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Tuesday October 4th

'A life changing experience:' Students abroad live through death of the queen

Queen Elizabeth II meets U.S. football players before a Maryland-North Carolina game in College Park, Maryland, during a visit to the United States on Oct. 21, 1957.
Photo Courtesy of International News Photos/AFP/Getty Images/TNS.
Buy Photos Queen Elizabeth II meets U.S. football players before a Maryland-North Carolina game in College Park, Maryland, during a visit to the United States on Oct. 21, 1957. Photo Courtesy of International News Photos/AFP/Getty Images/TNS.

UNC student Madi Marks was excited to attend her first musical concert while studying abroad in London when she heard the news about the queen’s death.

Queen Elizabeth II passed away on Sept. 8 at the age of 96. The death of Britain's longest reigning monarch marks a significant moment in England’s history — one several UNC students are experiencing during their time studying abroad. 

“We were literally just about to head out the door, and one of my flatmates checked her phone and was like, 'the queen has died.' And we were like, 'what do we do?'” Marks said.

Marks and junior Brady Leger are among UNC students who are currently studying in London as part of Honors Carolina's Burch Field Research Seminar focusing on musical perspectives. 

The queen’s death occurred mere days after they arrived in London on Sept. 2, leaving students reeling with not only the stressors of being in an unfamiliar country, but also being in its capital during such a tumultuous time. 

That afternoon, the students rushed to Buckingham Palace, where Leger said thousands of individuals were packed shoulder to shoulder.

Gina Difino, the director of UNC's global education and fellowships, said that administratively, nothing has substantially changed about the program.

“Classes had the option of being rescheduled, but the faculty and the students both preferred to — at least for the day of the funeral — continue to convene, as it's very challenging to reschedule some of our classes,” she said.  

For students studying abroad, though, the cultural experience was one like no other. 

“I think it could draw (the students) closer and engage them in processes that they may not otherwise have taken the time to learn or understand independently,” Difino said. “So it really could draw the students closer to the people of the U.K., being able to engage in something that is quite emotional or quite historic.”

Along with the emotional and cultural experience, students have undergone an immersive learning opportunity through watching history happen first-hand. 

“We've learned a lot about how her life impacted the city itself and everyday citizens just by the conglomeration of people outside of Buckingham Palace that night after she died and the following three days after,” Leger said. “There’s still thousands and thousands of people.” 

Marks said she noticed a notable shift in the city environment and London's current look because of the queen's death. She said many storefronts have curated memorials with the queen's picture and other memorabilia to commemorate her life and reign. 

Not only did London change visually, but there was an atmospheric change as well. 

Marks said she and others in her program stocked up on groceries and essentials before the inevitable influx of people into London. There was a “rumbling” feeling in the air that prompted them to prepare, she said.

Despite the country's mourning and adjustment, Leger said his experience in London has been immensely valuable.

“I think I'll look back on my time being here, way later in my future, and just be amazed that I was able to see all this,” he said. “I'm trying to retain as much as I can from these moments that I'm here.”

Being in London during such a historical event is something Marks said she will also remember forever.

“This was going to be a life changing experience anyway,” Marks said. “But the fact that something so significant happened the short few weeks that I am here, it's just an unbelievable situation to go through and something that's going to be a significant part of my life, for the rest of it.”

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