Nell Whittaker

My name is Nell Whittaker, and I am 19 years old. I spent the first 16 years of my life at my home in Shropshire, England, a country of 63 million people and just under half as many sheep.

I live on one of the oldest organic farms in the United Kingdom. It is called Pimhill, and we farm using nearly all of the same methods that were used back in 1949.

We have 250 black and white Friesian cows, and we also mill oats and wheat. My house is old, even by English standards, having been built in 1584 by Richard Lea, and my family has lived there for four generations.

My hometown is called Shrewsbury. It was founded in ca. 800 AD and so is considered a historic market town. It has had its fair share of history, having been a Royalist base in the English Civil War in 1467 and educating Charles Darwin in the early 1800s.

Now, its timber-framed 500-year-old buildings sit comfortably alongside the coffee shops and stores of the 21st century.

And when settlers left Britain to come to the New World, a man named Gen. John Murdoch left Shrewsbury and settled on a farm in Missouri — this became the suburb of St. Louis called Shrewsbury which exists today.

My 17th and 18th years were spent at school in Hampshire, which is a southern county an hour from central London. Because it took six or seven hours on our unreliable trains to get home from school, I boarded there in the term time.

This meant that I would spend six weeks at school at a stretch before coming home for holidays. It might seem strange to live away from home while still quite young, but spending all my time with my friends wasn’t too difficult for me to handle.

Before I graduated from school, I decided that I would take a gap year, which is an optional year out between school and university.

I have always been a reader and it was Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, Kerouac and other strange men who led me astray and to America.

It is probably difficult for an American to understand the influence it has on the rest of the world’s various cultures — from Ukrainian schoolgirls dressing as Cher in the movie “Clueless” to African men wearing Red Sox sweaters — but it is telling that it made me travel 4,240 miles across the sea in an attempt to see and understand this sprawling and fascinating country for myself.

I am interning at The Missourian for two weeks before heading to St. Louis to work at the St. Louis American. Then it is on to New York for two months before getting in the car and doing some exploring of my own.

In October, I will go to Cambridge University to study English literature. I hope that thanks to this trip I will have some real writing — and living — experience under my belt.