Sunday, December 13, 2009

I’m sitting in the lounge at King’s Cross St. Pancras, right down the road from my dorm. Since it’s another hour until my train leaves, I guess technically I could go back to my dorm and sleep for about a half hour until my train actually leaves, but I don’t want to risk falling into so deep a sleep that I don’t even remember getting up to turn off my alarm, like what happened this morning.

I had an eleven pound ticket for the 6:37 train into York, so my alarm was set for 5. I was so tired, I don’t even remember getting up, but apparently I did, because when I went to sleep my phone (which I use for an alarm) was on my desk and when I woke up at 9:00 I found it under my back on the bed.

It’s OK though. Instead of paying 83 pounds to travel anytime, I paid 35 pounds at the station for the 11:27 train. (Note to future travelers: it is cheaper to book in advance. So much cheaper.) So now I’m waiting in the lounge with about forty other people, most of them as old as my grandparents, some twenty-something backpackers, and several middle-aged couples. I have a medium latte and a bacon and cheese croissant to keep me company (it’s amazing all the things they can find to do with a croissant), plus all the essays that I have to finish before next Friday, so I’m all set for the next hour.

For once it’s sunny outside. It’s so sunny that there are hardly any clouds in the sky, and those that are out are white and fluffy, friendly-looking clouds that promise they won’t rain on anybody’s parade. For the past few weeks there’s been a cloud cover so thick I was beginning to think the sun was a myth that didn’t really exist. “Sun? What sun? You mean that big yellow thing in the sky? Nah, that’s one of those things that died out, like an extinct species.” Luckily for me, and 8 million other Londoners, I was wrong. The sun is still here! And it’s shining! I think that’s what’s stopping me from being too upset. Just knowing that it’s going to be a beautiful ride to York is comforting.

A note on traveling: when you go to a foreign country, you tend to look for little interesting things that are distinctly “British,” or distinctly Portuguese, so that you can compare the differences between the States and elsewhere. When I come back home, I think I might be looking for the little interesting things that make the United States different from everywhere else. Things like signs for the bathroom, the way people dress, how friendly people are, what’s available for breakfast, how people address each other, little stuff like that.

People can find the strangest places to sleep. If it doesn’t move and there’s a blanket (or even if there isn’t one), they’ll sleep there. I guess we’re very adaptable creatures. On the way to the station this morning I passed someone sleeping outside my building. I can’t tell you if it was a male or female, or how old the person was, because he (or she) was wrapped up so completely in a thick-looking sleeping bag. I can’t even imagine how cold they must have been; I walked out the door wearing a long-sleeved shirt, a sweater, and a jacket, and here was this person sleeping under the stars under only a sleeping bag. And I thought it was too cold just leaving the windows open a crack! Here in the lounge, a man is folded in half on top of one of the knee-high black tables available for probably that purpose. As industrial as these chairs look, I have to say they’re some of the most comfortable I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting in. They’re rounded and the backs of them lean back slightly, with the armrests sloping downward. There are no cushions (those would probably be too difficult to clean) so the chairs are just make of a light gray plastic.

Yesterday I finally got to a museum on Euston Road called the Wellcome Collection. Apparently a scientist (named Wellcome) left a lot of money to some other people and they started a museum with it. I was only able to stay there for an hour, but I’m definitely going back. Their special exhibit until January is one on identity that features 8 different rooms describing different people and what they have to do with people defining who they are in this big wide world. People included Fiona Shaw (better known as Petunia Dursley in the Harry Potter films), a set of twins, born three years apart due to IVF, one of the forerunners of identification in the Victorian era, Samuel Pepys, and others. The thing I love about museums is that, at least for this one, they can take tiny little parts of our lives and piece them together like a puzzle to create a coherent message. They can also open up our minds and consciousness to something we hadn’t known before. For instance, in the room about Fiona Shaw, demonstrating the identities of actors and actresses, there was a film playing of her reciting T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” that was aired on the BBC in the 1990s. It made me want to see the rest of the show, since she really brought it to life, and made it that much easier to understand, like a Shakespeare play that’s easier to understand once you see it as opposed to reading it.

Another of the rooms was one about diaries. There was a giant collection of people’s diaries, from people like Samuel Pepys and Samuel Taylor Coleridge to your average Tom Dick or Harry that lived in the 1920s. It was a little disturbing, to be honest. Diaries are meant to be private, something the exhibit makes clear to mention, so why are we reading them now? Then again, blogs are just public diaries. You've got to be careful what goes into blogs, though, because you never know who could be reading them....dun dun dun!!!

My work for the next two days includes finishing a writing portfolio and writing three 2,000-word essays, so I'm off to go try to do as much work as I can tonight so I have the rest of the week to do what I please.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

St. Paul's Cathedral and Thanksgiving

Every now and then, whenever I get bored or sick of my room, I take my own individualized walking tour of London. Why is it individualized? There's no one leading me, no one telling me anything about the buildings I'm passing. I think it's one of the better ways to find out about the city I've been living in for the past two months.

Tonight's walking tour took me past St. Paul's Cathedral. To pass it up close like that, I can only describe it in two words: awe-inspiring. Ok, maybe that's one word, with the hyphen. In any case, I don't care if you're Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Atheist, Agnostic, Church of England, Lutheran, whatever, the sheer size and grandeur of the building is one of the most amazing things I've seen since I've been here. It actually made me feel really, really small. Then I remembered that events had taken place there that I had only seen on TV. Lady Di's funeral comes to mind first, and other than that there have been the funerals and weddings of other members of the British Royal Family. I can only imagine what it would be like to say your wedding vows in a place like St. Paul's.

Walking past the Cathedral made me very excited for Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving Day, the American Embassy is hosting a ceremony in St. Paul's for any Americans in London, that a lot of my fellow study abroad classmates are attending, myself included.

Thanksgiving Day might be an emotional one. Yes, I still have to go to class on that day - my professors won't give me a break just because I'm a silly American. After class is Choir practice until 9 pm. No turkey dinner, no family gathered around the table just barely tolerating each other's company (just kidding, I love my family, and our dinners only get better with age). I will definitely be setting up a video chat with my brother through his laptop, so I can see everyone and say hi to them. I haven't missed my family too much, but I'm pretty sure I might cry next Thursday. This will be my first Thanksgiving away from home, and a month from now, I'll be spending my first Christmas away from home while I'm in Germany. I'll be staying with a family friend so it won't be too lonely, but I'm still a little anxious about it.

Let's see, what else is there to write about...
Well, I finally sent out postcards to my friends and family! Some of them were written over a month ago. I do what I can, when I can.

On Monday, I took some time to myself and visited the National Portrait Gallery. It was by far the best museum I have been to yet, and I only left because they were closing up. I'm mainly interested in the contemporary photography, so I only stayed in that wing for the hour and a half that I was there, and completely lost track of time. The exhibit I enjoyed the most displayed the winners of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, although I found it somewhat amusing that the judges of the competition were all in the same social and racial class and had judged the work of a multitude of artists. After that I went to an exhibition about the model Twiggy, celebrating her 60th birthday. I have to admit I'm confused about why this woman is so popular; she's huge in Britain, but not so much in America, so maybe that's it.

Until next time...cheers!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Language in London

Obviously one of the most appealing things about studying in London was the lack of a language barrier.

Or so I thought.

It's been a month now (which in itself is hard to believe), and I think I've mostly gotten used to the accents. When I first arrived, I was so used to hearing American accents that every announcement in the airport and on the tube seemed to be exciting and new and a sign that I was in a thrilling new place. Now, though, anyone with an English accent is normal, and whenever I speak, my accent seems harsh and out of place.

But it wasn't so easy at first. Not everyone has a Cockney accent, but they do speak pretty fast, and if you're not paying attention it can be hard to get used to. By now, though, I'm ending my own conversations with "Cheers!" One thing I haven't been able to adjust to is replacing "hello" with "alright?" What's the answer to that? I still haven't figured it out; it feels awkward to say "hi" back instead of, "yeah, you?" As they say, it's the little things that get you.

I'm so sorry I haven't been able to update as much as I'd like! I'm not good with the whole blog thing...if I were to do this right, you'd have pictures, videos, and more up by now, but as it is I've put almost all of my pictures up on Facebook, and the way I see it, I'll experience London now and write about it later.

Not to worry though! Hopefully I'll put more entries up, even if they're just short little ones like this. It's better than nothing!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Aaaaaaand David Beckham!

I'm not a huge sports fan. I played softball for ten years when I was in elementary and middle school, and moved on to volleyball in high school, but I couldn't tell you much about the Ravens or the Redskins - watching sports has just never been that entertaining to me.

But put David Beckham on a soccer pitch, and everything changes.

Those chiseled cheekbones, the six-pack that the Armani ads display......OK, before I get too distracted, let's explain: on October 14, England played Belarus in a World Cup qualifying match at Wembley Stadium. I was lucky enough to attend, with some fellow study abroad students from Japan and America, for the low price of £29 - roughly $48 American.

Kickoff was at 8:30, so my friend Yuko and I left our dorm at 5:30. As we walked through King's Cross with several people dressed for the game walking beside us, businessmen and women in suits were pouring out of the station after their workday finished. We got onto the platform to catch the Metropolitan Line train towards Uxbridge - although as it turned out, all Metropolitan Line trains were stopping at Wembley. We waited through one train for the second one to come along, since the first was too crowded. When we finally got to the Wembley tube stop, we met up with Serena, a fellow study abroad student from California. After we picked up our tickets we went into the Stadium Shop. It was the same kind of thing you would find in an American stadium: ridiculously priced items with team logos printed on them and a thirty-minute queue for the cashier. I got a bumper sticker for my family's car and an England flag, for under £5.

As we made our way to our seats, we passed the concession stands - where they were not serving alcohol. Apparently this is a fairly recent development, as there were signs everywhere apologizing for the inconvenience. Looking at the prices of the food, I decided to pass. It was stadium pricing, but it was ridiculous nonetheless. One hot dog would cost you £6 - about $10.

We got to our seats, which were almost at the top of the stadium. As it got nearer to kickoff, the stands started filling up quickly, and during the game it was reported that 79,000 people had attended. When the game finally did start, everyone around us leaned forward in their seat anxiously. When the ball was in play, there were moments of almost complete silence as the spectator’s eyes never left the pitch. The first goal was scored by England within 10 minutes, and after that it was England’s game and the crowd relaxed a slightly.

Then, after more than 70 minutes of the game had passed…David Beckham came onto the field. The crowd went crazy. The screams of the fans seemed to be mostly feminine, but there was definitely some cheering for the player from men in the audience as well. My friend Serena got some beautiful pictures of Beckham warming up to go in.

He didn’t do much, but he jetted around as quick as a shot on the field. He was easily the most agile player. At the end of the match, it was announced that he had been named “Man of the Match” – a fact that got made fun of in the papers the next day. One headline even claimed it was like “Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize after eight months in office.”

More updates coming soon! Future topics will include:

  • Travelling within the UK
  • Going to the cinema
  • Food

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The First Week of Class - Finished!

My first week of classes is over! They went pretty smoothly. I wasn't late to any of them, and I like all of my professors. Let's go down the list, shall we?

Creative Writing - Looooove it! I have a 500-word assignment due Tuesday, and I have no idea what I'm going to write about. We have to describe an event that happens in less than one day, so I'm thinking of describing the fall that sprained both of my ankles, but I'm just not feeling it. I'd like to do something that has more emotion, less action. We'll see how it goes, though. My professor is American; I didn't ask where she's from. Her name is Carolyn Hart, and she's written some novels.

Making of Britain - This is a very large class with a very diverse group of people. The professor has a very soothing voice; I almost fell asleep during the first class. His accent is very cultured British.

Nineteenth Century Fiction - My professor for this one is really nice. We're reading Sense and Sensibility now, and after that will be Great Expectations and She, by Rider Haggard. I was a little intimidated to take the class at first, but the way the professor lectures makes me really excited to read the novels, and I'm trying to look at them in a different light. I think I've been too intimidated to read Jane Austen in the past, which is why I could never get myself to do it. That, and I confused her and Jane Eyre for the longest time.

Studying Broadcast Media - This was the class I was most nervous about, since it's an Intermediate level, which means most people in the class are in their second year, although it doesn't make sense that I would be nervous, as a junior. Anyway it's turned out to be the easiest so far. It's pretty straightforward stuff; today we went over the definition of "Broadcasting" and what Media Studies actually is.

There's a lot of reading for all of my classes, but I think it's manageable. I've only had to buy the three books for Nineteenth Century Fiction, a book called "Seeing Things" by John Ellis for Broadcast Media, and Supplemental Reading Packs for three of the classes, which were about 5 GBP each. A good semester as far as textbooks go. (For that reason alone, I love being an English major.)

Today after my class I went grocery shopping (I've been eating healthy over here - a small Ben & Jerry's is about $7, totally not worth it) and bought some eggs, nuts, frozen dinners, and fruit. I walked back to Nido from Chapel Market and decided that it was so nice out, I wanted to go to a park. My roommate, Holly, and Meghan and Cait, two girls I've become friends with, came with me, and we went to Kensington Gardens and took tons of pictures. I saw Royal Albert Hall, the Albert Memorial (which is gorgeous and incredibly detailed), and the Flower Walk. We went out to dinner at a pub near the park, and I had fish and chips for the first time since I've been here.

The differences between America and England have been small but noticeable. Maybe it's just because I'm living in the city, but everyone dresses up to go out; you never ever see anyone in sweats and a tshirt, unless they're on a football team or something. People are very polite over here; there's lots of "please and thank you, thank you so much, I really appreciate it," and people actually really do seem to appreciate niceness.

Busy day tomorrow! I've already got plenty of homework, and we'll finally be visiting Big Ben! Cheers!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Academic Exhaustion

Phew! After going over Blackboard and saving everything that needs to be printed tomorrow to a flash drive, I'm actually terribly exhausted! There has to be an easier way to organize my schoolwork. Unfortunately, I haven't found it yet. But when I do, you'll be the first to know, I promise.

Studying is the last thing I want to do over here. I'd much rather explore my current city. I'm positive that I could find something to do every day without having to do any schoolwork. My conscience would probably get in the way eventually if I were to skip my classes in order to go sightseeing...darn that moral compass.

Today I had my class in Nineteenth Century Fiction. So far I like all of my professors, and this one was no exception. She asked me a question, and when I didn't know the answer, she said, "Don't you hate when we do that? We ask you for the answer and you're stuck there saying uuhhhmmm," and proceeded to answer the question for me. She wasn't mean about it, though.

Thankfully there hasn't been anything too difficult as far as final exams go in my classes. I'll have to push to finish on time, since most students will have an extra 3 weeks to complete their assignments. That leaves all my attention on Europe when I am done, though, which will be good.

I have several articles/posts that I have yet to publish on here, and they'll go up in due time. (Due time hopefully meaning SOON!) Until then, I think it's time for a well-deserved TFLN break. Cheers!