Monday, August 21, 2006

Return to England

In many ways, I am the classic "man without a country." More precisely, I'm a "man with three countries. I was born in Germany, the son of an American GI and an English singer and actress. Each of my parents gave me an abiding love and appreciation of their homeland and I took it upon myself to learn the language and customs of Germany.

But next week, I return to the Mother Country. Or at least the country of my mother.

I leave Aug. 28 for a four-month stay in the United Kingdom, where I will teach in the London Program sponsored by the University of Missouri. A consortium of Missouri colleges under the banner of International Enrichment takes a large group of students to London each semester. The Missouri School of Journalism sends the largest group, along with a professor to give the students a class that is credited toward their journalism degree.

It's my turn to be that professor. Tough duty.

We teach at Imperial College, right next to Royal Albert Hall. Cecile and I will stay at the Vincent House, a residential hotel in Notting Hill. I teach one night class a week, help with a second class and chaperone the students on a Wednesday field trip. I also oversee the internships that each student will have.

My course will give the students a comparison of British and U.S. journalism. I plan to draw upon my personal experiences to give them a flavor of England.

It wasn't until I sat down to write this that I realized how extensive those experiences are. This will be my seventh trip to England. (Click here to see a collection of my travel photos) Sometime after my birth in 1951, Mom took me to visit my Nan, Pop and relatives at their workingclass London flat. Mom, brother Mark and I spent most of the summer of 1963 at that flat, discovering in depth our family ties.

I returned with my bride in the bicentenial year of 1976. Cecile and I spend nearly a month touring England in a white Mini borrowed from Uncle Harry. That tiny car took us on some of the most memorable adventures of my life -- and further cemented a love that has grown for three decades.

In 1990, we returned with the family we decided to have just after our 1976 trip. Gillian was a pretty and imaginative middle-schooler. Garrett was a rambunctious tyke. We had not quite realized how cold and blustery England would be in December, but the Christmas holiday was the time we had available. It was cold but wonderful. We heard the choirs at the London cathedrals and celebrated both Christmas and Boxing Day with family in Cornwall.

By 2001, my family had endured my mood swings and self-induced poverty as I earned my doctorate at the University of Oregon. We felt that Garrett had been cheated from the family trips he should have enjoyed in high school, so Cecile and I took him to England. The itinerary was up to him, so he chose a hunt for castles. We drove through northern England and Wales looking at a fantasy land of old stone and mortar.

Cecile and I returned -- albeit briefly -- in 2005. We had gone to Ireland for a summer holiday with Gillian. She and Will were living in Dublin where he worked as an architect. While we were there, the family in England organized a reunion and party to mark the 85th birthday of Uncle Harry. Harry Gibbings is the spirit of our family -- a jovial and quirky former BBC cameraman. He has treated me as a son since that 1963 trip.

My life is full of memories, pictures and phrases from England. Now I get to add more. I also get to spend four months as a childless husband with my lovely wife. I look forward not only to rediscovering Britain, but reveling in the romance of a couple as we did in 1976.

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