|Rachel Noelle Sammons|
(C) Feyi Fagade
Saturday, 3 October 2015
Why come to Norwich, England, to study creative writing?
Rachel Noelle Sammons is from Chicago, USA, and here she describes why she decided to make the move:
‘The sensible choice was to move to England and study creative writing at the University of East Anglia. I could focus on my passion whereas my top American universities offered English only as a degree with a marginal concentration on creative writing. At UEA, I could also sidestep the American liberal arts education which would have obligated me to take classes in science, maths, history, and even gym. UEA was cheaper and a year shorter. It only made sense to leave America for it. Unfortunately, my chances of going to UEA were slim. In America, the universities and colleges (university without postgraduate options) need responses to their offers by April, much earlier than UEA. I didn’t think I would be accepted to UEA because of its prestigious standards so I settled on my choices in America. I said yes to Houghton College.
Houghton College is a cosy campus on the site of a former Caneadea Indian Reservation. It’s currently in Amish Country. My mother and I drove there from Buffalo, New York, on a gravel road, for three hours straight, occasionally pulling over to let a horse and buggy pass. The town is named after the college and it boasts a Subway but nothing else. I was charmed. I loved the seclusion. I marvelled at the thickly-forested hills and the students’ stories of bear sightings. It was also a Christian college which meant the majority of my fellow classmates would be sheltered, churched kids like me, maybe even home-schooled. There would be no drinking parties, no sexual misadventures, and no drugs because no one would choose Houghton if they were interested in those things. It did not matter that the English Department was lacklustre. This was a safe haven, an isolated bubble of piety. We would be obligated to attend Chapel three times a week. My mother liked that a lot.
I accepted Houghton’s offer, reviewed my timetable at a summer orientation, and got in contact with my future roommate. At the end of May, I graduated high school and began to prepare for the Houghton life. July rolled around and I received an email from UEA accepting me into their Creative Writing course. My dad was stoked. Within a week, we left for an impromptu flight to England.
My first taste of Norwich was the Prince of Wales Road. As my father and I searched for our hotel, we passed an array of bars and clubs which somehow looked shadier than the ones in Chicago. Once we gave Norwich a proper tour, England’s casual drinking culture became clear to us by the number of pubs we stumbled across. My first impression of UEA involved the fact that there was a pub on campus. I had no disapproval of alcohol consumption. I just hadn’t expected its constant presence.
However, I was reminded of all the reasons that made UEA so desirable in the beginning. Its course respected creative writing as a serious discipline. I would be surrounded by passionate creative writers, while at Houghton I had yet to meet another student like me. My dad said to me, ‘You gotta be crazy to not go here.’
Despite how sensible it was to choose UEA, I was still bent on going to Houghton. I came back to America torn between two radically different futures. It didn’t matter that Norwich was the UNESCO City of Literature. I just didn’t have the confidence to bear the secular world. In addition to that, I didn’t have the confidence to bear immersion in a culture beyond my home country.
Pushing aside my parents’ opinions, I considered what I was looking for in the university experience. I realised that I wanted an adventure. I wanted a series of unpredictable events that would fuel my creative writing. But I knew that an adventure wasn’t an adventure unless you’re a little bit scared. I cancelled my enrolment in Houghton and accepted UEA’s offer.
It was the best decision I could ever make. I underestimated Norwich’s literary culture and it was thrilling to discover it through poetry readings and literature festivals. My spirituality grew strong in its isolation and it motivated me to pursue my own, personal faith. I relaxed in a culture that accepted me as an adult, one in which I can drink and ultimately make my own decisions. Most of all, I became part of a community of writers. It has been an encouraging, liberating, and challenging place to be – just the right kind of adventure.’
Rachel Noelle Sammons is from Chicago, USA and is entering her third year at UEA with the hope of staying in England. She’s self-published a young-adult novel called 'Toni' and its sequel, 'Illusions for a Thief' on Amazon. She has interned at the Writers' Centre Norwich, volunteered for monthly live literature events, and assisted in creative writing workshops with young students. Lately, she finds herself writing about characters who struggle with their faith as well as what happens when the secular world collides with the Christian world.