The world was her classroom

Brittney Harrison has the distinction of being the only person I know who has spent a night on the Great Wall of China.

I met her at a function at Samford University, where she has pursued communications studies.  A few minutes examining the display of her photojournalism project told me there was something more to this girl than met the eye, even before I knew anything about her adventures in the Orient.  So I invited her to the club and was pleased when she dropped in one night to have dinner with Carrie and me.

“I fell in love with photography because it offers you the ability to tell a story without having to write a story,” she said as we waited for our entrees.

“I’d love to see some of your work sometime,” Carrie said.

“I have a few I can show you here,” Brittney replied, producing and tapping on her phone.  The first image that appeared was an impressive view of the 13,000-plus-mile-long wall often said to be the only man-made object visible from space. (It isn’t – that would actually be my neighbor’s house at the holidays.)

“I made this while I was there to spend the night on it,” she told us.

Photo copyright Brittney L. Harrison

“Wait a minute,” Carrie said.  “You actually slept on the Great Wall of China?”

“It was incredible.  We stopped at Hong Kong, went to Beijing, and then to the Wall, which is completely in the middle of nowhere.”

Brittney made the excursion while spending a Semester At Sea through the University of Virginia.  Leaving Halifax, Nova Scotia, her ship made port in such exotic locales as Morocco, Mauritius, India, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, and Hawaii before docking in San Diego.  Besides leaping off the world’s tallest commercial bungee tower in Macau, she names her night on the Wall as a highlight of the circumnavigatory cruise.

“That had to be a transcendent experience,” I ventured.

Brittney nodded as she sipped hot tea.  “It was freezing, about 12 degrees, but I’d do it again in a minute.  I remember waking up and seeing all the sleeping bags around me and thinking, ‘I’m watching the sun come up on the Great Wall of China.’  It was surreal.”

“Where was this taken?” Carrie asked as Brittney scrolled to the next photo, a portrait of a group of young girls.

Photo copyright Brittney L. Harrison

“Singapore.  It sounds silly, but I like to collect sand or dirt from places I’ve been.  When we were in Singapore, I went to the beach, and while I was there I met a group of 12 or 13 girls.  They told me all about their life and school, and they wanted to know about America and New York.  It was a great experience.  I enjoyed being with them.”

“You’re originally from New York, aren’t you?” I asked.

Brittney, a cross-country skier in high school who ran track and cross-country for two years at Samford, nodded again.  “Upstate. Queensbury.  It’s a gorgeous place, very peaceful and quiet.  I loved growing up there.”

“It must have been quite different for you when you came to Alabama for college,” Carrie said.

“I wasn’t expecting culture shock at all.  Obviously, the Southern twang is a given, and how polite everyone is.  Not that they aren’t where I’m from, but it’s definitely more apparent down here.  It’s been a welcoming atmosphere for a little Yankee like myself.”

Photo copyright Brittney L. Harrison

“Now, that’s an interesting photo,” I said as she moved to the next image.

“Isn’t it?  I made this one when we stopped in India.  We approached a group of huts, and this very, very old woman signaled us to come into one of them.  She wanted to show us her cookware.  She was so proud of her pots and pans.  They were old and dented, but they were her prized possessions.  It was touching how she was so proud of something we’d say was unusable.”

“On a related subject,” I asked, “what was the most unusual food you ate on your travels?”

Brittney started to answer just as Currie appeared with our meals.

“That’s going to have to wait.  I don’t want to talk about it while I’m eating, and you don’t want to hear about it,” she said with a knowing smile.


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4 Responses to The world was her classroom

  1. Fascinating!! What a great interview. My Dad has been to The Great Wall, but I haven’t – I’d love to go.

    On another note, I didn’t know we were neighbors.

    (But if we’re not, my husband is going to totally want to come visit your neighbor to see what he has to do to up his game next year.)

    • Buddy Roberts says:

      Thank you, Rachel. Your husband will really have to bring it if he hopes to outdo my neighbor. I would give you directions, but you should be able to find his place without them.

  2. I had the pleasure of meeting Brittney at one of the ALSocMe events earlier this year. She was a lot of fun to talk to, and as a Samford alum, I loved getting to meet her! Great profile. 🙂

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