Media & Press

Living in a Castle

1 June, 2015

Jamie-Lee Freeston

Who would have thought I would be able to say “I’ve lived in a castle”? I sure couldn’t have imagined it, but yes, it’s true. For the first two months this summer, I had the incredible opportunity to visit and live at Herstmonceux Castle, aka. the Bader International Study Center, in England. Queen’s University owns the castle thanks to its gracious alumni Alfred and Isabel Bader, and holds courses in the building year-round. I got involved in the Global Project Management Program, and it was honestly the experience of a lifetime. I mean, I had never even left North America before, so getting on that first plane to cross the Atlantic was exciting in itself.
Arriving in England was a blur of activity, from adjusting to driving on the left side of the narrow roads, meeting all of the other students studying at the Castle, and simply trying to contain our rising excitement before seeing the Castle we would ultimately call home. I must say, the excitement we held was for good reason, because after one look at the Castle, I fell in love. It was absolutely surreal – this was an actual castle! With a drawbridge, surrounded by a moat, a beautiful courtyard with shrubs and flowers, gardens that went on for ages containing roses, herbs, and millions of other plants, and of course the castle itself with its medieval look, spiraling staircases, dungeons, and so much more. I still can’t believe it, but I actually lived in this new world. 
The first weekend of our stay was orientation, helping us get over the inevitable jet lag, where we learned about the history of the castle, took tours of the grounds, and visited the nearby cities of Brighton and Eastbourne. Both coastal towns, they were beautiful. But of course, my stay wasn’t purely for leisure; classes had to start at some point. As an engineering student, the classes I took in this program for the first month were very different than what I was used to. I took an English and an International Perspectives course, both deconstructing and analyzing the city of London. It was really interesting to look at things from a literary perspective, something us engineers don’t normally get to do, and they gave me a deeper understanding about the relationship between people and cities. These classes were also different in the sense there were only 27 of us in this particular program, so our classes were largely discussion based and we got very close with our professors and each other. Sometimes, we would even go into the gardens for classes, because thankfully, the weather in England really held out for us! The last two weeks was the Global Project Management course, where we learned the fundamentals of project management, something that is certainly applicable in every facet of not only engineering, but everyday life. 
This program however was not only classroom based, we had field studies almost every week! These trips took us into London numerous times, visiting many museums, exploring the financial district and its ambitious architecture, walking the Thames, seeing the Olympic Stadium, and touring large engineering firms and offices. It was a jam-packed adventure. During our free time, I did a lot of exploring too. Wandering London at night is something I would definitely recommend, riding the Tube during rush hour, not so much.
Aside from this, on our free weekends a group of us did a lot of travelling on our own. I visited the smaller English towns of Hastings and Rye, as well as Edinburgh, Scotland, and Dublin and Howth, Ireland. These cities were absolutely incredible experiences, and so pretty. I loved how the sounds of bagpipes filled the Scottish air everywhere we went, and how friendly the people of Ireland are. As soon as we pulled out a map, we were never five seconds before someone asked if we needed help. The scenic hikes up Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat, and the Irish cliffs were simply picture perfect too.
This entire experience is something I will never forget. From the medieval castle, to the field studies, from running and exploring the calming grounds in the forest, to hanging out with friends at the castle’s infamous pub “The Headless Drummer”, absolutely everything was unique and incredible. I miss it already, and I’ve only been back in Canada for a week. 
I truly want to thank Seymour and the entire Schulich Foundation, as this amazing experience would not have been remotely possible without your support, as well as Alfred and Isabel Bader for their generous contribution to Queen’s University, giving students like myself this once in a life time opportunity. Now back at home, here’s to working for the rest of the summer!