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!)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to hear from you! Good luck in England and enjoy your trip. I'll get a letter off soon enough. -Patrick

8:31 PM  
Blogger Knightley said...

Miss Elizabeth:
Your syntax has already become delightfully Austenian... Austenorical... Austonian... Well, you have two jobs by which you can make yourself useful to me:
1. Since you are in the land of Jane Austen, find out the adjective for her name. Austian?

2. Go to the Tate and see if John Singer Sargent's Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose is still there.

I am re-reading Vanity Fair, and I am just at the part where our Becky is cruising Kensington Gardens in her barouche--quite the most popular girl in town. And while your morals are certainly more punctilious than Becky's, I will nonetheless picture you surrounded by dashing--and enthralled--fellows, just as she was there in her fabulous dress purchased with borrowed funds she had no intention of paying back. Don't let me down. -Knightley

11:26 PM  
Blogger your doting mum said...

So Elizabeth-y, is what I say. We miss Liz (The Girl) and will enjoy your postings. Have fun. Love-a yew!

2:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Skimming? You cut me deep there Liz, real deep. I want every sentence, every word, and every nuance that is Liz to DRIP from this Blog. If I can't be there with you, you better damn well make sure I can visit occassionally through your words. Keep it up! -Justin-

12:04 AM  

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