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Time August 10th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I have now been back in America for two full weeks, though it feels like much longer.  I do not feel like I’ve had a normal post-study-abroad adjustment period, and unfortunately I doubt that I ever will.  In fourteen days I have said goodbye to the country which had begun to feel like home, seen my best friend and house for the first time in ten-and-a-half months, finally had to come to terms with the fact that my dog died while I was in England, packed up my entire room and thrown away many of my childhood belongings, moved to a new town thirty-five minutes away, and stayed only one night there before rushing off to my friend’s lake house on Lake Winnipesauke for the week.  I am on my way back from New Hampshire now, and I will have only two-and-a-half weeks at home before I go back to school.  Because I’m going through so many confusing changes in addition to coming back to America, I’m almost too confused to say anything about reverse culture shock or anything else that I might have felt more distinctly if I had returned to a settled, slow-paced environment.

One thing I know for sure is that I definitely want to spent as much of my future life in England as possible.  Anyone who is familiar with me at all will know that I don’t like America very much, and that this is one of the reasons I want to live in England.  But more importantly, when I was at Oxford I finally found a place where simply existing made me happy.  Although this year was amazing, it wasn’t perfect.  But no matter what kind of stress I was going through while I was there, I felt good simply because I was in England.  I think that it’s small things like that which create happiness in the end, rather than big, dramatic events.  So, to some extent I lost that feeling of simple happiness now that I’m back in America. This loss has definitely been one of the major themes of my return so far.

Of course, there have been positives to my homecoming as well.  Thanks in part to my academic experience at Oxford, I now have a clearer idea of the kind of career I want to pursue.  For this reason I’m looking forward to returning to my home university.  Like all of my other experiences abroad, this year has given me a lot of confidence and perspective (I’ll never be afraid to write another paper after Oxford) and I’m excited to apply everything I learned to my American life.  Also, seeing my friends has been amazing.  It’s great to meet new people, but it can be exhausting after a long time and sometimes it’s nice to be around the people who know you already.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the concept of home this year, both when I was abroad and now that I’m back in America.  Did it make sense to call England “home” over the past year because I was so happy there, even though I’d spent less than a year in the country?  Can I really say that I’m “home” right now, if I am likely to spend less than a total of two months in my brand new house over the next year?  Every familiar place and person here feels slightly and indescribably different, a sensation that I can link to my year abroad with certainty.  It’s disconcerting, and it makes this country feel less like home than ever.  But while study abroad might be the source of this displacement in a way, it has also taught me how to move past it.  I now have a clearer idea of what I want in life, and I’ve learned to deal with uncertainties better.  While I may be unsure of where to call “home” at the moment, I am confident that, sometime in the future, I will be capable of creating my own sense of belonging wherever I decide to do so.

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A Belated Post about Wales

Time August 10th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I realize that this post is extremely late, but I wanted to finish out my year of blogging properly.  In my defense, I really have been non-stop busy ever since returning to America.

Just before I went home I spent two weeks in Wales.  I participated in HelpX, an organization similar to WWOOFing in that you help out a host in exchange for free room and board.  The difference is that with HelpX you’re not necessarily on a farm – you could be helping a sickly older person or someone with a disability, or an ordinary family who just needs things done around the house.  Some of the HelpX hosts even live on boats.  I was helping a family in Snowdonia who liked DIY.  They posted a listing on HelpX because they want help with their home and gardening projects.  They had a cozy house right on the edge of a beautiful valley called Nant Francon (Google it – it’s amazing).  The views from the house and past their large garden were stunning.  The father, Alaric, is going to retire from an occupational therapy job in October, and the mother, Rosy, works a few days a week at a local hotel information desk.  They have three grown children, 25-year-old Aaron, 23-year-old Osian, and 20-year-old Clara.  Once again I got extremely lucky with a host family.  Both of my host parents made me feel very welcome, and they were so laid back with work that the experience almost felt like a regular homestay rather than a HelpX one.  I didn’t have to get up at any particular time, which was great since I was exhausted from the month of travelling I’d done before arriving there.  Technically I had to work 4-5 hours a day, but Rosy and Alaric were very understanding about my desire to see the area so I often only worked for a few hours a day.  They even drove me to local sites.  When I was working, my tasks were really nice in that they were varied.  One day I’d be gardening, the next I’d be painting, and the next I’d be cleaning and polishing.  I never got bored doing the same thing over and over, like I often did WWOOFing.

I also liked the other members of the family.  Clara was, funnily enough, in Sweden for an environmental conference during the first week of my Welsh experience, and she was great to talk to during the second week when she was around.  I also met Osian, who came with his longtime girlfriend and all of her Iranian family on my last day.  He was very busy entertaining his guests – it was insane cramming fourteen people into that small house (Alaric’s brother and his wife came over on the same night), but Osian seemed very nice too.  Oh, and I can’t forget my host family’s dog, Tara!  I LOVED her.  She reminded me a lot of Roxy, actually – she was a black lab mix too, and she was loving and mild-tempered.  I took her for a few beautiful walks in the valley.

As I try to think of other things to write about, I’m realizing that what I really should admit is that I spent a lot of time sleeping in Wales.  I was profoundly tired and I didn’t really need to set my alarm, so I think I might have missed out on some day trips around the area.  But it was the end of a very fun but exhausting year, and I needed to sleep.  It’s not like I stayed in the house all the time.  I went to Caernarfon, a cute town which is home to the castle where the Princes of Wales receive their title.  The castle was beautiful and interesting, but I experienced more than a typical tourist trip on my visit.  I was wandering around the castle when one of the guys who worked there stopped me and initiated a chat.  He was pudgy and probably in his late thirties or early forties.  He started talking about how I liked the castle and Wales in general, and then he progressed to slightly more personal topics.  When he learned that I went to Oxford, he said that he’d studied Medieval history at Trinity College, Cambridge.  Only a minute or two later he suggested that we stay in touch.  Naturally, my answer to this was awkward and vague.  I think I said “oh yeah, I’ll just…be in my host family’s garden” or something.  Anyway, he finally let me go with the thrilling promise of seeing me on my way out.  That he did – bearing gifts.  He was carrying a gift bag for me, in which there was a little book about historical Anglo-Welsh relations and a card with my name on it.  I had to wait a little while for Rosy to pick me up across the street from the castle, and the guy actually came out onto the street to go on some errand, chatting with me again on the way.  He informed me that his e-mail address was in the card if I wanted to “exchange history tidbits”.  I hid as he was coming back from his errand because I couldn’t bear to talk to him again.  So, that’s my story from Caernarfon Castle.

My other tourist trips were less eventful.  Rosy and Alaric have a thirty-five-year-old friend who lives in the nearby town of Conwy, which is another historical place with a castle.  I met her when she came over for dinner one night, and she invited me to spend the day with her in her town.  I had a great time in Conwy because we saw four historical houses (including the castle, which was actually used more for war purposes), and of course seeing historical houses is one of my favorite things to do in Britain.  Two of the houses were especially interesting because they were once owned by middle class people.  Most of the houses that are open to be toured belonged to the nobility, so it was cool to see how a more ordinary person would have lived.  One of the houses was Elizabethan, and the second was probably the oldest house I’ve ever visited – it was built in the 1400s.  The fourth house was (literally) the smallest house in Britain.  It was right across from Conwy’s waterfront, and contained only two rooms.  One was on top of the other and each were roughly the size of a king-size bed.  It was actually quite a pretty house.  Apparently a fisherman used to live there in early 20th century.

One of my other outings was to Penrhyn Castle.  Lord Penrhyn made his fortune in Snowdonia slate mining in the middle of the 19th century, and apparently he was a massive jerk.  He was active in the slave trade and only paid his workers in his own goods, ensuring that they’d stay reliant on him and that he’d stay very rich.  Still, his castle is impressive.  If I remember correctly he built it to look like Norman architecture, though of course the inside was Victorian.  I think I prefer Georgian houses, but I still enjoyed my visit very much.

I think the only other major trip I took in Wales was up Mount Snowdon in a steam train.  The views were beautiful, of course, and I happened to go up the mountain on the same day as the annual footrace to the top.  I think the race started at the exact same time as the train ride began, so I got to see a lot of the runners.

I had one last adventure after I left Wales.  I took the train to London to stay with Priya for the night before my plane ride home the next afternoon.  It was great to see Priya again, and to explore her area of London.  It’s called Hounslow (it’s where Bend it like Beckham takes place), and she’d told me a lot about it over the year so it was nice to finally be able to see it for myself.  It was also the perfect bookend to a year which had begun with my night in Ciara’s room back in Boston, ten-and-a-half months ago.  It’s mind-boggling to think of how much has happened between then and now.

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Sweden: Fika, farming, and tales of general incompetence

Time July 11th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Yet another few weeks have passed, and I am one trip closer to the end of this adventurous year.  In Sweden I was once again lucky with a farm choice.  Our host was an extremely friendly man named Pär (after much debate and struggle, we learned that you can’t really pronounce this name correctly without have a Swedish accent, but most English-speaking people call him Pahr).  He has three kids, but they were away at their mother’s house for the first week we were there.  The oldest, a sixteen-year-old daughter named Saga, helped with the farming when she was around, and she was nice and seemed quite artsy.  There was a ten-year-old girl named Ingrid who mostly watched TV, and an insane five-year-old boy named…something very Swedish…who ran around yelling in a very, very high voice.  Pär’s friend Paul also came over to help on the farm and brought his son David, and Paul was extremely friendly too.  They all started teasing me about my fear of worms, etc. (predictably), so the banter was good quality.

During the first week there were three other WWOOFers – a hippie Swedish couple (Sweden seemed quite hippie in general, actually – it reminded me of Maine in landscape and culture) and a French girl named Charlotte.  They were all great – Anton, the Swedish guy, was really tall and had a deep voice made extra epic by his Swedish accent, and he and his girlfriend Kajsa (pronounced like “kaysa”)were both very nice.  Rosie and I had more contact with Charlotte, since she lived with us in the little four-bed bungalow while Anton and Kajsa lived in their caravan.  We joked about her in good nature, because she was quite thin and soft-spoken but a few days in we found out that she was a rugby player.  She told us a story about some girl who’d yanked on her ponytail during a rugby match, and how she’d fought her off and everything.  She also ate SO MUCH – like, more than Rosie and me, which is saying a lot.  Whenever we couldn’t find food we’d always say “CHARLOTTE!”, even after she left, but we were just messing around.  Did she make meals feel like competitions?  Yes.  But she was still great.  She, Anton, and Kajsa all left on the same day, and Scott, a 20-year-old American, arrived only a few hours later.  He was basically a stereotype of a California surfer dude, though he had a lot of Oregon hippie in him too.  He was obsessed with living in the middle of the woods and eating plants and worms.  On our last day he BIT INTO A WORM.  In case you aren’t aware, this is SO MUCH WORSE than eating the worm, because after you bite into it you then have to watch the REST OF IT SQUIRMING as you CHEW.  He even said “oh look, its guts are hanging out” as he ate it.  AHHHHHHHHHHHH

Moving on from that horrific memory…the work was very chilled out.  It was almost exclusively planting and weeding, since Pär doesn’t have any animals or anything, and it usually seemed to go by really quickly.  I think we worked almost as much as I’ve worked at any other farm – it was probably the daily schedule which made it feel quick.  At the English and Irish farms we’d always worked all morning with a quick break for tea and biscuits, and then have lunch and then work some more.  But in Sweden we’d get up a half-hour earlier than we did at the other farms, work only a few hours, have an hour long coffee break, and then work two more hours before lunch.  There was no work after lunch, which never failed to be surprising.  Oh yeah – that “coffee break” was really “fika,” a Swedish cultural tradition where you drink a hot coffee out of a normal glass (therefore burning your hands…go figure) with people who you want to get to know better.  That sort of thing is the reason I like WWOOFing – it was cool to experience a daily event like that with Swedish people.  Also, Pär was an INCREDIBLE cook.  He made everything from soups to salads to meat dishes, and it was all amazing, so lunches were consistently fantastic.

Ah yes, I almost forgot to write about the two days during which we worked with some neighboring farmers instead of Pär.  It sucked.  Not only did they make instant coffee for fika and not have milk for my tea (!) but our first task was shoveling sheep poop.  We’d heard horror stories about this job from Anton, Kajsa and Charlotte, who’d done it before we got there, but it didn’t turn out to be SO bad.  It wasn’t fun, though.  And the other task they had us do was hay barreling, which entails standing in a huge crate attached to the back of at tractor, which is picking up hay and launching it at you in the shape of a square.  We were meant to stack the hay in the crate, and it would have been quite fun if it hadn’t sent Rosie and Scott’s allergies wild.  Scott even had an asthma attack and had to go to the hospital!  I didn’t wear long trousers so I got a rash, but nothing worse.  Needless to say, we missed Pär after a day and a half of those people.  The dad of the neighbouring family was a bit odd, too – he was Scottish but raised in Africa and he sounded English, and he is apparently quite a famous Cambridge archeologist.  He found out that Rosie went to Oxford, and without knowing that I did too (sort of) he got very chummy with Rosie in a pretentious way.  One day we were walking to the bungalow down the path and he pulled up his car, asked “do you like Magnum ice cream bars?” and gave us a bunch of sweets and Coke before driving away.  We never really spoke again.  Odd, but I was happy to take the sweets.

Rosie and I experienced many failures in Sweden, to put it gently.  The one time we had to make lunch for ourselves we basically ate untoasted bread with jam and uncooked vegetables.  It was pathetic.  We also managed to mess up making our pasta dinners (which were our fare every work night) almost EVERY SINGLE TIME, whether it was a spillage of water, pasta, or uncooked tomato sauce that was the problem.  Once I even created some sort of snot-esque goo out of the pasta by overfilling the pot, being unable to stir it properly, and overcooking everything at the bottom.  Rosie and I also consistently tripped, got on the wrong trains, failed to speak Swedish, planted crooked vegetables, and got lost.  To be fair, our living situation at the farm was only a step above camping, so it invited accidents.  The bungalow was one room, and while it was cosy in a way it was quite buggy.  You also had to walk through a path of overgrown weeds to get there, and there were stinging red ants swarming it.  They seemed to love the suede on my Birkenstocks.  t was so weird – they’d just sit on it, almost seeming stuck there – and then they’d bite me.  So often.  There were also several electric fences you had to leap over to get to the bungalow, and I zapped myself three times over the two weeks.  We had to come and go from the Bungalow constantly, too, since all of our refrigerated food was in a creepy cellar below in which two unidentified dead animals hung from a line.  We needed to walk up the drive to Pär’s house a lot, and then there was the bathroom.  It was across the road in a barn, and the toilet was a compost thing.  I’ll leave it to your imagination to come up with what that entailed.  Right now in Wales, I am VERY grateful to have a bathroom right next to my room.

Rosie and I didn’t have many concrete ideas about what we’d do on our days off; on the second Sunday we did basically nothing at all.  On the first Saturday we went to Stockholm, which I thought was a very unique and interesting city.  We saw the royal palace but didn’t know what other sites to see, so we spent a lot of time wandering around – especially in the Old Town.  The streets and buildings kind of reminded us of Italy, but of course the climate was very different and the whole city is really an archipelago.  The islands and relatively small population gave Stockholm a very clean, relaxed feel that’s missing from all the other international cities I’ve visited.  It was very beautiful – it seemed like a great place to live.  On the first Sunday we tried to go swimming in a nearby lake because the weather was nice, but it got cloudy RIGHT when we got there.  Charlotte and I still went in, and now we can say that we’ve gone swimming in Sweden!  …yayy!  Right as we left the sun came out again.  Figures.  On the second Saturday Rosie and I went to Uppsala, a university town north of the farm.  It was nice too, though a lot of places seemed to be closed and quiet without the students.  Again, we spent most of our time wandering around the university buildings and local gardens (and graveyards), though we did go into a ruined castle.

I think that’s pretty much all I have to report from Sweden.  It’s a unique place – for example, it didn’t ever get darker than dusk- and it was very fun to go WWOOFing with a friend rather than by myself.  In a few weeks I’ll write again – from America!!??

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France at Last

Time June 28th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hello from Sweden!  I’ve just finished my first day of WWOOFing north of Stockholm, and I’m writing this in a greenhouse thing in which you feel like you’re outside when you’re not.  It’s all pretty good so far.  But more about that in the next post.  This one is about France!

It feels kind of odd that it took me so long to get to France, since for most of my life I’d been planning obsessively for my junior year abroad there.  But I finally made it, and it was extra good because I had Camille to show me the country properly.  I arrived in Paris relatively early on the first day so we had quite a bit of time, and I saw the area called Montmartre.  I liked it a LOT, as my mom had predicted, because there were lots of windy streets.  The Sacré-Cœur is also there, a church which was built to remind the defeated revolutionaries of the second French Revolution that religion would always have an important place in France.  Nearby we stumbled across a fantastic vintage store, where I bought a skirt for five euros and a dress for ten.  We also went to the red light district, and I saw the Moulin Rouge of course.  Then we had a very late dinner, which was well worth the wait.  It was actually one of the best meals I’ve ever had.  It was in a tiny restaurant with a hot waiter, and I got a tartiflette (a cheese/meat thing) and a Crème brûlée.  Both were INCREDIBLE.

Over the next few days Camille and I took walks around a lot of the famous sights of Paris.  We went past the National Assembly, the square in front of it where a bunch of famous people got their heads chopped off, some famous fountain, the Louvre, a bunch of university buildings, the catacombs, the Champs-Élysées,Camille’s favorite Parisian graveyards (she’s weird), a beautiful park, and more.  We also visited Notre Dame, which I really liked.  I think it might be my favorite cathedral that I’ve seen in Europe, actually.  We went to the top of it and saw some great views of the city.  We went to the Jewish quarter and ate some falafels on the second night, and then Camille showed me the bizarre and modern library that she spends her life in while she studies in Paris.  We also tried Berthillon, the famous ice cream place, and it REALLY lived up to its reputation.  I think I might have liked it better than the one gelato place in Italy, actually (!).  Another night we went to Shakespeare and Co., the English bookstore, which was THE COSIEST PLACE ON EARTH.  I could have curled up with a book and fallen asleep there.  Oh, and of course I saw the Eiffel Tower!  Maybe because it’s SO famous I didn’t think about it that much before going there, because I knew I would see it at some point, but it was AWESOME.  You can really see how enormous it is because there’s so much space in front of it, unlike the Empire State Building which, of course, is next to a bunch of other skyscrapers.  We spent our last day in Paris at Versailles.  I was amazing, and would have been more amazing without the crowds of tourists, I’m sure.  Unfortunately we didn’t have time to see Marie Antoinette’s nearby castle or much of Versailles’ gardens, which was too bad since Camille said those are the best parts.

After nearly missing our train, we finally made it to Alençon, Camille’s hometown.  It was pretty late when we got there, so we basically just ate and slept.  Camille’s house is SO COOL.  It was built around 1795, and it’s quite big.  There are a lot of mysterious things in it, like the staircase Camille found only a few years ago and the sculpture of a head her family found hidden in a closet.  Camille even has a BOOKSHELF WITH A LADDER in her room.  My dream.  Her town is nice too, as I found out the next day.  It’s kind of exactly what I wanted for a host town when I was thinking about going to France for my junior year of high school – an old, small city.  That night was la Fête de la Musique, a holiday in which everyone is encouraged to go outside and make music for others to enjoy.  Most of the music was bad, but there was some interesting (and comical) traditional dancing and just generally great people watching.

The next day we took a trip with Camille’s parents to Mont Saint Michel, a steep island with a famous church at the top.  It’s an amazing place, with a touristy little town winding up toward the church.  The day after that Camille’s parents took us on yet another trip, this time to the Loire valley to see some castles.  The first one was Amboise, which had a nice perch above a pretty town but was relatively uninteresting inside.  Chenonceau, the second one, was much better.  It’s built IN a river, so the sun reflects off the water and makes beautiful patterns on the walls in some of the rooms inside.  What a good idea for a castle location – I can’t believe no one else thought of it!  The inside was really beautiful in general, and we got to see the kitchen at the bottom, which was the best area for servants I’ve ever seen in any of these sorts of places.

My last day with Camille was spent in Alençon.  We woke up late and then went to a restaurant where Camille’s parents had made a reservation.  It was the weirdest restaurant ever.  It was in the middle of a bunch of random fields, and surrounded by extremely old statues, doors, and other household decorations.  Camille says that sort of thing is normal in France, though, and my duck and chocolate cake were delicious so I’m not complaining.  After the meal Camille’s parents dropped us off at Alençon’s annual cultural festival, where people from different backgrounds come and sell things from their country.  We watched some extremely impressive breakdancing, Balinese dancing, and salsa.  It was a very cold, wet day, so after Camille’s dad picked us up I kind of drank some tea and passed out in the house.  After dinner that night, Camille’s parents brought us to a huge bonfire, which is also an annual thing and is supposed to celebrate summer.  The weather put a damper on things (literally…ha), but it was a great last night.

I left Camille to return to Paris the next day, and I stayed in another hostel so that I could catch my flight to Sweden in the (EARLY) morning.  When I made it to my hostel I locked my stuff up and had a nice, relaxed metro ride to Ladurée, Paris’s famous macaroon shop.  I bought a bunch of flavours and then ate them with a slice of quiche on a bench.  It was a great evening – Ladurée is the BEST THING EVER.  It’s like…more than food.  That’s all I can say.  Just go to Paris and eat some.

After a 5am wakeup the next day and TONS of travelling, here I am in Sweden.  France was great, and it made me think a lot about how badly I wanted to spend a year there during both my junior year of high school and college.  I would be so different right now if I had!

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To be Continued

Time June 14th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I like to believe that this will not be the last time I live in Oxford, so I will not write that it is.  Besides, there’s no reason to get too sentimental in this post, since I’m not going home for another six weeks.  I’ll be in France for ten days with Camille, then Sweden for two weeks with Rosie, then Snowdonia for another two weeks, then at Priya’s house for a night.  This year abroad is not over.

But my time at Oxford is essentially finished.  Somewhat surprisingly, this experience has been nearly everything I hoped for and everything I feared, so in summary it has been wonderful.  I was going to do this thing where I look back at my first post and write a sort of response to it, explaining how I’ve changed since then or whatever.  I have decided not to do that, because a few seconds of reading that post has almost made me cry.

I DO NOT WANT TO LEAVE ENGLAND.

That said, it’s time to go.  I can tell that I’ve gotten all that I was ever going to get out of this experience, and I don’t think I have any learning left to do here (for now).  I have managed to find a place where simply EXISTING makes me happy.  That’s pretty great, and it feels nice to know where I want to be for the rest of my life.  At the same time, I’m looking forward to seeing everyone back in America.  As much as I love England, I my American friends a lot.  I wish I could have the best of both worlds.

Anyway, I suppose I should give some sort of summary of the last half of my last term.  It’ll be quite short, because my studying picked up in the past month or so and I haven’t had much time for much else.  I’ve participated in some football here and there, seen a Pride and Prejudice play, which I’ve always wanted to do, spent some time with Asiyla and had a sad goodbye with the Radwans.  My grades for this term have been really good, and I made great connections with my tutors.  I’ll really miss most of them, actually.  I suppose this should come as no surprise, but I think that I have grown enormously as a result of my academic experience at Oxford.  I just…feel a lot CLEVERER, although I’m not sure that I actually am.  Maybe it’s less the actual knowledge that I’ve gained, and more my sense of capability and accomplishment.  Because after you get four hours of sleep every night for a week while simultaneously trying to write one essay on a 900-page novel and another on the French Revolution, you feel like you can do anything.  My confidence has grown enormously this year – especially this term for some reason – and more importantly, I have somehow met one of the most important, challenging goals I had for myself at the beginning of the year – I have started to embrace the uncertainty in my life.  I still don’t love feeling uncertain about my future, but Oxford has given me the confidence I needed to understand that it’s not that anything can happen to me, it’s that can do anything.  Maybe it’s corny, but it’s important.

Also, while I have begun to accept uncertainty, I have begun to feel more certain about certain things.  The academic stimulation (and the end of my English major) that I’ve experienced here is persuading me that I could have a real future in academia. I’d love to do research in neuropsychology, a job that would be practical enough (increasing the effectiveness of treatment) while still allowing me to use my writing skills and my love of the university scene in general.  I think it won’t be too long until I am back here in England, studying for a PhD in psychology from Oxford or Cambridge or St Andrews or King’s College London.

And I will conclude this post by conveying the good news that, according to one of my best friends, I now have an English inflection.  Not an accent, but an inflection.  It’s a start.

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On Happiness

Time May 21st, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This post was going to be about how happy I am.  Well it still is, but interestingly I am writing it to a song which was on the River Island soundtrack.  *twitch*

So yeah, I AM SO HAPPYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY.  This country is exactly where I want to be, and I currently have a surprisingly fantastic work/exercise(well this part is slightly questionable)/sleep(!)/friends ratio going on right now, and it’s just brilliant.  Plus I still fell insanely lucky to be going to Oxford, along with a million other things.  And I have excellent (though annoyingly unspecific) travel plans for this summer, and I’m even excited to go home for a month before going back to Kenyon.  So life is really, really good right now – and this term is flying by.  (The weather, though, has been abysmal.)

Some highlights from this term so far have included the Blues and Colours football awards ceremony and Oxford Holi.  You know how in period movies when they’re at parties you always see those footmen holding trays of wine?  THEY HAD THOSE GUYS AT THE FOOTBALL AWARDS CEREMONY.  In a spectacular show of history nerdiness, I freaked out.  And drank wine.  The ceremony was more like a cocktail party with speeches and certificates, but it took place in the beautiful, glass-ceilinged Natural History Museum.  I was milling around next to the last dodo skeleton in the world for a few hours.

Holi was even better.  For those of you who don’t know, Holi is an Indian holiday where you get loads of coloured powder, mix it with water and throw it at people.  Everyone wears white, so you get extra colourful.  It was seriously the BEST THING EVER.  It was mad…people running everywhere…colour still stains the ground where it took place and it’s been weeks.  It was really funny because I’d see someone who I’d met only once, and they’d be like “oh hi again” and then chuck green water in my face.  Best holiday idea in the world.  I would do it every day if I could.

What else?  A week ago today I was at the Warner Bros Harry Potter studio!  It was the actual place where they shot everything with a set, and they also had props from the films.  They had everything from the cupboard under the stairs to the Burrow to the philosopher’s stone to the Gryffindor common room to the Ministry of Magic to Diagon Alley.  Overall it was really fun to go there, but at the same time it was kind of depressing.  I guess I just expected a film set to be more…epic.  But in reality it was basically one ENORMOUS building with tons of different places from my imagination stuck into corners.  It just goes to show how freaking amazing the human imagination is, and how much better books are than films.  Anyway, I bought a copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard and resisted a Slytherin scarf and flag.

Ohh, I feel like I’m leaving so much out!  I guess I’ll just go on to more everyday life stuff.  So, academics.  They’ve been great this term, as usual.  Children’s literature is my primary tutorial, and I can’t tell you how fun it’s been.  Just an example – two weeks ago my assignment was the first Harry Potter book.  Also, I care about children’s literature way more than any other kind of literature, so it gives me way more personal satisfaction to study.  My tutor is REALLY COOL – she’s from New Zealand and she’s a DPhil student.

My secondary tutorial is also going very well – it’s the “The Troubled Reign of George III” with Kate Watson, the same tutor I had for French Revolution in Michaelmas.  I still really like her, and last time we spent like half of my tutorial talking about my story instead of the American Revolution.  She kept saying how interesting it was, and how she couldn’t stop thinking about it, which obviously made me want to cry with happiness.  She’s going to give me much-needed sources for historical research, and she gave me BRILLIANT ideas about the origin of the house.  BRILLIANT.  I can’t even write about this anymore because I am getting too excited.

Again, I feel like there should be more…but there isn’t, I guess.  I was worried about this term because football is over, but that has been a surprisingly easy adjustment.  I’ve been going to random friendlies and college practices anyway, and I’ve been running with Rosie (my football friend and summer travel buddy) too.  Also, Asiyla is back in England so I’ve been hanging out with her.  LIFE IS GOOD.

Well, I guess this is my second to last post about Oxford!  Amazing.  See you next time…

Ari

P.S. I now have my official plane ticket home – July 25.  It’s exactly two years from the day I went to England for the first time. :’(  SOMEONE WILL HAVE TO DRAG ME CRYING ONTO THE PLANE

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I have parents? (Just kidding, Parents)

Time May 7th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As the title of this post implies, my parents were recently here!  We had a lot of fun.  I dragged them jet-lagged around Oxford on their first day.  On Sunday we went to Blenheim Palace and the pretty town of Woodstock.  I’d already done both things almost immediately upon arriving in England in 2010, but I didn’t mind going back.  Blenheim is the birthplace of Winston Churchill and the ancestral home of the Dukes of Marlborough.  It’s very beautiful (though I think I prefer Chatsworth…it’s cozier somehow, and I think the grounds are nicer because they’re hilly), and they had a really interesting interactive history thing with videos, cool sets, and lifelike manikins.  I hadn’t seen it last time, and I’m glad I didn’t miss it altogether.

On Monday I continued my Oxford tour, and we also paid a visit to the Radwans and the footpaths.  The weather was horrible – these were literally the worst ten consecutive days I’ve seen this whole year.  But the visit was a lot of fun, and I think my parents still enjoyed seeing the footpaths.  On Tuesday we went to Bath, which was great…but Wednesday was a bit of an epic fail.  Aaaaaaaaand it was entirely my fault.  On Tuesday we kept debating about what to do the next day because we knew the weather was going to be exceptionally terrible.  Finally we decided to go to Highclere Castle, the place where they shoot Downton Abbey.  I was really excited, and we got the nicest, chattiest taxi driver to take us there from the Newbury train station.  (When I said I go to Oxford, he said ‘oh, I’m sorry you didn’t get into Cambridge’.)  But it turns out that I’d somehow been wrong about the castle being open that day…and Downton Abbey was actually being filmed when we got there!  In a way it was actually really cool to see – there were a bunch of white trailers, and we could see a bright light being used for filming right in front of the house.  Unfortunately we were relatively far from the castle, so we couldn’t see if there were any actors there.  I really wanted to go and check!  But we had to leave.  My parents must REALLY have missed me because they didn’t immediately kill me for wasting like seventy-five of their dollars on the trip.  We had to just go back to Newbury and explore a little before returning to Oxford.  Oops!!!!!!!  Well…the next time I see a really REALLY rainy scene in Downton Abbey, I’ll know I was right there!  I’m probably going to go back with some friends from the football team.

The next day we went on a trip to the Cotswolds.  The weather was horrible again, and because of the bus schedule we didn’t really get to spend that much time in the individual villages.  They were all beautiful, of course – we went to Moreton-in-Marsh, Lower Slaughter, and Bourton-on-the-Water.  I think the prettiest one was Stow-on-the-Wold, though, and we only passed through it.

On Friday I had a tutorial while my parents when to London for a concert.  I joined them on Saturday morning.  We went to the British Library first, and we saw the Magna Carta and Jane Austen’s notebook, along with lots of other very old and important books.  Once again the weather was disagreeable, so we spent the rest of the day in art museums.  I actually ended up enjoying that well enough, though.  I was getting pretty tired from running around with them so much.

Sunday deserves its own paragraph for the extent to which it was such a failure, but I won’t bore you.  I will just say that, due to a the largeness of a book store, my absorption in a book, an unfortunate Tube separation, and a forgotten phone number, my mom and I got separated from my dad in London and couldn’t find him for so long that we reported him as a missing person to the police.  Might that have been an overreaction?  Maybe.  But I was panicking, okay?  I was planning what I’d wear to his funeral, since clearly he’d gotten attacked in broad daylight by London thugs, who must have hidden his body in a dumpster off Bank Street!!!!!!!!  Obviously!  (By the way, this was the ONE TIME that the sun decided to come out.  Typical.)  Um…long story short…he’s alive.  And fine.  He had a lovely four hours browsing the British Museum whilst my mom and I searched the city for him practically crying.  Whatever.  It’s over now.  We had a really good evening at Parliament after dark, which is always a nice sight to see.

On Monday we went to the Tower of London, which is something I’ve always wanted to do.  There were lots of horrific torture stories, and the crown jewels are there too of course.  We also walked around the eastern part of the city and then to the parks near Buckingham Palace.  I was sad to say goodbye to them, and I left for Oxford that night very tired.  After being a tourist for so long, I was ready to sit down and study again.

So I think that’s what I’ll do now…you know, go off and study…HARRY POTTER.  Yep, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is this week’s reading!!!!!!!  BYEEEEE

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Ireland

Time April 16th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As I write this I’m finally back in Oxford.  Due to the fact that I seemed to arrive at Rock Farm at a relatively hectic time, I wasn’t sure of my impressions of anything until near the end.  So, I’ve decided to wait until now to write a post about my experience there.

Firstly, I should just say that the setting of the farm was incredible.  I lived with the other WWOOFers in a centuries-old gatehouse, which was right next to the castle along with crumbling stables and old servants’ quarters that stretched back to the epic gate near the road.  There were views of the castle, the Boyne River and rolling green hills from every window in the apartment – it was seriously beautiful.  The apartment itself was nice, too – there were decorations, a slight homey clutter and brightly coloured walls.  Not to mention the fact that everything was really old, which, of course, will always win me over instantly.

Secondly – the host family.  I had a whole week to wonder what they might be like, since they went on a five-day vacation the day I got there.  It turns out that they are aristocrats, which I didn’t know when I signed up for the farm.  I DID know that there was a castle there, but I had no idea that it was my host dad’s father who owned it.  It turns out that the father is the Marquess of Conyngham.  On a tour of the castle which Alex (my host dad) gave me two days ago, I learned that the Conynghams were the largest land-owners in Ireland during the nineteenth century.  The first Marchioness of Conyngham was King George IV’s most important mistress, and the second marquess was the man who told Queen Victoria that she was queen at her succession.  Today Alex’s father, Henry, makes money for the estate by hosting concerts at the castle by the likes of U2 and the Rolling Stones.  Who knew???  Being a huge Georgian history nerd, I was very excited about all of this.  Also, the whole thing was just an interesting experience.  I’ve met so many different kinds of people in my life, and I’m only twenty-one.  That’s pretty exciting.

The family was very nice, too.  Alex and Carina’s children are ADORABLE.  The elder is a three-year-old girl named Laragh, and she has a two-year-old brother called Rory.  I became rather attached to him, which is strange because I don’t normally become so enthralled with children.  But Rory has these angelic blond curls that remind me of my own hair when I was his age, and he has the cutest shy smile.  I also loved the family dogs, of course, big Tarka and tiny Pernod.

Moving on to the other employees on the farm.  Laura, the children’s au pair, is a Spanish woman who used to be a WWOOFer and got asked to stay on.  She’s a really nice person and a FANTASTIC cook (her food was basically the only real food that I ate, since she made most of the lunches – I made pasta sprinkled with cheese for myself at almost every dinner).  When she started living in Slane permanently, Laura brought her boyfriend Lucho over and he became the farm manager.  I really like Lucho a lot – his English isn’t very good because he didn’t know a word of the language when he arrived in Ireland eight months ago, and it made for a ton of really funny conversations.  He says random English words, like “WHAT” and “more or less”, in completely incorrect places.  When the family was on vacation and I was the only native English speaker on the farm, conversations between him and the other WWOOFers could be hilarious failures.

The other WWOOFers were great, too.  When I arrived there was a French guy, Charles, and a Spanish girl named Rosa.  Charles left about a week and a half after I got there, but Rosa and I happened to be leaving on the same day so I spent a LOT of time with her over the weeks.  She’s very friendly, outgoing, and fun-loving, so we had a good time together.

Okay, so we’ve finally reached the part where I tell you about the work.  Since it was spring I got to do a lot of planting, which is relaxing and easy.  There was also just general maintenance of the plants that were growing and the building of new fields (the farm is very new).  The field-creating was really boring and tiring, but the rest was fine.  WWOOFing is great when the weather’s nice, since I’d want to be outside anyway, but when it’s cold it can be seriously awful.  We had a real mix of weather when I was there, which is to be expected of Ireland I suppose.  There was one almost hot week when Rosa and I basked in the sun after work, but the last full week was freezing and rainy, leaving us hugging the radiator at the end of each day.  The only other main job we had was feeding the chickens and pigs.  Chicks were hatching in our apartment near the end of my stay, which was really exciting since I’ve always wanted to see that.  I was not a fan of the pigs, however – Mr. Piggy, the adult male, bit me on the first day.  I wasn’t nervous going in to feed him just because I’ve never really thought of pigs as dangerous animals, but these ones are huge (Google “ginger pig”).  As I went in to feed him Rosa said that she was nervous on her first day, and then I asked her if I should be.  Right after she said no, Mr. Piggy bit my leg on top of a huge bruise I had from varsity.  After that I wasn’t really keen on going into the adult pigs’ area anymore, and on the third and last time I did he head butted me.  When I started sprinting away, he got his hoof on my hamstring and now I have a long cut/bruise on the back of my leg.  WHY DON’T THEY JUST KILL HIM AND EAT HIM, ALREADY?  He’s very mean to Matilda, his mate, too – he’d push her into things to make sure he got to the food first.  Apparently he tried to kill his own children, too, so they had to put him in a separate area.  The piglets were cute, but even they were annoying and, well…hogs.  Piggish.  I know people say that pigs are actually really smart, but I don’t get it.

By now, if you’re still reading, I’m sure you’re wondering when I’m going to finish this absurdly long post.  Not yet, I’m afraid!  I haven’t told you anything about my adventures off the farm.  I was so tired from this exhausting year that I often just wanted to sleep in on my days off, but I forced myself to explore Ireland.  I saw Dublin, which I liked a lot.  It reminded me of Boston in that it was a small yet major city, and somehow the architecture of the two places seemed similar to me. Rosa and I also went up to the Hill of Slane, which is supposedly where St. Patrick did his first Christian ritual or something.  Now there are ruins of a 16th century church and monastery on the hill, and Rosa and I climbed all over them.

I met up with my friend Kathleen from the hostel in Rome on a Thursday in Dublin, which was fun.  On that Sunday, Rosa and I cycled 10 kilometers to Newgrange and Knowth, the 5,000-year-old tomb sites, only to find out that all of the tours were sold out for the day (you can’t go in without at tour).  This was the SECOND time Rosa had gone there without getting to see the tombs, since she’d gone by foot before, underestimated the distance, and arrived when it was closed.  It turned out to be a beautiful bike ride, though, and Carina drove us there the next Friday so we got to see it eventually.  It was pretty cool – inside it’s mostly just a stone room with an interesting roof, but the knowledge that it has remained watertight for 5,000 years is incredible.  It was also built so that, at dawn on the winter solstice every year, the sun goes into a carefully placed window and lights the entire chamber inside.  The tomb is then pitch black for the rest of the year.  There’s a lottery to see this happen, but last year over 31,500 people applied and only 100 get to go.

On the last weekend I went to Cork, because I hadn’t really left the Dublin/Slane area and apparently that’s where my dad’s dad’s side of the family is from.  Rosa was supposed to go with me, but she got a stomach bug that made me a huge hypochondriac for the rest of my stay.  Seriously, what is it with my luck when I try to travel with friends?  Or rather, what is it with THEIR luck?  I try to visit Rome with Lauren – her aunt dies.  I try to visit Barcelona with Asiyla – she gets food poisoning.  I try to visit Cork with Rosa – she gets a stomach virus.  All I have to say is – I’m sorry! And don’t visit me!!  Anyway, Cork was pretty cool, though including transport to Dublin it took 5.5 hours to get there.  I got to see some very nice Irish towns and nature on the way, though.  Cork was very pretty, if a little bit run down.  I was there for less than twenty-four hours, so all I did was walk around the city, see University College Cork (which is beautiful), and go to the Cork City Gaol.  I didn’t even get to go to the famous English market, because it was Easter Sunday on my second day there.  Still, the gaol was very cool – it’s an old jail that looks like a castle.  I did an audio tour and watched a corny movie.  Basically, they treated prisoners horribly there.

I have only one more thing left to say – I made my dad’s pasta and my lemon squares for everyone on my last night.  Despite my general lack of culinary skills it actually went really well (minus a mild mishap with the lemon squares, surprisingly), and Rosa, Matt (the American guy who arrived two days before I left), and I went to the local pub afterwards to listen to local Irish people playing traditional music.  I wish I’d gone to the pub more often, because it was really fun – Rosa and I were just really lazy most of the time and stayed at home every time we thought about going.  Oh well – it was a perfect last evening.

So, that is the novel which details my month in Ireland.  If you’ve actually managed to read everything, thanks!  I genuinely enjoyed my time there, and I miss it even now.  Tomorrow the studying starts again.  Sunday is the beginning of 0th week, and my parents arrive a week from tomorrow so I want to get as much 1st and 2nd week work done as possible right now.  In a few weeks you’ll have an update on my new, football-less term. :(

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Murphey’s Law (oh yeah and Chatsworth)

Time March 21st, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This post is going to be about my trip to Barcelona.  For those of you who don’t know it, Murphey’s Law states that everything which can go wrong will go wrong sooner or later, and that was certainly true for this trip.  Still, I had a good time and I’m very glad I went.

The first problem was the flight from London.  We got on the plane at a normal time and everything, but they didn’t shut the cabin doors until about two hours after the plane was supposed to take off.  Since my flight was already at 5:40pm, this meant that I didn’t get into Barcelona until after 11:00pm.  We ate dinner at 1:30am.  Also, Asiyla’s flatmates adopted this evil cat.  They found her on the streets when she was a kitten, so now she’s really mean to new people, i.e. me.  She was especially protective of one of the bathrooms, so every time I needed to pee I had to back into a corner with her hissing at me.  She even managed to get through TWO CLOSED DOORS to find her way into the room where I slept the second two nights.  HOW DID SHE DO THAT?  Terrifying!

The next day went normally enough.  I walked around the old part of the city a bit in afternoon with Asiyla, and we went to this museum about the Roman ruins underneath the city.  It was interesting and beautiful with the kind of windy streets that I always love.  After we ate lunch Asiyla had to go teach a class, so I went to the waterfront to read.  It wasn’t a beach – it was the built-up part of the waterfront – but it was really sunny and it felt great to lie on a weird metal bench-thing and relax for a while.  Then I wandered over to Las Ramblas, the touristy street with older roads branching off from it.  I decided to take one of the tiny winding streets, and I think that was my favorite part of the city.  I found so many interesting stores there, and the general setting was really cool.  I also went to La Boqueria, the famous market off Las Ramblas.  Most of the stands had fruit, though some had sweets or fish.  I got a DELICIOUS fruit juice thing.  After that I went to a cafe to wait for Asiyla to get out of her class, and then we went to a seafood restaurant where the food was alive like fifteen minutes before we ate it.  At the time, this seemed cool and it was SO GOOD.  However, it was not cool for very long…

…which leads me to the next problem of the trip.  That night we just watched an interesting movie and all seemed well, but by 9:00am the next morning Asiyla was sick.  It seems that she got some sort of food poisoning from the fish, which was quite undercooked.  We’d planned to go into the Pyrennees that day for a short hike, but obviously that wasn’t going to happen anymore.  Asiyla suggested that I go to this hill/park area. I walked around for a long time up there – the weather was beautiful and there was lots to see.  I saw an old Olympic stadium and pool, an enormous art museum that looked like a castle (which overlooked some realllllyyyyyy long, grand steps leading to a huge fountain that was sadly not on), a bunch of gardens, a castle where Franco imprisoned his enemies during the civil war, and generally beautiful views of the city and surrounding mountains.  That night I basically did nothing, since Asiyla was sick and everything.

The next day Asiyla was still sick so she couldn’t spend time with me.  I went to the Sagrada Familia, which I assume everyone knows.  Then I went to the beach.  It wasn’t REALLY warm enough to hang out on the beach in a sweatshirt – I got a bit cold sitting there finishing my book – but it was sunny and I still enjoyed it a lot.  Plus, the walk there was really nice – most of it was down a long street with a pedestrian walkway in the middle.  I still regret not getting ice cream on that walk.  Then I had another quiet night.

The final problem of this trip was the most potentially problematic, in a way: when I set my alarm for 7:30 on Sunday so that I could catch my flight, I forgot that my phone was still on UK time.  This meant that when I woke up, it was actually 8:30 – and I didn’t realize this until 9:00 when Asiyla pointed out the time. I panicked, packed as fast as possible and barely managed to make the next train to the airport.  I was supposed to arrive in time for boarding, but my ticket said that the baggage check desk would close an hour before – which was 10:00, exactly when the train was supposed to arrive at the airport.  I panicked again, assuming that I was about to have to pay for a new ticket to Dublin.  However, when I arrived at the desk it turned out that some other guy happened to be there ten minutes late too, and all was well.  Still, the desk was one of the farthest away, the terminal was the far one, and my gate was literally the last one in the terminal.  I was lucky to get the flight.

So it wasn’t smooth, but I enjoyed Spain.  It was especially fun speaking Spanish.  Obviously I did this minimally, but I understood most of what people said to me which was cool.  Right now I am at the farm in Ireland, and I have a ton of exciting things to say about it already.  However, I think I’ll save that for another post when I’ve been here longer.

I almost forgot – a week ago today I went to Chatsworth.  It was SUCH a great day.  The countryside around the house was BEAUTIFUL, and the mansion wasn’t at all disappointing.  It was so great to see the place I’ve wanted to visit for about six years.

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“Oh, Oxfordshire is Wonderful…”

Time March 12th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So I know I ended my last post by saying that this second half of term has been eventful, and it definitely has…but for some reason I can’t remember all the details right now.  I’m going to try…in general, things are starting to feel very interesting here.  For the past month or so, I’ve been in a mindset that I’ve never experienced before – one in which the thought of home brings me a feeling of adventure.  When I think of Vermont or Kenyon, it feels mysterious – I have distinct and powerful memories of those places, of course, but what has changed there since I left?  What will America look like to me now?  And I’ve STILL got more than three months to be away from it, too.  It’s very cool.  So cool, in fact, that it’s almost distracting me from the present.  It’s not that I want to go home, exactly – it’s almost like I want a VACATION home.  The “headquarters” of my life, to put it weirdly, is in America, but I wish it were here.  I want a “vacation” to America to see my friends and family, only to return within a few weeks to my beloved England with a more permanent life set out for me here than I have in reality.

In terms of academics, this term has continued to be less challenging than Michaelmas.  Not much changed in the way of academics since my last post, actually – film was still easy and fun, and creative writing was still emotionally stressful, INCREDIBLY rewarding and fun, and useful.  Both tutorials ended extremely well.  I am positively glowing with happiness about my creative writing tutorial, to be honest.  One interesting tutorial ended up with me explaining all of the plot that I’d planned so far to my tutor.  His reaction was that I was trying to do something extremely difficult and complicated, involving the motivations of a TON of characters – but that if I could pull it off, it would be good.  You can’t imagine how happy this made me – for years now I’ve been afraid that the reason I can’t figure out the plot is just that I’m not good enough or not motivated enough, when in reality it’s just that I’m challenging myself a lot.  This, of course, is a great thing – I don’t want to write some crap vampire romance or yet ANOTHER story about a corrupt government.  Of COURSE it’s hard.  But I can do it.  Having a ton of characters is, in my opinion, the way that J.K. Rowling was able to create such a complete world.  I think that this world is the reason her books are so popular.  Soon I’m going to send the first chapter of my book to a woman my tutor knows who was commissioned to write a series for girls that takes place in early nineteenth century England.  Oh, and by the way, my tutor also thinks that my story is going to be insanely long.  Interesting – I guess I should have seen that coming.

Hmmm okay, what else?  Football has been freaking amazing, as usual.  Varsity (which means an Oxford vs. Cambridge match here in England, not high school athletics like in America) was SUCH an incredible experience.  I feel so lucky to have been able to participate in the Oxford/Cambridge rivalry during this year.  The night before the matches we had a fun dinner, and then we gathered in New College to make motivational signs for each other.  After a good night’s sleep, both teams proceeded to BEAT Cambridge!!  We (the Furies) won 2-0, and the Blues had an exciting 2-1 finish.  We got medals and trophies!  Throughout the match we yelled traditional anti-Cambridge songs like “I’d rather be a leper than a tab” (“tab” is a derogatory term for someone who goes to Cambridge) and the song “Oh Oxfordshire is Wonderful”.  Cambridge, who are obviously a bunch of crass idiots, just sang “you can stick your dreaming spires up your a**”.  The hostility didn’t end with the matches.  I knew there was going to be a formal dinner, but I didn’t know Cambridge would be attending, too.  When I learned this, I pictured us sitting together, getting to know one another.  This was not exactly the case.  We sat at COMPLETELY separate tables, and proceeded to insult each other throughout the meal.  It was brilliant!!  Plus, the four-course meal was SO GOOD and it took place in the New College hall, which was one of the most stunning halls I’ve been in so far in Oxford.  At this point I can’t believe that I almost didn’t try out for the university football team.  It has been a huge, relatively unique, and wholly positive part of this experience.  I couldn’t imagine life at Oxford without it, and I’m seriously disappointed that it’s over now.  Well…at least we have dinners next term.

Otherwise, I’ve still been involved in the Harry Potter society, mostly just going to the film showings.  Hopefully next term I’ll do more with them.  I’ve developed quite the…ahem…reputation for having joined this society.  WHATEVER, NERDS WILL RULE THE WORLD SOME DAY.

I feel like I’m leaving some things out…but I can’t remember them…in any case, I have a potentially fantastic break planned.  Tomorrow I go to CHATSWORTH, the famous country home of the Dukes of Devonshire, which is Pemberley in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice.  On Wednesday I leave for Barcelona, and on Sunday I go to Ireland for my almost-month-long WWOOFing experience.  Then I have about ten days to get my work done for first week before my parents arrive!

Miss you all,

Ari

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DANA

Time March 8th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hello everybody!  The topic of this post is, I assume, obvious – Dana’s visit (for those of you who don’t know, Dana is my friend from the camp I worked at last summer)!  I just finished the last major edit of my final creative writing work, and it’s only 8:21pm two days before it’s due.  That means that I am feeling very restless and fearful that tonight could end up being boring.  So – BLOG POST!  How exciting!  Note how I’m using too many exclamation points!!!!!!

Moving on.  Dana’s visit left me with quite a lot of work to catch up on, so it’s been a few weeks now since it happened, but I’ll try to remember what we did as best I can.  Highlights include Dana accidentally spraying herself in the face with a bottle of shampoo in a Boots store, and English people laughing at the “it’s like slang, from England” joke during a viewing of Mean Girls.

She arrived on a typically rainy English day.  I promptly dragged her off to the local farmer’s market to harass Khalil, who was there to sell the Radwans’ products.  We made plans to go to the farm that day, but not before we went to G&D’s for some of their famous pizza bagels.  Later, Ruby gave us a ride to the countryside, where Dana met the Radwans and we went for a nice, wet walk in the fields.  It was really nice to get back out there, especially with someone who seemed to appreciate how great those walks are as much as I do.  We chased a bunch of lambs and got chased by their mothers, as the birthing had just happened on the farms.  I noticed that, being the jaded traveller that I now am (ha), I felt marginally less impressed with all of the old buildings we came across in the middle of fields.  This made me kind of sad and happy at the same time…but my state of mind in relation to this year abroad will be discussed in my next post.

That night we had dinner at the Thai restaurant Asiyla took me to when she was here in December, which was nice.  Afterwards Dana (rightly) began purchasing a plethora of English candy and we watched part of A Very Potter Musical when I should have been working (HA WORK I’M DONE WITH TERM YESSSSSSSS).

The next day I sent Dana off on an adventure to Blenheim Palace, as I had already paid the duke who owns it 18 pounds to tour his house once before and wasn’t keen on doing it again.  Plus,  I had to work for five hours, and I wanted to give her something fun to do.  She seemed to enjoy it, and I KNOW she enjoyed it more than I enjoyed work.  That night we both had a nice, silent few hours of studying…pretty much the only time that happened all week.

Monday was Oxford day.  I took her around to all the usual sights – Mansfield, Christ Church, the Bod, etc.  On Tuesday we went to London.  Dana wasn’t sure of what she wanted to see, so we ended up just sort of wandering around past all of the major sights.  The only thing that was new for me was the interior of Westminster Abbey – I’d never paid to go inside before.  It was pretty cool – mostly a collection of aristocratic people’s graves.  It was so big and separated into so many rooms that it was hard to tell where events like the royal wedding had taken place.  By the end of the day Dana felt like she hadn’t seen or done enough in London, so she decided to go back the next day when I had a football match in Coventry.

That day, Wednesday, started badly and got better.  Well, Dana can correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure for her it was just good – she got to go to Camden market.  What did I do?  I travelled hours away after sleeping terribly to a football match against a team that would end up beating us by so many points that I don’t remember the score.  The weather was horrible, too – it was surprisingly cold and the wind was so strong that it felt like a wall to run into.  Plus, I was still depressed about my dog dying (more about this in the next post too).  I spent the ride home in a huff, and when Dana’s train from London came in too late for us to go to the formal hall I’d already paid for and looked forward to, I was not happy.  We were going to go to the formal hall instead of the football crewdate, which was also happening that night, so when the formal hall fell through I suggested that we go to the crewdate after all, since it’s a uniquely Oxbridge experience.  We debated for a while, and finally decided to go dressed up in our formal clothes and everything.  We wanted to bring a bottle of wine with us, but naturally, since I hardly ever buy alcohol and I’m three years older than the drinking age in this country, I forgot that I needed an ID.  This meant that we had to go all the way back to my room and get my ID, buy the wine, and walk ALL the way across Oxford to the site of this crewdate.  By the time we got there, we were at least an hour late and less than enthusiastic about going in.  I was exasperated, exhausted, and angry.  But we did go in, and we were very glad for it.  It was a very crowded and very fun crewdate – the perfect way to end a crap day.

So, we’ve arrived at Thursday.  This was the day that Ethan, our English friend from camp, came to visit us.  There’s not too much to report here – it was nice to see him, and we basically just walked around Oxford.  At some point I left them to do work at my café…they made fun of me for going to Oxford…nothing very exciting.  The day ended in my laundry getting soaked by a washing machine, so I spent a thrilling few hours dealing with that.

Friday was Dana’s birthday!!!!  Hopefully, she’ll look back on it as a good one.  We spent most of the day in Bath, which was great to visit again.  Bath, maybe even more than Oxford, is FULL of old buildings.  With its importance in Georgian England as a spa for the rich, it’s basically my ideal city.  At the same time, however, there’s something I don’t like about it…for some reason it feels fake to me.  Like it’s just a tourist destination and nothing else, but I don’t think that’s even true.  I think I might just feel that way about it because Jane Austen hated Bath – she thought the people there spent their time in really superficial ways, which was probably true.  Am I aware that two-hundred years have passed since she lived there?  Vaguely.  Yes.  But Jane’s word is gold.  Anyway, Dana and I had delicious tea and cake at a teashop to celebrate her birthday.  Then we made our way back to Oxford for a fantastic night of champagne and chocolates, and a Glee/Mean Girls viewing with Priya and some other freshers.  It was a pretty full day, and hopefully a great birthday for Dana.

She left the next day, which was sad.  I have really great memories of her visit, though, and I wish more of the friends who are reading this could come.

More news about the (rather eventful) second half of Hilary term in a few days.  Until then –

Ari

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Halfway

Time February 10th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The second years just had Halfway Hall, an Oxford tradition which indicates that half of their university experience has passed.  So, that means that half of my Oxford experience has passed, too.  So, you ask (not), how has it been??

Well, football is GREAT.  It finally snowed this week (!!!!!! I knew I missed the snow, but I didn’t know quite how much until now!  but the Brits complain about it as always…to be honest it is kind of March-in-Vermont like snow, which melts quickly and isn’t properly cleaned up because they don’t know how to deal with it here), so football keeps getting cancelled.  I didn’t realize until all these cancellations how much I LOVE playing.  Not only for social reasons, but just the actual exercise is great.  I’ve been going stir-crazy this week.  Also, I got moved up to the Blues (the university first team)!  I even got asked to play Varsity, which is the traditional rival match against Cambridge, but I’m not allowed to play because I’m not a matriculated student.  I’m so sad!!  I really wanted to play Cambridge and I can’t believe I almost had the opportunity!  Oh well…I still get to do the Furies (second team) match against Cambridge’s second team, but it’s not the same.  As for Mansfield football, I haven’t really been able to play much because the matches are basically over and I always have to work or to a tutorial during practice time.

That’s right – I’m still working at River Island.  It’s just as horrifically boring as before, but I do need the extra money and at least I have other people to see/things to do now.  Plus, it’s only five hours a week these days.  FIVE SHIFTS LEFT.  This past week was actually kind of great for once – the other people working there decided that it was Change Your Accent Day!  The only accent I can manage is an English one, so I was – if I may say so – brave enough to try it.  I’M PRETTY SURE I FOOLED EVERYONE.  IT WAS GREAT.  There was an awkward moment where I told a guy I didn’t know the area TOO well because I was only a university student and didn’t live in Oxford – and then he asked where I was from and I said “Oxford – I mean north Oxford!  Countryside!  Bletchingdon!”  Oops.  WHATEVER.  I’m pretty sure he still believed me.

Pretty much the only other thing I do is academics…which is going pretty seamlessly this term.  I actually have far less work this time around than last, because I have NO reading.  I’m doing creative writing for my primary tutorial and then European cinema for my secondary.  Naturally, creative writing freaks the crap out of me because I’m working on The Story, but it’s going SO WELL.  I have never gotten better grades here…I’m getting a very solid first, and he consistently tells me that my writing is perfect in several different ways.  I wouldn’t believe him if my advising tutor hadn’t said he sometimes practically fails people.  It’s pretty great, and I do feel like I’m learning a lot about the writing process, and about my story.  I still literally cower behind my hands when he reads it out loud, though, and sometimes put my head on my desk.  Terrifying.  Oh also, I’ve decided that I don’t love writing either in my room or the library, so I’ve found a cafe to work at.  It’s really small and cozy with two upstairs rooms and a fireplace (unlit) in each.  The floor slants and there are wooden beams in the ceiling, and they make amazing caramel shortbreads and smoothies.  It’s great, and when I’m a famous writer people will say “Ariana McSweeney started writing her book here”.  Obviously.

As I said, my other tutorial is European cinema.  I’ve only had two so far, but it’s also going very well.  My tutor is cool and he seems to like me and my work, and watching movies instead of reading is always fun, if not particularly meaningful to me.

Oh, I almost forgot – but how could I – about the Harry Potter Society!  There are biweekly movie showings – we’ve only watched the first two so far, but we’ll watch all by the end of the year.  It’s great seeing the older ones again for the first time in a while, and they’re really inspirational for writing.  Plus I always end up crying or tearing up out of joy because that’s just what Harry Potter does to me.  CHILDREN’S LITERATURE IS SO IMPORTANT.  IT TELLS US THE SIMPLEST, MOST IMPORTANT VALUES OF ALL.  Anyway, I also got sorted in a real (?) sorting ceremony!  I’m a Slytherin, duh.  There was even butterbeer and a Harry Potter-themed pub quiz.  It was, as Ron would say, “bloody brilliant”.  Also, the society has organized a group trip to Leavesden Studios in London, where some of the films were shot.  YESSSSS.

I’ve been hanging out a bit with the Radwans too, which is always great.  Khalil even brings me baked goods now.  Win.

Aside from hanging out with Priya, the rest of my time is normally spent freaking out about/planning for the future.  I’m trying to figure out a way to stay here this summer.  A girl from the football team, Rosie, and I are thinking of travelling together this summer, which would be great.  I’m also applying for a month-long job at an academic summer camp here in Oxford, and a week-long internship with a Cambridge psychiatrist.  Plus, I’ve got a BRILLIANT Easter break planned – I’m finally going to visit Chatsworth House (i.e. Mr. Darcy/the Duchess of Devonshire’s house), I’m going to see Asiyla in Barcelona for a few days, and then I’m going to spend almost a month WWOOFing in Ireland, living in the gatehouse of a marquess’s castle.  I’m really looking forward to it!  My host family has two small children and two dogs…can’t wait for the dogs.

Dana will be visiting me a week from Saturday, which I’m sure will be great!!  That’ll probably be my next post.  I miss all of you guys!  Who knows, maybe I’ll even come back to America some day…

Ari

P.S. I feel like I should include an English cultural comment here.  The English FREAK OUT in a very NOT reserved way if you break any kind of rule.  As my American tutor says “if you’re on fire they’ll ignore you”, but if you cycle on a non-cycling street, a complete stranger will come up to you and tell you to stop.  Hmmm.

P.P.S. WOAH look how short this post is!

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Christmas Holidays Part Four: Camille, Durham and Scotland

Time January 17th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As I wrote in my last entry, my French friend Camille came to Oxford about ten days ago and rescued me from death-by-boredom!  I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this yet, but Camille and I met on the farm last summer.  Lets see…what did we do this past week?

Camille arrived in the evening, so basically all we did was go out to eat Thai food.  The next day was slightly, if not exponentially, more exciting.  While Camille was here we usually slept in pretty late – sometimes so late that I don’t even want to mention the time, actually.  I HATE doing that normally, but Read More »

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Christmas Holidays Part Three: Working

Time January 5th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

THANK GOD!!!  IT’S OVER!!!!!

Yep, that’s pretty much how I feel about this portion of my break.  I got back to Oxford from Italy, and within a few hours I was going mad trying to figure out what I was going to do this whole time.  I didn’t come up with much, either.  Here was the general schedule of my day:

1. Wake up for work.  This meant either very little sleep because I had an early shift, or a very late wakeup because I went to sleep in the wee hours of the morning the night before and I had an afternoon shift that day

2. Grumble silently about how I never get to sleep in properly

3. Go to work, i.e. be tortured with boredom

4. Go home, buy crappy Sainsbury’s dinner and candy on way

5. Eat crappy dinner and candy while pestering best friends until they both Skype with me, interspersed with Facebook stalking and/or movie watching until I am too tired to be bored

6. Go to sleep at 3:00am even though I got out of work at about 6:00pm.

While there was a small part of me that enjoyed having work that wasn’t mentally taxing, having a very quiet dorm to myself, and having nothing to do, most of me was dying for SOME kind of significance – in what I was doing, in who I was talking to (in real life, so no offense to the people I Skyped), SOMETHING.

My actual job, for this kind of job, was in reality not that bad.  For those of you who don’t know, I worked at a clothing store called River Island.  I liked my bosses, the other people that work there were nice, the store had a good atmosphere and some cute clothes, I got a good discount, and I always had something to do.  I did a few different things like helping stock the deliveries and working in the fitting room, but the thing I usually did was the “rejects”, which means taking the clothes that people tried on and chose not to buy from the fitting rooms, and putting them back where they belong in the store.  The store was busy and big enough that this was usually quite time-consuming.  But none of this changed the fact that everything felt so pointless – I know you don’t take jobs like that to get satisfaction out of them, and I know I’m being really silly about this whole thing…it’s just that when I’m doing things that are so dull and mentally effortless I go crazy.  And then to go home to a nearly empty dorm, knowing that I had few friends in the country, made it worse.  Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s all passed dully and with only Skype conversations for socialisation.

But there were a few things that I did.

1. Priya – on one of my days off I took the Oxford Tube (which is a bus) to London to meet Priya.  We hung out at this huge fancy mall and saw Sherlock Holmes 2 (which was very good, if you’re interested).  Then she had to go, and I went into central London on my own to buy a pair of tights (it was a specific kind at a specific store only in London, okay?!) and to use my gift certificate at a bookstore that’s only in London.  The whole visit was cool because not only did I have fun, but it was the first time that I went to London NOT as a tourist.  It felt really nice.

2. The Radwans – I paid them a short visit one afternoon/evening, and then the next day we went to the Ashmolean Museum.  There was an exhibit on Egypt, and the Radwans had just gotten back from there.  To my surprise, Asiyla showed up at the museum!  She was visiting for a week from Spain.  It was really nice to see her, and we made plans to hang out later.  We ended up spending an afternoon and evening together talking, watching the BBC version of Sherlock Holmes (a TV show which is SO GOOD – obviously I’m getting a bit obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, I’ll have to read the books soon), and getting dinner at a really nice Thai restaurant.

I just want to interrupt this for a second to say that Camille (my French friend who is studying at the University of Edinburgh this year) is here and she has brought me macaroons from Paris.  I am dying of happiness eating them.  Must go to France ASAP.

Anyway.

3. The Dorset Coast – after Colleen (for those of you who don’t know, a girl from Kenyon who is studying in Exeter right now) and I both had extremely dull, lonely Christmases, we decided to meet up.  I decided that I really wanted to go to Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door because I hadn’t seen the English coast or the southwest, and this place would kill two birds with one stone.  Lulworth Cove is, well, a cove…and Durdle Door is a huge stone arch on what is known as the Jurassic Coast, a coastline with huge white cliffs.  Colleen and I met in a nearby town called Dorchester from which we had to get the bus to the cove, and as we had a few hours to spare before the bus left we got tea and scones and spent a while talking.  It was all great until we missed our bus, which stayed at the stop for like two seconds and left EARLY.  Colleen actually saw it, but right as she pointed it out it drove away.  This was a big problem because there is only one bus that goes to and from the coast every day, and I really didn’t want to waste the money that I’d spent on the train ticket.  So, after wandering around for a while, wondering what to do, we finally decided to take a taxi.  It was definitely worth it – the area was beautiful.  If you want to see pictures they are on Facebook.  We went to the bus station for the way back to Dorchester REALLY early.

Yesterday Colleen visited me here in Oxford.  I showed her the sites and we had a couple of great meals.  It was very fun!

6. Writing – for those of you who haven’t heard this, a few nights ago I FIGURED OUT THE PLOT TO MY STORY THAT I HAVE BEEN WORKING ON FOR TWO YEARS.  I literally cried when it happened.  There’s no point in attempting to convey how happy this made me.  And although I’m still nervous about showing my tutor my work next term, this has made me more confident.

I really can’t think of anything else of interest that I have done over the past couple of weeks.  It’s been kind of rough, or rather, too smooth.  I haven’t even been sleeping much because I’ve literally been too bored to go to sleep.  But now Camille has come to me from France, and we’re going to hang out in Oxford for a few days before going to Edinburgh!  There I will get to see various J.K. Rowling sights, and I will also visit Durham and St. Andrews which I have wanted to do for ages.  Next time I’ll bring news of all that!

P.S. Oh also, I still work at River Island!  They offered me a job that’s only five hours a week, which is perfect for me; it’ll bring in a little money, but take very little time away from my studying.  I do hate working there, but it’ll be better when it’s such a small amount of time and when I have other things to do/people to see.  They told me this, however, on what was supposed to be my “last day”, so I’d already made plans for this week and bought tickets to Scotland.  So now I have a permanent job AND a vacation!  Also, since many of the people that work at River Island are students, they’re used to having to work around academic schedules.  This means that as long as I don’t quit for more than six months at once, I’ll be able to leave and come back whenever I want to.  So, I’ll have much more money for travelling, hopefully!  Yay!

P.P.S. Despite how “hard” the last few weeks have been, I don’t regret staying here.  Even if it was in a sort of bad way, I feel like I have connected with my host country in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to experience otherwise.  I firmly believe that, in situations such as these, even negative experiences are important ones.

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Christmas Holidays Part Two: Italia!

Time December 19th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It was a whirlwind ten days after the beginning of break – the day after I left my homestay and visited Wales I went to Italy!  I was really excited because, for those of you who don’t know, my parents are obsessed with Italy and lived there for two years.  I’ve pretty much been hearing about Italian food, language, hand gestures, cities, art, and natural beauty for my whole life.

DAY ONE: When I arrived in the country, I quickly realised that my lack of an Italian vocabulary wouldn’t be a problem.  Basically everyone I talked to spoke English.  This would have annoyed me if I spoke even the slightest bit of Italian or if I were going to be there longer than a week, but as it were it was kind of a practical necessity.  Soon I met up with Lauren (who has been studying there this semester) in Termini, the main train/bus station in Rome.  She brought me to her apartment, and I loved everything about it!  It is in Trastevere, an area of the city which is usually ignored by tourists but is in my opinion the coolest part of Rome (that I saw).  It is made up of winding streets which you will get lost in VERY quickly, it contains beautiful piazzas, and its shops are restaurants are amazing.  If you ever go to Rome, don’t ignore it just because it’s on the other side of the river!!!  Lauren’s apartment itself was really cool too.  It had wooden beams in the ceiling, which I love, and a pretty view of the nice street below.  That night I ate my first Italian pizza, which was as fantastic as the hype made it out to be.

DAY TWO: The next day I tried Italian coffee, full of high hopes because both Lauren and my mom said they didn’t like coffee until they went to Italy.  However, I still found it almost impossible to finish my cup.  Oh well.  It was at this coffee shop that I also made my first attempts at using Italian.  It was basically a fail, but I guess “at least I tried” pretty much sums up that breakfast!

Next Lauren took me to Piazza Navona, a beautiful square in the middle of Rome.  She left me on my own here because she had her own business to take care of, and I went on to see all of the main tourist sights of the city.  First I went to the Pantheon, which was very close by.  This was the beginning of my realisation that I know next to nothing about Roman history, art history, or religious history.  So basically I thought the Pantheon (along with the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish steps, and Piazza del Popolo) were…really pretty.  I actually liked the Trevi Fountain in particular, though.  I know this sounds really weird, but it just seemed…cosy to me or something.  For some reason, it was nicer than I expected because it was squeezed into a little square.  I don’t know.  Just go see it for yourself!  Anyway, after I saw those places I walked back to Piazza Navona where I’d agreed to meet Lauren.  This is when I had my first gelato!  The Kenyon in Rome people (Lauren’s study abroad program) have found a place called Frigidarium which sells the BEST GELATO EVER.  If you go to Rome, you MUST go here!  Then I walked around the area a little with Lauren while she made some purchases.  After relaxing at her apartment for a little while, we then went out to get apertivos.  This means that we went to a restaurant where you buy a drink for eight euros and then get an all-you-can-eat buffet with it.  It was delicious!  I had a glass of white wine and a lot of pasta!  Finally, I got a chocolate cannoli at a different shop.  SO GOOD.

At this point my impression of Rome was that it was crazy (crossing the street was terrifying), dirtier than England, and probably the prettiest capital city I’ve ever seen.  You would not believe how small the streets are in which the Italians drive, and everywhere you looked there was a Roman ruin or some kind of incredible architecture.

DAY THREE: The next day I toured what many would say are the main attractions of Rome – the ruins.  First I went to the Colosseum.  It was one of those places which you don’t even think about much because it’s just so famous that you know you will go there, but when you actually see it you get why it’s such a popular tourist spot.  It was very cool and…well, you know about the Colosseum.  Then I walked around the ruins of the palace (which must have been HUGE) and the Roman forum across the street.  I particularly liked the forum.  When I was looking at these places, at first I found myself thinking “this is kind of cool…but it’s also kind of a pile of rocks”.  But then I heard a tour guide saying that all of the brick I was seeing would have been foundations for marble buildings back in Roman times.  Then my imagination really kicked in, and I realised how incredible all of these places would have been in their time.  It was very cool.  Also, it was probably 65 or 70 degrees and sunny – basically paradise if you’re coming from an English winter.

It took me a while to walk around all of the ruins, so that’s basically all I did that day.  At night Lauren and I went to a restaurant in Trastevere where I got DELICIOUS pasta.  I then got a chocolate cannoli.  Oh God, my mouth is watering…what I wouldn’t give for a cannoli right now…

DAY FOUR: Sadly, due to a family crisis Lauren had to leave very early the next morning.  I was a little nervous about being alone in a city where I didn’t speak a word of the language, and I was also a little lonely without Lauren there.  But in any case I took the metro to Vatican City that day and saw the basilica.  It was amazing, but again it contained a lot of art that I didn’t really understand.  I was beginning to understand why my mom always told me to take an art history class before I went to Europe.  Ooops.

I had a lot of time after this before I really wanted to be back in the hostel, so I decided to find a pasta place suggested by my guidebook.  It was dark at this point, my feet were in a TON of pain from walking so much, and it was a bit of a trek.  However, I really didn’t want to go back to the hostel and just sit there.  So I walked in a sort of paranoid mood to the restaurant, only to realise that I had no one to sit with so it would be a bit pathetic to go there.  Instead I got pizza at the place next door, which was decent but not like the other pizza I’d had in Rome.  Then I walked all the way back to Vatican City to get gelato at another place recommended by my book (yes, haha Ciara and Dana).  This gelato wasn’t even as good as Frigidarium, but let me tell you, I had ONE LICK of that gelato and the lonely, stressed, exhausted mood I’d been suffering under was GONE.  Not to use the word magical but…it was kind of magical.  Gelato is amazing like that.

I liked the hostel where I was staying for the most part.  It had all the essentials (along with a BIZARRE toilet.  the flusher was a little metal bit above your head.  I was so confused the first time I tried to use it that I had to ask for help, and though the guy made me feel stupid for asking, NO ONE WOULD HAVE KNOWN THAT BUT AN ITALIAN.).  ANYWAY.  The hostel was great except for the fact that I got placed in a room RIGHT off the lobby and literally right next to the door leading outside.  It was really annoying because you could hear everything going on in the lobby.  It actually didn’t turn out to be that big of a deal, though, because people were pretty much quiet after midnight at the latest.  Still, I would have liked another room better.  I liked all of the roommates that I had while I was there.  I stayed in a four bed all women’s room, but there were never more than three people in the room at once.  Actually, I didn’t like EVERY roommate.  The first night there was a girl from Turkey who I bonded with when we both realised that we didn’t want to talk to each other while we weren’t wearing out glasses because we’re both basically blind.  The other girl that night was from China, and she was annoying.  The Turkish girl and I were about to go to sleep when she came in with her computer, complaining about “how she could possibly do anything in the dark room”.  Then she asked the Turkish girl and me to unplug our electronic devices so she could charge her computer.  Annoying.

DAY FIVE: But very early the next morning, 5:45am to be exact, I left them both when I got up to go to Florence.  That’s the city in Tuscany that my parents lived in for half their time in Italy, and I’d heard so much about it that I’d always wanted to go there.  You can take a train to Florence in about an hour and a half, but it’s pretty expensive and I am very poor.  So instead I took the cheapest and longest train ride, which took four hours.  Like I said, though, I really wanted to go.  In retrospect, I definitely don’t regret it.

I got to Florence in the late morning, and my immediate feeling was one of loneliness.  It was slightly depressing going alone to a place I associated with my parents.  Also, the great Italian weather had left with Lauren.  While it wasn’t as cold as England, it was pretty much rainy for the rest of my stay in Italy after she had gone.  However, I really enjoyed the city.  The first thing I saw was the Duomo, the church with the famous Dome in the middle of Florence.  It is extremely impressive on the outside, but honestly the inside was far plainer than the other churches I’d seen in Italy.  After that I went to Piazza della Signoria, where I knew there was a copy of the famous David statue.  I seriously think my mom might be in love with this statue, so I knew I had to see it.  I thought the real one was in the museum behind the fake one, but when I realised I was wrong I found myself wandering the city to figure out where the correct museum was.  In this wandering I found a really cool square with a market in front of a beautiful church.  I really like markets, if you haven’t figured that out already, so I had fun there.  Eventually I did find the museum and the statue.  As usual, I feel like I can’t appreciate famous art as well as I should, but I’m glad I saw it (partially because my mom probably would have disowned me if I hadn’t).

The next part of the day was the one which I was most excited about.  I walked to the Ponte Vecchio, a famous bridge which my parents also have not stopped talking about since 1985.  It WAS really cool.  It might be my favorite part of Florence.  There are a bunch of jewelry shops ON the bridge – it’s almost like there are little houses on the bridge.  It was very touristy, but I have to say that I loved it.  Then came the moment I’d been waiting for for a very long time – my search for my parents’ old apartment.  Since they talked about the year they lived there so much, I’d always planned to go to Florence during my junior year abroad and find their place.  I definitely found it, and it was really cool to picture my parents walking around on that street about five years before I was born.  (Apparently my parents thought about staying there.  I was almost Italian!!!!  No fair!!)  The Italians in the area gave me funny looks as I snapped pictures of random buildings to show to my parents.

I really liked that side of the river a lot in general.  It’s more residential, and it definitely felt homier.  I walked past a museum of a family estate that I really wanted to go into but didn’t want to pay for.  Then I experienced another one of my favorite parts of the trip – as the sun was setting, I climbed high up on the hill on my parents’ side of the river to Piazzale Michaelangelo, which is actually a parking lot.  But it’s the most scenic parking lot ever.  Seriously, the view of Florence was probably one of the coolest city views I’ve ever seen.  It’s either that or New York from the Empire State Building.

The rest of my Florence visit was basically me wandering around the city.  I probably shouldn’t have taken the 6:45am train – because I was too cheap to pay for the myriad of art museums in Florence, I had a couple extra hours there.  Florence is a beautiful city so it was nice to roam a bit, but honestly it would have been more fun with a friend.  I got a nice dinner of pizza and a little pastry, and then eventually I returned to Rome.

When I got back to the hostel both the Turkish and the Chinese girls were gone, and in the other bed there was a mysterious sleeper.

DAY SIX: In the the morning the other girl left before I could meet her.  When I got up, I didn’t really know what to do.  I know it seems silly – I was in Rome, after all.  It’s just that I’d seen the main sights and I don’t know enough about art to truly enjoy some of the other more random things that Rome has to offer.  But Lauren had suggested that I visit Villa Borghese, which is a large park with various ruins, galleries, and ponds in it.  It was pretty, but I was again feeling kind of lonely and bored.  Generally I was just getting very excited to go back to England, since I felt like I’d seen everything I wanted to see in Rome and Florence.  I was also getting sick of not knowing the language of the country, and sick of the general disorder of Italian cities.  But when I went back to the hostel, absolutely exhausted from walking and lack of sleep, the Mysterious Sleeper was in the room and awake.

It turns out that her name was Kathleen, and we bonded right away.  We were both pretty tired, so we just hung out in the room for a while and talked.  It turns out that she was an American WWOOFing in Ireland in her year after graduating college.  I decided to take her to Trastevere when she said she hadn’t had that good of food in Rome!  Little did we know that the evening would turn out to be a bit of an adventure.

As we were walking to dinner, Kathleen suddenly pointed ahead of us at the PREMIER OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.  Like…the red carpet premier!  It was strongly reminiscent of my 2010 Leicester Square Salt premier experience in London with my host sister from the farm.  We managed to squeeze to the front, right up against the barrier, and one of the female stars (not Rachel McAdams, unfortunately) and (I think) the villain were there.  I didn’t recognise them, but I did recognise ROBERT DOWNEY JR.  It was so random, and so great!  However, I was extremely disappointed to find out that Jude Law, who I consider to be one of the most attractive men I’ve ever seen, was not there.  I had actually started to feel faint when I thought I might see him.  Not exaggerating.

When the stars were all inside, Kathleen and I moved on toward Trastevere.  We were chatting as we walked and suddenly this young guy walking ahead of us suddenly said “you speak English?”  It turned out that he was on leave from the American military and had decided to come to Rome.  He said that he was on he way to an Irish pub someone had recommended to him.  We talked with him for a little while, and then parted ways.  However, after crossing the streets a few times we ran into him again.  We laughed a little and then moved on, but then it happened AGAIN.  This time he asked us if we were meeting up with people, and Kathleen said no and invited him to join us.  So with this addition to our party we finally made our way to Trastevere.  We found a restaurant, and Kathleen and I ordered water and pasta.  The guy, however (who’s name was Wes), meant to order a glass of wine but accidentally got a whole bottle.  He also ordered no dinner, but instead just some kind of gourmet ice cream with a filling and sugar encrusted on the outside!  Oh and also, he drank a glass of the wine before proceeding to drink the rest OUT OF THE BOTTLE.  Himself.  It was very odd.  But it was fine.  We were on a windy side street that we couldn’t remember how we’d got to, eating pasta and listening to a guy playing the accordion in the square behind us, so our lives were basically a movie.

Things got slightly weirder, however, when I went to Lauren’s apartment to borrow a towel from the people still staying there (the hostel didn’t have any and I didn’t bring one).  It turns out none of them were there, but their new guests (also from my school at home), Colleen and Marty, popped their heads out of the window.  Wes had gone off to examine some small art gallery and said he’d meet up for gelato later, so Kathleen and I went up into the apartment.  We chatted to the Kenyon students for a while, and by the time we finally went downstairs with the towel Wes had gone.  We finally got gelato and went back to the hostel, where we found a new roommate sleeping.

What a night!

DAY SEVEN: I spent my last full day in Italy with Kathleen and the other people we met at the hostel.  In the morning she wanted to find some sights where some of her favorite authors had lived and worked, so we walked around trying to find those for a while.  We also went into some designer stores near the Spanish steps just for fun, and I tried on some shoes at Prada.  After some AMAZING ravioli for lunch, we finally made it to the Sistine Chapel.  I know this is ridiculous, but I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the ceiling there and the other amazing ceilings I’d seen in Rome.  However, I thought that Vatican Museum in general was really cool.  It was kind of set up like a house – there were different ways you could tour it as though you were just wandering someone’s opulent home, and the pieces were set up almost like decoration rather than exhibits.

After seeing the Vatican Museum, I brought Kathleen to Frigidarium to spread the word about its deliciousness.  We then made our way back to the hostel as it grew dark.  At this point my feet were KILLING ME, and I was sick of being a tourist and wandering around cities.  Unfortunately, however, I had to return the borrowed towel to Trastevere, which was a long walk in the direction I’d just came from.  I also had meant to buy a present for someone at Piazza Navona, which I had idiotically neglected to do when we were RIGHT NEXT TO IT at Frigidarium.  So, I got directions to a bus which the woman behind the desk at the hostel told me would take me very close to Piazza Navona.  For whatever reason, the bus went in the opposite direction and I found myself in a metro station on the outskirts of the city.  This was fine because I knew how the metro worked (the Roman metro is actually really simple, with only two lines), but somehow I managed to go the wrong way and end up at a really creepy DESERTED station.  I immediately got on the next train back toward the center of the city cursing the evening and sick of not being able to speak English.  I got off at the Colosseum, which was the closest (but not close) stop to Piazza Navona.  I bought the gift, returned the towel, and took a bus back to Termini and the hostel.  Sadly, when I arrived I had missed the free pizza night the hostel does on Mondays, but I bought a piece instead and collapsed into a chair in the restaurant.  Kathleen introduced me to two American girls studying in Ireland, and we went with our roommate (a French girl named Sarah) and this random middle-aged Italian photographer she’d bonded with to get a mediocre dessert at a restaurant next door.

At first I was planning to stay in the hostel for the rest of the night, but when everyone else went for a walk I couldn’t resist.  An Australian guy staying in the other American girls’ room came along too.  We walked to the Trevi Fountain, which was cool to see at night, and I threw an additional two coins into the fountain (I’d thrown one in the first time I’d gone there).  Apparently throwing one behind your left shoulder gets you a return to Rome, two brings you a boyfriend, and three gets you marriage.  So…did I throw in two or three?  It’s hard to say, but being a romantic I’ll take either.  The group then moved on to Piazza Navona (so I was back AGAIN), but they were going to see the Christmas market I’d already seen on my first day.  I was also not interested in seeing the Colosseum at night, since in my epic lostness I’d managed to see that too (my dad later told me that he once leapt a fence at 1:00am and went INTO the Colosseum???).  Plus I was way too tired to enjoy anything at this point, so I took the bus back to Termini and the hostel AGAIN.

That’s pretty much it!  I was excited to return to England the next day, though I definitely loved my trip to Italy.  I am now working at a clothing store called River Island, and I am looking forward to visiting some people,travelling the UK a little, and going shopping (!).  But that’s a post for another day; this one is certainly long enough.

Now that I’m all caught up on blogging, I will soon get some sleep!

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Christmas Holidays Part One: Homestay Weekend

Time December 19th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Sorry I haven’t written for a while!  I don’t know why I’ve been procrastinating so long about writing this post.  I like writing this blog a lot.  Actually, I wanted to write this the day that I got back to Oxford from my homestay, but I didn’t have time.  That was a while ago, though, so I have a lot to catch up on.  I’ve just been procrastinating in really English ways – putting the kettle on, making sure I put in the exact amount of milk and sugar I want (a few splashes, one slightly heaping teaspoon), letting it sit for the proper amount of time, removing the teabag…anyway, the only real news from that I have from term is that I joined the Mansfield/Merton football team in addition to the uni one.  I’m really glad I did – it immediately proved to be a lot of fun and a great way to meet new people.

In order to get as much out of my English experience as possible, I decided to stay with an English host family for a weekend.  Butler helped to set it up along with an independent programme.  My homestay started the Friday of 8th week (the last week of term).  Priya and I watched Love Actually before I went off to the train station, which was both wonderful and necessary.  I was feeling excited to get out of Oxford for a bit and to be in a real bedroom for the first time in months.  My memory is a bit fuzzy about that weekend because it feels like a long time ago now, but I think that night I just met my host family and hung out with them before going to bed.  They were all really nice.  The mom’s name was Lorraine, the dad’s name was Mike, and they had a fifteen-year-old son named Michael and a thirteen-year-old daughter named Rachel.  AND THEY HAD A DOG, HARVEY, who was a little white terrier sort of dog.  He was SO CUTE AND NICE, and I REALLY miss my dog!

I got familiar with British TV over those three nights, because the Ranaldos (the family name obviously) watched it before bedtime.  We watched one in which they put celebrities into the middle of nowhere for a survival competition, one where they make celebrities dance with professional dancers, and another in the singing competition category.  That last one is called X Factor, which is really popular here so I’m glad I got to see it.  After TV, I WENT TO SLEEP in a huge bed in a Victorian room with a tiny, unusable fireplace.  And I slept in!  Ahhh, I miss that room.

In the morning Lorraine took me to the Malvern Hills.  They’re pretty famous, and I was expecting small rolling hills only a little bigger than the ones in Oxfordshire.  However, they were actually very high – you could almost call them small mountains but not quite.  The views were BEAUTIFUL – just picture a stereotype of England and that’s what it was.

After lunch and a short break (in which I cuddled into my bed – English winters are freezing because people don’t really use central heating in the same way), I met Mike for the first time (he’d been painting his mother’s house).  Mike had a REALLY British sense of humor.  The Brits are REALLY good at keeping straight faces (of course), and he would say things that seemed normal, so I’d start responding to them in a normal way before thinking about it and realising that his comment had been teasing or nonsensical.  Then he’d notice I’d figured out the joke and laugh.  It was really funny – apparently he does this to all the foreigners (the Ranaldos have hosted a lot of students).  He also bought the whole family HUGE Cadbury chocolate bars, which in my opinion is the best way to make friends.

Later Lorraine, Rachel and I went into Great Malvern to see them put on the town Christmas lights and so that we could go to the Christmas market.  The town is cute – apparently the queen gets her water from there, and it used to be a Victorian spa town.  Now there are a lot of nice little shops there.  I was excited about the Christmas market, because the English Christmas spirit makes things SO cozy!  I just wish there was snow, and I’m kind of dreading the winter after the Christmas spirit is gone…but whatever.  The Christmas market WAS very fun, and I bought a bunch of gifts there (as well as a delicious raspberry-chocolate cupcake. mmmmm).  I also saw the town’s priory.  To be honest I didn’t even know what I priory is, but as most of you probably know, it’s a church-like thing.  The one in Great Malvern is almost a thousand years old and was said to have inspired C.S. Lewis to come up with his magical wardrobe.  It was very beautiful, and there were children singing Christmas carols inside.

The next day brought more Christmas markets and shopping.  We went to one at a Victorian needle factory (Michael said that, though it sounded fascinating, he wouldn’t go, but he hoped we got the “point” of it) which was nice but actually not all that Victorian.  Then we went to a more permanent crafts area (which also had a falconry…?).  I think that may actually be all we did that day if I’m remembering correctly.

I really enjoyed the homestay.  I liked spending time with the family and being in a HOME.  At this point I’m pretty sick of being in a dorm and wish that I could be in a house where leaving my room didn’t mean going into a public space.  Just picture CONSTANTLY living in your room at school where you do all your work.  Not great.  But it was time to leave my weekend home, and early in the morning I set off on my own adventure to Wales!

I’d heard from a friend about a little town called Hay-on-Wye in the middle of the Welsh countryside.  I had to take a train and a bus to get there.  The bus ride was BEAUTIFUL.  Seriously, I was not expecting how incredible it was at all.  It was a lot like the scenery in England, but the land rose into HUGE hills which made everything more dramatic.  There were farm animals and old houses scattered everywhere.  And it was almost sunny sometimes.  The town itself was also very beautiful – it was made up of tiny winding streets and very old buildings.  Oh!  I forgot to explain why I was going to this place.  It is known as the “Town of Books” because, though it is tiny, it hosts 20 or 30 independent bookstores of all kinds.  These range from the Honesty Bookshop (literally a collection of bookshelves on the lawn of a broken-down, thousand-year-old castle which asks you to please put thirty or fifty pence in a little box if you want to take a book), bookstores just for children, bookstores just for horror and science fiction books, and antique bookstores.  Needless to say, I had a lot of fun there.  In fact, I felt completely overwhelmed with the amazing surroundings I was in.  It turned out that there were a ton of cute shops that sold things other than books, too.  I loved it so much there that I stopped at the window of a realty store and see how much it would cost to live there.  I had a lovely lunch there too.  Though I narrowly avoided purchasing a couple incredibly expensive sweaters, I did come away with a very old copy of Sanditon in its practically unedited form (that’s Jane Austen’s unfinished novel that she was writing when she died, for those who don’t know).

So that was my first weekend of Christmas break!  It was really nice.  I feel so certain of where I see my future now.  Now I’ll start writing a post about my first full week of break – Italy!

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Oh yeah, you actually have to STUDY at Oxford…

Time October 27th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

You know what’s funny about this post?  I writing it about academics, and I currently have a 850 page book to finish ASAP so I can do research and write an essay about it by Tuesday!!!  And when I finish that, I still have to read several books for history and write a slightly shorter essay for that tutorial by Thursday – and I haven’t even started that assignment!!

Right, got to keep it short.

I don’t have that much to say anyway, since I’m only doing two tutorials as is typical at Oxford.  A tutorial is a one-one-one session with a tutor.  You can basically suggest any topic in the world to study, and if there’s a tutor that thinks they can manage to make at tutorial out of it they will do so.  One tutorial is called your “primary” which meets for an hour once a week, and one is called your “secondary” which meets for an hour once every other week.

Class for two hours a week at most?  Easy, you say!  NOT EASY.  I literally have no idea how I’m supposed to do the work for next week well and by the deadline, and I haven’t even been procrastinating (except for a poorly made decision to visit the farm all afternoon and evening last Tuesday…oops.  I had to return Lauren’s bedding?).  It just takes SO LONG to do the reading.  This is my break for today – I’d been reading for the last 7 or 8 hours aside from a half hour lunch break (on four hours’ sleep thanks to a 5:30am rowing wakeup this morning and football initiations last night).

I’m actually really enjoying myself academically, though.  Obviously this is due partially to the fact that all I have to do is pass these tutorials – the grades don’t affect my Kenyon GPA.  Still, I have a lot of pride academically so I never planned to slack off here.  I think a lot of the fun I’m getting out of this comes from the fact that so much of my academic life was designed by me – I chose my subjects, my tutorials, and I have so little class time that I can mold (almost) my entire daily schedule.  Despite the fact that none of this time is really “free”, I feel very liberated.  I’ve been trying to go to bed at a decent hour every night and then I usually just set my alarm for eight hours after I go to sleep, which is a huge improvement over my sleeping habits in general.  I wouldn’t mind working so much if I felt like I had more time to meet people get integrated as well.

So, about my specific tutorials.  I like them both.  My primary is Rise of the Novel, so it’s eighteenth century literature.  I love doing the reading, though to be honest these authors tend to be a bit sentimental for my taste.  I can’t wait until the last book – any Austen novel I want!  She’s so much less emotional, despite her reputation.  I’ve gotten very good grades on all of my essays so far, and I really like my tutor.  You might remember me telling you about him in my freshers’ week post – he’s the American who’s lived here since he went to York University as an undergraduate decades ago.  Apparently he is the director of the university’s creative writing department and I’m going to be doing a fiction tutorial with him Trinity term (last term).  !!!!!  I was talking to him about this, and he says that I can work exclusively on a story that I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember and that I’ve always wanted to publish!  Obviously this is terrifying, and I have second thoughts about it all the time.  I know he’s going to be very honest.  But I have to do it, right?  Because right now I’ve got a one-on-one session about my obsession with the director of creative writing at the University of Oxford.  !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and also ??

My secondary is the French Revolution.  I’ve only had one of these so far.  My tutor is very passionate about the subject. She always talks about how the French Revolution is the best revolution and all of the people involved in it were like characters in a novel.  I can tell that she’s nice too because she was so gracious about the whole 4:15/5:15 fiasco.  I’m nervous about this one because I feel like I never have time to think about my secondary after doing all the work for my primary, but I guess I’ll just have to work as hard as I can…

That’s basically it for academics.  Okay, got to get back to my reading.  Bye!

Ari

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What is there to do but study?

Time October 24th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It’s true that I spend the majority of my time working here, but that is not what this blog post is about.  It’s about what I do for fun.

The social aspect of clubs and societies is a really big deal in England – probably bigger than it is in America.  A theory I’ve read is that English people are so reserved that they need common ground upon which to connect with people.  I’m good with that, so I joined rowing (mostly because I wanted to do at least one Mansfield-only club, and because it’s the most British thing ever) and I made the university soccer team.  I might play soccer games for my college too, but I probably won’t go to practices due to time constraints.  Also, Mansfield has socials fairly frequently at college which always turn out to be quite fun and classy.

The first thing I can remember doing since my last post is rowing.  I did a trial day the first day of term.  I’ve rowed two times now, and I may say with complete certainly and honesty that I am, as the Brits would say, rubbish.  Complete rubbish.  I thought I was relatively athletic – I can run fast, and I was on two state championship soccer teams.  But I can’t even lift the bloody oars out of the water!  And I keep calling the oars paddles!  The thing is, I don’t lack strength any more than the others do – in fact, apparently the main part of rowing is in your thighs, and mine are quite strong(ish) – I’m just pitifully uncoordinated.  But I think rowing is fun.  Maybe not fun enough to warrant the 5:30am wakeups once a week, or all the hassle that comes with putting the boat in the water and steadying the boat while other people are rowing…but we’ll see how it goes.

It’s been great getting back into soccer.  The teams aren’t very successful so far, but that’s okay since it’s really a social thing for me.  I’m on the second team called the Furies – the first team (the Blues) are SO good!  I feel really secure where I am because I know I’m definitely not good enough to be on the Blues so I don’t need to try and prove that I should be moved up or anything.  Everyone on the team is really nice but I haven’t been able to go to a social yet.  Wednesday night is initiation, though, so that should be a good opportunity do get to know some people.

What else do I do that’s social?  Ugh, not much.  It needs to be improved.  I think I can only mention a few more times that I’ve hung out with people.

1. G&D’s, a great ice cream store where they are also famous for random things like their pizza bagels (which are exceptional – and how do you make an exceptional pizza bagel?!).  The second years and I met there 1st week to try to get Holly’s bike sorted out for me, but we couldn’t open the valve to fill the flat tire so I am still walking everywhere.  This needs to change, actually.  Anyway, it was a pretty good night  – the ice cream was phenomenal.

2. On Friday of 1st week Priya and I went to the college bar for karaoke night.  Lauren, Saskia (another second year) and Anisa were arriving just as Priya and I got there, and I ended up separating from Priya and spending most of the night with Lauren, Anisa, their friend Addie (a second year guy from Romania), and a few JYAs.  We sang some great songs – in HUGE groups of people, mind you!! – and it was this night that I realized how fun the pub culture could be.  After karaoke we went to G&Ds for the second time that week, and ate more ice cream over more conversation.

3. Champagne and Chocolates!  This was a great day AND night.  It was the day Lauren left, and I let myself sleep in, hang out and do some errands rather than working.  The night’s event turned out to be a lot of fun.  It was just so classy – everyone looked so formal and we were all sipping champagne and listening to live jazz music and, I mean, there was CHOCOLATE.  SO MUCH.  Why can’t America be like this?  I love England.

4. (3.5)?  At champagne and chocolates I mainly hung out with Priya, and afterwards she invited me to her room to watch a movie since Glee is on an annoying hiatus ALREADY.  We ended up talking and watching P.S. I Love You until 2:00am, which was great.

Honestly, I think this is all I can boast of having done in terms of social events and extracurriculars so far aside from a brief rowing social.  I feel like I’ve been kind of slacking socially these past few weeks.  It’s just that there’s SO MUCH WORK to be done here – more about that in the next post.  I’m going to try to kick it up a notch and forget my worries, and embrace this adjustment period of studying abroad.  I guess I’m not doing half bad so far.  Hopefully I’ll have more news for you next time!

Ari

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Lauren’s Visit!

Time October 24th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hello all!  It’s been a while – I’ve been busy.  Oxford life has begun in full swing.  I promise this will be the last vacation-orientation-special event post, and next time I’ll get into my real Oxford life, but I want to wait to do that until I’ve had my history tutorial.  But Ari, you ask, don’t you have your secondary tutorial every two weeks?  Hasn’t it been two weeks?  Yes, that’s true!  As Lauren will attest, on Thursday I was supposed to have my tutorial at 4:15 and I was convinced it was at 5:15.  Oops.  Sorry, Oxford’s thousand-year academic history.  I’m just a colonist, forgive me.  My tutor was really nice about it though, by e-mail at least.  And I wasn’t prepared anyway.

Because…MY FRIEND LAUREN CAME TO ME from Rome and I needed to get my work done fast!  Lauren goes to school with my back home, and she’s studying abroad in Rome this semester.  It was a fantastic visit, though one certainly lacking in sleep.  It began when I rushed with my dinner to the bus station to pick her up, and when she arrived my hands were covered in cheese, so the hug was extra awkward!  After eating dinner (on Lauren’s part) and ice cream (on my part) at the delicious G&D’s, I promptly abandoned Lauren for the ever-entrancing Mansfield College library, where I proceeded to compose the worst essay ever written on the nobility’s part in the early French Revolution.  I finished at 1:45am and was in bed by 3:00am – perfect for our 7:45am wakeup the next day!

But at least it was for a good reason.  LONDON!  We left on the 9:01am train for a full twelve hour day.  Of the three times I’ve been to London, this was by far the best.  We started off with the most important stop – Platform 9 3/4.  It was lame in a way because it was moved to the side of King’s Cross Station – when I’d been there last summer it was in its rightful place (as much as it could be, as there really is no wall between platforms nine and ten).  At least there was a lovely sign telling us that the platform had been moved, directing us to the new location where all Hogwarts pupils could catch the train.  At least we found it – no need to take the flying car!

From there we went to the Tate Modern.  I wouldn’t normally go to an art museum while in London – I’d rather do cultural or historical things like the Tower of London.  But all of those things are almost 20 pounds a piece, and the museums are free.  Also, Lauren – as most of you will know – is obsessed with art and insisted that we at least go to one museum.  As she loves modern art best, the Tate was our choice.  It was actually really cool and kind of inspiring.  I haven’t thought about anything creative in a while, and it was great to finally do so.

Next (I think?) we went to Buckingham Palace.  I was excited about this because it was the only major London sight that I’d never at least laid eyes on.  It was cool – we saw a guard marching in a ridiculous manner, and Lauren insisted on asking a couple to take a touristy picture of us.  For some reason it wasn’t THAT impressive to me, though.  I think the beauty of Oxford is going to my head.  Or maybe it’s that I actually find the country estates I’ve been to to be more beautiful.

Another thing I was excited about was our visit to St. James’s Park, because I’d heard a lot about London’s parks and I’d never been to one.  Again, I didn’t think it was THAT amazing if you compare it to Central Park.  I thought it was pretty much the same except MUCH smaller and with a better lake.  The only thing that made it very clear you were in London was the view of Buckingham Palace in one direction and Whitehall and the London Eye in the other.  So, not a bad place.

I’d totally forgotten about Whitehall, so we walked through the park to see it.  For some reason I didn’t know it existed right in the middle of London, or that it existed at all anymore.  It was beautiful with a lot of turrets and austere men on horses (I think it’s the place for the royal cavalry or something), and I was glad for the happy accident that brought us there.

Next we went to Trafalgar Square, and since it was much earlier than we thought it was – and since we were still poor – we decided to go into the National Gallery.  The feel was very different in this museum than the last – it was much less, well, modern, and (in my opinion) much more beautiful with its wood paneling and impressive rooms.  In a way the art wasn’t as interesting because it was mostly portraits and that sort of thing, but apparently I looked at some really famous stuff (says Lauren).  I think I liked it better than the Tate because I could recognize historical trends in the rooms from the Georgian era.

When we left the museum we had the inevitable and essential experience of being rained on in London without umbrellas!  We took cover in a bookstore and had a break of coffee and hot chocolate, much like our cafe dates at Kenyon (except now Lauren is a coffee snob thanks to Italy).  When we were finished the rain had cleared up, and we made our way to Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Eye.  They were impressive as always.

At this point we were kind of at a loss to do (ridiculous, I know, but remember that we are poor), so we decided to check out Harrods, the famous London department store.  It was a fun experience to look around in there, but we weren’t buying anything!  I loved one necklace, but unfortunately it turned out to be just short of 2,000 pounds.  Oh well.  BUT we were successful in one room – the most important room – the chocolate room!  Yes, there was a room FULL of fancy chocolate.  After a very short deliberation Lauren and I decided that we should treat ourselves to one expensive truffle each, and when Lauren went up to a counter to ask how much they would cost the woman gave her two for free!  It was the beginning of the delicious food we’d have that night!

Dinner was where we went next – Covent Garden to be specific.  We went to an amazing French bakery/restaurant called Le Pain Quotidien.  There’s one in New York that I went to once, and it was insanely expensive, but this one was quite reasonably priced and just as good.  I got a quiche and salad, Lauren got an open-sandwich thing that I forgot the name of, and we drank a glass of wine each.  We topped off the brilliant meal with a quick walk over to Snog!, the same frozen yogurt place I’d gone to on my birthday during orientation.  It was just as amazing.  The whole trip was one of those days that you can never recreate but you always wish you could have back.

After Snog! we ended our London trip with an exhausted tube ride to Paddington, where we finally caught the train back to Oxford.  When we got back to my room, we collapsed pretty quickly into bed because we had a lovely 5:30am wakeup the next day for my rowing practice.  It was freezing cold, I didn’t bring adequate clothing, and we were SO TIRED.  More about rowing in the next post (for real this time).

After another G&D’s stop for breakfast, Lauren napped (lucky her) while I edited the paper I’d written the other night.  We ate lunch in one of Oxford’s lovely cafes and then I finally got my PATISSERIE VALERIE RASPBERRY TART that I’d been dreaming of every since I’d eaten one the first time last summer!  It was SO SATISFYING.

Our next stop was the farm!  We took the bus to Hampton Poyle and then I took Lauren along my beloved footpaths to Willowbrook.  It was a perfect day for the walk – sunny and crisp, just as I like it.  We visited the Radwans at the farm, which was great as always.

I THOUGHT we left early enough for my tutorial, but obviously THAT didn’t happen.  After walking around Oxford for a little while longer and purchasing weird English candy in a sweets store RIGHT out of Harry Potter, we ate dinner in college so that Lauren could get the Mansfield experience.  She saw the library too before we headed back to my room, again collapsing in exhaustion.  That’s okay, though, no need for energy when you’re watching Pride and Prejudice!!  We’d planned to do it the night she got here, but my paper prevented that.  So it turned out to be a goodbye thing rather than a welcome thing, which was just as great.

We went to bed pretty soon after the movie, as we had a 5:45am wakeup the next day.  At this point you can imagine that we were pretty sick of getting up before the sunrise.  As soon as I’d dropped Lauren off at the bus station I walked home dropped back into bed.

I still haven’t recovered from the lack of sleep.  In fact, I kind of want to drop into my bed right now, and I think I will very soon.  Good night everybody!  Next time I promise there will be more daily life stuff.  Just got to make it to my tutorial on time…

Everything in general is going very well here.  I hope all is well at home!

Ari

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Fresher’s Week

Time October 12th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hello again!  I meant to write this post days ago as Freshers’ Week is now over, but I’ve been extremely busy.  I have a feeling this is going to be a long one and that I am going to forget a million things anyway…but here we go!

Where to start??  I guess I left off the night that I got here.  It’s incredible to me to think that that was only nine nights ago, and that a mere week and a half ago I was still at the farm.  Freshers’ Week is simple to explain because it’s basically the same as freshman orientation in America.  The freshers (freshmen) arrived the day after my Butler group, and we all went to college (meaning the Mansfield college campus specifically) to meet our Oxford “parents”.  My dad was in London for rowing, but I met my mom, Anna, and we walked to the famous Turf Tavern together.  The Turf is a really cool pub hidden away through alleys and very close to Mansfield, and it’s EXTREMELY old.  At the pub Anna and I talked a little and I met some of her friends.  I also talked to some other people I’d met the night before.  After dinner I went back home in exhaustion, which was a state I was to experience almost constantly in the coming week.

I think the next day was when I met and befriended a fresher named Priya.  Priya and I ended up going to Mansfield’s pub quiz together that night.  Pub quizzes are competitions that involve completely random facts and some drinking, basically.  It was a lot of fun.  Then I met up with some second years that I’d met before going to a club.  Clubs aren’t my thing, but I also felt like it was important to at least attempt the quintessential Freshers’ Week experience.  Also, I think people have either exaggerated the English drinking culture or I have exaggerated it in my head.  So far the only major difference I see between young Americans and young English people is that the English go to pubs.  Yes, this is a big part of their culture, but it seems like it’s more about socializing than drinking.  I’ve also met quite a few people who don’t drink at all.  Anyway, I didn’t love clubbing, but I’m glad I did it.

The next day I went to a “sports afternoon” with Priya and a bunch of other freshers, which turned out to be capture the flag and a bunch of junk food.  I spent most of that day with Priya and then went over to the second years’ house to watch Downton Abbey, a BBC Masterpiece Classic show that we all love.  They made a really British meal and we drank a TON of tea and we talked for hours before I went home.

The next day was the Mansfield freshers’ fair, which ended up being very small.  That evening was a little more exciting – it was freshers’ dinner!  It was a very fun experience.  It took place in the Mansfield chapel which is an insanely impressive place, and all we needed were long tables to make it just like Hogwarts.  There were speeches, brief vocal performances, etc., and the food was INCREDIBLE.  Seriously, it was maybe the best food I have ever eaten.  The whole thing was very formal – we were told that we “may be seated” and there were three sets of silverware.  I also was seated next to my English tutor, and I enjoyed talking to him throughout the meal.  Apparently he lives really close to Willowbrook and likes the footpaths too, and I’ve basically walked into his town on them.

The next day was the university’s freshers’ fair, which was huge and very overwhelming.  It took place in the exam buildings, which all of the actual students were terrified of because they are extremely imposing.  Things like the freshers’ fair just make me really uncomfortable because I always feel like everyone is out to snatch me away into their clubs, and I hate the pressure.  It was still cool to see all the clubs, though.  I signed up for soccer, a bunch of creative writing things, psychology experiments (you get paid!), and even caving, just in case.  That night I had a good time at a pub with the second years, and afterwards we went to their house and talked for a little while before I went to bed.

The next day I had a bunch of academic meetings.  One of them was wish my English tutor, which was when my summer vacation was ended very abruptly.  He assigned me a 7-10 page research paper on a 285 page book (which took me 3 minutes a page to read critically – I calculated it) for THREE DAYS FROM THEN.  Ouch.

Saturday was the day that I really started to get a feel for what I think my year will actually be like.  I decided not to go to trials for the university soccer team.  They were supposed to be five hours long and I had SO MUCH WORK to do and I’ve been a bit sick.  I went to my college team’s practice instead, but the coach (who is a Merton College student) told me that he thinks I’m good enough to play for the university team.  I went home and e-mailed the coach, and last night was our first practice.

For the rest of that day I read my book.  This is when I discovered that it would take me MUCH longer than I anticipated to read, so I decided not to go to the grand finale of Freshers’ Week – the BOP party.  I read until a DECENT HOUR (! I’m trying to have better sleeping habits this year since there aren’t really early classes at Oxford) and then went to sleep.

And that was my Freshers’ Week.

So, as of now things are going pretty well.  I am absolutely LOVING living in Oxford.  I love that I buy my own breakfast food every morning or have a nice bowl of cereal in the dorm’s kitchen.  I love that I have to walk to places.  I love being in OXFORD because it STILL astounds me how beautiful it is.  I’ve learned that Oxford is even more beautiful at night, when it looks extra Hogwarts-like.  I am also loving what I am doing, because despite the fact that that English essay was a lot of work it was also a lot of fun, and I know I’m getting an incredible educational opportunity.  I think the same will be true of my French Revolution assignments, which I plan to start tomorrow.  Football/soccer is really fun, rowing was fun (there will be more about this in the next post), and the prospect of a trip to Rome and maybe Paris and Barcelona over Christmas break is very exciting.  Oh, and the Mansfield food is DELICIOUS and traditionally English and CHEAP.  My main goal for the next few weeks is to really make sure I’m integrating myself into typical university life and making friends with actual Oxford students.  Hopefully that will go well!

I’m not sure when I’ll write again – maybe after my friend Lauren visits me from Rome next week.  Bye for now!

 

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London Orientation and Arrival

Time October 3rd, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

After leaving the farm with some sadness, I made my way on the coach to the “bus station” at Victoria.  I thought this would be like bus stations are in other UK cities – very obvious, large spaces filled with buses – but it was basically just another stop on the street.  So then I proceeded to circle the area around Victoria for about a half hour in the heat and humidity (it’s been the hottest fall weather in England since the late nineteenth century.  Thank God it ends tomorrow).  The subtlety of signs in England is very charming in the countryside, but in London it’s just annoying.  I suck at cities.  I got lost five or ten times in 48 hours total spent in London.  I even got lost in Victoria station, looking for the part leading to the underground!

After finally figuring out where I needed to go and which tickets to buy, I made my way at last to the hotel.

Before the group dinner I wandered a little around Tottenham Court Road and ate lunch.  Dinner was served buffet style in a nice restaurant, and right afterwards I went off in search of the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey because I heard they were only twenty minute walk away.

It was a fun walk.  People were spilling out of pubs, which is something I continued to see throughout my stay in London.  It was cool to see all of the most famous sites of London at night, since I’d only seen them in daytime last year.

Then next day was MY BIRTHDAY!  It was the weirdest birthday ever because no one really knew it was my birthday at all, but Butler had a lot planned for us.  We had a meeting about English culture vs. American culture, then one with Lord Taverne about British politics (he’s in the House of Lords), and then lunch and a meeting about safety.  The last meeting was one for our individual colleges.  All of the speakers were really funny.

After getting myself a quick dinner, the walking tour of central London was next on the agenda.  It was a lot of fun.  All of the history was really interesting, and reminded me that I was still in London despite the herd of Americans around me.  The tour did not go to the REALLY famous places that I was sure it would go to, like Big Ben and that sort of thing, so we learned a lot of interesting new facts about less-visited places.  Plus, the tour guide was really nice.  A few times during the tour he had “beer questions”, where he’d ask a relatively hard question and then offer to buy a pint for the first person who answered it correctly.  Also, when I was walking between him and the road he physically moved me to his other side!  At first I was confused, but when he said it was a chivalry thing that his mom made him do I realized that he was doing what gentlemen had to do in Victorian times!  They always had to stay between a woman and the road because the side of the road was more dangerous, and it was also where the filth from horses collected.  It turns out he knew other rules of Victorian gentlemanly behavior, such as the fact that a gentleman will always walk behind a lady when they are walking up the stairs and in front of her on the way down, so he can catch her if she falls.

Anyway, the tour ended in Covent Garden, and the guide told me where I could get myself something sweet for my birthday.  I ran off to Le Pain Quotidien, a really expensive but delicious-looking cafe that I’d seen in New York once.  I got a delicious raspberry tart.  Then I went to the theater to see a play for which Butler had bought us tickets, The Woman in Black.  I realized I’d left my ticket in the hotel, but one of the Butler staff brought extra tickets and I ended up with a better seat!  The play was great!  I didn’t think it wasn’t as scary as some had said it would be, but it was pretty scary for a play.

After we walked back to the hotel, I was about to go back to my room when I realized that I REALLY wanted a frozen yogurt with raspberries from SNOG!, a place that Butler had suggested for us as a place to go at night.  I almost turned back when I got lost a couple of times (the usefulness of a GPS should not be overestimated).  But in the end I finally made it, and the guy at the counter gave me a medium instead of a small even though I’d insisted on the small (the medium was only 5p more).

This morning we had a talk about traveling around Europe and the weekend trips that Butler sets up.  Lunch was at another classy restaurant.  Afterwards I hung out in a park in Soho for a while before returning to the hotel to go to Mansfield.  Immediately upon getting back I decided to get my unpacking over with before going to a party for visiting students at the JCR.

It turned out that there were a lot of Oxford “parents” (each fresher gets a “mom” and “dad” to help them adjust to Oxford life) there.  I met my “dad” briefly, but my “mom” won’t be here until tomorrow.  I also met my “brother” or “half brother” or whatever – a second year student that Chris and Anna (my “parents”) “had” last year.

The party tonight was great – Americans and English people were really mixing and I get the sense that it is part of the Oxford experience to hang out with people from all over the world.  I’ve already started to make English friends, and we have plans to watch Downton Abbey (a Masterpiece Classic period drama) together on Monday.

Walking back from the JCR, I already started to feel that I belong here – I’m not a tourist and I’m not just passing through on my way to the farm.  I am beginning to understand the reason that so many Americans go abroad to Oxford.  Oxford isn’t just prestigious academically and in an incredible city – the social aspect of Oxford is one of the most unique experiences possible.  It’s very English and traditional, but there are also thousands of people from other countries here and everyone takes part in centuries-old traditions.  It’s pretty cool.

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Oxford News and Farm Life

Time September 26th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hello again!

Since I last wrote I went to Basildon Park, the stately home where Netherfield House (Mr. Bingley’s home in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice) was shot.  It was a lot of fun to stand where I remembered the scenes of my favorite movie happening!  The house was very impressive, of course, but honestly it wasn’t anything like Blenheim Palace, the mansion I went to last year.  There were weird, modern carpets on some of the floors and the library was kind of a mess.  Also, I think they changed the decorations a lot for Pride and Prejudice, and I think they also made the rooms appear bigger than they really are.  This makes sense, since the last occupants bought the house in the 1950s so it’s not exactly preserved in the style of the 18th century.  Anyway, it was really cool, and there was a posh wedding going on there that day which was interesting to see.  There were lots of typically huge British hats!

In my spare time, I’ve also been walking a lot on the footpaths.  Last year the footpaths were one of the things that made me realize how much I’d underestimated England rather than overestimated it.  There are little signs for the paths on fences and kissing gates all over Oxfordshire (and probably the rest of the country), pointing to the next tiny hamlet a short distance away.  But the cool part is that you have to walk through farmers’ fields full of horses and sheep to get where you want to go.  The fields stretch on for miles and miles and miles.  Sometimes it’s not entirely clear where the next sign is and the paths aren’t always visible, so it’s sort of a mystery to figure out where the path continues.  I love how it’s not paved and there aren’t sixteen neon signs pointing the way.  Is it more convenient this way?  Absolutely not.  But I love the quirk.  It reminds me of Harry Potter somehow – maybe it’s the lovable absurdity of the moving staircases.  The surrounding countryside and homes are beautiful in the most stereotypically English way, and I when I walk through it I feel like I’ve gone back to a time where the whole world wasn’t built up and ugly.

My other exciting news is that I got an important e-mail from Oxford for which I’d been waiting a long time.  It contained information about my tutorials and accommodation for this year.  During Michaelmas term (the first eight weeks of the year) I will be studying the Rise of the Novel as my primary tutorial and the French Revolution as my secondary tutorial.  I also got my tutors for these tutorials, and my Rise of the Novel tutor is also knowledgeable in creative writing.  This means that I’ll be studying the subject from a creative writing standpoint, which is pretty cool.  They also told me that I’ll be studying Dickens as my primary tutorial for Hilary term (the second term of the year) and and European Cinema as my secondary tutorial during Trinity term (the third term).  Dickens is what I wanted, but I’m kind of disappointed with European Cinema.  It should be interesting, but I didn’t request it – it was a suggestion from Oxford.  I hope this doesn’t mean that I can’t study children’s literature, which was my overall top choice.  Finally, they explained that creative writing would be weaved into my classes throughout the year.  Sounds great to me!

I will be living in the Ablethorpe building, or “Dale” as the students call it.  There were big positives and negatives of all of my choices, so I’m fine with Dale.  It’s close to the city centre and main college site, it’s in a safer area than my other options, and older Mansfield students will be living there (though they probably won’t be happy about it).  I also get a single with a shared kitchen and bathrooms, which I’m really looking forward to!  Now that I know for sure where I’ll be living, I want to visit it if I can.  I’ll probably go there on my last day off, since I’m going to Cambridge on Saturday for my first day off this week (!!).  I feel different now that I have my housing and Michaelmas tutors – Oxford feels much more real.  More concrete images of this year are really starting to form in my mind now.  It’s slightly nerve wracking, but mostly just exciting.

Aside from today’s e-mail, life on the farm has been pretty slow.  Not in a bad way – I’m enjoying the (relatively tiring) farm work and the company of the Radwans.  I got to work the market on Sunday morning, which was cool but very similar to farmer’s markets at home.  Adam is back from Barcelona, which is nice, and I’ve been playing with the bunnies they now have on the farm.  There also seem to be more worms in the ground than there were last year, which sucks for me since I hate them.   Yes, yes, you may all laugh at me for volunteering on a farm with a worm phobia.  It’s all very funny until they’re CRAWLING ON MY WELLIES.

I’m really looking forward to my visit to Cambridge – I’ve always wanted to go there, and Lutfi is going there on Saturday anyway so I get a free ride there and back.  It’ll be nice to get off the farm, because I couldn’t think of anything to do (that I can afford do to) for my last day off and ended up just hanging around here.  I’ll probably write about that next.  Until then –

Ari

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Back at Willowbrook

Time September 15th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hello from Willowbrook Farm!  It’s crazy to be back, since I spent so much time over the last year thinking about this impending visit and the one in the past.  Since I am having an experience that is similar on a basic level to the experience I had here last year, I keep thinking that I have a limited amount of time in England and that soon I’ll be heading back home to Vermont.  When I realize this is not the case, a sense of relief mixed with some healthy uncertainty hits me – I live here now.

Anyway, the journey went very smoothly.  When I got on the to Oxford bus, I had the same sensation that I’d had last year: the bus would be similar to any other bus in any other country, except that it was SILENT.  This summer, I remember thinking on a quiet bus from Montpelier to Burlington that maybe English buses weren’t as exceptionally quiet as I remembered – but they definitely are.  I felt completely obnoxious using a zipper.  Anyway, it gave me the opportunity to nap, which was nice.

I loved being back in the beautiful city of Oxford.  My sense of time was completely screwed up – in the US it was about 4:30 in the morning and in England it was 9:30 am, but for some reason my body was sure that it was dinnertime.  Go figure.  This delusion lasted the rest of the day.  In an stroke of happiness-fueled sense of adventure I decided to take the 25A bus all the way to Hampton Gay so that no one would have to pick me up in Kidlington.  I’d then walk down a long lane to the farm with my hands blistering from my suitcases.  Walking down the lane again made me very happy.

The farm is in most ways very similar to it was when I left it, except for a few fundamental changes.  I loved the constant bustle that five kids and constant guests bring to a home, but this year Willowbrook is very calm and quiet.  The main reason for this is that none of the kids are home during the day, and the two oldest aren’t here at all right now.  Also, the members of the family that are here don’t spend as much time with the WWOOFers as they did last year; they don’t eat dinner with us or take tea breaks with us.  I miss them, and I also miss the crazy atmosphere the kids brought to the farm, but I’m still extremely happy to be here again.  Today we worked on building a cob house (cob is a building material made of clay, dirt and water) all morning and boxed eggs in the afternoon – all of it was very similar to last year in terms of work.  It was great to be back to work at Willowbrook!

Yesterday I decided to go into Oxford to get a bank account and a cell phone, which was kind of dumb considering that I was practically delusional with exhaustion, I hadn’t eaten in like twelve hours, and I wasn’t willing to buy food because I didn’t want to spend the money.  I walked around (in the PERFECT weather, I might add – nice and crisp and pretty sunny like I’ve been craving at home) kind of aimlessly for HOURS.  I don’t even really know the first thing about opening up a bank account and I wanted to see the whole city again, so I kind of circled the city a bunch of times before actually going into banks and cell phone stores.  Also, I went looking for my college while I was in the city.  I got lost (Oxford is relatively small, but deceptively confusing due to its amazing yet confusing windy side streets), but I found the Mansfield!  It’s small but beautiful.  Eventually I made my way back to the bus and nearly passed out on the short ride from food and sleep deprivation.

So, I’m having a great time so far.  I’ve decided on my first day off location!  I found out that the home where they shot Netherfield House in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice is only a 6 pound train ticket from Oxford!  Being a huge Jane Austen nerd, I am very interested.  I’ll post a little about my days off while I’m here, and maybe more about the farm if anything comes up.

Until then,

Ari

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Goodbyes

Time September 8th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hi everyone!  The introduction that belongs here doesn’t have to be too long, since a lot of basic information about me is already on the blog, but I want to start with a few details about myself.  Most importantly, I am going to England because I love the country for both its culture and physical beauty.  When I was living in Chile for a few months between my junior and senior years of high school, I met an English woman who told me that I seemed a lot more English than American.  She couldn’t have possibly realized how much she had intrigued me.  Upon my return to Vermont I immediately went to the bookstore and bought a book about English culture to see if I agreed with her.   Whether or not I am actually more English than American, I did find a lot of things in that book that I liked, and between my freshman and sophomore years in college I went farming in Oxfordshire through WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms).  Despite my expectations of England, which I considered to be unrealistically high when I left the states, the experience was better than I thought it would be.  After last summer I was sure of what I’d considered a possibility for years – that I wanted to study abroad for a year at Oxford during my junior year in college.  The longer I had in the country, the more time I would have to adjust to and learn about the culture that I liked so much.

I really liked farming and the people who owned my host farm, so I’m going to go back to the farm for two and a half weeks before Butler’s orientation in London.  Hopefully this will not only be enjoyable but also give me a chance to adjust to being in a new country before I have to adjust to being at Oxford.  But as I prepare for my flight to England on Monday, I am aware that previous experience in the country and an adjustment period on the farm can’t prevent my leaving Vermont from being a little bittersweet.  I have experienced an extremely small amount of homesickness in my life, despite going on many trips without my family.  But knowing that I won’t see my hometown of Montpelier for an entire year – the longest I’ve ever been away from it – is a little sad, especially because I feel like I’m really leaving my childhood behind this time.  I also don’t really know what England will bring me, despite my positive expectations.  I have a few concerns about England, one of which is making English friends.  I am excited to live with international students because it’s going to be interesting to meet people from all around the world, but at the same time I do want to feel as immersed in English culture as possible.  Also, I know that pub culture is huge in England, and this worries me a little since I have hardly any experience with drinking.  On the other hand, I know that my time in Oxford has a lot of potential to define the rest of my life despite, or even because of, the things I am unsure about.  For example, right now I’m thinking that I might want to be an editor of books for children and young adults, and after studying almost exclusively English for an entire year I will probably have a better idea whether that’s really what I want to do.  The people that I meet are also likely to influence my life after Oxford in many different ways.  Finally, those who know me will attest to the fact that, while I get good enough grades to get into Oxford, I am just plain stupid when it comes to anything practical.  I suck at navigating through cities.  I can make a grand total of one dish and a few desserts for food (and that dish is pasta).  Up until a few years ago I didn’t know the difference between debit and credit.  This is a great opportunity for me to change all that.  Will I look like an idiot during the learning process?  Probably.  But I’ll just have to get over caring about that.

So, despite the fact that I don’t know what is about to happen to me at all, I’m actually not nervous about England in the least.  I’m sure my neuroticism will kick in once I arrive, but I’m confident that I’ll be able  to deal with it and move on once I’ve adjusted to the university and made some friends.  I have a lot to look forward to – aside from Oxford, I also have the opportunity to travel Europe, which I’ve been dying to do for as long as I can remember.

For the past few weeks my life has become an odd and vaguely unsatisfying mixture of paralyzing boredom and the frantic purchasing of necessary clothes, electronic devices, luggage, chocolate (just because), and much more.  My room, which is normally spotless, is currently a mess of “I’ll just put it on my desk/dresser/chair to make sure I remember to bring it to England.”  My suitcase is almost up to my hip, and that’s just one of pieces of luggage I’m bringing, but I won’t start packing until Saturday.  Until then, I’ll continue talking to my friends until the wee hours of the morning to massage my brain back to normal after researching British cell phone companies all day in my room.

I can’t wait to write in this blog all year, and I’ll be adding photos too!  I’ll write a brief post soon after I arrive at the farm.  Bye for now!

Ari

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