My summer was spent at our home in Bath, one of England’s most beautiful cities. Travel from Belgium to England by car in June was no picnic! But having navigated the veritable barriers to travel (pre-travel tests, copious paperwork, Day 1, Day 5 and Day 8 tests, daily phone calls from the very patient people at the test and trace call centre…), I eventually escaped the quarantine confines of our house and could enjoy the delights of the world heritage city. We even made it to Wimbledon on women’s semi-finals day although that did involve another swathe of testing and paperwork.
Bath during the summer months is usually thronging with tourists. It is the time when residents often lie low! This year, the city seemed just as busy as ever, but with a significant difference – not a single group of language students, bus tour groups or international families – they had had all been replaced by Brits on Staycation. Throughout the entire summer, my Belgian left-hand drive car was a novelty and a source of wonder; in over a month, I did not see a single non-UK numberplate in Bath. Even taking my garden clippings to the recycling centre provoked conversations. Never before have I felt so exotic!
And of course, the staycation phenomenon has played out around the world this year, bringing many people closer to their local history and appreciating beautiful locations and landscapes on their doorstep. But in spite of this silver lining to the enforced travel ban, we still yearn for the ability to travel. And rightly so; we lose so much by limiting ourselves to our locality. Culturally and inter-culturally, we need that interaction of nationalities to promote understanding and firmly counter the onset of any island mentality. Language-learning is also key and I will be returning from multi-lingual Belgium with even greater respect for our European neighbours and their thirst to learn languages – monolingualism is simply not good enough. As a linguist myself, I want to instil a love of language learning and a desire to reach out to other human beings by speaking their language. Let’s hope that we will soon be able to enjoy again that easy and natural interaction with our near neighbours. Let’s hope that by next year, systems will be in place to enable safe and easier international travel. We look forward to seeing the international tourists and summer language school students return to our heritage cities. We look forward to restoring those connections and once again expanding our horizons.