Hello Rochestefarians! I’m writing to you from England on my semester abroad to report on life across the pond. For my study abroad program, I decided to go to Bath, a relatively small city in the south/southwest of England, roughly 90 minutes from London. The only thing I knew about Bath before I came here was that UR ran a really good study abroad program for English majors here and that the city was beautiful. As an English major and a fan of all things beautiful, Bath sounded good on both accounts, so I signed up!
When I got here, it was just as beautiful as I’d imagined, but everything was older. Which makes sense, because this is far from a young city, especially when you compare it to old buildings in America. The history of Bath goes way back, and this is what I’ve gathered about its development thus far:
Bath is formed over a natural fissure in the earth’s plates, and there are hot springs of water rushing out of the Earth through these fissures. Bath’s history goes back to 808 BC, when the first civilization was founded here on the hot springs for their healing purposes.
Later, around the year 1 AD, the Romans conquered present-day Britain and built dams and elaborate pools to capture the hot water flowing from the ground, which had never been done before, and the Roman Baths were created. The Romans used the water for healing, prayer, sacrifices and socializing. It became a “posh” Roman getaway until the decline of the empire in the late fourth century.
When England and the rest of Europe slipped into the Dark Ages, Bath suffered. Everyone, even English peasants down the road and nomadic passersby, forgot about the significance of the Roman Baths. Some of the baths were still in use, but they were anything but refined. People would bathe in them naked, throw sewage in them, wash their animals in them and openly have sex in them. Not pretty.
Some people used the baths for healing purposes, but this was a last resort for most. For anyone who has heard the phrase “Get ye to Bath!” it refers to this last-ditch effort to cure the incurably sick and simply to get sick people out of other cities. The warm water of the baths did help some people, but those who weren’t cured by the baths were virtually useless to society since they were sick and became destitute beggars and paupers in the city. The city was uncivilized and downright sickly.
Don’t worry, the city I’m studying in is not the same as this Dark-Ages Bath. In the 17th century, some chaps stumbled upon the original Roman pipework from some of the baths that had been perfectly preserved under layers of dirt, garbage and debris. Then, the rebuilding began. The entire city underwent a beautification process and an architectural boom in the Roman architectural throwback of columns, promenades and parks. The city has retained this style up to this very day, and Bath prides itself on its Roman/Palladian style and the preservation of its old buildings.
And I have to say, first hand, their efforts paid off. Accustomed to the UR campus, I’m definitely used to seeing buildings that are beautiful and old by U.S. standards. Spoiled by such a nice campus, it’s saying a lot that Bath wasn’t a disappointment. The only thing that surprised me, again, was how old these beautiful buildings were.
For example, the house I’m staying in was built in 1720, 56 years before the American Declaration of Independence was signed! I regularly pass by trees that are “only” 300 years old, and tea rooms that were created in 1404. It makes you feel small and insignificant but in the best way possible.
Walking around, the city is so well laid-out, completely walkable in a few hours, and there’s a photo-op at every corner. It’s nearly impossible to take a bad picture here.
The city still retains its roots, and there is one working hot-spring spa in Bath today, Thermae Spa, which I fully plan on taking a dip in for a mere 22 pounds, or roughly 44 U.S. dollars. Apparently your skin feels like silk when you get out, and it’s well worth the experience
I guess I should explain the study abroad program that brought me here in the first place. The program is called Advanced Studies in England, which is small and intimate, yet very intense at the same time. I’m doing more work than you’d expect from a study abroad program. To be honest, the classes are actually on par or more difficult than those at UR. Classes meet once a week for two hours, which means there is a lot of outside work. Our professors all have amazing credentials, and many are from Oxford, so they expect a lot of preparation for their classes.
The biggest difference in my classes is the size and amount of attention paid to individual students, for better or worse. My average class size is eight people, so participation is mandatory, and actually about 25 percent of my grade in all four classes I’m taking. It’s really great to be that close with our professors, but also requires that you do all the work or learn to BS really well. It’s hard to hide behind someone in class when we sit at a round table. It’s intimidating but personal at the same time: a bit like spending some quality time with your old and hardened grandpa.
But when it comes down to it, the classes are just a part of the entire experience of living in England. I’m studying Irish History, British Children’s Literature – including “Harry Potter” – Architecture of Georgian Bath and Shakespeare in Performance. There’s a lot of reading, but doing the work gives me a better sense of where I am and the culture here. And Europe is less stressful than America, for sure!
A few interesting facts: It is said that Bath was the first English city to be built solely for the purpose of pleasure. It is also said that Bath still holds this pleasure-seeking feel, and as one very cute bartender put it, “Bath is the ‘West Coast’ of England,” known for its laid-back attitude and pleasure-seeking vibe.
Anyone want to come visit?
Ryan is a member of the class of 2009.