Tuesday, 31 January 2012

A Common Language

“The British and the Americans are two countries separated by a common language.”
-G.B. Shaw

Before leaving America, I told my close friends and family I was studying abroad in England. Their responses varied, but one observation was always the same: “At least they speak English.”
I’ve lived in England for almost a month now, and from my interaction with Brits I’ve met on trains, in Pound Land (the British equivalent of Dollar Tree), and in hostels, I’ve learned that speaking English isn’t necessarily a similarity. With the variations in slang terminology, there’s American English and British English— and the two are spoken, written, and hold very separate meanings.
Most Americans know a few British slang terms, mostly from watching British television or reading British books. There were, however, a few that surprised me. Here are some common American words beside their British equivalent.
Crossing Guard: Lollipop man                         Bathroom/Restroom: Toilet
French Fries: Chips                                           Cross Walk: Zebra Crossing
Bobby Pins: Kirby Grips                                   Trunk (of a car): Boot
Flashlight: Torch                                               Cookie: Biscuit
Shrimp: Prawn                                                  Eraser: Rubber
Check (the box): Tick (the box)                       Potato Chips: Crisps
Tough: Hard                                                     Elevator: Lift
Cigarette: Fag                                                  Cashier: Teller
Pants/Jeans: Trousers                                     Underwear: Knickers

You don’t realize the significance of these differences until you’re in a situation that makes it noticeable. For example, one of my first days living at Harlaxton, the five floors and endless hallways of the manor felt like mazes. One afternoon, I asked the security guard at the reception desk where the closest restroom was—and, to my surprise, he stared at me in confusion. Only when a friend beside me clarified and said, “She means the toilet,” did he nod in understanding, and point us in the right direction.
Despite our diversities, I’ve learned that there’s one thing that can cross all slang and dialect barriers: laughter. My first weekend in England, the majority of my classmates and I went to London on a school trip and stayed for the weekend. That Saturday, my friends and I went to Portobello Market—an antique, Indie flea market— and there were so many people there, we had to use the street as a sidewalk. Portobello Market is, at the moment, my favorite place in London. It’s thriving with fresh food, interesting booths, beautiful goods, and so much culture.

That Saturday, the market began to close around 5 PM (which would be 17:00 PM in England) and one of the vendors began shouting, “Jewelry! Antiques! Five pounds! Only five pounds!” Eagerly I stepped towards the booth, ready to stock-up on souvenirs for my girlfriends. An Asian couple, probably in their thirties, was passing me in the opposite direction; but, when the woman heard the vendor’s reduced price, she pulled the man’s sleeve. “Five pounds!” she said urgently, her Asian accent making the words sound choppy. The man, resigned to more shopping, rolled his eyes and followed. The scene seemed so familiar to me (I could see my parents reacting in the same way) that I began to laugh, and the woman, in her enthusiasm, laughed with me.
It’s one of the best moments I’ve had in England so far: standing in a market, laughing with an Asian woman, needing no words to communicate.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Finding Robin Hood

What do you do when you have a day to kill and you live in a foreign country?  Travel.  If you don't feel like traveling very far from home, the best thing to do is get on a train and go on a day trip.  So my lovely day trippers, the first destination on your list of must-sees should be Nottingham.  And yes, it is the famous Nottingham from the Robin Hood legends.

Now, most people who go to Nottingham usually only go to two places: the giant shopping plaza and Nottingham Castle.  I can't say much about the shopping plaza because I'm not much of a shopper, but Nottingham Castle is definitely worth a look around.  Also, there's an excellent opportunity for a photo-op with the statue of Robin Hood.  Inside the castle grounds there is an art museum and a walk-through of the story of Robin Hood.  The story exhibit is set-up well, especially if you unleash your inner child.  If you don't mind acting like a child, they have a dress-up section in the basement with scenes set-up, so you can feel as if you've walked into the famous myths.  Of course, if you don't feel comfortable with pretending you're Maid Marian, then you can laugh at your friends who have no inhibitions of acting out a love scene with the cardboard cut-out of Robin Hood.

However, one of Nottingham's little known tourist attractions is one of the coolest and creepiest.  The Galleries of Justice show Nottingham's darker side with the infamous Sherif of Nottingham leading the way.  Way back when, crowds would gather in front of this building to watch criminals be punished and hanged.  Needless to say, they don't do things like that anymore.  However, the cavernous jail is still there, perfectly preserved, carved into the miles of rock and limestone the city rests on top of.  The best part: there's an interactive tour!  A convict from the past takes your tour group around while you explore the damp underground prison.  Not only is the tour guide a convict, but you get a convict number when you buy a ticket, so you get to play along.  Yours truly was caught breaking and entering and sentenced to twelve months in prison!  Don't ask me why I'm so excited about that.
Anyway, our tour guide, Mary, who was charged with murdering her own baby and due to be hanged, took us around to see all of the sites.  Such as the obliette--a small space where they would lock up prisons and forget about them, so they could enjoy a slow death--and the hard labor work areas like the laundry room and the crank room.  We ran into a few issues like getting "accidentally" locked in the black-out cell by Mary, freaking out about the dark figure at the top of the stairs, and ending up on a ship to Australia, but it the end we escaped from prison and wound up back on the streets of Nottingham.

So if you like an adventure, play acting, ghosts, and various forms of torture the Galleries of Justice are waiting for you.  If you don't care for the previous things, I promise that you'll still have an excellent time.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

So This is School?

As I begin my third week of classes here at Harlaxton, it’s beginning to sink in that I’m actually going to school here. I’ve always known that this is school, but after my first two weekends that were packed full of traveling throughout the UK, I realized I had homework assignments piling up and presentations looming ahead that I really should get started on. 
And though the homework isn’t necessarily fun, it’s still very surreal that this is my home for the next 3 months. Every day when I walk down the ridiculous amount of stairs (94, to be precise) to go to my classes in the gold room or the long gallery, I am amazed that this place is my school. And I love that we are allowed to explore the manor, open doors that are shut, and roam wherever we want, unrestricted by velvet ropes or weird museum guards that give you a dirty look every time you try to go somewhere you’re not supposed to. We have so much freedom.
And I love it.
As a recently-turned twenty-year-old, it’s safe to say that this semester, though still just beginning, is going to be the start of my independent life. Before the start of this month, I’d never booked a flight by myself, bought a train ticket, navigated unfamiliar streets in cities larger than Louisville (which, compared to all the cities here, might as well be farmland). I’d never traveled to another country on the weekend for a spur-of-the-moment trip. I’d never attended a worship service in an abbey (let alone the amazing Westminster Abbey). 
And I realize that it is also school, but it is so much more than that. I’m reading about places in my British Studies book that I visited on Saturday! Generally in American textbooks, pilgrims and colonial times are discussed, along with the founding fathers of the 1700s. But I have now visited places that have been around since the 1200s. That is on a whole new level of interesting, and it doesn’t even come close to visiting Plymouth Rock (no offense, pilgrims). And while the book stuff may not be the most fun to sit down and read, I can safely say it’s a whole lot more interesting when I’m visiting those places on the weekend, and I can see them for myself.

(The picture is to exemplify how many cool places I can visit within walking distance of that location!)

It’s strange to not connect with family whenever I want to and that we’re 5 hours ahead of them (I still can’t wrap my head around that). But at the same time, coming here has been the most independent thing I’ve ever done in my life. That alone is an experience. Add everything that I’m going to do, see, and learn this semester, and I cannot even begin to imagine how amazing this semester will become. 
And even though some things will probably confuse me all semester (counting the right change, figuring out the time, and not getting exhausted by the time I climb the 94 stairs to my room), I have already done so much in 3 weeks that it makes up for everything unfamiliar and weird. But that’s the beauty, isn’t it? The unfamiliar and weird are the most fun to explore. 
And I haven’t gotten lost yet (either in the cities or in the manor)! So 3 more months of this insane experience? Yes, please. 

Thursday, 19 January 2012

London Calling

 There are a few cities so engrained in our cultural imaginations that their very names are evocative—Paris! New York! Tokyo! And, of course, London. To most American minds, the word “London” conjures up a wealth of images: Big Ben, the Tower of London, stern-faced guards, bobbies, tea and crumpets, bad teeth, Sherlock Holmes, the Queen and the ubiquitous red double-decker buses.  

Shockingly enough, these stereotypical images associated with London do no justice to the incredible diversity of experience possible in the city. On the trip to London last weekend, my friends and I saw so much in only two short days, but barely scratched the surface of what this city has to offer.

This trip was beautifully structured in that it was not structured whatsoever. So long as we were back on the buses at 10 AM Sunday, we had absolute freedom. London has faced many threats during her storied history, but I was a little concerned about her ability to withstand 150 extremely eager American college students descending upon her in a mad fury of tourism, shopping and general lunacy.  Luckily, both the city and the students seem to have remained largely intact.

Cassie, myself, Amanda and Emily in front of the Museum
I spent the whole trip with four other girls, Emily, Cassie, Amanda, and Lesley, all good friends from UE. Being the history nerds we are, we started our adventure at the British Museum on Friday morning. According to the uncontrovertibly  reliable Wikipedia article I am currently skimming, it houses about 8 million objects and boasts the world’s largest collection of ancient Egyptian pieces, most of which were gleefully pilfered in the 1800s, I might add. The museum was fantastic; my favorite was the medieval section, but the Egyptian and Classical were also fascinating, and there were many more parts which we did not explore; one can only look at so 
many engraved cups before they start to run together.

We had lunch at a fantastic little café not too far from the museum called Bush and Fields Café Italiano. If you are ever in London, eat there. I mean it. Paninis and pasta. I had a goat cheese, arugula and roasted vegetable panini. It is the best thing I have eaten in England so far.
More walking ensued. Actually, an apt summation of this trip for us would be “more walking ensued.” We figured it at over 20 miles in the two days, 18 of which were street. In order to a) save on cost, b) get to actually see the city and c) feel like Superwomen, we completely eschewed public transportation.  Sunday felt like death, but it was very much worth it.

There was some shopping (five girls in London? Hello H&M and Topshop!) and much sightseeing and photo taking, but we made our way down to Westminster Abbey in time for evensong. In fact, way too early for evensong, and it was freezing, so we spent a full hour playing with the ornaments of  Henry VIII and his wives in the gift shop, but I digress.

Evensong was glorious. We were there early enough that we got to sit with the choir, which further enriched the experience. I would not describe my religious leanings as particularly Anglican, but the service was really quite moving. The music was simply divine.

‘Twas already evening by the time this was over, and we did a bit more shopping as we trekked back to the area around our hotel. And it was quite a trek; Westminster was a rather long way from the Royal National. We didn’t get back in the area until about nine, and had an average dinner at a diner very close to the hotel. Then a quick stop at Tesco (basically a cheap convenience-type store) for soda and snacks, and we retired to talk the night away in the hotel. I should explain—none of us are really nightlife people. An evening of good conversation and resting our tired feet (backs, thighs and knees) sufficed both evenings, rather than the potential nights of debauchery and vice that could have ensued. My room was comprised of Amanda (fellow blogger!), Lesley and I, and we had a glorious time recounting our adventures and planning the next day.

After a rather poor excuse of a breakfast the following morning, we were once again headed out, this time to the Tate. Which was really, really far away. The gallery itself was…odd. I got to see John Everett Millais’ painting of Ophelia, and J. W. Waterhouse's Lady of Shalott, which are two of my all-time favorites. There were some very beautiful pieces in the museum, but also some modern ones that I did not understand in the least. It was laid out quite strangely—a room of 18th century portraits would be surrounded by a room filled with strange iterations of the phenomenon known as “modern art.”
Buckingham Palace
More photos and exploration on the way back. We tried to take different routes each time, the better to see more things. Had lunch at Pret a Manger, which is more or less similar to Panera, and was really quite delicious. And, most importantly, inexpensive. Popped into Harrod’s for a few minutes; Lesley and I gawked at the incredible selection of delicacies at the food counter, which included truffles, one kilogram of which would pay for more than a full year at Evansville. We got lots of haughty looks from salespeople; it was if we were carrying neon signs saying “BROKE COLLEGE STUDENTS.”

Finally, we went to Buckingham Palace to take some pictures. Afterwards, we trudged back to the hotel, went to a pub, and spent the night as we did the previous one, laughing, talking, snacking on this and that, and occasionally pinching ourselves to remind each other that we are in London!

Trafalgar Square
To sum up: London is expensive, but you can do it on the cheap. We bought meals (and could have done it for less had we just made sandwiches, but that seemed a little sad), but went only to free attractions. We walked everywhere. And although a couple of us (yes, myself included), did a little shopping, that was unnecessary—we would have had a great time without that. Architecture: amazing. Art: incredible History: unbelievable. I had a fantastic trip, and cannot wait to go back and get to know this unbelievable city a little better. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Why Yes, In Fact, I Do Live in a Manor (And There's a LOT To Do Here)

It's into the second week here at
Harlaxton, so you might think I'd be getting used to things by now. And to some extent, that's true--I'm getting the hang of the class schedule, figuring out where that elusive "Morning Room" classroom is, and remembering how to get back to my room from more than one place. But on the other hand, there are things about Harlaxton that just refuse to become routine. Every day as I head off to class, I'm struck by the magnificence of the Great Hall. And when I'm sitting in my chair, waiting for a lecture or a class to start, I'm surrounded by beautiful sculpted walls, painted cielings, and chandeliers. That kind of scenery just will not blend into the background, and time after time I find myself stopping a moment to take it all in. Because I'm not just in another semester of college anymore--I'm in a manor house, living and learning and maybe even doing a little bit of growing up.

I suppose when I thought about studying abroad, I focused mostly on the weekends away, on all of the places that I'd see. Harlaxton, in my mind, became merely this stable place to come back to from each grand adventure. But I underestimated how much of an adventure it would be day to day, just living here. It's the second week, and just look at all the things that I've done right here on campus:

Upon arrival I naturally I explored the manor house, trying to find the mysterious hidden passageways and how to escape from my room if the main stairway happens to be blocked by a fire. This was especially vital since, for the first week, I was in a single room off in a small hallway that I was a little concerned was sure to be haunted (mostly because I kept having dreams about ghosts watching me in the two mirrors that faced my bed).

I've already gotten to make use of my new fancy heels (which effectively make me one of the tallest people in the room) at the first formal (or "high table") dinner, where the random seating chart forced me to make conversation with some lovely people I'd never met before.

I've lived in not one but TWO separate rooms, since I was put in an RA room for the first week. I tasted the freedom (and terror) of living in a single room in a humongous and very old manor and then the comfort (and awkwardness) of a giant four person room, where everyone else will see the ghosts if they happen to come around (don't worry, they haven't.)

I've had several meals of the reputedly terrible food, which I haven't found all that bad. Admittedly there's a lot of rice and potatoes, but as a great lover of starch, I have to say I can't complain. Yes, it's a bit of a strange hybrid between American and British cuisine, but it's warm, it's edible and it's even a little bit delicious every now and again.Not to mention, it's very cheerfully served by the fantastic kitchen staff. I am going a little bit insane with out my habitual Diet Pepsi at every meal, but I've replaced it with a spot of tea or hot chocolate, so I'm suffering through.

I learned to do several different dances from several different countries during the Ceilidh (pronounced Kaylee) that the school sponsored last week. Yes, I even had to touch people's hands and everything, but it was definitely worth it because I felt like I was in the middle of a Jane Austen novel, which is something I've always wanted to feel. Sadly there was no Darcy, but I was with my wonderful friends and met some new ones, and I think that very nearly compares to Colin Firth (sort of).

Since we all live in the same (gigantic, gorgeous) place, I've met a TON of new people, both from my home school U of E and from the other schools that have come together to make up this Harlaxton semester's class.

As the semester got underway almost as soon as we got here, I've already started in on three new classes, two of which are taught by the British faculty (British studies and Shakespeare), and one of which is an intensive writing workshop from which I can already tell I'm going to learn a lot. It's a lot of fun listening to actual British people talking about British history and about Shakespeare (although we haven't gotten too deep into that yet, having a gigantic class and needing to split it into two sections). The faculty here, both the British ones and the visiting faculty, seem pretty fantastic thus far, and I'm excited for a stimulating (if challenging) semester. Even if the last thing I wanted to do when sitting in my hotel room in London this weekend was my British studies homework.

Last night, I watched a bunch of grown men dance around with handkerchiefs and sticks while wearing bells and flowers at the Sword Dancing/Clog dancing event, which was even more entertaining than I dreamed, even if it was a bit unexpected. When someone says "sword dancing" I usually imagine a bunch of muscular, shirtless men doing a bunch of dangerous stunts with pointy swords. Instead, we got hilarious scholarly men doing authentic, if a bit silly, old dances, complete with a jester of sorts who went around hitting girls in the head with a bladder, which he assured us will encourage pregnancy in the coming year (I should certainly hope not!).  Then we went out to the (cold) conservatory to watch clog dancing, which looked particularly challenging but also very entertaining, and was complete with background stories.

Each night when all of this is over, I come back to the same room and collapse into the same bed when all the homework is finished, and that's as close as it gets to being the same day to day. Somehow, I'm trying to organize the busy schedule of classes, events, field trip, and travel into something that vaguely resembles a routine, because I'm the sort of person who needs a routine. However, since I'm loving every spontaneous and unplanned minute of it, I'm doing okay with the fact that the only real routine is that I wake up, go to classes, and at some point eventually make it back to my bed to rest up for whatever the next day is going to bring me. Because, yes, I do live in a manor. And that alone promises life these next few months is going to be just a little bit more than ordinary.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Introducing Rachel Hoge

9 December 2011

Choose the answer that makes the below statement true:

If you're preparing for a semester abroad, you likely are:
A. Nervous
B. Excited
C. Worried
D. All of the above

If you answered D, you’re probably an upcoming Harlaxton student.

I am one such Harlaxton student, and as the departure date for my potential classmates and I approaches, I feel— in one word— overwhelmed. With less than one month before my future classmates and I board our planes, I find myself in a relentless mix of emotions.

I’m anxious about packing, travelling, and getting lost; I’m excited to make new friends, but scared to loss the ones from home. I’m uneasy about budgeting, enthused to try new things, and ready to be immersed in this new culture. More overpowering than any of these, however, is the formidable fear of the unknown— and no matter how many meetings I attend, past participants I pester, or facts I search on the Internet, I know truly being prepared is impossible. And that’s okay. Preparation is part of the nerve-racking, hectic, frantic fun that comes with studying abroad.

Still, there are some things I can do to prepare, like buying an inexpensive laptop adapter (some laptops may also need a converter), and asking my cell phone provider about their international rates (which will likely persuade me to buy an inexpensive phone at Harlaxton, but it never hurts to ask). I’ve called my doctor, and have four months of my prescriptions ready and filled. Also, I plan to research my bank’s international charges and withdraw fees, and give them a list of all the countries I’ll likely be visiting (so they won’t see a foreign purchase and freeze my account). It feels great to get some things accomplished, and the more arrangements I make, the more reassurance and excitement I feel for the upcoming semester.

It’s with this nervous reassurance that I spend my last few weeks at home. It’s a strange sensation— knowing how close, yet still far, departure date is. It’s like standing at the edge of a swimming pool: you’re so ready to jump in, yet equally terrified to push your feet off the ground. But when you’re finally swimming, the water is cool and the sun is warm against your skin— and you laugh, because you can’t believe you were ever afraid to jump.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Introducing Kelley Vrevich

10 December 2011

AAAHHHHH!!!!!! You can decide for yourself if that’s a scream of anxiety or a scream of excitement. You’re right! When I first found out that I was going to spend an entire semester in England I knew I had to prepare. So I sat down, watched seven soccer—I mean football—matches, caught up on both seasons of Downton Abbey, read several Shakespeare sonnets, and listened to The Beatles for three straight days. Then I realized I was being ridiculous, so I learned how to make scones as well. So, when I got my first orientation packet, and there wasn’t a single mention of cricket, I decided to leave the stereotypes behind and get to work.

The first step to travelling abroad is to get a passport, so I went to Walgreens to get my picture taken. After ten minutes of waiting, a disgruntled cashier came over to the abandoned photo counter, told me to stand against the blank wall, and snapped my picture. She said it would be ready in ten minutes. I always thought you could check to make sure the picture was fine, but I trusted the judgement of the photographer. When I got my pictures a little while later, I thought there had been some mistake. Clearly the photos they gave me belonged to a ghost white, orangish-blonde haired, glow-in-the-dark green eyed alien from Mars with a bad attitude. I asked if she could retake them, and she rolled her eyes and said I would have to pay for new ones. I checked my empty wallet and decided that was impossible because there was nothing inside. I sent in the pictures, so I could get my passport by the due date. Despite having an alien’s passport, I was jazzed to start the rest of the study abroad process.

That, apparently, involved paperwork. A lot of paperwork. There were forms for everything: emergency contacts, declarations, honor codes, personal details, secondary personal details, tertiary personal details, and personal preferences. I knew once I did all of that, though, I could look forward to the trip of a lifetime, so I happily picked up my pen and got to work. A month of excitement went by, and the next step of the process was revealed to be more paperwork; this time for the group flight, adopt-a-family, and housing cancellations. Then came the fun part, which also involved paperwork. Looking through the course catalog to fill out my form for classes, I was thrilled about all of the classes being offered that I wanted to take: The Beatles class, British studies, the cultural history of alcohol, history of the Atlantic world, Shakespeare, media writing, and descriptive astronomy. Then I thought 22 credit hours might be a little bit too much, so I decided on four and turned in my sign-up sheet a month early in anticipation.

Also tops on my list of excited-screaming topics were booking trips. I spent an entire Sunday reading all of the trip descriptions and deciding all of them were must-see places. I checked my bank account balance, realized I was broke, and picked my top four choices: Oxford/Stonehenge/Bath (because Stonehenge looks too awesome for words), Cadbury (because who doesn’t want to go to a world of chocolate?), Stratford (because Shakespeare is my favorite superhero), and London (because how can you go to England and not visit London?). Then I promised myself to bother all of my relatives for money this Christmas.

After another month of count-down anticipation December came, and my inbox was flooded with Harlaxton emails. With every email I got more and more excited and more and more anxious at everything I still needed to do. I have to print out my ticket, so I’m not stranded at the airport; remind my bank about my over-seas transactions, so they don’t cancel my account; apply for a credit card because plastic is better than paper; and get enough cold medicine to escape the “Harlaxton Plague” that I’ve heard so much about. The one thing I don’t have to worry about is packing. My suitcase has been packed and sitting by the front door since I got my acceptance letter.