STOKE-ON-TRENT, ENGLAND — Cameron Jackson had to leave Oklahoma before he could call it home.
Jackson, 23, a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Edmond Santa Fe High School, said he didn’t really connect with his hometown of Edmond — or his family for that matter — until he left Oklahoma and traveled across the ocean to study in England.
High school wasn’t easy for Jackson. It wasn’t that he didn’t care for his family. He did. But the tension and separation that many young adults have as they leave high school and enter college had become unmanageable. Jackson said he didn’t really understand his mother and stepfather.
And his mother and stepfather, Jackson said, really didn’t understand him.
“We weren’t real connected,” he said. “There was a lot of distance.”
After finishing high school, Jackson moved to Stillwater to attend Oklahoma State University. He studied history and was, he says, an ‘okay’ student.
“You could say I wasted lots of time and didn’t always focus,” he said.
Still, he stayed in school and earned a degree in history. It was at that point that Jackson’s life changed dramatically — London called.
“I found myself wanting to travel and study abroad,” he said.
The lure of the United Kingdom and the desire to study British history haunted him. So much so, that within a few months he reengineered the plan for his life and decided to seek his Master’s degree at Keele University, just outside of Stoke-on-Kent.
At first, the logistics were difficult: housing, a student visa, enrollment and, above all, money. For a while, Jackson subscribed to the myth that going to school overseas would be ridiculously expensive.
He was wrong.
PAYING THE BILLS
“Mostly it came down to the fact that graduate school in America is obscenely expensive,” he said. “I figured if I’m going to spend that type of money, I want to go study what I’ve been dreaming about. I wanted to go study history in England.”
Jackson applied for his passport and then began to raise funds for college overseas. Between his summer job, a little help from his family and student loans he eventually gathered enough money to pay for his first year abroad.
It was at that point he bought plane tickets.
He was surprised, however, when he discovered that studying in England was actually cheaper than getting his Master’s degree in Texas.
“After I looked at the numbers it wasn’t going to cost me as much to go to Keele as it was to go to Baylor,” he said.
Jackson isn’t the only American student who studied in England. Studying in the United Kingdom, it seems, continues to be popular. Data shows the UK continues to draw students from many countries including China, Japan and the United States. According to a 2017 study by the UK Council for International Student Affairs, more than 442,000 students from other countries are pursuing a higher education in the United Kington. Of that figure about 18,000 of those students are from the United States.
For Jackson, the decision to go to England to study was easy. But making the transition from Oklahoma culture to British culture presented more a challenge, he said, especially when it came to food. British food, Jackson said, can only be described as strange.
“It’s bland. It’s strange and it’s really starchy,” he said.
Jackson said it also took him a while to go from burgers and fries to toad-in-a-hole and bangers and mash. It also forced him to learn the difference between breakfast, lunch, dinner and the always-British idea of tea time.
“Tea time is actually the biggest meal of the day,” he said. “That’s when things get serious. I mean, I know some people who have four meals a day, but the big meal is at tea time.”
Food aside, Jackson said he learned to embrace the British people and to love their sarcastic nature. He also immersed himself in British history, particularly the Renaissance.
“British history is history,” he said. “There’s nothing like it.”
He’s also learned a lesson he didn’t expect.
Being so far away from home taught Jackson how to reconnect with his family. That bond, which he says is now much stronger, has helped make him a better student and heal many of the wounds of his past.
“My family and I have become much closer since I moved to the UK,” he said. “I think it took me leaving Oklahoma to understand what I had. Everyone changed and it was for the better.”
With just a few months — and 22,000 words — to go before he completes his dissertation Jackson is already focused on a second Master’s and looking at a career in politics — British politics. And though he misses his home, he said he plans to stay in the UK for several more years, working in the political arena.
The British exit from the European Union and the turmoil over the latest UK elections could present unique opportunities for an American boy with a solid understanding of British history and culture.
“It’s fascinating,” he said. “There are similarities to the politics of the United States but the differences are pronounced and huge.”
His understanding of British history and politics helps, he said. Plus, there’s that view as an outsider.
“I think it would be fascinating to work for a member of Parliament,” he said. “Right now the issues are profound and the decisions made will have long term effects on everyone. It’s the perfect time for a political career.”
And for Jackson, it’s also a good opportunity to reconnect with his friends and his family.
“If funny, nothing in my life has ever been easy,” he said. “But doing this. Going away, I figured out how to come back. The distance brought me closer to my family and my friends. I’ve learned things I didn’t expect.”
And that trip to England gave him a better understanding of his home in Oklahoma.