Saturday, January 29, 2005

She Thinks In Technicolor

In glad response to requests for visual corroboration of my previous ramblings (as physical evidence, I'm presuming, that I'm not really just sitting in my backyard inventing marvelous fantasies (a state of affairs the revelation of which would bring my family a sizable shock, I would wager)) I present the first set of photos from my adventure so far. Images depict:
  • Katherine's Birthday Party
  • Flatmates and Friends
  • My Bedroom Inside and Out
  • Campus Views
  • The Homestay
  • London Orientation
  • Departure from the States

These images are available at

which can be accessed anytime by clicking on "My Photos" under "Links" in the sidebar on the righthand side of this blog. More photos will be added periodically. Hope they're enjoyable and informative! (Do let me know if there are issues with the page--does it take too long to load, do some photos not appear, etc.) Love always!

Thursday, January 27, 2005

An Organized Ramble

A title with a double meaning, referring first of all to the numerous walks organized this week as part of University Health Week, which I have appreciatively been using to acquaint myself with the campus' glorious and fascinating surroundings, and second of all to this post, in its anticipated format as a lengthy discussion of a number of events, experiences, thoughts, and feelings expected to make up for in verbosity the uncharacteristic terseness (as noted by the responsively poetic Grandpa Fred) of my previous entry. Onwards, then...

My weekly schedule has pretty much solidified itself, having become, over the past few weeks, satisfactorily filled by just about the right number of activities and events--enough to keep me busy and engaged, without, I hope, overwhelming me. These include: my classes, as aforementioned, but perhaps never precisely detailed in schedule-distribution, as well as a number of meetings, services, and discussion groups, mostly of a religious nature, run through my second home on campus, an architectural anomaly of round concrete with square panes of individually monochromatic stained glass circling the gray walls, topped with an obliquely conical turqouise roof and called, quite appropriately, the Meeting House.

Basically, a run-down of my regular weekly schedule looks like this:


  • Creative Drama workshop 11-1
  • Metaphysics lecture 2-3
  • Taize service 5:15-5:45
  • Christian Union 7-9


  • Science Fiction 9-11
  • Writing for the Theatre 2-4
  • Cell Group 7-9


  • Skeptics Anonymous 5-6


  • Metaphysics workshop 3-4
  • Alpha Group 8-10


  • Book Discussion Group 1-2:30
  • Philosophy Society 4:30-6:30
  • Ben & Jay's radio show 9-10

In case you were wondering...

Of course, other activities of a less regular nature are interspersed within this schedule, including hanging out with the flatmates (which usually takes the form of either watching a movie or sitting in our dining room (we haven't got any kind of living room, so most hanging out takes place in awkward configurations of wooden chairs squeezed amidst two tables in the too-small room between our kitchen and our bathrooms) having hours-long conversations about all manner of randomness... they also frequently spend late nights out together at one of the local clubs, an enterprise I have yet to muster the courage to accompany them on, although I'm sure it's only a matter of time, and I suppose it's a necessary cultural experience).

Other recent activities have included the aforementioned organized Health Week walks--the trek over the Downs was one such walk, and I went on another yesterday through Stamner Park, a bit of woods just over the hill from campus full, as we discovered with the help of the Biology tutor leading the walk, of fascinating flowers, shrubs, and trees characteristic of the local landscape. A very interesting walk, although it was so cold it was occassionally difficult to concentrate on the specific leaf or twig under observation. It's been quite chilly here, with a few more momentary flurries of snow over the past few days (although nothing lasting) and ice beginning to form over the dewponds.

Another fun event was the birthday party of Katherine, a Canadian girl in my Cell Group (aka Bible study), which was last night from 7-10. She had prepared huge plates of sushi, sliced veggies, and homemade cookies, as well as three double-layer chocolate cakes, and organized a number of party games for the 30-40 people who showed up. Games included that one where you get a name placed on your back (some figure from history, popular culture, fiction, mythology, the Bible, etc.) and try to guess the identity by walking around and asking other people yes or no questions, and the one where you tie balloons to your ankles and try to pop everyone else's while keeping yours intact, as well as a number of games involving sitting in a circle with one person in the middle who tries, by various means, to get into one of the seats, thereby forcing someone else to be stuck in the center. Great to have an evening of fun where no one found it necessary to chemically alter themselves in order to have a good time. I had met a lot of the people before through Skeptics Anonymous or Christian Union, and it was fun getting to know them better through some silly games. Great musical selection as well--such classics as "I Will Survive" and "YMCA".

Let's see, as an update on the homesickness front (these will probably continue until it fades completely, if it ever does, or at least reaches some kind of plateau), in general I am content to be here and enjoying the many things I'm learning and doing and people I'm meeting. There are still twinges of wishing I was at home, mostly when I wake up in the morning or when I'm walking from place to place and otherwise unoccupied, and I think they're partially homesickness and partially that desire to escape the responsibility of school and homework and just get to sit home and read books and have fun, both of which are quite possibly exacerbated by my curtailed and busy Christmas vacation. Which really just means I will appreciate being home when I get there (and will probably spend a good deal of my time when I return refusing to leave). In the meantime, I'm glad I'm here and am looking forward, also, to the many adventures I will have before I return to family, friends, and familiarity.

Only one other thing clouds the otherwise sunny situation--that terrible nemesis of the literarily minded: the dreaded Writer's Block. One of my many goals in coming here was to seize the opportunity presented by less academic and theatrical temporal obligation in order to spend at least an hour a day at the task of "playwrighting," whatever form that took. The first few weeks here were too filled with the errands of getting settled in here to allow for that, but this week presented the first snippets of available free time. Dutifully, on Tuesday I sat before the blank screen of my computer, an hour set aside, and attempted to begin. I have a play I'm halfway through, which I could have continued work on (the fairytale play where the actors emerge from the audience, for anyone I've explained it to) but I've recently wanted to prove to myself that I have the ability to pursue my true purpose in writing, which is to write plays with some sort of useful purpose and spiritual truth. The fairytale play, while fun, is essentially fluffy and without much underlying meaning, so I decided to try to start something new and slightly more meaningful. And was confronted, quite brutally, with a mind as blank as the screen before me, and a seizing fear that perhaps I don't have what it takes to follow through with this life goal of mine.

Now of course, you can't expect inspiration to come on command, nor a play to be written in a single hour, and if God has playwrighting planned for me then He will give me the inspiration and the ability. But it was a scary thing, sitting there staring at the computer, writing words I knew to be absolute worthless garbage, and envisioning the crumbling of all the work and study I've done so far and all the plans I had for the future. If they're meant to crumble, of course, let them crumble. And perhaps they are not--one day's difficulty is no indication one way or the other. But what a scary thing to watch. Scary enough to have kept me from trying again the past few days. The trouble is, when I'm so busy I know I'll never have time to write, a million ideas occur to me, but once I finally have the time to write inspiration runs dry, and the ideas I wrote down in more imaginative times are either nonsensical, uninteresting, or impossibly daunting. Alas.

Anway, otherwise all is well here. The sunsets are incredible, and yesterday I saw a fragment of rainbow shining in a wisp of cloud on an otherwise sunny day. Have you ever seen such a thing? It's quite breathtaking. Pictures of people and places, as well as some descriptions, will be posted, I hope, in the next couple days. Until then, I hope you are all happy, healthy, and working your way successfully along towards whatever you see in your own future. My love as always.

Monday, January 24, 2005

A Haiku

Some snow fell tonight
But it lasted briefly, not
Much longer than this.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Yes, But What Was The Downside?

Well, yesterday's planned activities with the Philosophy and Astronomy Societies were unfortunately abandoned--the former because I was deep in conversation with some flatmates, and the second because it was too cloudy for observation. But those opportunities should arise again, and I shall most certainly seize them. Furthermore, this morning did bring a different adventure in the form of a guided walk through the South Downs, a series of hills in the midst of which, nestled in a valley, sits the university campus. A small handful of us made it up Boiler House Hill to the sports complex early on a Saturday morning (a notable task on a campus where most people spend not just weekends but most nights drinking in pubs or partying at clubs--drinking age here is 18, folks, and that's so much the culture that there isn't much else to do around campus on the evenings, although fortunately I've found a small group of people who prefer to watch movies or hang around and talk most nights).

We left campus through the neighboring village of Falmer, which is absolutely miniscule and one of the cutest things you'll ever see. Most of the houses and walls are made of flintstone, which makes up a good portion of the landscape here, along with deposits of chalk. There's a church built in Norman times that looks like a miniature castle, right next to a duckpond and surrounded by grass and benches. From there we took a trail bordering some farmlands up a hill to South Downs Way, a walking trail kept up, I believe, as some kind of nature reserve. It basically winds its way up and down the downs, along ridges and through valleys, past snatches of woodland and flocks of sheep, through a number of fences in gates which divide the landscape into individual farms and fields. We saw a depression used as a settlement in Stone or Iron Age times, complete with the remains of some earthworks, as well as dewponds lined with clay to catch the rain and dew that will otherwise permeate the chalk and sink underground, so the cows and sheep have something to drink. Also learned the meaning of a few Sussex-originated words, like bourne (a spring that spends part of its time underground), dean (a settlement in a valley), twitten (a small alleyway), and weald (a flat plain between areas of higher ground). The weather stayed sunny, although chilly and brisk, and we ended up doing a lollypop loop of about 13 kilometers, which I guess is about 8 miles. Quite pleasant.

There are a few more walks in the nearby countryside coming up this week, including some led by biology tutors (their word for professors) which focus on the local flora and fauna, which should be very interesting, so hopefully over the next few days I'll get a pretty good idea of the university's surrounding areas. I'm looking forward to lots of walks and picnics while I'm here, especially given the openness of my schedule. And the nice thing about arriving this time of year is, the weather will only get better and the days longer. Hm, quite a pastoral entry, this. Next thing you know I'll be spouting off rhyming couplets about daffodills, so I'd best be off to do some reading for class before I become entirely Wordsworthian and go prancing off into the sunrise with a wreath of daisies in my hair, never to be seen again.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Ask And You Shall Receive

Over the past 24 hours I have experienced a major turning point in the process of overcoming culture shock and homesickness.

Previous events like phone calls from home, putting up photos and pictures in my room, getting all my classes worked out, and the weekend homestay have had their effects, gradually decreasing the difficulty of being so far from home. But still a vague hint of foundationlessness lingered in all but my best of moments. Until yesterday.

It all began around noon, when the absurd and unnecessary difficulty of simple tasks like opening a bank account here drove me to a brief session of sobbing and praying in a field on the edge of campus, asking God whether there was any reason at all for me to be in this country, and begging for feelings of peace and comfort to replace my still occassional feelings of loneliness and sourceless fear. After this necessary release of pent-up emotion, I calmed down and cleaned myself up for a quick lunch with Katherine, one of the girls from the Bible study I just joined.

When I got back to my flat after lunch, I encountered Jack, one of my flatmates, in the kitchen. In the few minutes he had before he needed to head out for the afternoon, he started asking me some questions about my beliefs about the Bible, in pretty strikingly direct answer to my recent queries about whether God had any point for my presence here.

Then at 5 I headed off to the first meeting of Skeptics Anonymous, a group of people dedicated to discussing difficult questions of faith, led by Gavin, the university chaplain. We made a list of topics to discuss in the upcoming weeks, issues like tolerance, the Old Testament, the Trinity, and the soul. (As a beverage-related side note to make proud, respectively, both Christine and Ms. Visconti, I consumed at that meeting not only an entire cup of tea (I am in England, after all...) but also a few sips of the proffered Polish fermented honey--yes, folks, that'd be mead.)

In addition to these two reassuring answers to the question of my purpose here, I was further blessed to receive a similarly unmistakable response to the second half of my prayers as well. The vague sinking feeling I've found it so hard to find either explanation or cure for slowly but surely faded entirely away over the subsequent few hours, and seems to be gone for good. Walking around today I felt a level of comfort and belonging which, a mere twenty-four hours earlier, I didn't feel I would ever achieve here. Incredible.

Today I spent much of the time getting on top of my classes. I don't think I've mentioned yet the absurdity of my class schedule: I have a mere eight hours of class a week, with seven of those occurring on Monday and Tuesday. The one remaining hour is on Thursday, meaning I have not only Wednesday but also Friday off every single week--that means three day weekends all the way around. Furthermore, not a single one of my classes appears to have sessions more than five weeks into the ostensibly ten-week summer term. Not to mention the month-long vacation in between the two terms. Craziness! Not that I'm complaining, of course... Plans are already formulating for various adventures throughout Europe, including a week in a cottage in Ireland with some of the flatmates and co., a trip to Italy with some of the girls I met through Arcadia, and, of course, visitation of my various acquaintances from home who are over here in Europe for the semester. A major source of excitement has been the arrival of my dear Kate Fox to this side of the Atlantic, and a little chou-tete named Christine's imminent appearance as well. Not to mention the Marvelous Marlo! Ah bon!

Anyway, after a day spent obtaining the various books I will need for the term through the internet, library, and bookshop, watching Blade Runner for my Science Fiction class, and attending my Metaphysics seminar, I finished off the evening with a few rounds of Twister with my flatmates and some of their friends, apparently a Thursday tradition, at least starting this term. Quite amusing. Tomorrow's excitement includes a meeting of a discussion group for a book on fundamentalist Christianity, a lecture and discussion on insanity put on by the Philosophy society, and a meeting with the Astronomy Society for, weather permitting, some telescopic observation of a comet in Auriga (constellational home, for those of you familiar with my nominal plans for female offspring number one, to my favorite star, Capella). It's amazing how many stars you can see out here, far from huge American cities. And how often you get clear nights, considering the frequency of cloudy days.

Funny how quickly you can go from feeling convinced that you've made the completely wrong decision about what to do with your life, to feeling like you are in pretty much the most ideal situation you can imagine. Glory to God!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

There's No Place Like Home(stay)

I have returned to Sussex after a lovely weekend in the small town of Chandler's Ford, which I spent with a wonderful, kind, and welcoming couple who were kind enough to take me in. They showered upon me every imaginable kindness and comfort. Barbara, an excellent cook, prepared fried fish with veggies the first night, vegetarian shepherd's pie the second, and, for Sunday dinner, made a combination of foods anyone familiar with my eating patterns will find it difficult to believe I didn't directly dictate--macaroni and cheese, cheesy baked potatoes, mozzerella and tomato pizza on a shredded potato base, salad, tuna, and hardboiled egg. All of which was incredible. Martin took me out to meet a fellow student and her host father in a local pub on Friday evening.

On Saturday they took me sightseeing around the area. We visited Southampton, an important port which saw launchings of such momentous enterprises as 2 million D-Day troops, the Titanic, and the Mayflower (the latter of which was memorialized in a park at which we stopped). We also went to Winchester Cathedral, a magnificent and fascinating structure, as well as to Jane Austen's house, where my own personal highlights were seeing her writing table (tiny!) and, from her bedroom, the view out the window she must have gazed upon while pondering her literary endeavors. On Sunday, after a brisk walk to the top of a hill for a view of the countryside, their two grown sons (24 and 26, I believe) came over to visit with some friends, which was quite an interesting experience, as they were all rather exuberant (and friendly) youths. I also watched some hilarious British TV (their versions of Survivor (called Scream If You Want To Get Off), American Idol (called Stars In Their Eyes) and Who Wants to Be A Millionaire (same title, different host, questions, and contestants)). And hey, it wasn't just vegetating, it was cultural research! We also watched Thelma and Louise, which was much fun.

Overall it was a wonderful experience. The culture shock I experienced last week is fading pretty well, but homesickness is lingering on a bit longer, I think exacerbated by the brevity of my time at home over Christmas. So it was nice to have people cooking for me and driving me around, some time to just relax on a sofa and watch TV, a few days away from school, and just generally a home around me for a little while. It was so good I might sign up for another homestay through the University of Sussex.

Know, though, I do miss you all, especially my dear dear parents. If you're at home now, take a look around and thank the people that make it what it is. I guess I've developed a tendency to sign off with an encouragement to appreciate your surroundings, especially if they're familiar ones, but I think a lot of what I've gotten out of this first week has been exactly that. We take these things for granted, often, and it takes their absence to make you realize their value. I love you all.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Philosophy is Phun!

I've finally worked out my course schedule in its entirety, having eliminated Quantum Mechanics and Relativity in favor of hopefully less daunting subjects. I am now enrolled in Creative Drama, Writing for the Theatre, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction. The former two are, of course, delightfully theatre-y, and, even better, pertain specifically to playwrighting in one form or another. So those should both be exciting and beneficial. Metaphysics (the philosophy of the nature of reality) is a far preferable alternative to Quantum Mechanics, and although I missed this week's lecture, and the reading a bit dense and difficult (we're currently looking at the nature of truth, a rather slippery topic to look in the face), the seminar yesterday was glorious and envigorating as philosophy never fails to be for me. What's more, my mention of it in the flat sparked off a four-hour long debate late into last night regarding realism, free will, parallel dimensions, and the like. Which was awesome. I haven't attended a Science Fiction class yet, but it seems like it will be a pretty interesting topic of study.

Yesterday's activities also included a trip to the chaplain's house in the nearby countryside for snacks, tomato soup, and a movie (we ended up watching Casablanca). I met some really neat people, and now know the times during the week for their meeting group, called Skeptics Anonymous. The chaplain is a pretty hilarious and very friendly guy. So all in all yesterday was a very high-excitement day.

Tonight I head over a few hours west to stay with a family for the weekend through Arcadia's homestay program. Should be much fun, provided I can get ahold of the other girls I'm supposed to be going with, including the one with the tickets. But that means I probably won't be reachable over the weekend until I return around 7 or so Sunday night. I'm sure I'll have lots of exciting stories once I do return, though. Happy weekend to all of you!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Plugged Back In


I have managed to connect the internet in my bedroom.

Henceforth there shall be no escape from my prolific ramblings.


(One small hitch marred the otherwise flawless process which ensued once I had procured the proper cord. After I had turned on my computer and was about to sign on, a sickening pop accompanied the sudden aroma of melted plastic. Fortunately, my laptop was the source of neither of these concerning phenomena, and it still in perfect working order. The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for my voltage converter and plug adaptor, which was deposited, smoking, in the flower bed outside. I am currently powered by the kindness of almost-strangers, specifically my flatmate Clare (one of the THREE curly-brown-haired girls currently residing in my flat, much to my delight--embrace your curl!), who has lent me her laptop power cord.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Apologies and Assurances... anyone who might have been alarmed by my previous posting, in conjunction with my failure to properly relate my phone number. Even though I did specifically caution you not to worry. I forget that none of you underwent a seemingly infinite series of orientations all of which made frequent references to the inevitable experience of culture shock, its symptoms and effects, and its transitory nature. Fortunately, however, I did undergo such a series, and if they taught me nothing else, I came away with an awareness of the possibility of such feelings as I experienced two days ago, and a resolution not to let them defeat me.

Nevertheless, I was deeply touched and encouraged by the offerings of advice and concern, support and supplies, poetry and pumpkin squirrels I received via blog comments and e-mails. You are all more appreciated, beloved and valued by me than I can express. Thank you.

I promise life is looking much sunnier today, not only literally (although that's also the case) but also in terms of most of the previously daunting areas mentioned in my previous entry. For instance:

I have eliminated Quantum Mechanics and Relativity from my schedule, and replaced them with Metaphysics, which I think will be a much better subject for the open-ended structure of a British University education. I also attended Writing For Theatre, which seemed, from the first lecture, to be a straightforward class from which I will gain much, with a helpful and kind tutor (their word for professor). The tricky thing about the British educational system is that your are left, much more, to your own devices. The main difference is, instead of being assigned textbooks and told which chapters to read for a given class, you are told the general area in which to focus and expected to choose your own area of concentration and choose the books you read accordingly. Which means (and Janel and Christine will understand my apprehension here) a much greater amount of time in and reliance on the library. On the plus side, you get to study what you're really interested in, and actually have time for it, so I'm sure once I've become acquainted with the system and with the library I'll be much more comfortable here. I still have to add in one more class to get my schedule full, which will hopefully happen over the next few days.

I took a trip into Brighton yesterday for some shopping, with verbal directions thanks to my indispensable and ever-helpful neighbor, Ben, a few hours to spare, and an all-day bus pass, and managed to find my way around and procure most of the items of which I was in need. I located a British 99 pence shop, which is of course twice as expensive as its American counterpart but amusingly similar in title and helpfully diverse in content. Most valuable, I think, was the package of stick tack, with which I was able to spatter my room with photos of all of your wonderful (and often delightfully silly) faces. So my walls are no longer frighteningly bare. I've also taken to propping open my bedroom door.

Thanks to my father, the mystery of the inoperable telephone number has been solved. (If for some reason you don't receive an e-mail with the finally corrected version of that, and would like it, let me know.) Thus I was able to speak to both of my parents--a surpassingly comforting experience. Merci, ma famille!

I still haven't cracked the riddle of setting up internet in my room (the computer is currently unable to find a dialtone) so I'm still forced to make great treks in order to bridge the communication gap electronically, but hopefully that will soon be resolved.

I continue to meet many helpful and friendly people. Tomorrow I'm off to a movie night at the Chaplain's house with some folks I met at church, which I'm really looking forward to, and there are also philosophy student meetings I now know about since I'm enrolled in Metaphysics, which will hopefully provide another place to meet people and engage in some good conversations. Be assured, however, that you are all missed incredibly, in my emotional high points as well as my occasional lows. I hope you are doing well and appreciating that which is familiar in your environment--something you take for granted, often, until it disappears. I love you all.

Lost Child

A week into my residence in the United Kingdom, and my first day of classes has left me with the unmistakable feeling of being alone and tossed by the waves in a vast open ocean. The hardest thing, I think, is being so utterly devoid of anything familiar to grab hold of. I took all the advice of packing lightly to heart, but am now regretting my obedience, feeling that the hassle of carting around an extra bag the past few days would have been worth the consolation I now feel I would get from having a few things I recognize scattered about my rather barren bedroom. Call it culture shock, or homesickness, or jet lag, or whatever you want, but I'm at a point where those cautions against giving up and going home, which I thought so absurd when being warned against them in my many orientations, are actually becoming pertinent. Now, noone need worry, I don't think, about when to pick me up at the airport--I'm sure this is a highly temporary condition, which I will soon be over and laughing about. I'm trying to keep a positive attitude while it lasts. At the moment, though, my attempts to see the excitement and adventure of this experience are being combatted by more pessimistic considerations. Like:

My room feels like a jail cell, with its bare white walls and its location at the far end of a cramped hallway between a series of admittedly lavender fire doors which must nonetheless remain constantly and oppressively closed.

I am at the opposite end of the possession spectrum from usual--instead of feeling that I have more in my room than I'll ever have time to use, I am lacking in basic necessities like bath towels, cooking utensils, and dental floss, and have absolutely no clue how to transport myself someplace from which I could procure them.

I have vast swathes of free time, a condition incredibly alien to me, and none of the books I've been long wanting to read or people I never get to spend enough time with, or, really, anything much to do at all.

I'm intimidated by the openendedness of the course structure, through which most work is self-guided rather than teacher-directed--which will, I'm sure, eventually be a breath of fresh air, but at the moment deprives me of yet another potential source of stability in an already unstable and unfamiliar circumstance.

Basically, I am lacking, at the moment, in things to rely on. There are a few small and random things--the lavender doors, the kindness of the people I'm living with, a warm and cozy bed... And of course, there is God--and maybe this is an important growing experience, removing all the other things I usually rely on and forcing me to rely solely on Him, and I'm sure in the end I'll be stronger and thankful for it. And indeed, things like prayer, reading my Bible, and the wonderful and welcoming church service I attended yesterday morning have helped to an extent. And I'm sure in the long run I will recover and soon begin to feel grounded and enjoy myself. But at the moment, and I record this only to get it out from echoing uselessly round in my head and in the interest of completeness in the recording of my experience abroad, and not to cause any of my beloved friends and family who might be reading this concern, I'm feeling a bit lonely, lost, and overwhelmed.

That state wasn't helped by my Quantum Mechanics class today, with its Calculus references I struggle to go back three years to find a context for, and the feeling that everyone in my Creative Drama class already knows each other. Nor by the shortness of the days here, with the rain and early darkness leaving me little time to find my bearings in this new location. A moment of reassurance today did come in Creative Drama, when we spent forty minutes playing theatre games--thank goodness, something I recognized!

Anyway, really, I'm sure I'll be fine soon enough, and I'll definitely be glad to get my whole class schedule worked out, as well, hopefully, as my bedroom a bit decorated, my concept of the town and bus schedule solidified, and a routine set. Must be off now, I hope you are all happy and well and grounded wherever you are. Love always.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Magic of England

Yes, of course, you think, it probably is a bit magical, what with all the green hillsides, the ancient castles, the stone circles and Arthurian legends. But in fact, I'm referring to the once-fantastically-popular card game of Magic, which you might remember from about 1995, or more recently if you're that sort of person. Over the past few days, my flatmate and neighbor, Ben, has been teaching me the game as he played it with Toby (also just learning) and today I was able to show off my newly acquired knowledge by creaming him royally in the first three games I played with this Magic pro. Luck of the draw, of course, each time, but I found it funny, and decided to quit while ahead and stop playing.

Today was a pretty lazy day, involving sleeping through my alarm and watching a 1959 horror film called "The House On Haunted Hill." Two more of my flatmates arrived today--Sofia, who is from Greece, and Jack, who I believe is from Wales. I've also met two other girls in their circle of friends--Helen, also from Wales, and Ruth, who I assume is from England someplace. So mostly I've been hanging out with them. Oh, also had my first British pub experience last night, kind of--we just went into the nearby on-campus bar for a bit to play this gambling-Clue-quiz game, so it was a taste of the ambience (smoky, mainly) more than a full-blown experience quite yet... But I'm sure more will soon enough follow.

I cooked my first proper meal today--eggs with onion, spinach, basil, and mozzerella--although Jack, the dutiful vegetarian, informed me I really should be eating something else with it to get a fully rounded meal. I've got a British accent stuck permanently in my head (so the Curse of the Colin Voice still lives, Luba, if you happened to be reading this and wondering), and am hard-pressed already to keep my American intonations when I speak. Which I don't do a lot of, still trying, as I am, to find my niche, and being perfectly content to sit in quiet hysterics in response to the outlandish stories, scattered puns, and unexpected turns of phrase which the conversation is spiced with, if not actually composed of.

I've set up my phone, finally, and got my number, so if I haven't e-mailed it to you and you'd like it, shoot me an e-mail and I'll pass it along. Ok, I'm going to wrap this up now to try to stay true to my promise of keeping it shorter from here on out. There are so many new and different things here, it's hard to know which of them to describe. If you think of anything crucial you feel I've left out, e-mail or comment and I'll be glad to fill in details. Hope these remain (assuming they began such) interesting in some way--if they get boring and I'm including too much detail, feel free to let me know that as well. Hope you're all well. Classes start in two days--exciting but scary. Till then, likely, unless something fascinating occurs in the interim.


Saturday, January 08, 2005

Am I Oriented Yet?

After five days in the country and more orientation meetings than I could shake a stick at (in my current travel-weakened state, at least) I have finally found the time and facilities to make my first British post. How exciting! Even the simple act of typing this message attests to the strangely disorienting minor differences inherent to this mainly similar and yet surprisingly divergent nation. On this British keyboard, there is a pound sign above the number 3, and the quotation mark nestles comfortably, as though it belongs there and always has, directly above the number 2, while the "at" symbol has been demoted to a position amidst the morass of punctuation to the right of the alphabet. Hey, so have the tilde and the number sign! Ok, this might seem trivial and pointless in the face of the many seemingly more significant experiences I have undergone in the past five (or seven, counting travel) days. But it illustrates a key point about the transition from America to her former motherland, Great Britain--it's the tiny things, the little differences you never would have expected and which don't seem to matter in the telling, which really drive home your foreignness in a way larger things, like being surrounded by unfamiliar accents and bombarded with cars from unanticipated directions, are less able to do. Not that those things don't have an impact. Indeed, my first moment of culture shock hit before I had even set foot off American soil, as I stood in line to board my final of four planes to London among the hoard of returning British holidayers and found myself awash in a babble of fast-paced, lilting chatter, with nary an American accent to be heard. And thus commenced, as I shall now begin to describe, in what will hopefully (though unlikelily) be relatively brief terms, the introductory days of my upcoming six months in England.

After a final plane trip beside two increasingly inebriated Brits with very little sleep to relieve my time-zone-muddled brain and body, I arrived at the London airport around 7am local time, to wind through a maze of corridors until I reached the veritable minotaur of the labyrinth--The Customs Official. Determined not to admit any unnecessary riffraff to her beloved homeland, she threw question after pointed question my way, much to my sleep-deprived dismay. ("What is your name?" "What is your favorite color?" etc.) In the end, however, she permitted me to pass, and I impressed myself by managing my way, by train, tube, and luggage-laden trek, to the Study Abroad office, and then to my hotel. As it was right across from Kensington Gardens, and I feared taking a nap would hopelessly derail any hopes of establishing native sleeping habits, I instead passed the afternoon with a delightful stroll through the Gardens, conducting undercover reconnaissance on crucial details such as the side of the path to which the locals tend to keep. I also met my roommate for my time in London, a delightful girl from Colorado with whom I ended up having much in common.

The next few days, amidst the requisite hours of sitting in lecture halls being oriented to everything from British candy conversions (Mars Bar = 3 Musketeers, who knew?) to Parliamentary politics, we took some time to imbibe the local culture through activities such as a boat ride down the Thames, a rousing performance of STOMP, and a meander through the British Museum (where I was delighted to discover my ability to read at least five words in the top line alone of the Greek section of the Rosetta Stone!). But after a few days, it was time for myself and the three others on their way to Sussex through the same organizational service to depart, on train, for our home away from home on England's charming southern coast.

We arrived amidst a sea of fellow Americans and their accompanying luggage, so generally voluminous that our minibus driver, with a glance at my own relatively small collection, inquired whether I was "sure I was really American." I was then led to my room, about which I had been moderately nervous, having been warned that my particular area of residence contained the rather more dilapidated, less modernized flats. My worries were soon to be dispelled, however, most fortunately, by my pleasant if slightly miniaturized (by American standards) accommodations. A small but fully equipped kitchen and dining area neighbor the two hallways off which the flat bedrooms project. My flat will contain (once everyone arrives) six people, myself included, with four on the hallway above and one other off my hall below. (Although the flat contains two separate levels, they are not directly on top of each other, but are rather arranged as two conjoined steps in a staircase of flats covering the surrounding hillside.) My room contains a bed, wardrobe, bedside table, desk, and chest of drawers, as well as two chairs, all small but in quite good condition, and overlooks a nearby grassy knoll and, over the intervening campus, the bright green hillsides of the surrounding Downs. To the flat's crowning glory, as far as I'm concerned, every door in the place is painted a charming lavender. Those who know me well enough will understand that, with a purple portway and a verdant view, I couldn't be cozier. The campus, situated in the midst of bright green "downs" (high, grassy hillsides, as far as I can tell) which, so far, have been tossed in a cool and windy intermittent mist, is similarly well-suited to my tastes.

Since we arrived here, I have met one of my flatmates (my next-door neighbor), a British fellow named Ben, who has been consistently polite and helpful, and his friend Toby, to the two of whom, much to my delight and amusement, I sat for three hours listening last night as they quipped and babbled in rollicking British accents. I've also met a number of other international students, mostly American although I have found a few from Canada and even one, today, from Holland. Most of the British students (including the rest of my flatmates) have not yet arrived, but should begin to do so tomorrow and the next day.

All right, that brings you, minus the content of an overwhelming number of frequently repetitive orientation meetings which are finally, mercifully, drawing to a close (much like this posting), up to date on my activities thus far. I apologize for the lengthiness of this account, and commend you heartily if you have managed to reach this point with only minimal skimming. In the future, hopefully, with more regular internet access, I shall be able to keep these a bit shorter. But I hope they have and shall continue to provide you entertainment, enlightenment, and a sense of the excitement inherent to travel in another country. To my faithful and enduring readers, I wish a happy holidays if you're still on them, an appreciation for the comforts of home if you're there, and a sense of adventure and appreciation for unexpected details wherever you might be. Until next time,


P.S. Thanks to all of you who commented on my previous entry. A ray of sunshine illuminating my life in this cloudy if wonderful country. Keep it up! (And to those of you who didn't--it's not too late--start now!)