Home is where the Herts is

Isabella Blog
Author: Isabella Ranallo

When I first started looking into VIU’s exchange program, I told myself to be logical and fair. I promised myself I wouldn’t make biased decisions based on where I thought I most wanted to go; I would stay open-minded and choose my international destination based on how well the partner universities fit my degree. Who knew: maybe it would lead me somewhere I never thought I’d want to go, but it would end up being an incredible experience.

            I methodically went through VIU’s list of partner universities with an eye for programs in Creative Writing and/or History – my major and minor. I narrowed it down to three universities that would work for my degree. The best fit was the University of Hertfordshire in England – the country that has far and above been my number one travel destination for my entire life.

Well! I thought. If the shoe fits…

            My fascination with the U.K was personal: my mum’s family is British. They immigrated to North America when she was ten years old. I’d been to the U.K. once before, for around two weeks when I was eight years old. My mum is very connected to her British heritage, and even though I’d gone my entire life with only those two weeks in England, it still felt like a part of my cultural identity. In fact, Canadians frequently ask me if I have a British accent (I asked real British people if I do and it is a resounding, eyebrow-raising, very judging “no”). I’m also extremely obsessed with such British gems as Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters’ novels, the long-running soap opera Coronation Street, Cadbury chocolate, Downton Abbey, and Tudor-era history, so England has always been my Disneyland. A visit was long overdue, and I decided to finally change that with my semester abroad.

            Last August, my plane touched down in Edinburgh (it was $400 cheaper than flying to London). I distinctly recall the train whistling through Scottish countryside into English countryside as I realized the U.K. was not the dreamland I’d envisioned. It wasn’t heaven on Earth; it was a place on Earth. But I also remember how inherently right it felt to be there. That feeling stayed with me the entire time I was in the UK, no matter where I was in the country. I felt a sense of belonging to the land I lived on that I had never felt before in my life. I’m not sure if my explanation is doing it justice: it just felt completely right to be living in that part of the world – and I am a doubtful person who overthinks every feeling.

            It wasn’t just the physical place I was able to reconnect to – it was part of my family as well. I stayed with my Auntie Alison – my Grandma’s sister – for about two weeks before the semester at Herts started. I’d only met her about three times before in my life, but during my time in the U.K., I really got to know her and form a special bond with her, which I value so much.

            I was also surprised to feel closer to my Grandma in England than I have since she died. Maybe it was getting to know her sister, or shopping in her favourite store, Marks and Spencer, or buying one of her favourite treats, Jelly Babies, at the train station, or visiting the church where she married my Granddad. Whatever it was, it was very nice.

My whole life, living in Canada has felt if not random, then incidental to who I am. England was the first time I felt geographically at home. I miss that feeling, and I miss England, but I’m grateful I got to discover that sense of belonging I’d never realized I was missing through Education Abroad.


[Pictured: the view from Holcombe Hill, where my mum used to hike with her grandparents. The Manchester skyline is visible in the distance].