- me: Are those milk bottles on the ground [outside the front door]?
- Molly: Yeah.
- me: What, do you have a milkman or something?
- Molly: Yeah.
- me: Oh my gosh. Wait. You ACTUALLY have a milkman?!?!
- Molly: Yeah, it's a local dairy.
- me: YOU HAVE A MILKMAN. THAT IS SO COOL! *freaking out*
Today Molly’s parents drove us to Whitby so that I could see a seaside town. We drove there through the moors, which was an absolute dream come true for me. The first time I remember learning about the moors was in Secret Garden, which was one of my favourite films as a child. It was also a key feature in Wuthering Heights, one of the best novels ever; the main character doesn’t want to go to heaven because she thinks that her paradise is on the moors. Moorland is just a habitat with low vegetation and a lot of fog, but there’s something really pretty about it because it’s such a contrast to the lush green countryside that I’m used to. The grass was brown with dark shrubs (some of which looked like plants from Dr. Seuss), and there was mist covering some parts of it. I thought it was very beautiful, but in a somewhat depressing way.
We arrived at Whitby, and Molly and I took off to see the abbey ruins. On our way, we passed a sweet shop, so we stopped to try some Whitby rock. Different seaside towns have their own kind of rock candy, which are in competition with each other. I’ve heard that Blackpool rock is better than Brighton rock (and I think there’s even a film that came out recently called Brighton Rock, although I have no idea if that has anything to do with the candy). Basically, rock is just a stick of hard candy, basically like a straight candy cane with different flavours. I also tried fudge, which is different in the UK than it is in the US. In America, there are different flavours of fudge, but plain fudge always involves chocolate. Here, there is chocolate-flavoured fudge, but fudge doesn’t always mean chocolate. I got clotted cream fudge, and Molly got vanilla fudge, which she let me try. They both reminded me of candy corn, both in their tastes and in the waxy/chewy texture. They were good, but I can’t wait to get back to Gatlinburg, Tennessee to get some ‘real’ fudge from the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen.
After climbing up the cliff to the abbey and admiring the view of the town from above, we went back down to the centre and browsed through some of the shops. Whitby is where part of Bram Stoker’s book Dracula is set, so there’s a big tourist industry in that. There is a Gothic weekend in Whitby each year, and year-round you can find all sorts of Goth shops. We met up with Molly’s parents at two for coffee and chips, and then Molly and I ventured to the ‘Dracula Experience,’ which was basically a Dracula-themed haunted house. Molly made me go first, and I almost wet myself every time something jumped out at me. Close to the end, I crouched down with my head under my hands and quickly waddled to the exit. I was pathetically scared, but it was still fun!
We looked through a few more shops until it started to rain and quickly got darker. Then we met Molly’s parents back at the car and went back to Darlington. After dinner (her dad is an amazing cook, and we had bruschetta, a delicious pasta and spinach dish, chocolate cake, and tons of different kinds of cheese with crackers), Molly’s parents and brother played games with us until we all started to get tired. I’m getting ready to go to bed now since tomorrow will probably be another exciting one!
By the time Molly and I started our adventure yesterday, we only had a few hours of daylight left (it gets completely dark by about 4pm), but we made the most of it. We first took the train to Durham, where we went into the cathedral and saw the castle. Then we moved on to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and went to the Baltic modern art museum. By the time we emerged from the museum, it was dark, so we made our way back to the train station and went back to her house for pizza and movies before going to bed early. It was such a fun day; I got to have adventures, and even better, I got to have them with an amazing friend!
I don’t have any way to transfer my photos to the computer right now, but I’ll add them when I get back to Brum, and I’ll also give more description of the places I visited when I post the photos.
It was still dark when the train left Birmingham at 7:30 yesterday morning. Gradually, I began to see the silhouette of trees on the horizon as the sky changed from a rich navy blue to cerulean. As we left the station at Derby (pronounced DAR-bee) at 8:15, light was starting to poke through the blue clouds. The green fields were dotted with sheep or an occasional cow or horse, and the villages were composed of historic little houses—the classic kind that you picture when you think of an English cottage. The land grew less flat as the patchwork fields spread themselves over the rolling hills.
At 8:45, we got to Sheffield, which—despite its English churches and houses—felt like a very American city with a run-down industrial atmosphere. As we entered the outskirts, we passed factories, warehouses, and power lines. As the train emerged from the station, we were faced with a strange mixture of temples, stadiums, and constructions sites; eventually those were overtaken again by the industrial outskirts. The sun glowed dimly through the fuzzy clouds as I continued my journey north.
I was surprised that as we got further north, there were a lot more power lines, smoke stacks, and nuclear power plants. Common stereotypes about the north had given me the expectation of caves and coal mines rather than an important industrial location. Yet at the same time, the countryside grew more beautiful. The clouds had cleared and the sun was shining brightly. The grass was a richer green, and the streams were a deep luminescent blue. The tall, thin trees wobbled from the breeze, their bare branches glowing golden in the sunlight.
It was darker and colder when my train arrived at the station at 10:15. I went through the ticket barriers and met my friend Molly, who took me to her home as we prepared for some adventures (which I’ll write about later, but right now we’re going to the sea!).
Today was my last day volunteering at the centre. These past few days have been really, really incredible. I don’t really know how to describe the rest of my time there, other than life-changing, eye-opening, and awe-inspiring. I met so many truly amazing people, both guests and volunteers. I had so much fun getting to know the other volunteers, and talking to the guests of the centre was just as amazing.
At the end of my shift today, one of the guests came up and sat down and thanked me and my shift partner for helping; he said that he was truly grateful that all of us volunteers were so willing to talk and even just smile (a few days ago, one of the guests was really confused that everyone was smiling at him because it’s something that never happens for them). As someone who had been homeless for almost a year, this man hadn’t been able to have a real conversation with anyone until now. He told us about the circumstances that led him to become homeless, which put me and the other girl in tears, but then he ended by saying that being at this centre for just these few days had given him hope, and he knows he can make a fresh start and turn things around for himself.
I made so many new friends while I was doing this. It was such a great atmosphere, and all of the volunteers were there because they wanted to be. There was just so much positivity, and it was so uplifting to be a part of it. I am truly grateful to have had this opportunity, and I’ll be looking to do something like this again soon.
I hope everyone’s holidays are going as well as mine are!
As any self-respecting English major should do during this season, I read A Christmas Carol, and now that I’ve just finished it, I thought I’d kill some time before bed by writing about my hostel.
First of all, for people who’ve never stayed at hostels before, it’s basically like a dorm room where you stay with a whole bunch of people you don’t know. Typically, you’ll pay about ten pounds a night (the price usually doubles on the weekend, though) for a bed, which comes with a pillow and a duvet, and sometimes you’ll get a locker with your room (I’ve only stayed in one place that had a locker, so I usually just keep my essentials with me). The bathroom is either ensuite or shared by the entire floor. Most hostels will let you rent a towel for five pounds, because we backpackers don’t bother bringing our own towels with us. I can’t ever bring myself to spend that kind of money on a towel, so I usually just use the pillowcase, and I’ve started bringing one of my extra pillowcases with me when I travel since it takes up less room in my bag than a towel would. All of the hostels I’ve stayed at so far have offered a free breakfast of toast and cornflakes, which is always a nice bonus. All sorts of travellers stay at hostels, so they’re usually a little grubby. But the messiness has never bothered me that much. Until this hostel.
I walked into my bedroom yesterday and felt a little bit sick. It’s a ten-person room, and the other people live here—like this is their actual home where they stay—so the room was completely full of their things. I waded through the piles of junk to the only free bed. It didn’t look very clean, but I knew better than to go out and ask for clean sheets, because they’d probably be worse than what was on my bed. So I unpacked my things and went to go find the bathroom. It was upstairs, and the tiny room with a toilet and a shower (no sink or mirror) was flooded and disgusting. So I’ve been walking to the McDonald’s around the corner for my bathroom necessities. Because even public toilets like that are cleaner than this hostel.
I felt really gross today because I hadn’t been able to shower and since there was no mirror, I had no way of telling if I looked as greasy as I felt. I knew I couldn’t go another day as is, but I also know that I wasn’t willing to risk all sorts of diseases in the hostel shower. Necessity is the mother of invention, so I’ve started to get crafty. I took my shampoo to McDonald’s with me and washed my hair in the sink there. When I got back to my room, no one was there, so I stripped and cleaned off with an emergency pack of baby wipes I had with me (I have them with me when I travel for situations like this!). My hair is still drying, I smell nice again, and I feel quite content, and more importantly, clean!
So I guess this is all just my explanation of why I’m going to go four days without a shower. I had a similar situation in the spring when I stayed at a campsite during my trip to DC for an environmental grassroots movement called Power Shift and there was a wolf spider (<—don’t click on that unless you can handle a pictures of a spider … Kate, DON’T do it—you don’t need to relive that moment!) in the shower. It menaced the shower the whole time we were there, and my best friend Kate and I absolutely freaked out and didn’t go anywhere the bathroom the whole time. Circumstances have changed since then, though, and now I’d take a spider-y campsite over a nasty hostel.
When I look back at Power Shift, it was an amazing experience and the no-shower story is just another funny thing to add to the story. Just based on how amazing today was, I know I’ll look back on this experience and the whole diseased-bathroom thing will just be a fun little detail. I know I’m lucky to have a roof over my head right now, and I’m even luckier that I have such a nice flat to go back to. Ultimately, I know that I am so privileged, and I just want to try to remember that even in situations like staying in this hostel, I should be thankful for what I do have.
So there’s some thoughts from today. What have we learned? Trust the online reviews when they tell you the hostel is a piece of poo, McDonald’s bathrooms are nice, there are worse things than spiders in your shower, and BE THANKFUL FOR WHAT YOU HAVE!
Enough moralizing. I’m off to bed. Santa comes tonight!
I’m volunteering with an organization called Crisis. The specific event is called Crisis at Christmas. They set up several centres throughout the UK to help the homeless over the holiday season. Within London, there are several different shelters.
This morning, I left early and got to the centre right on time at 7:45. I signed in and was a little bit shy for about ten minutes, but I soon started talking to other volunteers and felt right at home. All of the other volunteers were amazing, interesting, genuine, caring people, and it was so much fun to talk to all of them. Our centre is a dependency centre, so we get referrals from the other centres. For that reason, there weren’t many guests yet, and we actually had more volunteers than guests. A lot of the time, we volunteers just spent making friends with each other and swapping stories. I was talking to one person about an elephant-relief program in Thailand that I was looking at, and it turns out he just got back from working with that program there last week; he highly recommended doing it (did you know that elephants can get tuberculosis, and it’s actually a huge problem within the elephant population?). Then I met someone who was laid off, and so now she’s going to volunteer and be part of the female empowerment movement in Morocco (I listened closely, because I’ve really been wanting to do the same thing in India). I heard so many amazing stories and met so many amazing people. I even met some fellow Americans; one from New York and one from Detroit. I find that I get so excited when I hear someone who sounds American.
There is something called the MXU, which is the Mobile X-Ray Unit. It’s part of the NHS (National Health Service) and it’sthe only portable x-ray machine in the country. Their job is to look for people to screen for tuberculosis. It turns out that London has the highest rate of TB in all of the Western cities. Because it is only found in people with compromised immune systems, they’ve been screening guests at the centres. My job was to talk to the guests about tuberculosis and then take them to get screened. Luckily, everyone tested negative. It was so eye-opening, though, because TB just isn’t something that we usually think of; I don’t at least, because it seems like more of a third-world problem.
Because there weren’t many guests and the screening didn’t take long, I got to talk to a lot of them, and they were all really nice. It was a really uplifting experience, because unlike the soup kitchen I volunteered at in the States where we served people stale food and sent them on their way again, this centre offered housing, job, and alcohol/drug counseling, a doctor was available to see all of the patients, and there was even a hairdresser. Since the guests stay overnight, there are plenty of nice beds and showers, and the food was amazing. Even the volunteers got to eat the full English breakfast of toast, eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, and cereal. And there was a really good vegetarian option for me to eat at lunch. Plus, there were drinks available all day, so I paid many trips to the bathroom because so many guests had asked me to have a tea with them!
All of a sudden, it was 3:40 and I only had twenty minutes to go. I hadn’t looked at the time all day, and I couldn’t believe that it had gone so quickly. Today was the best day I’ve ever had, and I’m so glad to be doing this!
6 minutes of battery left. I don’t have time to proofread this, so I hope it makes sense!
Today was a no-shower day. Mostly because I’m getting ready for my next trip, I’m working on essays, and the only thing I needed to go out for was a trip to Tesco and the post office. To get to the post office, I needed to go through the German market, but I didn’t think that would be a big deal. So I washed my face, wrestled my hair into a ponytail and headed out, figuring nobody would pay attention to a greasy university student.
I successfully sent my letters and was on my way back home when a few people stopped me. They said they were making a movie and asked me if I had just two minutes to answer some questions.
As a side note, the last time I was in Chicago, the marketing team for Eagle Eye approached me and asked if I would watch the trailer for a movie that was in production and then complete a questionnaire about how interesting it looked. I figured these people in Birmingham were asking me to do the same thing.
They took me over behind one of the stalls (that sounds really shifty, but it was still within sight of the rest of the market—don’t worry, I’m not blindly following people down back alleys or anything!), stood me in front of professional camera gear, held one of those big fuzzy microphones near my face, and asked me questions.
You know how in documentaries, the directors will sometimes do a few shots of what random people off the street think about whatever the documentary happens to be about? Yeah, I was one of those random people off the street. The movie was about courage, so they asked me a few questions about what I think courage means (I should have replied that courage is going on camera without showering beforehand), and three minutes later, I was on my way again.
Now I’m blasting Christmas music and getting ready for my trip to Wales. I’ll be in Cardiff for the rest of the week, so I probably won’t post again until early next week.
I turned in my first essay this morning. It feels so good to have that out of the way. Handing it in was so different from anything I’ve done at UC. I turned it in not to my tutor, but to the actual department, so I spent about fifteen minutes filling out paperwork for it. I had to specify the class it was for, fill out a whole bunch of information about my degree and program, sign a paper saying I didn’t plagiarize, reassure them that my name wasn’t anywhere on the essay (the tutors aren’t supposed to know whose essay they’re grading), and hand in the receipt certifying that I had already submitted it to their online program that checks for plagiarism. I’m glad I didn’t wait until the very last second, otherwise I wouldn’t have made the noon deadline!
I’ve just realized that I have two more classes until my Christmas holiday! Things still don’t feel completely Christmas-y, despite it being already December. I blame the weather. The past few days have been a little chilly (in the 40s) but with sunshine and perfect blue skies. Also, the grass doesn’t die in the winter, so it’s beautifully green—I actually think it’s gotten greener since I arrived. It’s been gorgeous, but when you look from a window, it looks like a perfect summer day. Not like a depressing winter day whose only bright side is the upcoming holiday. Today looks a little more bleak with dark clouds threatening rain and really strong winds. It’s a blustery day that makes me think of Pooh Bear.
Hold on to your Piglets!
“Can I fly Piglet next?” asked Roo.
Even though it’s insanely windy, it’s really warm today. Supposedly it’s only 50 degrees, but I’m not buying that; I had to strip down to my t-shirt on my way back from campus because I was sweating so much.
I should really stop complaining and just appreciate the weather we’ve been having—I think it’s just that I mentally prepared myself for it always being cold and wet over here, and so far that’s not been the case at all. I’m sure it’ll start to get colder soon, though. And with any luck, we’ll have a white Christmas.
Happy Winds-day, everybody!
They don’t have periods here.
The English end their sentences with “full stops.”
Same little dot, different name. Today in one of my lectures, the lecturer was reading a quote that used the word “period” and he had to stop to say that it meant “full stop.”
Also, using their system of punctuation, the above sentence would end with ‘full stops’. (Notice that the quotation marks are single, and the period falls outside the quotation marks.)
And since we’re looking at the end of things, let’s examine the alphabet for a moment. How would you pronounce z? In America, we say “zee,” but here they say “zed.” One of my tutors teased me the first week when she asked me to spell my name and I said “E-L-I-ZEE … “
The rest of the alphabet is the same, except for the letter “h.” Some people say it the way we do in America: “aych.” Some people pronounce it with a defined h sound at the beginning: “haych.” It’s really weird to hear, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it.
I haven’t run into too many problems while writing my essays. There are quite a few grammatical, spelling, and punctuation differences, but I think I’m aware of most of them. My tutors have said they won’t count against me if a few Americanisms show up, and even though they use a different system of referencing here, they said I’ll be fine if I just stick to MLA format since I know it really well.
I have a good start to my essay that’s due on Thursday, so I’m going to get back to that while I’m still enthusiastic about it!
Thanks for the clarification! It’s difficult to compare the school system here to schools in America, especially because it seems like everyone I ask here in England has had such a different experience (I think I’ve gotten about 5 completely different descriptions of what school is like here). Anyway, I’m sure it makes sense to someone who’s grown up here.
England’s education is extremely complicated compared to the States, and once I’ve learned exactly how it works, I’ll post about it. In the meantime, here’s how it’s affecting me.
Different programs work different ways. English and a lot of the humanities programs require very few contact hours. Usually each module (aka “course” or “class”) has a lecture and a seminar each week. I’m taking five modules, and the amount of time I spend in a classroom each week is 7.5 hours. This means that we’re expected to do a lot of work on our own, so I spend a ton of time in the library reading for my classes.
Something that’s really different from what I’m used to is that we’re not being constantly assessed by quizzes, essays, and homework assignments. For an English course, the only way our grade is determined for a module is from a 2000 word essay written at the end of the first semester, and whatever the assessment is for the second part of the year; for two of my modules, that assessment is another 2000 world essay; for the other three modules, there is an exam term after spring break, and I need to sit through an exam for them (the exams here are all essay-format—none of the multiple choice, true/false, and short answer questions I’m used to back at UC!).
Right now, I’m working hard on essays. My first one is due on Thursday, two more need to be finished by mid-December, and the other two are due early January.
There are some things I like better here, but for the most part I miss the way school works back home. It sounds like it would be wonderful to not have many classes each week, and to only have one assignment due each quarter. However, I’m finding that I wish I had a lot more time in the classroom (one hour to discuss a great literary work seems so short!), and I don’t like that my entire grade for a semester depends on just one piece of work. I’d much rather have three or four essays to write throughout the term.
Something I do like better here, though, is the division of classes into lectures and seminars. The lecture is a big classroom with a lot of students; students are rarely expected to make any contributions during these. Lectures are interesting, but I prefer seminars. The students from the lectures are split up into several different seminars so that each one contains about ten students. The teacher leads discussions, but it’s much more interactive, and the students are expected to do most of the talking.
Another thing is that here the teachers aren’t called “professors.” They’re called tutors. What we might call a guidance counselor or academic advisor in the States is a personal tutor.
Also, this is “university.” In the States, we use “college” and “university” pretty interchangeably, but here the two are completely different, and “college” is more like high school, but not completely. (Confused? Yeah, me too. My flatmates have explained it to me, but I’m still not sure if I understand it, so I’ll be doing some background reading on it when I get a chance!)
Hopefully that all made sense. I’ll write a more comprehensive post about the English educational system some time in the future!