Thursday, February 14, 2013

Yes, I do Study

I have yet to figure out the meaning of the word "college" here in Britainsome say it's the last two years of high school, some say it's the transition between high school and university, but I say it's just a loose term regarding education. However, I do know that by UK standards, York St. John is NOT a college, but a uni.
This makes discussing Calvin College an awkward task as I don't know whether to call it a uni or a collegeI'd hate to be mistaken for a high schooler when it's bad enough feeling like a freshie again! Looking back three years, I don't recall feeling so small and uncertain about "the way" things work. 

Last week, on the first day of class, I held a piece of crinkled paper with a torn edge in my hand, reading it like a map as if those tiny marks, "TW/007," actually made sense. After what felt like 10 minutes of wandering, I decided it would be worse to walk in late to class, so I asked for directions as any freshie would. "Excuse me," I said, "I'm looking for room double-Oh-seven in building TW." 

I'm positive I said, "double-O," as in "James Bond." Not "double-U," as in "W." Needless to say, I ended up in front of room TW/W07. Apparently, I can't assume everyone knows who James Bond is, even the British.

Two weeks of class have passed since that first day, and the freshie feeling is starting to wear offI directed someone to the toilets today. So proud. However, the feeling of foreignness has not worn off, and I'm very much okay with that. Being foreign's fun! 

Every day, especially that first, I get this strange kick of adrenaline when I raise my handnaturally, talking in class is no big deal, but there's something pleasingly jarring about hearing my plain American accent among the British. Heads turn as people notice, particularly in my American literature class when they realized there's an "expert" among themI'll let them think this for a while, but soon they'll find out I'm no expert on anything American.

I'll just say, it's slightly awkward when a British student, 2 years younger, knows more about Obamacare than I do. 

Interestingly, though contrary to stereotyping all Americans as fat gun-owners who eat McDonald's and Taco Bell, the British are strangely obsessed with America: 90% of club playlists are by American artists, 9/11 has been mentioned more in the past week than I've heard in the last 5 years, and for 3 hours my creative writing class discussed the importance of American poetry's influence on the world. NOW tell me we're fat gun-lovers.

I wouldn't change classes, though, even if I could. There is a simple pleasure and a fascinating learning curve in listening to the British discuss AmericaI may be learning more about the States here at uni than I have in the past 20 years. Except the geography. Boston is, in fact, very far from Chicago. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Saturday Tourists

"Expectation is the root of all heartache"
-William Shakespeare

Coming to England, I had great expectations of what Europe should look like and how it should feel. According to Shakespeare, I set myself up for great disappointment, but I don't believe I did. From a young age, I've dreamed of visiting foreign places and, though different from what I expected—Hollywood adventures in picture perfect villages—this country has and continues to exceed my expectations with stunning realism and authentic European charm. 

A few days ago, my class set out as Saturday tourists venturing beyond the boundaries of York to Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare's hometown. Yet again, England's charm exceeded my expectations—I believe I would have visited regardless of Shakespeare's presence. 

The oldest pub in town
Our trip began with a 4 hour coach ride that should have taken only 3 hours if we had not waited endlessly in a dead-still traffic jam—nearby cars emptied out into the 3-lane highway as if we were parked on a ferry, people smoked and chatted beside the concrete dividing wall. Regardless of this detour (the source of the jam remains a mystery), we arrived in Stratford just in time for our scheduled event: The Winter's Tale performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. 

Finally, a Shakespeare play that ends with triumph and redemption rather than death and tragedy! Having never read the play, besides a synopsis on SparkNotes, I walked into the auditorium with little preparation and no expectation to find a colorful, silk-covered stage with a modestly-sized balcony-tower center stage. But the show was everything except modest: grade A actors, elegant costumes, and a 25-foot rising tower! I laughed, I scoffed, and, shamelessly, I cried, and afterwards, I knew I had experienced something fantastic when 3 hours passed in what I thought had only been an hour.

To top off the day, we walked a block down the narrow European streets, dodging speedy cars and careless drivers, to the street-side home of William Shakespeare himself—that is if you believe he existed. But what does it matter whether he lived or whether those wooden walls actually housed this great English writer, because either way, Shakespeare's plays will continue to go down in history regardless of whether he existed. He's just that good.