Harry Potter: Maintaining Familiarity While Abroad

By Paul Smith

Visiting Student Blogger

I am from a small town in North Carolina and I’ve never lived in what I would call a “big city.” So this term, I’ve not only been studying in a different continent but I’ve been living a different style life. I was housed in a high-rise apartment complex and I walked to class in an environment which was much more unfamiliar than I expected. I was a little overwhelmed and while I wasn’t homesick exactly, I was definitely a stranger to this community.

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Luckily, I had made friends through an amazing Geology field trip at the beginning of the term, and a friend from my home university was also living in the same apartment complex, so I was far from alone. In the first week back from Arran I found myself in a living room with my friend and a small crowd of French students, all getting to know each other and talking about the common ground we shared. When one of my soon-to-be friends admitted he had never seen the last two Harry Potter movies, it was all over. Ten minutes later we piled on a couple of couches and were watching “The Philosopher’s Stone,” with the promise to watch all of them by the time Christmas came around.

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I’m not the most die-hard of HP fans, but it was still a story I loved growing up with. I was so comforted to re-experience something from my childhood after doing so many new things, and watching it with new people made me appreciate it even more. As weeks went by I began to realise this structure of a weekly movie with new friends, a movie we were all familiar with despite not initially being familiar with each other, provided for us a common thread across the whole term and a good sense of progression through the term (since the math worked out to have us finish right in time to leave). After Reading Week, I ended up delving deep into Harry Potter culture, largely by accident. My friend and I both started listening to a Harry Potter podcast, and after sharing it with my geology mates, several of them joined in as well. There was “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”, which, of course, we took a trip to go see together. The Quiz Society happened to put on a Harry Potter Pub quiz, so with one Irish, two American, and two French students, we entered. To our surprise, at least one of us knew answers to most of the questions and we took home a win.

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Having something so familiar to be an overarching theme for my semester at TCD was comforting and a form of emotional support while I was far from home in a new place. I made friends and connected friends to each other through this universe for which we all shared a fondness. Now looking back at my semester I think of all of the amazing non-Potter experiences I had: The Arran trip, a traditional Thanksgiving meal with people who had never had Thanksgiving, visiting Howth and Greystones, and dozens more. And everything is remembered with the structure of something familiar, so it isn’t only seen as exciting, but warm and almost familial. Harry Potter has let me feel grounded through my time here and made every new and exciting experience even more so.

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