Studying Abroad…for a Weekend

We all know that studying abroad, whether it be for a year, a semester, a summer, or even a holiday break, is one of the most quintessential college experiences. I’ve had friends depart for Denmark, Germany, Australia and the Galapagos, returning a few months later with tales abound of food, friends, new adventures and even a few souvenirs. I’m not trying to knock their decisions—studying abroad is a wonderful choice for many students. But what if you don’t want to commit to a full semester, or even a couple weeks? If only the US bordered another country, just a few hours north of the University of Rochester…I’m sure you see where this is going.

Every year the English department takes a three-day trip to the town of Stratford, Ontario (yes, as in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s famous hometown) for their annual theater festival. We see a Friday and Saturday evening performance, as well as Saturday and Sunday matinees. The whole group stays at the Queen’s Inn, a small hotel right in the heart of Stratford, and right down the road from all of the venues the shows play at. It’s an incredible bonding experience with my friends from the English department and beyond, as a well a great chance to see Broadway-caliber theater for cheap.

This year, I was privileged to see four incredible productions: The Merry Wives of Winsor, The Front Page, Billy Elliot the Musical, and Othello. Being an English major and an avid theater-goer, I’m always here for the Shakespeare plays, but no worries if Renaissance drama puts you to sleep! Other students elected to see The Crucible, Private Lives, The Neverending Story, or Little Shop of Horrors. In years previous I’ve also seen The Music Man, To Kill a Mockingbird, Julius Caesar, and The Tempest. The wide variety of genres ensures that there is a show for everyone. The sets, lighting, and direction is always top notch and beautiful, and the talent is just unbelievable.

With the extra time we have between shows, downtown Stratford beckons, and I am more than happy to indulge. First, there’s the Theatre Shops, an extension of the festival and filled to bursting with magnets, stickers, books, DVDs, home décor, and dozens of other tokens to appeal to every kind of theater-goer. Last year I picked up a glass with a quote from Julius Caeser, “Give me a bowl of wine, in this I bury all unkindness,” and this year I was gifted with an apron emblazed with, “Don’t you see now that I could have poisoned you a hundred times had I been able to live without you”—an excellent quote from Anthony & Cleopatra. You can also walk along Lake Victoria, stop and smell the flowers at Shakespeare garden, dip into one of the numerous café’s (Balzac’s is a particular favorite, and the where the photo above comes from), or grab a bite to eat at Bentley’s, a late night tavern with delicious apps and entrees.

On Sunday morning we have to check out at 11:00, leaving us with two to three hours of free time. But lucky for us, there’s a weekly Sunday farmers located just around the corner. It’s the perfect place to buy breakfast, pick out snacks, pet dogs, and sip a cup of coffee in the October sunshine (if you’re lucky). My particular favorites this year were corn cakes with guava jam and two delicious brigadeiros. If you’re lucky, maybe you can split a baguette with Steve Rozenski, one of my English professors, and our chaperone. He always provides us with dog spotting bingo (a square for a dog in a car, a square for a dog in an outfit, etc.), and more facts about medieval drama and Old English than I thought could fit into a single person’s brain.

This is also the second year in a row I’ve decided to road trip back up to see a show I missed out on the first time around. Last year I heard so many people raving about the production of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus that I, along with three of my friends, rented a car and planned a day trip up to see a matinee performance. This year, I combined a trip for debate with seeing the second-to-last performance of Gotthold Lessing’s Nathan the Wise. Both times, the extra trip has been more than worth it.

This is one of my favorite little international trips, since I’ve decided not to pursue a study abroad trip. It gives me a chance to spend a little time away from campus, hang out with friends, and see amazing shows! I’m already looking ahead to next year. Chicago and Spamalot are fulfilling the musical ticket, Much Ado About Nothing and Richard III representing Shakespeare, as well as three world premieres of new shows; Here’s What it Takes, Frankenstein Revived, and Hamlet 9-1-1. Which shows will I see with the U of R? Which will I have to see on my own? What friends of mine will be dragged into my schemes? Who can say. Only that I’ll be there for certain, and I hope I’ll see you on our trip in 2020.

Perhaps you’ll even get to see the antique store where I bought a chair that I then stored in our bus’s luggage compartment to take back to my dorm. But that’s a story for another time.

About the author

Madeleine Fordham

My name is Madeleine Fordham, I'm from Amherst, Massachusetts. Right now I am planning to double major in American Sign Language and theatre, with clusters in web design and British history. I also do every extracurricular activity I possibly can, including (but not limited to) ASL Club, Debate Union, TOOP, Todd Theatre, Campus Times, and Quidditch—go UR Thestrals!

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