Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Freshers' Week

Well, my two-week vacation in England is over.  I had to go to school today for the first time since last MAY—almost exactly five months ago.  My first tutorial is this Friday, and I can’t say I’ve done any work on my paper.  Let me provide a rundown of the past week, working backwards, and maybe you’ll understand why.

Today: Went to two lectures this morning—one on Harry Potter and children’s literature, and the other on Classical Mythology for Beginners.  And in Classical Mythology, Anna Popplewell (i.e. Susan from The Chronicles of Narnia movies) sat down RIGHT IN FRONT of me!  I looked her up on Wikipedia right away and confirmed that she is, in fact, a student at Magdalen College (Where C.S. Lewis taught, funnily enough).  I couldn’t think of anything non-creepy to say, so I just didn’t say anything at all.  Here’s the thought process: Do I drop my pen? Pretend I don’t know who she is?  Introduce myself?  Exchange numbers and have sleepovers?  Or do I just say I liked her movies?  Or do I say, “Oh hi, some people think we look alike”?  Or just give her a knowing smile and a wink?  Or use my ignorant-sounding American accent to my advantage and just jump right in asking for pictures and autographs?  I think we can all agree that it was best that I just walked away at the end of the lecture.
            This afternoon I went to a “tank session” for the rowing team.  Rowing is a BIG DEAL in England, especially at Oxford.  So a tank session is held in this special building in the sports complex area, right next to the track where Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile.  It’s a small pool with a built in “boat”—basically the moving seats, feet strap things (technical term, obviously), and oars.  Its purpose is to practice form and technique without actually having to move the boat.  It was fun, even not moving, so I think I’m going to try a couple days on the water and see how it goes.  I remember taking an online quiz one time about what my ideal sport would be, and it did turn up rowing as number one.  Could be fate.
            Tonight I went to choir practice for the Regent’s Park chapel choir, which is a handful of girls and a good director named Pete, and it’s really just to have fun and sing in Friday night chapel every now and then.  We learned two songs in three parts without any music—just Pete singing the parts for us—and we sound pretty good!  I ended up getting placed as a tenor with another girl named Fran, so it’s fun hitting those basement notes.  Our first time singing in chapel is a week from Friday, and we’ll have four songs ready by then!
            After dinner we all piled into the JCR to watch “University Challenge”, a game show on BBC2 that pits UK university teams against each other in a Knowledge Bowl-type quiz game.  And tonight, the Regent’s Park team was on!  They went up against Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and not only was our team better-looking and better-dressed, but we were also smarter!  We won!  And everyone was so into watching it—clapping and cheering every time we got a right answer, booing the other team, laughing at the interaction/facial expressions within our team.  If you can find this episode online somewhere, watch it.  It’s great fun.

Sunday: Went to church at St. Aldates again, which really is such a lovely church.  The services are longer than anything I’ve experienced before, but they don’t feel long.  Afterwards they hosted a student lunch, so I ate a lot of pizza and signed up for volunteering and cell groups and all that fun stuff.  I’m looking forward to going to the student group this Thursday.  Oh, we also sang a song during worship that included the line “God’s love is fab and he’s my mate.”  England is awesome.
            After church, I had two auditions for a capella groups—the Alternotives and In the Pink.  Found out this morning I didn’t get called back to either, but I guess they had really high numbers turn out.  Still disappointed, though.
            At Regent’s Park, since it’s such a small school, every fresher gets a “college parent,” who is a second-year in the same course of study.  So yesterday I went over to my college mom’s flat for tea and cakes!  Her roommates’ “children” were over as well, so it was just a regular family get-together.  My mom’s name is Anna, and she really is a lovely girl.  She also offered me use of her flat any time I need to Skype, since I STILLLLL don’t have Internet in my house.

Saturday: Woke up a little after 10, and made the long trek to and from the post office—over an hour round-trip.  Back at the house, I decided to grab my computer and head up the road to Starbucks, about 10 minutes north, to check my e-mail.  Opened an e-mail at 12:35 that informed me I had a choir audition at 12:50.  This had been an ongoing saga anyways, so this was just another frustrating development.  There was no possible way I could even get to that college in 15 minutes, plus I hadn’t even showered, so I e-mailed him back and said I would be down there as close to 2 as possible, when the last audition was scheduled.  The audition itself was pretty bad, so I’m not really hopeful I’ll get a spot, even if they are desperate for altos.
            Saturday night we had our first orphan party, and it was brilliant.  A bunch of the other visiting students came over, since most of us didn’t know our college parents at that point.  Ten of us bought four large pizzas, and we had a ton of Dominoes coupons we got at the Freshers’ Fair.  After applying the 50%-off coupon… we only paid 3 pounds each for TONS of pizza.  Most of us hadn’t eaten all day, so there was nothing left after about ten minutes.  It was glorious.

Friday: First Formal Hall, which is a really fancy three-course dinner, and everyone gets dressed up and wears robes (not Harry Potter-length, but still), and it’s all candlelit, and there are so many traditions surrounding it, and it’s vair cool.  After that we had a bop (a dance) in the common room, and the theme was “When I grow up I want to be…” So naturally I dressed as a superhero.  Tights, green rainboots, a pink bedsheet cape, and a silver mask.  Think of the scene in Mean Girls when Lindsay Lohan shows up to the Halloween party as the Bride of Frankenstein.  Similar phenomenon.  The bop itself was fantastic—lots of dancing, lots of fun, and no creeper incidents.  Fab night.

Thursday: Overwhelming Freshers’ Fair.  Think Jewell’s activities’ fair times about a billion.  Loud, hot, crazy, crowded, not nearly enough free stuff to make it worth it, minus the aforementioned Dominoes coupons.  After that I did experience a little jaunt into Diagon Alley to buy my dress robes.  A man approximately four and a half feet tall and approximately ninety-three years old helped me, and almost let me walk out of the store without paying.  And when he tried to put the hat on my head he had to stand on his tippy-toes, and I tried to squat down a little, but he still emitted strange noises of straining in trying to fit it.
            The weather was gorgeous on Thursday, so I spent some time reading in the cemetery that’s on the way to my house.  It sounds really creepy, I know, but there are some pretty benches and there are always interesting people sitting and having picnics.  On this occasion, I observed a couple come in with their three dogs.  The human couple seemed to be two odd individuals, but perfectly suited for each other.  I mean, the guy was bald and had a tattoo on his forehead, and the woman was wearing layer upon layer of plaid.  Two of the dogs also really loved each other, if you want to imagine that.  Since my mother has informed me that various Monument celebrities have been reading this blog, I’m hesitant to include the graphic details of the canine interaction I witnessed.  But as the woman in the couple informed a passerby on the other side of the wall, “He’s the only bloke she’ll let near her!”  So, dogs can be in love too, I guess.  Learning something new every day in Oxford.

Wednesday: Wednesday was hard.  The weather was disgusting, I was tired, and I started feeling pretty homesick.  Walking home in the afternoon, I felt completely down in the dumps, wanting nothing more than to make a cup of tea and go to bed.  But when I got in the house, Megan said, “There’s something for you on your bed!”  And I walked in my room to find that my package from home had come a day early!  It had travel guidebooks I’d had to leave behind, two jars of peanut butter, various snacks, a pocket knife, my puffy vest, and A NEW CAMERA.  Completely turned my day around.
In the evening, a group of us went to Corpus Christi College to watch a movie, which turned out to be Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Seen it a million times, but it felt so appropriate to watch it with the Brits.  Afterwards we went to an ice cream place called G&D’s and sat around talking.  Fun fact about G&D’s—it’s local to Oxford, and each place is called George and D___, the second name being the name of one of George’s dogs.  There’s George and Danver, but I don’t remember the other two.

Tuesday: The evening’s activity was a scavenger hunt all over Oxford.  We had to complete certain tasks before meeting at the next place, like taking a picture with another college’s porter, snatching a snooker ball from the SCR, and pestering G&D’s for an ice cream cup.  Each sheet of tasks had a clue for the final meeting place, which turned out to be a bar/restaurant called Freud.  I was on a team with Corey and Adrienne, both Americans, and I would just like to say that while the winning team hosted at least two boys who had grown up in Oxford, we definitely held our own, coming in fourth with at least one team behind us.

Monday: You’ve heard of speed-dating, and you’ve heard of people calling their friends “mates”, but I bet you’ve never heard of speed-mating.  It’s practically identical to speed-dating, but every time you move chairs, you have a new set of questions to ask each other.  So we all crammed into the JCR, ate our weight in pizza (I had five smallish pieces), ate brownies and ice cream, and then began the mating.  Er… the friending.  I met a lot of cool freshers, and they all seemed astonished at the number of Americans that kept filing past them.  One guy and I were supposed to ask each other questions about music, and when I said I played the ukulele he said, “Good God, you couldn’t have answered that better.  I love you already.”  We committed to forming a band when I bring my uke back at Christmas.  I hit it off with the guy after him as well, but I found out the next morning that they had both been fairly intoxicated and didn’t remember me.  Oh well.  We’re working on it.

On the whole, everyone I’ve met has been so kind and friendly.  I’ve made friends with the other visiting students pretty quickly, and I have definitely met some Brits that have potential for fantastic friendships.  I’ve had some ups and downs with feeling homesick, and everything is definitely exacerbated by the cold/allergies/sinus infection crap I’ve been dealing with since I got here.  The weather also has a powerful hold over my emotions towards Oxford.  A couple crummy days in a row and I start feeling down, but waking up to a blue sky helps me appreciate this gorgeous city all over again.  At this point, I think the best things for me would be Internet in my house and a big bottle of vitamins.

-Walking down Cornmarket, a man in front of me had his dog off a leash, letting him roam free and wild.  The dog looked like some kind of mutt, maybe a cross between a bulldog (like the one on Toy Story) and a pug.  Regardless of where the dog was, the man never slowed down.  When he came to cross the street, he just yelled, “Ollie!  Cross!”  And the dog would run across.  When the man wanted to turn or head a different direction, he would just whistle, and the dog would be right at his heels.
-As much as it rains here, I have yet to see a single earthworm on the sidewalk.  I think they must have gone extinct, getting trapped on the pavement during their copious excursions to search for new homes.
-I am convinced that no one in the whole city actually has a job.  Regardless of the time of day, Cornmarket Street is always PACKED.  I think people just spend all their time shopping… with money they’re not making at the jobs they don’t have.
-Eyebrow grooming for women is rare.  Mom, I would have been a very happy and normal pre-teen here.
-I had heard this said, so it’s not an original observation, but it’s worth mentioning: The Brits love their queues.  They will stand in line for anything, anytime, anywhere without complaining.  There are lines at the bus stop, one long line at the grocery store, lines out the door at Starbucks, probably even lines to stand in line.
-The word “nice” has a little bit of a different twist here.  Americans typically use “nice” to describe a personality trait or the sort of pleasant day every cashier wants you to experience.  The Brits really enjoy “nice” food.  I ate lunch next to a girl who couldn’t finish her plate, and she kept saying, “I feel so bad!  It’s really nice, it really is, I just can’t finish!”  Tonight at dinner, a student was explaining some weird vegetable dish to me, and she described it as “really nice.  You should try it.”  I did, and it was delicious.  I think the main difference is that when Americans describe food as “nice,” it’s coupled with another adjective: “nice and warm,” “nice and juicy,” “nice and tangy.”  Here, it’s just “really nice.”
-One more word observation: “Cheers!”  I finally had to ask some girls to explain the appropriate usage of this word, because I hear it all the time.  It’s basically an informal “thanks.”  For example, you’d say it to the bus driver as you get off the bus, but you wouldn’t say it to a waiter at a fancy restaurant.  You can say it if someone holds the door open for you or when a cashier hands you change, but you wouldn’t say it in an expression of sincere gratitude.  It can also work as a combination of “thanks/bye.”
            “Yeah, I’ll phone you up when it’s time for the tank sesh.”
            “Right, cheers!”
            Hm, it’s just occurred to me to ask someone if it’s at all related to “Cheerio!”  Like an abbrev, which the Brits also love to do.
            With that said, it’s, like, vair fab that you read this whole thing, and sorry it wasn’t more clever.  When I make some posh mates we’ll drop some quid to go eat nice food or maybe cook for ourselves on the hob, and then I’ll do some revision for my studies.  You’re all lovely, brilliant people, I reckon.


  1. I don't think anyone in England has a job. You are right. Everything is always super packed!

    Cheers-what a funny word. My British family said that it was more popular with younger people.

    I am loving your blog! Hope you are having a great week!

  2. ahha i was going to say, you are beginning to use the british language! i also laughed out loud several times while sitting in the quiet library...oops!


  3. I think you made the wise choice with Anna Popplewell! I would've just begun blubbering off and asking her a million things about New Zealand and forced her to sign my kicks!

    Still love your blog and still love and miss you!