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 Passing the Torch

A Conversation With My Father About Studying Abroad

Notes from UMD's Study in England Programme

Erik Lund's dad, Phil Lund at the Eiffel Tower over winter break.
Erik at the London Tower Bridge

"There is no greater pleasure than you and I sharing this zeal for life. When we consider other viewpoints, we grow. When we discover our humble place amidst the phenomenal number of customs, cultures, and languages on earth, we become wiser. This passing of the torch occurs when a father and son have a mutual respect, and recognize that the world is way bigger than us. It is our knowing that I can trust you to carry on where I may leave off. It is a father knowing that a son can bear the burden: it is a lighting of the way for others who share the same worldly view. This worldly view places a great deal of responsibility on the torch bearers--they have to light the way."

Those are the words of my father. His name is Philip Lund, and he’s a 55-year-old architect who owns his own business. My name is Erik Lund, and I’m a 20-year-old student. He spent the fall of 1972 through the spring of 1973 studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. I’m currently spending the fall of 2007 through the spring of 2008 studying in Birmingham, England.

Thirty-five years passed between our ventures off into the unknown. While the times have changed, the European experience has not. These are our thoughts.

My father arrived in Copenhagen with no place to stay. They spent the entire day standing in the courtyard, confused, disoriented, luggage in hand. By the end of the day they were eventually given temporary living quarters for two weeks while their permanent ones were being prepared. His classrooms weren’t ready either. Some classes were held outside, and during those two weeks he and the other students were put to work cleaning out, and painting what would eventually be their classrooms.

Oddly enough, me and the other UMD students had a similar first experience. I vividly remember finally arriving in Birmingham after a long, tiring coach ride from the London airport. Our permanent flats weren’t ready either, we were going to spend the first week in temporary, and admittedly nicer accommodations. Our driver had to parallel park the massive coach between two tiny British cars out front the office where we’d be given our room keys. Horn blaring, and much ruckus later, the coach was settled in, and as I watched the startled expressions of others students walking by I thought, oh boy, we Americans sure know how to make an entrance.

To this day I still swear I was jet-lagged for a full two weeks. Everything seemed a bit surreal, I had no identifying markers, and everything, yes everything, felt new to me.

It was then, as it is now, a turbulent time in history when my father arrived in Denmark. The U.S. civil rights movement was in full swing, Martin Luther King Jr. had just been assassinated, as had Bobby Kennedy. The feminist movement was getting underway. As my dad put it, “social justice issues were at the forefront – and in the air. Europe sensed it too.”

I arrived five years in the occupation of Afghanistan, and four years into Iraq. I was told to be careful, tensions are high, the rest of the world is not too happy with the United States. I’ve found however, during my residence in England, and my brief excursions into mainland Europe, little ‘Anti-Americanism’ but plenty of ‘Anti-Government’, and ‘Anti-Bush’. Don’t worry, I assure people, seventy percent of us hate him just as much as you do.
The Vietnam War was still going on when my father arrived in Copenhagen. “Americans had to be sensitive to differing attitudes to them,” he said.

Fitting in with, and befriending a foreign country’s inhabitants is often seen as a point of anxiety for people embarking on a study abroad experience. Between our group of forty-four UMD students, we’ve made a good deal of European friends. I’ve got several close British friends, whom I hope to return to visit, and who hope to visit me in Minneapolis. I spend a lot of time at the “International Penthouse”, the self-titled flat across the courtyard from me, made up of a French, Swedish, Finnish, and two Austrian girls. Were I to visit a year or two down the road, they would welcome me to stay at any of their childhood homes.

My father had many Danish friends. He played on the intramural basketball team, which gave him a great opportunity to see other parts of Denmark. He described an average day to me. “I did a lot of walking, often times wearing my clogs so that I would "fit in" with the Danes. I enjoyed strolling by the shipyards with friends, and feeding the swans in the canals. I loved Danish parks, and the pastries and cheeses. The Danish beers were great...we saved such times for the weekends, but we travelled a lot.”

The UMD organized group trips all over England have been one of the greatest aspects of my year here. We spent the first weekend in The Lake District, tucked away in a cabin amongst the rolling green English pastures, with the innumerable sheep, the mossy forests, and a foggy pristine lake. We spent that first weekend, jet-lagged and confused, getting to know the people we’d be spending the rest of the year with. Some people knew a couple people, some one or two, some none at all. After the year has finished, most will be life-long friends.

Group trips were also a part of my father’s year. They took a ferry to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) Russia, and Helsinki, Finland. Still in the height of the Soviet Union, he described Leningrad as full of palaces, but all the common dwellings had only bare light bulbs. There were no neon signs, in fact little colour – everyone wore black. He saw the Royal Circus and the incredible Hermitage Museum. He brushed his teeth with Vodka, because they didn’t trust the water, and said he was always conscious that the secret police were watching him.

I spent five days by myself in Berlin. Even nearly two decades after the fall of the Berlin wall, the faint scent of a quite different, not-so-distant past seemed to linger in the air.

Comparing our experience over the phone is quite easy these days. In fact, its computer to computer, with near perfect reception – for free. In 1972, phone calls to the U.S. were very expensive my father informed me, and therefore were seldom made to his parents. He reminded me that there was no such thing as email, or cell phones. “The world felt like a very big place,” he described, “and I was extremely far from home. I made one phone call to Mom and Dad; it was at Christmas time and it felt like a very special occasion. It was a big deal, with lots of numbers, and delays, and bad reception.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it’s going to be like to return to Minnesota, to be torn violently out of the world I’ve built for myself here. I know the reverse culture shock is going to be harsh, and I might feel like I’m slipping backwards in my development.

Visiting me in December, my father returned to Europe for the first time since the mid-seventies. He’s lived comfortably in Boston, and moved to Minneapolis, shortly after my birth, and has spent the last twenty years there. He’s been the moral beacon in my life, the man I always know I can turn to for guidance. I wanted to know how that year in Denmark affected him, how its influenced the rest of his life. I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t forget the lessons I learned here.

This is what he told me.

"Right when I got back, I didn’t feel right. You’re going to go through a bit of shock, it’ll take a little while, but you’ll get over it.

"Did I learn how to watch my back in alleys? Yes. Did I learn how to bargain for things? Sure. You learn how to get by on less, less clothes, less food, less sleep. Those are skills you’ll use the rest of your life. I can still sleep on the floor, no problem. You become much more easy going, you get tougher, things roll off you easier.

"I use these skills every day. From talking to clients, to buying groceries.

"When you’re travelling you learn how to watch out for each other. You take turns sleeping on trains, and watching each others luggage – I’d call it gaining street smarts.

"You appreciate beauty, and different cultures, that is the ‘spice of life.’ If you’re not open to different cultures, creeds, religions, you’re losing out on a lot of what life has to offer.

"Studying fine arts I saw such beautiful things, such amazing architecture, cathedrals, artwork, music, when you see the finest that the world has to offer, your standards are raised. You become better at what you do, whatever that may be.

"In retrospect, the greatest thing that has come out of it has been my ability to accept people for who they are. You go through a lot of hardships, and therefore you’re able to accept the hardships that other people face. You become more socially conscious, you’re able to relate.

"It just opens your eyes, your spirit, to what the world is all about."

Talking to my father I got a preview of what the future holds for me. Suddenly we had one more level we could relate on, in nine short months I felt that much closer to the man that’s raised me the last twenty years.

I’m excited to return to Minnesota. Leaving England won’t be the end of one chapter of my life, it’ll simply spill over to subsequent chapters, many more doors are opening rather than closing. My dad, Philip Lund passed the torch on to me, and now I’ve got to do my part.

by Erik Lund, a UMD sophmore, political science and psychology major

1.) my feet, london underground
2.)amanda haack, hardians wall

Amanda Haack, Hadrian's Wall Erik's feet, london underground
Trent Waterman, playing guitar in the Birmingham City Centre

Mike Cason (foreground) and Dave Doyle (background) in London underground subway


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