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Killing Zombies in England and Other Ways to Get Acquainted With Your Host Family

by Marcus Kahn, Greenheart Travel Homestay Participant in England

My day in Oxford, England started off alone, jet-lagged, and hungry. After a spotty nights sleep I woke at an early 6:30 a.m. I hung around fiddling with the hostel’s DVD player, talking with an Australian traveler named Bernice, and thankfully, and around 7:15, eating breakfast. At a quarter to eight I left to explore the town with my valuables strapped to my back, and a pair of Gabe’s sunglasses blocking the morning glare.

Radcliffe Camera courtesy of wikipedia

I saw some magnificent colleges, and the Radcliffe Camera which simply blew my mind. At about 10:00 I stopped in at a cafe and read a little while sipping on piping, hot coffee. I’ve just crossed that bold tick in the timeline of one’s life where bitter coffee becomes a warm friend on a cold morning. Anyways, at the cafe I met a nice New Yorker. At one point I asked “Do you go to the college?” She helpfully responded in the classic New York manner: “Not to sound like an asshole but we call it the University since there are more than 30 different colleges.” I suppose it answered my question.

After I left the coffee shop I went to the nearby Office of Admissions where a disarmingly helpful young woman in her early twenties explained the admissions process as well as the nature of History and History/English majors at Oxford. But it was nearing 11:00 and I had to check out of the hostel. With the help of a pretty French receptionist I made it in and out of there in 10 minutes, meeting a merry Finnish guy along the way. I trudged with my overlarge backpack to the station, and boarded the 11:37 to Didcot Parkway.

At Didcot, three girls came and sat down next to me. As it turns out one was Austrian and two of them were from Arizona. A strange group I’ll admit, but the Austrian girl explained that their parents knew each other from work, and that her dad was teaching at Princeton, which impressed me. As I rode the train closer and closer to Stroud my heart rate crescendoed. I silently pumped my fist every couple of minutes because of some meandering stream, ancient church, or grassy hill. The train pulled up slowly to the Stroud station and I nervously scanned the small number of people for Cindy, my “mum for a month.”

At first things were a bit stiff as they always are when recently introduced people know they have a scheduled amount of time together. But when we got back to their very nice house in Ebley we sat on the back porchy-patio thing and familiarized easily. After I unpacked and made myself a PB&J we went to pick up Adam and Jack from school. I brought the basketball with because I was jonesin’ to shoot some hoops and we went to the park and played for an hour and a half. A couple of Adam’s (the 11-year-old) friends hung around. One of the girls who he insultingly calls “Doris” has a sort of Helga Pitacki-Arnold relationship with him. Adam and Jack were impressed by my playing, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t bring out the good stuff. They taught me a game similar to knockout then I showed them how to play H.O.R.S.E. Though I must admit it’s a lot less gratifying to own an eight and 11-year-old than it is to own your 6’2 best friend in a game.

Cotswold Cottages courtesy of worldwalks.com

When we returned home they showed me their XBox 360 with Call of Duty World at War on it. When you’re sitting in a kid’s dream room, with a picturesque view of the Cotswolds and a freshly baked contingent of Nazi zombies to kill, you know you are as far away from “roughing it” as it gets. I found a pretty nice keyboard in their closet, and pulled out most of the songs from my shamefully limited repertoire. Eight-year-old Jack promptly showed me up with a perfectly played tune. It turned out to be one of the keyboard’s pre-recorded songs but apparently it gets everyone so I don’t feel too bad about getting mentally walloped my someone nine years younger than me. About two minutes after that Rob came upstairs. He’s a hilarious guy who specializes in victim-based humor. He chatted for a while chided for a little while longer, then warmly praised his son’s drum playing. Rob’s best bud John came over for dinner. He’s a pretty quiet guy but I liked him. There were a lot of questions about America of course. I ended up talking so much that when everyone else was pushing their plates away from their full stomachs I was hardly halfway finished with my meal.

About Greenheart Travel

CCI Greenheart Travel is personally invested in providing cultural immersion programs that change lives, advance careers and create leaders. We achieve this by partnering with organizations and governments overseas that empower their local communities through experiential learning and practical development. We provide others with the same positive travel experiences in which we ourselves engage. Through travel and cultural exchange, we help individuals reach their full potential, leading to a more tolerant, peaceful and environmentally sustainable world.

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