There and Back Again: Writing Home from Oxford

By: Kristen Bertsch

I think that stories are the most important things we can collect in our lifetime. The more I explore my life, the more I am convinced that the joy and wisdom of life come through the accumulation of stories. Stories are how we learn about ourselves, others, and the world around us. I’ve said so before. That’s kind of the thesis of my own little blog, which I maintain during my travels . I use this blog to collect my own stories, my own as well as those I pick up in my adventures.

This time my adventures are taking me through Oxford. I’ll be here for three months, studying writing and linguistics (anticipate a future post about language and the formation of meaning). My last adventure took me through six countries in three months, and I spent no more than four days at a time in one place. This adventure is very different. I’ll be existing here for a little while. And that means it’s time to start writing home.Oxford Phtoo Kristen

I mean many things when I say “writing home.” First off, I mean that I will be writing letters to those I left behind in the States–my loved ones who together create “home” for me. As privileged and honored as I am to be taking this opportunity, it comes at the price of a temporary loss of home. To alleviate that loss, I spend my days writing. I write here, in my journal, in my letters, professionally, and academically. It’s what I do and I love to do it. It keeps me connected to my home, reminds me of what I will return to in three months time.

But the writing I do also serves the secondary but equally important purpose of creating a new sense of home where I am now. This is where I talk about storytelling. Narratives are the stories we tell to inform ourselves and others about the reality. The words I write are my narratives, and they inform the reality I am fashioning for myself here. To call Oxford “home,” I have to be a part of Oxford. I have to have stories that put me here and make this place and these people important. I am writing myself a role in the story of this new world with all the people I meet, the places I go, and all the beautiful things I see. Then I will be part of their story, and they will be part of mine. When I write home, I am writing myself “into home.”

This first week has been a gracious adjustment period. Despite having assimilated once before, I am still surprised by my own quickness to goof up here. Last year, in my first week of travel, I severely burned myself cooking, resulting in a trip to the local hospital (the scars are quite charming). This week I have only shattered a glass diffuser, committed two traffic violations, and insulted the tea staff by taking a cup too early. I do think I’m writing myself as a bit of a nuisance. But every home has one. I hope that by the end of the week I will have written myself into waterproof shoes.

To all of those who receive my letters and who read my blog, you are playing a vital role in the confirmation of my home here. Thank you for reading, and please write back.


Kristin Bertsch (’17) is a junior English/Writing major at Whitworth, pursuing a future in graduate school and a career in travel writing. Kristin studied abroad last year in Britain and Ireland and will study English at Oxford University during spring of 2016. In addition to her studies and contributions to the English Department blog, Kristin works as research assistant to English Professor Dr. Pam Parker and as archiving assistant to Library Director and Art Professor Dr. Amanda Clark. Kristin is an active supporter of local art and theater and a frequenter of Spokane Poetry Slam.

Majors Abroad: Ana Quiring (’14) Blogs About Life in London


EL major Ana Quiring is studying literature and writing at Whitworth University. (Ana is pictured above on Warwick Avenue, the “real-life home,” she explains, “of my long-time fictional characters and imaginary friends.” In the photo below, she befriends the Peter Pan statue in Hyde Park.)

Ana is exceedingly fond of coffee shops, sitcom marathons, and anything to do with Virginia Woolf. This January she is traveling in London with Emily Anderson, a once-Whitworthian who has since transfered. They are busy getting lost and enjoying scones, sometimes simultaneously.

Read about Ana’s adventures on her blog.


Majors Abroad: Lindsay Pund (’13) Finds Inspiration In Mejia Godoy’s Nicaraguan Folk Music


Lindsay Pund (second row, third from left) is from San Jose, CA but a Northwesterner at heart. She is currently studying at the Costa Rica Center and developing a dangerous affinity for empanadas and plantains. If you’d like to hear more about her and her compañeros’ adventures in Costa Rica, check out her blog.

A few weeks ago, those of us at Whitworth’s Costa Rica Center took a short break from organized classes and headed north to Nicaragua. It was nine days full of bus rides, continual complain-worthy heat and humidity, large bugs, and rice and beans for every meal. It was also nine days full of bus ride music videos, mud facemasks, thought-provoking conversations, and nightly Love Does story time.
We had the opportunity to visit many sites over the course of the nine days, and enough was experienced in our short voyage to Nicaragua to last for a long time. One of the most significant parts of the experience for me personally was our time with Carlos Mejia Godoy (second row, third from right, in the top photo.) Our group had the opportunity to chat with him before his show.
Mejia Godoy is a Nicaraguan musician who became associated with the Sandinista movement fromm writing songs about the workers and revolutionaries. He is also is known for composing a Mass for the working class, the Misa Campesina Nicaragüense.
There were a few aspects of our talk with him that stood out to me. Being rather new to the Spanish language, I struggled throughout the week to understand the Nicaraguan accent. However, as we sat and listened to Mejia Godoy, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy he was to understand because of the way he enunciated everything he said.
Another moment that caught my attention was when the Nicaraguans in our group asked questions of Mejia Godoy. One guy was so delighted and excited to be speaking to Mejia Godoy that it looked like he was going to jump right up and hug him before finishing the question. In hindsight, I think the most impactful part of being with this artist was witnessing his passion for his country and for music. After we finished talking with Mejia Godoy, we took a picture, said our thank-yous, and headed out to the concert. As he performed, his passion for his country and his music filled the room, and by the end of the two hours I was a complete convert to his music.
            As a directionless senior, I found the trip to Nicaragua, and specifically the Mejia Godoy concert, inspiring. It was a needed reminder of the importance of having a passion in life. I believe part of the reason Mejia Godoy and his music are staples to Nicaraguan culture is because he has passion for what he does and he infuses that passion into others when his music is played. If you ask me, I’d say that is a pretty cool legacy

Majors Abroad: Emily Grant (’13) Shares Notes on Nicaragua

Whitworth English Majors

Emily Grant (’13) is 21 years old and from East Wenatchee, Washington.  She is currently studying at the Costa Rica Center, trying to learn Spanish (as an excuse to travel all over Central and South America) and graduate in a timely manner.

Emily recently wrote this creative nonfiction piece after the CRC group’s week in Nicaragua (photo below by fellow CRC student Danny Parker, ’15.)

Whitworth English Blog

Standing at the border is a man waiting to rip you off.  Don’t worry yourself too much about it. It’s going to happen whether you know the exchange rate or not.  And you expected this, so you only handed him a large chunk of your money – but not all of it.  To make matters worse, it’s hot.  It’s too hot.  You want to complain about how hot it is, about how you’ve been ripped off, about how much you hate busses, and Customs lines, and being a tourist, but it’s too hot to complain.  So you just roll up your pants a little more, tuck your meager $12 of Nicaraguan currency into your pocket, and keep going.

You won’t spend your money the first day.  Maybe not even the second or third.  Not that there’s nothing to buy, but you’re not ready to get ripped off again.  Once per vacation is enough of that.  Instead, you walk around in your sweaty clothes, looking at museums and prisons, trying not to pass out in the heat.  There are so many interesting things to see and do!  you think to yourself.  … if only I could do all these things, and not be so hot.

You will hear about the FSLN.  You will hear the name Daniel Ortega, but only about a tenth of as often as you hear about Sandino.  You will speak to a man who was in both of the wars; he will tell you the truth about it, and you may feel as if you are witnessing a profound moment, or you may not.  You will see culture, architecture, a dump.  You will play with children who live in the dump, and talk to girls who could have wound up working there.  You will buy a beer and listen to a man who might just believe Jesus lives in the dump, too.

Finally, before you go, you will spend your money.  You will not get ripped off.  In fact, most of the vendors will cut you a deal, because they feel sorry for your inability to barter.  You will pack your new trinkets with your smelly clothes and get ready to say good-bye.

And you won’t realize it until you’re home, until everyone asks you, “¿Cómo le fue?”  that all you want to do is go back.

Creative Writing Sampler: Shane Polley (’12) Shares “The Courage of the Rain”

Shane Polley (’12) was born at a young age, close to his mother. He is an English/Spanish double major who enjoys watermelon, science fiction, and the steeplechase. He spent last January in Valencia, Spain, studying la lengua de amor amidst la grandeza de España. He spends most of his time asleep in bed when he is not reading, writing, running cross country and track, playing the drums, at church or working with junior highers. His room is a mess, but he seeks to find an area of controlled chaos that he can channel into some semblance of something sweet. All that is to say, Shane enjoys life and looks forward to what it may bring.

The Courage of the Rain


Picture it. Two twenty-one year old American males

awash on the streets of Spain, umbrellaless,

as rivers course from cloud to earth,

washing the world in wetness.

Foreign words on foreign signs

bring to their minds no hint of dry escape,

so they run.

Soaked slip-on shoes on cobblestones;

each footfall propels them onward,

toward something,

defiance of the rain.

Do you know the feeling of seeping shoes,

jeans soaked through they stick like spandex,

and windbreakers that only serve to keep the water in?

Like a public swimming pool in their clothes,

the only difference: no life guard on duty,

no one to keep them from

washing away

as they float, running toward direction.

In Valor they find hope, not in courage or bravery, but

in chocolate.

Amidst the slosh and slop they find a doorway,

opening on a two-tiered land of chocolate,

a dream, a haven of drip dry.

Thick cups of chocolate sit before them,

surrounded by Valor’s brand of churros,

golden brown and greasy, a doughy stick compliment

to the liquid of the cup.

They eat and drink,

dipping the bread in the chocolate,

a sort of intinction,

bringing together the watery world

with the warmth of courage’s name

in thanks for a way out of weather and

into a tasty discovery.

The rain continues to fall,

but those in Valor are

warm, content, and tolerably dry.

They find solace in the soluble as chocolate and churro

melt in mouth, a reminder that,

in each rain,

courage comes through chocolate.

Majors Abroad: Andrea Idso Puts the Zeal in New Zealand

Andrea Idso (that’s “eyed-so”), ’12, hails from “The Claw” and is a double major in English and Communication Studies. Last year, she studied in Palmerston North, New Zealand with her traveling buddy Oliver (pictured on shoulder). You can read about her adventures in Kiwiland at She is very excited to experience summer for the first time since 2010.

Andrea submitted the photos below: Franz Josef Glacier, Cathedral Cove (think second Narnia movie), and a secret hot springs she and her friends found after solving a riddle in a guidebook. Perfection.

Whitworth English Blog: Did you pick New Zealand or did New Zealand pick you?
Andrea Idso: I’d actually had my heart set on Scandinavia. If you’ve talked to me for 10 minutes you know about my love for Norway, but ISEP didn’t offer a program there. So I began looking at Sweden, thinking I could hop over to visit my Norwegian cousins over Christmas, but the Swedish school didn’t have the classes I needed. Because of my connections in Norway, I decided I’d make the effort to go back another time, so I began looking elsewhere.

Being quintessentially American (that is, monolingual), I wanted to attend a school where English would be spoken. I’d spent a couple of days in New Zealand in 2007 but that trip got cut short. During my brief time there, though, I fell in love with the beauty of the country and found the people to be friendly. When I saw ISEP had a school there, it quickly rose to the top of my choices. I wanted a more in-depth, less touristy experience of the country.

WEB: What was the biggest surprise about living there?
AI: I couldn’t go a day without running into an American or some sort of American media. It made me realize just how pervasive our culture is. Although it seemed to bother me more than the Kiwis, I was a little embarrassed that America throws its TV shows, film, music, and news onto other countries when they already have a unique, fascinating culture of their own.

WEB:  What was the greatest challenge?
AI: Initially, I’d say the greatest challenge was training myself not to see cultural differences through an ethnocentric lens – learning to think, “That’s different” instead of, “That’s weird.” I made an effort to adopt the colloquialisms and the differences in spelling and grammar; to try the food; and to get to know more about their history. The result was outstanding. If you spend enough time in another culture (and even nine months felt too short), your definition of normalcy changes. Instead of simply thinking of myself as an American tourist who spent time in New Zealand, I feel like I’ve got a foot in both countries.

WEB:  How has this study abroad experience affected your writing?
AI: When I returned I had to retrain myself to stop writing “favourite” and “uni” and “flatting” (though I still write like that when talking to my Kiwi friends on Facebook).

WEB:What advice would you give to students who are considering studying abroad?

AI: 1)    Now is the time! I’m serious. Do it now before you’re settled down with a career/family/other “adult” responsibilities. You’ll probably come back poor, but it will still be worth it.

2)    Go for as long as you can. I went for nine months (and definitely felt the equivalent of buyer’s remorse on the flight over – “Why did I choose to come for so long?!”), and now all those months feel like an extended dream. Unless you absolutely can’t make it work, go for two semesters. One is not enough.

3)    Make friends with the locals. There’s nothing wrong with making friends with the other internationals, but it’s incredibly easy to get sucked into that group and not branch out. Strike up a conversation with at least one local student in each of your classes. They also make the best travel buddies because they know where to go and what tourist traps to avoid. They also tend to own cars/camping equipment/other things you can save money by borrowing (shout out to Suzie!).

4)    On that note, take every opportunity you can to travel. At my school, and many others, it was easy to create schedule with three-day weekends. Our mid-semester breaks were two weeks long. These times were ideal for traveling, and even though you’ll probably learn a great deal in class, your traveling experiences are what you will remember.

Majors Abroad: Katie Palmer’s Postcard From Milan

Katie Palmer, second from left, is a junior English major from Snohomish, WA. She spent a month in London on a Jan-term trip and is now studying in Milan for four months. Learn more about her adventures abroad at
Katie provided these photos of the Duomo (“perfect example of Gothic architecture,” she writes) and of a fashion show she attended during Milan’s fashion week.
Hello dear Whitworth English department!
I have been studying in Milan, Italy for three months now and I have fully come to understand why the “Eat” portion of Eat, Pray, Love took place in Italy. It’s pasta, pizza, and gelato every day, and somehow it never gets old. Aside from eating, I’ve been traveling a lot. So far I’ve touched down in London, Paris, Berlin, and Venice, and have an upcoming trip to Stockholm in the works.
English-wise, I’m taking a class on Dante and Machiavelli which is interesting, but oh so easy compared to Whitworth English classes. I’m missing the challenge of Whitworth. But then again, I have gelato.
I hope all is well in Westminster!
See you this fall,
Katie Palmer