Kelsey Ryan '14 with part of a cow jaw bone at the excavation site in Binchester.
Kelsey Ryan ’14 Excavates Roman Ruins at Fulbright UK Summer Institute
As an English and linguistics major, Kelsey Ryan ’14 is most engaged when she is digging into the personal or historical tales of great literature or uncovering the whys and hows of different languages. But this summer, as part of the Fulbright UK Summer Institute, she learned to mine for stories in a different way.
Ryan was one of six American undergraduates installed at St. John’s College at Durham University on the prestigious cultural immersion program, and she spent her days as part of a larger team that was excavating Binchester, a nearby site of an old Roman fort. “I’ve been obsessed with stories all my life,” she says. “And that’s just what archaeology is—giving voice to the people who have come before, and attempting to interpret the pieces of the past these people have left us.”
As part of the in-progress field school at Binchester, Ryan worked in the trenches for five weeks this past June and July. She uncovered small finds and learned to survey and record her discoveries, all while exerting herself by lifting 40-pound buckets of rocks and braving the exceptionally wet British summer. “I found a coin [on] the second to last day on site, and I found several cow and sheep jawbones while on the dig,” says Ryan. “But more than anything else, I learned how to get muddy!”
In addition to her work on the site, Ryan and the other program participants traveled in the English countryside and up to Scotland. She tried haggis for the first time, visited sites where the Harry Potter films were shot—an exciting treat for the longtime fan—and hiked five miles of Hadrian’s Wall, a World Heritage Site that was formerly a Roman fortification in North England.
It was an experience for which the Wilmore, Kentucky, native is grateful. Ryan had long dreamed of exploring the world, but aside from a mission trip to Belize the summer after she graduated from high school, she had never had the opportunity to travel. But the Fulbright Institute, a program of the US-UK Fulbright Commission, was designed to offer summer cultural programs at leading institutions in the UK to American undergraduates who are underrepresented in study-abroad programs and who would not otherwise have the opportunity to travel abroad. The Commission covers the majority of participant costs, including round-trip airfare, tuition and fees at the host university, accommodations and meals.
“Just making it to the interviewing step [of the Institute’s application] was tremendously exciting for me, because I knew how much a program like this would mean to my family, and how many qualified students I was up against,” says Ryan. “And being accepted? That felt pretty unbelievable, too!”
Ryan was so enriched by her experience in England, in fact, that she is heading back to Europe after she returns to campus for Customs Week as part of the Honor Code Orienteer Committee. “Now that I’ve tested myself, I can say that I know that travel will be in my future,” she says. “And I plan on exploring that further by studying abroad in Belgium [during the upcoming fall] semester!”