Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Unfamiliar Territory of England

Since I've been here a month now (I can't believe it's already been that long), I feel like I can share some of my opinions about England (or at least the parts of it I've seen), instead of a recap of my activities of the week (which were fairly limited this week anyway, Netflix anyone?).

The Weather:

If you've ever been told that it rains in England, they're not lying. It rains. A lot. I've given up on having a good hair day here. It is a rare occasion that it's not extremely windy or rainy (and quite frequently it's both), and that blue sky is not likely to last long. It has been known to be raining one minute, sunny the next, and then  start raining again ten minutes later. Walking home today the sky was perfectly blue to one side of me, and on the other it looked as though the sky would open up and begin pouring rain any second (it did start to rain, but it's sunny again already...for now). I have been told that it will rain less soon, but I'll believe that when I see it.

The one upside of the mercurial weather is that it gives me plenty of chances to get good pictures with different lighting. I walked by the Cathedral again on Friday when the sky was blue, and those pictures look much different from the ones I took the first time, when it was rather overcast.

The Terrain:

Unfortunately the terrain here is no more kind to my poor shoes than the bricks at William & Mary, and the hills are much worse. Exeter seems to have the kind of hills that look gently rolling from a distance, but up close make you want to cry. Walking up the hills on campus makes you wonder how you could have ever considered yourself in shape, and walking down them makes you fear for your life (that one might be only me, I keep imagining myself tripping over a rock/nothing and finding myself rolling down the hill into the street). Upside: my legs will look amazing at the end of my five months here.

The hills are a lie (with the sound of music)

The Buildings:

I love all the old buildings here. The Cathedral is more than 900 years old, and it's not even close to being one of the oldest buildings in the UK (to put things in perspective, William & Mary just celebrated its 321st birthday and it's the second oldest college in the US). Exeter in particular seems to have a lot of brick buildings (St. Ives did as well, but they were mostly white or gray brick, rather than red). The houses, at least the ones that I walk by, are mostly connected town houses. My favorite part is the fact that most of the people seem to paint their doors bright colors, in order to differentiate their identical homes from each other I suppose.

The University:

To be perfectly honest, the classes here seem much easier than what I'm used to at William & Mary (but that could just be the fact that there aren't any weekly assignments, beyond reading, just a final essay or exam). What's weird is the fact that sometimes you'll have assignments during the term that don't count for anything, I don't understand how anyone is motivated to actually complete them. I guess it's just one of those things where once you're used to it, you can't imagine doing it any other way. However, I really like my professors. Steve, who teaches Strategic Operations Management, is rather cynical and also pretty funny. My professor for Management Accounting is incredibly awkward but super enthusiastic. Last lecture he rapped about strategic decision making (and the lecture before that he found a YouTube song about about the Simplex method of linear programming).

This past week the University was having Student Guild (sort of like their Student Assembly) elections. I was bombarded with flyers and, more excitingly, the occasional free candy bar. I couldn't seem to avoid them. I would put my hood up and my headphones on, and just do my best to look as busy as possible. And they still tried to talk to me! Apparently I just can't look intimidating or, at the very least, uninterested no matter what I do.

The Printworks:

I love living at the Printworks. It's located in the city centre, so I'm close to just about everything. We do live right next to Arena, one of the clubs, so it can get pretty noisy. The management is really friendly and helpful. I've had to ask them to fix things in my room twice already, both my radiator and my water had problems (the former of which wouldn't turn on, and the latter which wouldn't turn off), and they fixed both fairly quickly.

The People:

I feel like anything said with an English accent sounds more intelligent, and I just love listening to anybody with one talk. Though my, completely stereotyped, expectation that the content of their conversation would be more intelligent has been entirely demolished. Students here are just as likely to talk about drinking and partying as students anywhere else, and I think students at William & Mary are actually more likely to casually have academic discussions (in true twamp fashion).

I don't know why, but I expected to be more homesick than I am. I mean, don't get me wrong, I miss my family and my friends and even, occasionally, I miss William & Mary. I guess its because you basically do the same thing when you start college. You leave your family, the friends you know, and your hometown (and sometimes your home state) for someplace completely different. Culturally, Connecticut and Virginia are almost like different countries. In the northeast you don't smile at people you don't know and if a stranger asks you where you bought your purse because they think it's cute, you might think that they plan to steal it and consider calling the police.

People here are pretty friendly, but it has been difficult to meet people who are actually regular students at the University. International students tend to conglomerate in classes and so you don't interact much with anyone else. One of the best things about getting involved in A Capella here, and in the University Catholic Chaplaincy, is the opportunity to meet more people from the University community. On the subject of the chaplaincy, I did end up playing piano for them during service this morning. It was...interesting. Suffice to say I have never played piano as the accompaniment for a choir before and we'll leave it at that.

The Food:

I don't know how food here got such a bad reputation, aside from the fact that it's not very good for you. I haven't had a meal here yet that I haven't enjoyed. Also, I think tea is basically the most amazing drink ever and I would choose it over coffee any day, so at least I had that in common before I came here.

Sunday Roast (with Yorkshire Pudding)

Fried Sweet Potato and Aubergine Curry

What's strange is grocery shopping here. Some things they call by completely different names; If you want cilantro, eggplant or zucchini, you better get used to calling them coriander, aubergine, and courgette if you ever want to find them. Also everything expires so quickly, I know that means that they use fewer preservatives, but it just makes grocery shopping harder. And all I want is a gigantic jar of peanut butter, why do they only sell it in tiny containers? Why?

The Tribe:

Last night I met up with a bunch of the other William & Mary exchange students (Sophie, Katelyn, Sarah, and Maddy) who, with the exception of Maddy, I see rather infrequently. We went to an Asian restaurant called Wagamamas (I think that name gets funnier each time you say it) and the food was really good. It was nice to catch up with everyone about how their classes had been, where they had been in the area, and their travel plans for the future. Shout out to Katelyn, who turns 21 this week!

The Point:

Sometimes things are different in ways you ever expected, you can't anticipate everything. I think the best way to get used to a new place is to just jump into the community and get involved in something fun. I'm not here just to explore everywhere but the place I'm actually studying, and I want to make connections with the people who study here (as well as other international students), which is basically impossible if I don't do anything on campus outside of classes. That's not to say that I don't want to travel other places, because I definitely do, but I don't think it will be the end of the world if I don't make day trips every weekend. I think I'll leave most of my traveling for my month long spring break (already planned a trip to Italy, booked flights and hostels and everything!) and the couple of weeks after exams are over. Anyway, the goal is to learn something from my experience, but mostly to have fun.

1 comment:

  1. You crack me up, Katie! This is your best post yet!