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Scheduling, Train fun, and York

Time March 20th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, England | No Comments by

This isn’t a process unique to traveling abroad, but it’s rather more applicable now than it is when I’m at home. University is going well; I’m enjoying two of my classes, and surviving my third, which in a pass/fail environment is just fine. I’m enjoying my free time on campus immensely, but a lot of the time I want to travel. Sometimes to London, and sometimes somewhere else. The challenge is finding the time, when weekends are often booked with closer-to-home activities. Thankfully, the trains here run like clockwork, and my schedule has an open Wednesday. Enter York: a one night, one-day trip with a loooooot of train time at both ends. When your weekends are for travel and manuscript editing, creativity, booking in advance, and bringing a good book for the train are your best friends.

York is only about four hour’s travel from Norwich by train. Not awful, but not great either. I picked it because I wanted to meet my friend Conor, who’s currently studying at St. Andrews up in Scotland, somewhere roughly halfway between us. York was the answer we came up, more than slightly influenced by the absolutely gorgeous architecture and historic sites the city is known for. I booked the train tickets and the student hostel we spent the night at a couple weeks in advance to save money, and so the journey was set. We both left Tuesday afternoon, and arrived just in time for a late dinner in the city. We were tempted to stop at the Pizza Express that had taken residence in the fanciest building I’d seen thus far, complete with marble pillars outside and everything. Seriously. I guess that’s what happens when all the buildings in the city center are centuries old: you get to have fun with the space you rent. We spent the following day hitting all the sites York is famous for: York Minster, the cathedral with some of the most stunning stained glass I’ve ever seen and a climb to the top of the tower that almost killed me, Clifford’s Tower (famous for less pleasant reasons, but still a very pretty standing ruin on a hill covered in daffodils), the York Castle Museum, the old Roman bathhouse ruins preserved under a local pub, and of course the walls that still surround the city center. Walking around the city from atop centuries-old walls was probably the best way to start the day that I could have imagined.

And then it was over. We had a great time, and got on our respective trains and back to our respective universities a little after ten o’clock. I don’t know how eager I would’ve been for the trip if I hadn’t spent so much time planning it out in advance, so let me just make that very clear: planning ahead is your friend, especially when you need to get creative about not missing class. Studying abroad has it in two words, and you can’t forsake one entirely for the other. So spend that extra hour making sure everything is good to go a week before it happens, and see if you can’t squeeze in that visit to a centuries-old cathedral between classes.

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Classwork and Comfortable Seats

Time March 14th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, England | No Comments by

So passes what the University of East Anglia refers to as “Do Something Different Week.” In theory, this is a week where no students have class, the professors and lecturers get to go free and happy, and everything is wonderful on campus. Events have been carefully created by the faculty to address student interests in numerous areas, ranging from a stress therapy coloring session in the Faith Centre to an intensive course on making your entrance into the publishing industry (I very much wanted the latter, but unsurprisingly it filled up fast). I suppose it was a nice dream, but the reality is that everyone scatters and goes on vacation for a week, leaving the campus with a skeleton crew and a ghost town vibe. I didn’t mind; London is very nice this time of year. But that’s besides the point. Do Something Different Week is a vacation whether it’s billed as one or not, and as everyone knows, work builds up after vacation. Thus we enter crunch time, and the deadlines are fast approaching. Essay plan for History? Sure. Collection of short works and a writerly appraisal for Poetry? Why not? Complete short fiction and a workshop for Prose? I imagine you get the idea, and I’ve no doubt others had it far worse than I did. So let’s talk survival instead. Read More »

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The importance of good tea (and timing the trains right)

Time March 6th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, England | No Comments by

I’m running on less sleep than is probably wise, but that comes as a university standard across the world, I think. Granted, for me it’s more to do with out-of-university affairs than anything, but we’re aiming for relatability, here. Fortunately, there’s a little thing that the Brits really have down right that helps a lot with sleepiness, exhaustion, and more or less everything else in life: tea. I’m no connoisseur, but I’m learning. My tastes go a little fruitier than most, but even so. (and I’ll never quite manage to leave coffee behind, I suspect. Too many years of dependency.)

First off, tea is an excellent writing companion. I’m drinking tea as I’m writing this, I was drinking tea as I worked through revisions last night, and I have no doubt that I’ll be drinking tea when I’m outlining that essay plan I’ve been putting off for three weeks tomorrow too. …I’m not saying tea is an enabler of bad behavior, but, um. Read into that as much as you like. Some teas are caffeinated, others are herbal, others taste a little like someone contemplated adding some milk to that sugar and decided at the last minute that no, sugar’s probably enough on its own. Everyone can find something. I’ve been fond of the red berry tea for a while now – the fruity taste is just enough to make it feel like a treat, and the hot beverage aspect of it is enough to calm my mind and settle my thoughts into something I can work with. It’s also pretty cheap though, and this is the land of tea; I wanted more. Read More »

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Keeping Busy, but not necessarily wisely

Time February 23rd, 2017 in 2017 Spring, England | No Comments by

So hey. I’m still alive. Terrible about keeping to schedule, but that’s not really something that comes as a surprise to anyone who knows me. I’ve been enjoying my time in Norwich and at UEA more and more lately, now that I know where everything is and have a decent idea about what it is I’m supposed to be doing. Granted, I don’t always do precisely what I’m supposed to do, but I’m having fun with that. I’m told that’s what counts. I hope that’s what counts, but c’est la vie.

Classes are going well, which isn’t too much of a surprise. I’m taking three: Witchcraft (history, but… I guess speculative would be the kindest way of phrasing it), Creative writing: poetry, and Creative writing: prose. I’m only really predisposed to be good at one of them. Three guesses which one that is, and the first two don’t count. Hint: it’s prose. I enjoy the theory of witchcraft, but it’s hard to take the lecturers too seriously, especially when they’re too busy taking themselves too seriously as is. Poetry I adore, but really don’t have any talent for. I can arrange words into sentences, sure, but when I have to make them into a stanza and obey a strict rhyme structure, everything kinda falls apart. I’m treating it as a sort of exercise for a part of my brain I don’t normally use. And prose is more or less what I expected it to be – a lot of focus is placed on making sure the students are actually writing as often as possible, which is a sentiment I wholeheartedly approve of. It’s fun coming up with ideas based on the prompts I get, and then twisting them as much as creative license allows. Here’s the thing, though: I’m doing all of this, but it’s backseat to all the other work I’ve managed to assign myself, because I’m an idiot like that. Read More »

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Voice From Beyond (or perhaps not quite that yet)

Time January 30th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, England | No Comments by

Hi again! It’s been a little while since my last post, but this is just to say that I’m alive and, um, doing. I’d say doing well, but at the moment I’m currently struggling with what is probably the flu. I’d like to say this has lent me a lot of time for introspection, but really, it’s just been kinda gross all around. Still, I have some awesome stories from before I landed myself with a cold, so I’ll share them now to valiantly ignore my current well-being.

Last weekend I got the chance to head back into London for couple days, to visit my friends Rebecca and Miranda! They’re also on the IFSA program, just at Kings College in London instead of out here in Norwich with me. We had promised each other many adventures together, and we did our best to start that. Rebecca spearheaded this weekend’s charge. Our target? The Magical Lantern Festival, out in some middle-of-nowhere park in London. As a newbie to the tube, I was wholly reliant on the solid one week of experience my friends had to guide me around. I’m honestly surprised we didn’t get lost. I was half-expecting to be like, one of those ghosts just doomed to eternally wander the London underground without ever reaching my destination. I have it on good authority that that’s a thing. That, and apparently the story behind the “mind the gap” voice guy will make you cry every time you hear it.

So we made it out to Chittiwick Gardens (the spelling of that may or may not be atrocious), and after some fruitless wandering and then defeatedly asking a friendly passerby for directions. Once we were finally there, though, it was worth it. The Magical Lantern Festival definitely lived up to its name, with displays of cultures from all across the world rendered in brightly-lit cables and sculptures that stretched across the lawns. I got myself a mulled wine to keep my hands warm, and wandered among designs that showcased the entire Aladdin cast to a rendition of a giant masted galley ship in bright blue and white lights. For lack of a better word, it was a magical night.

The following morning, I had to go back to Norwich, but I wasn’t in too much of a rush. Plus, morning by college standards more or less means any time before dark. We spent a little time wandering Hyde Park, and then went off and had afternoon tea at a tiny little french cafe that made me feel horribly underdressed on principle. It was a wonderfully British experience.

Anyway, all good things must come to an end, and it’s not like Norwich doesn’t have its own appeal as well. I came back to campus, went to class, got the chance to do a little pub exploring (the Adam and Eve pub is apparently over a thousand years old, which amazes me), and visited the beautiful Norwich Cathedral as well. I’ll tell you more stories later; right now, I’ve got a cold to beat.

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Weary Arrival (England, Spring 2017)

Time January 12th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, England | No Comments by

Hi everyone! Spencer here, and I’m to be one of IFSA-Butler’s Spring 2017 bloggers.

First off, apologies for not posting sooner. I arrived in England (Heathrow, to be exact) early on the morning of the ninth, coming off from a fresh snowstorm back home in Massachusetts and about half an hour of sleep nabbed on the plane ride over. I meant to post before coming, but things ended up happening so fast that I lost track of time and wifi faster than I anticipated. I’ll give you a brief overview of my feelings pre-departure now: panic (did I remember to pack everything?), excitement (accents, yes please), and restlessness (enough of things about to happen, let’s get to the things happening part). Thankfully, once transportation actually started all of that faded into the background as I tried not to look too helplessly lost.

Given that I arrived in London at the same time as the tube system workers were going on strike, travel into the city and to the St. Giles Hotel promised to be… interesting. My flight was due into Terminal 3, the same location as the group flight, only about half an hour ahead of them. Originally, this meant nothing – I was to make my own way into the city and meet everyone else there. Thankfully, the IFSA-Butler team reacted quickly to the news of the tube strike and instead of panicking I got to hitch a ride with the coach the group flight was on instead. I still spent three hours in the airport waiting due to a delay, but everything ended well, and more importantly I got some coffee. Then came orientation.

First off, London is huge, and moving around feels not unlike moving through the centuries at times. Building styles changed rapidly as the coach took us deeper into the city, ranging from more modern cement-block-of-gloom types to buildings that’d seem right at home 300 years back. It was exciting to watch the change from out the window, and a welcome distraction to keep my eyes from closing of their own accord. The hotel where we were staying at was more modern than some, and built with the high cost of space in the city in mind (politely, the rooms were a cozy size. Less politely… well, I had a bed. I’ll count my blessings). We had a run-down on safety and emergency and contact procedures for IFSA-Butler over the next couple days, a guided tour of London, and a lot of free time for those who could keep their eyes open after seven without keeling over from jetlag. Pub life is everything you might imagine it’d be; I had a porter and Fish&Chips and felt very British.

Yesterday, I came to UEA. The train ride (while squeaky) was efficient and comfortable, and the countryside sped by in shades of green, grey, and sheep. I arrived a little before noon, caught a glimpse of Norwich – which along with being absolutely gorgeous apparently has a castle in the middle of it – and then started to move into my flat. Haven’t met my flatmates yet, but it should be interesting when I do get around to it. The room itself is nice and the kitchen looks good, so that’s a plus. I’m living with the U.K. equivalent of freshmen, so that’s a… something to deal with as it comes. I had a bit of sorting out to do classes-wise, but everything is a lot more settled now, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of campus with every passing day. East Anglia is quite modern, and quite pretty, and promises to have everything I could want so long as I’m willing to look for it.

I’ll end on that note for now. The rabbits here are as large as some cats I’ve seen back home. I worry about an uprising, but comfort myself with the knowledge that I probably won’t be the first to go.

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