It’s not every day that you get to live in a castle. But for 16 lucky students from America, this historic fortress will be their home for the next three months.
The pupils, from St Cloud State University, in Minnesota, arrived in the country on Friday – ironically the same day as the inauguration of controversial United States President Donald Trump.
The castle has been used as a branch campus for the university since the early 1980s, as an integral part of the students’ International Study Programme, helping the pupils sample different cultures and customs, while also helping their education.
To enrich their experience, the programme usually includes field-trips, allowing the youngsters to visit historical sites, areas of natural beauty and some great British cities.
And after arriving in the town last week, the current crop of students – comprising Honours and first-year pupils – can’t wait to get started and they are planning on making the most of their time in Alnwick, before their course concludes in late April.
They may have only been in the town for less than a week, but the students say that they already feel at home in a community which is incredibly welcoming and they are relishing the chance of experiencing a different way of life. They are also in awe of staying in Alnwick Castle.
It’s this experience which often sees the pupils building life-long friends in the town and making return visits to Alnwick after the course ends, with some even coming back across The Pond to live and work.
An example of this is university staff member Wade Sherman.
He did his stint as a St Cloud student in Alnwick two decades ago, and now he is an integral part of town life, having held the title of the programme’s resident director at the castle for numerous years.
Looking ahead to the next three months, he said: “We are always grateful to be welcomed to Alnwick and the students always integrate themselves into the community and we will be down for the Shrovetide football game in February.
“During their time here, the students will study history, as well as contemporary Britain, and look at the philosophy and rhetoric of Harry Potter.”
Studying JK Rowling’s text in this way at Alnwick Castle is not only quirky, but also fitting, as the castle starred as Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter movies.
“Looking at the philosophy of Harry Potter just so happens to be part of the course, but it is a really nice link that the students study it during their time at the castle,” adds Wade.
Despite the long-established link between Alnwick and Minnesota, Wade admits that staff do not rest on their laurels and keep working to modify and improve the programme.
He said: “We are working hard to revamp the course offerings here. We have got a unique facility, but it is also important to get the courses right.”
While Wade and the students are focussing on their time in Alnwick, they are all aware that the eyes of the world are focussed on developments back in their homeland, as Donald Trump begins life as the United States’ 45th President.
Inside Alnwick Castle, opinion is split among the St Cloud students, with some welcoming the election result, while others are not so keen.
But as one student tells us, only time will tell on what impact Trump will really make.
Here’s what some of them thought.
Miles Nelson, 19
What are your thoughts of Alnwick Castle: “It is incredible to be here. The place is so beautiful and it is incredible to be living in a castle.”
What are your thoughts on Alnwick: “It is such a close-knot community. Everyone has been really welcoming and it is a really enjoyable place to be.”
What do you want to get out of the trip: “Perspective. I wanted to get out of America and live and experience a different culture and I want to explore a lot. I really want to see York Minster, because it looks incredible.”
What’s your thought on Donald Trump becoming President: “It is probably a different result to what many people expected. For better or for worse, there will be change. I think we need to wait and give Trump a fair shot and see how the first few months of his presidency goes. I voted for him because he represents a lot of the values I share, in terms of the economy and migration and working to improve America as much as possible.”
Tessa Takash, 18
What’s your thought of Alnwick Castle: “It is pretty cool. It is surreal and it hasn’t sunk in yet.”
What’s your thoughts on Alnwick: “It is really cool. It is really quaint and idyllic. I like the community. Everybody has been really nice and speaking to us, saying ‘you’re the Americans’.”
What do you want to get out of the trip: “I want to experience more cultures. This trip helps us understand more about the world and different ways of life. I am looking forward to going to London and Edinburgh.”
What’s your thought on Donald Trump becoming President: “It is unfortunate that he was elected. He represents us as a country, but I don’t believe that most people in America hold the values that he does and I don’t believe he represents the citizens of our country. And I think it makes us look really bad to other countries who are looking at us. From what I understand, the election was about the lesser of two evils and people thought that he was the lesser of two evils. But I disagree and I voted for Hillary Clinton. I think Trump is pretty disrespectful towards women. I was surprised that he was a nominee, but on election day I had a feeling that he was going to win.”
Cole Marvel, 18
What are your thoughts of Alnwick Castle: “It is awesome, that is the best way I can describe it.”
What are your thoughts on Alnwick: “There are modern things here, but at the same time it is old fashioned.
“It is great to be here and everyone seems really nice.
“I am not a big fan of crossing the street, but beyond that, everything is fine, and I am definitely coming back here.”
What do you want to get out of the trip: “I want to see and visit the older buildings and places and look at all of the architecture.
“They definitely knew what they were doing when they were building things here, I mean the castle has stood for more than 700 years.”
What are your thoughts on Donald Trump becoming President of the USA: “I don’t know if he is really the big ticket item that everyone thinks he will be, however I think that he is a step in the right direction.
“He has already made changes that he promised to make and I like the idea that he wants to cut down on outsourcing and bringing jobs back to the American people.
“He represents the Republican Party, however I would say that he is actually our first independent President, and so therefore it will be interesting to see where that takes us.”
Wade Sherman, resident director
What’s your thought on Donald Trump becoming President: “If the UK can have Brexit, then the US can have Trump.
“I think things that concern me in both situations is how we are dealing with immigration, in particular we are very concerned about our students having the opportunity to come here and study.
“I think it is poignant that Theresa May is meeting with Donald Trump tomorrow.
“I hope that some of the messages she takes back aren’t just about the economy, but also about safe borders and free borders and some basic human rights.
“It is not just about business, although I recognise the importance of that.”