate hand-in-hand and greeted my family with big hugs and lots of tears. In the traditional arrival fashion, we headed to the Asian store, where we stocked up on unidentified and fascinating food. I was reunited with–and Julia was welcomed into–my family, a group of four loving, creative, and eccentric people who constantly defy what “normal” is.

(Edit:  Three months later, Julia definitely makes that “five.” She’s been a delight to have here and has filled our house with so much laughter this fall.)

Here’s to being home, to being daring, to starting something new, to seeing the world, and to us. To saying yes. To adventure.

 

Be kind to one another,

Natalie

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