The author and her mother enjoying afternoon tea in London
“Now boarding Flight 86 to London Heathrow.”
At the sound of those magic words, I sprang from my seat and into my boarding position, a surge of excitement washing over me. I was on my way to my hands-down, absolute favorite city in the world. London!
(Even the fact that my flight had been delayed two hours didn’t faze me. I was that excited.)
A little over four years ago, I had made this journey for the first time. It was my junior year at Notre Dame, and I was headed to the British capital for a semester abroad. I’ve been back to London a few times since that spring semester in 2015, but boarding the plane this time, my mind flashed back to that first London voyage. A huge group of Notre Dame students sitting at Chicago O’Hare with our overstuffed Osprey backpacks, feeling excited but very nervous — unsure of what would welcome us at the other end of the eight-hour flight.
It is, perhaps, no coincidence that this voyage would call to mind that specific memory. This time, I was London-bound to visit my mom during her study abroad program.
Yes, that’s right. My mom, Debbie ’91, studied abroad in London this summer. She’s currently getting her master’s degree in leadership and higher education at Chapman University, and, as part of the program, she and her classmates took an international course through some of the UK’s top universities to learn about the higher-education system across the pond.
While at Notre Dame, my mom (and my dad, also Class of ’91) didn’t have the opportunity to study abroad. In fact, the first time either of my parents went to Europe was to visit me during my Notre Dame semester abroad. So, just like my mom booked a trip to see me in London, I decided to visit her.
Before I even got to London, my mom had been flooding our family group text with pictures of her seeing plays in the West End, eating at local pubs, day-tripping to Stonehenge and Bath, and saying “hello” to the queen outside Buckingham Palace. She texted us facts that she learned in class or picked up on a tour, and funny jokes her classmates — her “millennial friends,” as she calls them — had shared.
I couldn’t wait to join her.
My joining, though, did not warrant my mom skipping class. So, while she hit the books, I (very easily) entertained myself by hitting up all my favorite London spots from the semester I spent there. Once her school day ended, our Oyster cards were “topped-up” and ready to get us to exhibits at the National Gallery, shopping at Liberty London, afternoon tea at the Ritz, a stroll through Wimbledon. My mom had also never been to Paris, so in true study-abroad fashion we booked two seats on the Eurostar and “Chunneled” over for a day trip. (We both decided London is much more “us” than Paris.)
When we got back to London, my mom had one final assignment to write and submit for her program.
Debbie Meck-Loughran '91 (center) with her classmates or, as she calls them, "millennial friends"
“Come on,” she said, “I’ll treat you to a drink while I finish this.”
Together we sat in the lounge of our hotel — me with my French 75, my mom with her laptop — and it hit me just how cool this mother-daughter trip was.
My mom and I have both had the opportunity to study abroad, in the same place, within only a few years of each other. We got to discover and experience the same London, in the same context — though each in our own unique way. When I studied abroad, I’d eagerly text or call my mother all the time about my adventures: What my classmates and I did, saw or ate that day; the laughter we’d shared; what I learned. Four years later, she had the same glimmer in her eyes.
I realized then that my mom watched me learn my entire life. Elementary school, junior high, high school, college. Studying for tests, reading books, declaring a major, graduating from Notre Dame. My mom used to edit my papers; now she asks me to proofread hers. I studied abroad; now she is. Our relationship had flipped, and I was suddenly on the other side, watching my mother be the student.
Sitting there, I was reminded that we never truly stop learning. Whether an undergrad on a semester abroad, a 50-year-old completing a master’s degree or none of the above, we are forever students of the world. There’s always something new to learn — to experience, encounter, absorb — and something new to explore in every place we go. We’re all meant to be students. My mom and I, in our quarter-century-apart time at Notre Dame and our back-to-back terms abroad, just got to do so more similarly than most.
For my mom and me, London will forever represent a feeling of learning, about the world and, I think, about each other. Like daughter, like mother.
Kit Loughran is an account supervisor at Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago and a former intern at this magazine.