Hello, we are now about half way through the second semester. This semester is going quite well and I am learning oodles about the culture here. This is partially because I am taking a British cinema class and transition from feudalism to capitalism. British cinema is not only a class exploring what British cinema is but how it fits into the culture since the second World War. The movies we watch are always those which the tutor feels best represents the culture of the time it was made so at times I think I would understand pop culture references about Britain more than America any more. The historical aspect of the United Kingdom I am also piecing together quite well thanks to the feudalism to capitalism class. We started around the time the Roman Empire started invading and have gradually been studying the government working towards the present. Of course actually living here definitely hasn't hurt my understanding of how it all fits in either. As we go more and more places and as I meet people from all areas of the British Isles and around the world my understanding and way of thinking of the global changes gets reinvented. This weekend we will be going to stonehenge and I will be sure to post pictures of this wonder as soon as I have them.
Well, it is now the 19th of December and the campus is basically deserted. Everyone has gone home for the holidays. Ever since I joined the basket ball team in November I have barely had time to breath between class, basketball, and our field trips with the Study in England Programme.
After watching a few basketball games and living with a player I found myself dieing to play again. I haven't played organized basketball since I was a freshman in high school. Needless to say after 5 years I was quite rusty. I was also extremely out of shape. After many weeks of running then running to the bathroom in fear of vomiting (don't worry I never actually needed to use the rest room) I am just now feeling able to physically play an entire basketball game. Now all I need to do is figure out how to play this game they call basketball again. Although I must admit that the being physically in shape again is not a bad side effect of basketball, the best is probably the constant contact that I get with British college kids. I have made British friends and feel like if no other Americans were here I would be able to function and have a social life. I have noticed that some of the other UMD kids who joined other social groups on campus have had similar experiences. Joining a social group, despite its intense amount of time needed, was one of the best decisions that I could have made coming to Worcester.
For our Programme we went to Edinburgh. I don't think that I have ever seen a more beautiful city. It is a large city but there wasn't a single sky scraper. Nearly all of the buildings were built long ago. I could have spent the entire weekend just looking at the architecture of the town.
We stayed in a youth hostel just on the out skirts of down town. We had just a short walk to the royal mile. The hostel was the nicest hostel that I have ever seen. There were 8 beds in one room per usual but to get into the room we need a key card just like a normal hotel. Every room was en-suite as well. Thanks to our large group numbers we only had people that we knew in our room. We were provided breakfast through the hostel but for some reason even though we opted for the full breakfast we weren't allowed the fruit or yogurt. It was quite odd.
Saturday was a great day. Right away in the morning we marched ourselves down to the Scottish National Gallery. It was extremely extensive. There was some amazing art, some so so art, and with every art museum there was some art that I really just didn't understand. We got a tour of Scottish parliament. The building was quite different from the normal Edinburgh building. It was very modern and the architect designed in the shape of a tree. Many of the meeting rooms were leaves. It was very well done with Scottish flag representations everywhere. After the tour of parliament Cody and I went to explore the Edinburgh Castle. IT WAS AWESOME. The castle is built at the end of (probably more like the start of) the Royal Mile atop an extremely large hill. It was large and much of it was intact. We were able to walk through the dungeons which were apparently still used into WWII. The great hall had a presentation of how the royalty dealt with criminals in the 1500's . They also had it dressed to how they expected the hall to look during the time period. At about 4 we sat down and had some cake in the castle! it was such a great experience.
When it came time to leave I was quite sad. I had rather fallen love with the old beauty that was Edinburgh. Hopefully sometime I will be able to go back.
Thus marks the complete of our second week of classes. I am really enjoying classes for the most part. My Film Movements class is by far my favorite though. I love the movies we have been watching what we are learning and possibly the best part of all my teacher was in a band that was huge in Canada! One of his songs even made an appearance on Kim Possible! Here is a link to a video of his band http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dtao2H5XXw (his wife is the bassist with pig tails). Funny part is how laid back this guy is. We had a kid walk in late and while Stefan was lecturing the kid slapped his hand on the way past then continued to sit down and slam a frozen water bottle down on the counter completely disrupting class. Stefan did nothing. It blew my mind. Not all of my classes are quite as perfect however. My Re-presenting the past: history in film class went a bit over my head this week. Here kids don't take classes outside of their major, ever. So when they say this is a history class and it is a second year class it is equivalent to a junior history class in the states. Well during this lecture the Professor was lecturing on British imperialism and to put it lightly it went way over my head. The professor had this deep voice and he spoke very quickly about the time after the American Revolutionary War and when our movie was. To most the British kids it just seemed like a review or no big deal, but to someone who knows almost nothing about British history in the imperialism time it was overwhelming. He had a slide show to help understanding, but his slides had pictures or maps and never spoke about what he was actually talking about. That was one of the hardest days of class I have ever had in my life.
Well on the social side I had a fun week. This past Monday was Cody's birthday. Cassandra and I went into town to get stuff to make a cake for Cody. We quickly discovered that cake mix and frosting is quite hard to find around here. That is a drastic difference to the entire isle we have for cake and frosting back home. When we finally found frosting there was only one kind of frosting in the four grocery stores that we searched. Despite the extreme lack of choice it turned out quite well. We had devil's food cake with vanilla creme frosting, quite delicious if I do say so myself and with a little help from Cassandra (ok a lot of help from Cassandra) it turned out quite beautiful.
Cody quite enjoyed his cake....
I also became a loyalty member at our local pub The Crown and Anchor! Laura, Luke (my flatmate), and I were the first members of the Crown. The people that own the Crown are extremely nice people. Whenever we go down there they always chat and ask how our day was, they at least act like they care =).
That is all for now I suppose....
Tonight was the Worcester Wolves basketball game. The Wolves are a professional team here playing in the BBL (the British Basketball League). Anyone who is in the UMD Study in England Programme got free tickets! It turned out to be an intense game! The Guildford Heat, which logo is exactly the same as the Miami Heat, went up in the first quarter but the teams battled back and forth through the entire game. It ended up going into over time, where the Wolves pulled through and won by six.
I noticed that the British do not love their basketball quite as much as the Americans. The play was not up to par with the NBA, or even the NCAA for that matter. They played music in the middle of play. Really the BBA is probably the equivalent of the MLS in the states, trying but just not quite there yet. Given some time I think the British will be able to play to par but it just isn't quite to our level yet... ;]
So I suppose it has been quite a while since I have blogged...far far too long in fact. We have been so busy this blog is probably going to be longer than anyone will appreciate so just bear with me.
Right after the last post we went down to the town centre (which is the equivalent of down town in American English) and met the Mayor of Worcester. As it turns out the Mayor is really more of a figure head than what we would think of as a mayor. Mainly what an English Mayor does is to head ceremonies when the queen comes to town or hold feasts to raise money for the town. The Mayor is also supposed to be extremely knowledgeable about the history of the town. We went down to Guild Hall which back in the day, as informed by the mayor, would of been the court where criminals were charged and where the lords and ladies would have conducted lord and lady business. We were given a tour of the absolutely beautiful and very historical building. He led us into the mayors chambers where all of the ceremonial dress and items are kept and he holds "office hours", for lack of better phrase. He was showing and explaining the history of how the Worcester crest came about; the crest originally was a shield with a castle on it but when Queen Anne, I think, came one time she noticed that the black pears had been untouched for her arrival, she was so pleased that she insisted that the pears be put on the crest so the crest has hence been two shields one with a castle and one with 3 black pears on them. The funny thing about that story is that those pears are actually completely inedible because of their horrid taste and very solid fruit. He also had 3 swords in the room one very large one with a bright red sheath was to be held by the Mayor of the time to greet the Queen, the others were for funeral progressions of high ranking people in the community, the Mayor let me hold the funeral sword which was over 800 years old! He then brought us down into the dungeons, and explained what it would of been like for any criminal who had been brought down there. The criminals that were brought down there were executed within the next 24 hours. It was a dark scary place and the last time someone had been brought down there was sometime in the early 1900's! (very creepy)
We also have been on our first field trip since I last posted. We went to the lake district which is north west of here and is known for the large lakes that are there but aren't called lakes, mountains, and sheep farms! There were sheep everywhere, they are so fluffy! We stayed in a large cabin with a ton of rooms for bunks. We were required to do cleaning and serving each other for dinner and all those good things that make groups become tighter knit. Our first event of the weekend was to climb Alt Mean, which is a Swedish name for the highest peak that we were near referred to know and meaning old man. We were warned just before we left that it was a treacherous hike and that it was raining at the moment so we should get hiking boots and water proofs from down stairs in their store rooms. At the time we all thought it wasn't gonna be that bad and our normal trainers and jackets were going to be just fine, boy were we in for a surprise. I luckily was forced into pure leather unbending boots and some rain pants, but I stuck with my jacket that I have for snowboarding. We started on our way and things seemed fine but then we reached the mountain and things began to become very clear why they insisted on such precautions. We spent the next 3 or 4 hours marching up a mountain in pouring rain in which the path was turned into a stream for most of it until we finally stopped for lunch. Everyone was cold, soaking wet all the way through, and very hungry. The guides pulled out what just looked like tarps and told us these were our shelters that we were to eat in. All you had to do was throw it up tuck it beneath your bum and sit on it and it became a little mushroom of the greatest warmth and dryness I think any of us had experienced. After lunch we had the option of pressing on or turning back. Needless to say many many of us turned back, however the few of us the pushed on were in for a nice surprise. It was about another 30 min walk straight up to the lake that was the destinations aim but when we arrived the sun decided to join us! IT WAS ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL! I unfortunately forgot my camera.....epic fail. The mountain surrounded this lake and there were sheep strewn across the slopes and the green mixed with the rocks slightly peaking out was absolutely breath taking. Pressing on was one of the best choices I have made thus far. Also the hike got much easier from there on out. When we finally reached the bottom of the mountain and home I was already feeling closer to everyone and also very ready for a hot shower.
That night the advisors lead us in a fish bowl. A fish bowl is where a few people sit in the middle and talk about a given topic, if anyone has anything to add or say they come tap someone in the circle and take their spot. We talked about how we felt our cultures differentiated and how we were all coping. It seemed that everyone enjoyed getting to know everyone else a little better and learning that everyone was doing well.
The next day we went on a gorge walk. We took a trip of six and walked up the river that runs down the mountain. It was way more than I was expecting and I was pleasantly surprised. We put on wet suits, helmets, and life jackets and started hiking up this river. along the river there were rocks to climb places to jump off into pools, places to swim under waterfalls and all in a beautiful gorge. It was only two hours which is probably a good thing because the water was so cold my feet had gone numb within the first 15 minutes. We then returned for lunch, and I ate like a pig! I had worked up quite an appetite that weekend. After lunch the head advisor, Judith Kritzmire, and I went across the lake to John Ruskin's house. He lived in this house for the last 28 years he was alive. To be honest I didn't know John Ruskin existed before I went over there but I quickly learned of the beauty of this man. He was a writer and an excellent artist. He also pushed for much social reform in England when Industry was expanding and leaving people in bitter poverty. This man was a genius. When he retired he moved to this house that we visited and built a personal harbor and did much gardening and writing but battled with insanity. His most famous quote was "There is no wealth but life" but my favorite that was written on the wall of his house was "The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion, -- all in one." it was truly a moving and inspiring place.
So today was the first day of class. I went to Film Movements. I was happy to find out that the professors here give us much more time per slide to take notes. I got what was suggested plus more. We also began class since we have a three hour class once a week. We lectured on what film movements are, what is expected of our final project, which is our only grade, we also addressed French New Wave movement and watched shoot the pianist directed by Francois Truffaufe. I am very excited and feel that i will be able to excel in these classes.
It is Thursday now, only my 3rd full day, and it feels like it has been ages since I arrived. So much has happened already. I am unpacked (although my room feels bare), I have gone grocery shopping, I have had to buy linens for my bed (and pillows), I washed all the dishes that were left by previous owners, have used some of the dishes by previous owners, got a function cell phone (doesn't work to the states at the moment sorry!), set up a British bank account, met the Mayor (he let me play with a 800 year old sword!!!), explored the city, bought my first legal alcoholic beverage....and the list could go on forever! One would think that I have seen about what there is to see at this point already but I am only just scratching the surface! My British roommates haven't even moved in yet, they are coming on Saturday. The best part about coming so much earlier than them is that I will actually be able to show them the city a little bit in the midst of them teaching me and helping me out with the British culture sooooooooooooo much.
I suppose I should talk about the main differences that I have noticed about our cultures, some annoying others fun and exciting. I am not sure if it is just these flats or a British thing but they have towel warmers in the bathroom! It is one of the greatest feelings in the world to have a warm towel after the shower! Everything here is automatic; the lights, the doors, more lights. They don't give you the choice to leave your dorm room lights on while typing this blog i have had to stand up 3 times to turn back on my lights. This can be slightly annoying but I like the green aspect of it at the same time. The electrical outlets have switches on almost every single one so if i want to use the microwave, stove, toaster, or what ever I flip a switch and turn them on then turn them off once I am done. Also very impressed with their energy efficiency. Labels on food is completely different! Listed on the packages are how much energy you will receive from said food, the calories, no just the fat but what kind of fats are in the food, the ingredients and even in some cases how many servings you should have in a day! They also have a much nicer public transportation system and are slightly more active in general. However there are a few things that have slightly annoyed me as well. The door to my flat, and other areas on occasion, in order to get out you have to push a button that doesn't always work. I often find myself running in to doors then finding the button running into the door again then finally letting myself out. It can be very frustrating. Also many of their appliances are not built with the consumer in mind. I mean often times electronics or appliances are not user friendly in the slightest. They have weird buttons that no one uses or extremely difficult ways of doing simple tasks. Overall I am still highly impressed however!
WOW! I have been anxiously awaiting this day for weeks now, just counting down the days. Well here it is and it doesn't seem real. I mean sure I have been Facebook snooping who will be my flat mate all weekend and packing everything I belong into one suitcase and a backpack, but I am really leaving....I won't see my cat, dogs, bird, my house for at least 8 months. It is slightly bittersweet. That is coming from someone who is generally all about moving forward and welcoming change with open arms. I mean last year (freshman year) I drove myself to Duluth and moved myself in, and happily at that. LAST MINUTE JITTERS! Oh well I am so excited to get over there and set up so to all my loved ones I will be leaving behind I wish to you the best of luck, good health and fortune, and just enjoy life. I know that i will be doing the same!