My road to the University of Nottingham Art History Department was a bit of a long one. Once I decided to start my MA in Art History, I sampled some courses at a local University, and fell in love with the possibilities that art history offers. Unfortunately there were more possibilities than opportunities at that University. What I felt was lacking was the cultural and environmental context of history that can accompany a course at a University like Nottingham! While Minneapolis is my home and is amazing in many ways, we, as Midwesterners, often lack the deep cultural admiration of history and preservation held dear in Europe and the UK.
My experience at the University of Nottingham started as a possibility. I applied and waited, and waited for my acceptance letter to arrive. I even had to defer my starting date for a year because of financial reasons. As the time grew closer, I could feel the butterflies of apprehension and excitement. Researching the many clubs and societies I could join, getting connected with an American Nottingham alumnus, and packing and repacking my luggage to maximize my airline’s weight limit on the baggage, I couldn’t wait to start my adventure.
Although I was technically an international student, I never felt as such within the department. I was welcomed with high expectations and thrown into a course with a very different educational model to the one I was used to. The staff and students at Nottingham are some of the finest and most passionate individuals I have ever had the pleasure of working with. A 15 mins meeting easily turned into one lasting twice that long as their passion and dedication was hard to contain or compress.
For me, deciding to study abroad meant that I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to see first hand the places and artefacts I research, I wanted to visit the masterpieces in person, and to breathe the air of my ancestors. I know it sounds silly but every American student I have talked to who took part in a study abroad programme or decided to complete a whole degree outside of the U.S. says the same thing. For us, the best part of deciding to relocate for studies is the overall experience. Our education feels richer because we learned not only in the classroom, at additional lectures and talks, but also out in our greater environment. Hearing and trying to mimic the unusual accents (I know, I know… it’s us that have an accent), smelling the chips shops, being called ‘duck’ and ‘love’ by strangers, daily walking past buildings older than America, and travelling to places we’ve only read about. These layers of education aren’t available where I’m from. Even in the most prestigious American museums, period rooms fall flat in comparison to seeing it all first hand. For me the most important and relatable bits of history are things you can’t ship across an ocean.
Looking back at my time in Nottingham, it feels like a wonderful dream that ended much too quickly. What I wouldn’t give to have the opportunity to go back and relive all the deadlines, library sessions, revisions, supervisory meetings, and wonderful connections I made with other students and staff. Where else could I have mixed the delights of researching 18th-century gender issues, portraiture and skydiving every weekend?
Studying abroad is the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life so far. And although my VISA ended and I had to come back home, a piece of me will always call the University of Nottingham Art History department home, and for an American, that is really special.
Christine Fleming, MA Art History (2012)