Saturday, 29 September 2012

Settling in.

This week I was officially introduced to the music department at Oxford Brookes. I auditioned for the Chamber Choir here and made it in, my first rehearsal is tonight! I was also offered the opportunity to perform in a short recital. A music student became unavailable at the last minute, so the head of the department asked me if I was able to perform a set of musical theater songs. I’ve been practicing my pieces, (4 solos and 2 duets with my friend Melanie) religiously this week and hope to represent the HPU music department well. I also went to a meeting of the Opera Society which was fun.
Christ's Church in Oxford

It’s kind of funny to see Oxford Brookes advertise clubs and drinking to university students. Since the drinking age is 18 here, it’s not a big deal. Oxford Brookes sponsors club nights on weekends and even through the week. I’ve also noticed that while students drink here, it’s not as big of a deal. Going out to pubs and casually having a pint is a nice past time here. While people still get drunk, I’ve met more young people here who drink responsibly.
Pub crawl with my new friends in Oxford.

In other news, my housemates and I have befriended a posse of Englishmen. They’ve helped us get used to the English lingo (leading to more than one battle over pronunciation) and even taught us a questionable hand motion or two. We have fun making fun of how the Americans have ‘polluted’ the English language. Along with the English, our housing building contains students from Thailand, China, Hungary, Italy, France, Poland, Australia, and Germany, so I’ve had the opportunity to meet with people from all over the world.

I am always impressed by the fact that people from other countries have a basic understanding of the geography of the U.S. Most people are able to recognize where North Carolina and Tennessee are when I tell them where I am from and go to school. The people I meet also tend to be interested in U.S.  politics. I suppose that with such different candidates up at the plate, it’s hard not to be interested in what direction the U.S. is headed. The English that I’ve met so far have been more liberal than people the U.S.  That may not be saying much, considering I’ve live in the south my whole life, but it’s interesting to hear a new perspective on some issues.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Queen's English

There's no escaping this word.

I figure that I can take a break from describing everything we've been doing in England to discuss some of the cultural differences that we've run into. A favorite (or favourite, and the Brits spell it) past time of the Brits and the Americans has been 'why your language is stupid'. The Brits have 'u's in words like colour and flavour. They also pronounce the letter 'z' as zed instead of zee. Other words like 'organise' and 'centre' have obvious variations as well.

Hearing the difference between English accents has been really entertaining as well. The northerners here have a more notable, and thicker accents, while the southerners tend to have the more proper sounding, posh London accents that Americans think of when we think of England. It's funny how we speak the same language, yet we have very different ways of speaking.

It has been fun learning some new words and/or meanings here though. For instance the word 'piss' is pretty vulgar in the US, but here is used more casually. In the US there are two meanings 1. angry 2. urinating, but in England 'getting pissed' more commonly means getting drunk. 'Taking the piss out of someone' means that you're joking with them. Speaking of urinating, no one here says bathroom, it's always toilet or the loo. 'Pants' means underwear here, and 'trousers' are pants. There are countless other examples, haha and each one has been really entertaining to discover. My favorite colloquialism is 'cheers'. The English say it as a more casual version of 'Thanks'. Hearing thanks over and over gets annoying, and 'cheers' just has a nice ring to it when the English say it!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

And I'm a Student Again...

This first week of classes has gone pretty well! I’m a bit of a unique case as far as students because I am taking 2 independent study courses. Other than that I'm taking a sound recording class and a course on British heritage & culture. I was lucky enough to schedule my 2 classroom courses on Wednesday, so I currently have class 1 day a week. This will change as I get more depth with my independent studies.
I found these on a building in London.

My first independent study is through the Oxford Brookes psychology department. Together with a graduate student from California, I am working under two doctorate professors on a social/cognitive project investigating the effects of favorite songs. We’re still ironing out the specifics, but it looks like we’re going to look into the difference between the semantic and musical content of a favorite song, and the impact on mood and self-awareness. I’m really looking forward to learning how research is different or similar in this country, not to mention that this project blends my two passions of music and psychology!

My second study is private voice lessons with a professor here. I’ve yet to meet him, but I’ve been told that he’s very good at German. This should be very helpful considering I’m working on two pieces by Schubert. The learning style here at Oxford Brookes is very different from the U.S. My sound recording technologies class is once a week for 3 hours. A lot of the learning is done outside of the classroom, rather than during hours of lecture. Students have to actively and independently seek out educational growth, rather than passively being fed information. The process seems to involve a lot more critical thinking; time (and my grades) will prove whether or not I like it.
They obviously have good taste in Oxford.

I’ve managed to join the club swim team here as well. I’ve only had 2 practices, but it’s been fun so far. Considering that the gym costs an additional £25 a month, the swim team seemed like a good alternative. There are a lot of clubs, sports teams, and organizations at Oxford Brookes. There are even two student led productions, but both of the performances are in the 2nd semester, so I could not participate. The Opera Society, which I plan on joining, is putting on Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas”, and a theatre club is putting on RENT. I’m still hoping to try out for the Chamber Choir. I’m not sure if it would be the same as the Chamber Choir back at HPU, but I am interested in trying it. The little differences between the U.S. and England have been entertaining to say the least.
Street scene in Bath.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Final Travels

After another day of rest we headed to Bath, England. This city contains the only Roman bath in England. It was built in 60 AD, for the god Sulis Minerva, by Emperor Claudius. We were able to tour this ancient bath house and even taste some of the water from a spring.  The city is now a bustling tourist area that has a lot of local shops and Georgian architecture. It is also the setting for several Jane Austen novels. We were able to tour a typical 17th century home to get a better idea of how an upper class family would live in the fashionable city of Bath.

Our next outing was to Ironbridge, a city in northern England. It is the home of the world’s first iron bridge (go figure), and an important area for the start of the Industrial Revolution. We were able to see the bridge (built in 1779) and tour Abraham Darby’s iron factory. This factory housed many of the innovations to the metal industry and told a lot about the direction of future innovations.

After touring the iron factory, we checked out a huge exhibit of fine porcelain tea cups and figures. We also explored the inside of a huge kiln that was no longer used to bake pottery and popped into a few local shops. There were a number of pottery and glass work stores, and we were able to watch a woman finalize a series of very nice pots.

    After a full day of exploring we settled down and had our first official cup of English tea with the traditional scones. The guy in the picture below is John, he was our bus driver during our travels, and a nice man.

This week concluded our amazing and tiring 2 weeks of travel across England. I’m glad that it’s over and I can begin my normal life of living in Oxford, but I’m extremely grateful to have a better understanding of some of the different places in England. Now I feel more confident talking to natives and have a better understanding of where their home towns are located. It was fantastic to see the English countryside as well, that is, when I wasn’t sleeping on the coach.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Highclere Castle & Salisbury

On day 4 of our life in Oxford we were given the day off. It was nice to try and take the time to revamp from the jet lag. Traveling around England and dozing off on a coach is not the best medicine for a 6 hour time difference. We took the day to purchase groceries and better acclimate to our new home. We also went to an old pub called the Angel & Greyhound. Pubs here are like cozy little bars. They mainly serve pints (or ½ pints) of beer and food, while everyone just sits around and relaxes. If there is music playing it is usually older and less annoying than music today. the d├ęcor is mostly wooden and simple.

The fifth day we traveled to Highclere Castle, the site where the TV show Downton Abbey is filmed. Touring the castle was really cool and reminded me of the older/British version of the mansions we have in New Port, RI. The library of the castle was the most exquisite room, displaying a corner-to-corner wallpaper of ancient books on everything from politics to hunting. The other rooms were also impressive with luxurious furniture, beautiful design, and expensive family paintings and tapestries. My mom is a huge fan of Downton Abbey, so of course I got her a nice souvenir.

Day 6 consisted of visiting Stonehenge and Salisbury. The stones of Stonehenge were remarkably large and dated back from 3000 BCE. Researchers are still not certain about how the stones got to their current location, but they do know that the stones hail from all across Britain (over 240 miles away). We weren’t able to get too close to the stones, but we were able to see the formation from 360° by walking around. I even got my picture with a cross-dressing ‘shaman’ who claimed to watch over the stones daily.

After a quick coach ride, we arrived in Salisbury, where we ambled around town, and ate lunch. I noticed that the portions for ice cream here were underwhelmingly smaller than our US standards . After a stroll around the city we toured the Salisbury Cathedral. Built over a century starting in 1220, this Anglican church is a wonderful example of early English gothic architecture. It also totes the most complete original copy (1 of 4) of the Magna Carta, which we were able to view! We learned a lot about the Cathedral and were able to attend Evensong; a musical, evening service before heading home to Oxford.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

First Time in London

 The first part of this week of activities has seemed to pass very quickly. We’ve been traveling throughout England, exploring various historical sites with our guide and historian, Dr. Peter Forseith. It’s been nice to have all this time to settle in before the other students arrive, but I’m ready to meet some students from England and around the globe!

 On day two we took a coach into London, and briskly walked around the city, taking in the sights and making notes of what to explore later. We were able to catch a glimpse of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, London Eye, Westminster Abbey and of course Buckingham Palace. For some reason, I expected the palace to be a lot more ornate and detailed, but the building has a simple and seemingly functional design.

 The square outside of the royal residence was packed full of people, but we were lucky enough to get a decent view for the changing of the guard ritual. Peeking though the large, iron fence we raised our cameras as the replacement guards approached with a full squad, including band and conductor. The entire process or marching, saluting, men on horseback and police herding people out of the way lasted about 20 minutes and concluded with a medley of ABBA tunes (kind of odd, but whatever). On a side note: most police here don’t carry guns. Police have even been polled, and most state that they would prefer to stick with the taser.

 After viewing the changing of the guard we were fed a nice lunch at a local Methodist Church and able to view an exhibit of religious artwork that Dr. Forsaith had set up in a public gallery. Lunch was excellent, as I learned firsthand why the English love their meat pies. My pie, which consisted of beef, vegetables, and mashed potatoes was excellent! We caught the coach home afterwards and I was able to resume my unpacking.

 Living at Oxford Brookes is very different from HPU from a food/financial standpoint. There is no meal plan in effect, so I now directly purchase everything that I cook/consume. I’ve provided for myself the last two summers, living alone and working in North Carolina and Connecticut, but the price of groceries in England has been a bit of a rude awakening. Either way I am learning the value, or lack there of, of the dollar (£1 = $1.62).

Friday, 7 September 2012

1st Post...From a While Ago

So I've been keeping blogs of my time here in Oxford, but I'm not the most tech savy person, so I've yet to post any of them. Bear with me as the dates of posting may not accurately reflect my time spent here in Oxford. Either way, I'll give you some background. I'm a senior psychology & music double major at High Point University spending a semester abroad at Oxford Brookes University. That being said, I've only been out of the US once, so I've been really enjoying my time here in England.

Stepping off the plane in Heathrow, it was not hard to see that England is very different from the U.S. After converting my final dollars to pounds, a most depressing endeavor, I found my way to the bus ticket counter and fumbled through my first purchase in the UK. Pounds (£) and pence are similar to the American dollar, with the addition of a 2 pence and a 20 pence coin. The bus ride from the airport to Oxford was when the reality of being in the UK sank in. Turning out of the parking lot and into the left lane nearly gave me a heart attack, until I remembered that people drive in the left lane in England. During the hour long bus ride I gazed out the window taking in the English countryside and listened to the chattering of 2 British students behind me.
Arriving on campus, I was greeted by Dr. Forseith and Dr. Schwitzer and moved into my room. It’s not quite the luxury of HPU housing, but it has a charm similar to camp. I’m living with 4 other HPU students, but my residential block houses a number of foreign students, none of which had arrived on campus. After throwing my belongings around my room we were all called upon to take a quick walking tour of Oxford.
The transportation system in Oxford is very simple: bus, bike, or walk. Students at Oxford Brookes are unable to have cars on campus, so a bus card comes in handy when you want to get around. After catching a short bus into the city centre (not center) of Oxford we arrived at the Bodleian Library. This Library, though it looks small, has a network of underground storage and holds a copy of every text that has been published in England. This is the library of all libraries and access is only granted to those who have properly applied and sworn an oath to never bring fire into the library.

After soaking in the architecture of Oxford and strolling down some streets that are older than the U.S. we stopped for lunch at The Turf. This pub is frequented by locals as well as tourists, and was where I was able to have my first pint of English beer. After a quick lunch we resumed our walking tour and were able to see the grounds of Christ Church and other well-known buildings in Oxford.

We also learned that ‘Oxford University’ is not actually a physical university. There is a network of universities that operate under the ‘Oxford’ umbrella. In order to get into Oxford University you have to be accepted into the specific university and Oxford University…not the easiest task. All of the university campuses are dispersed among the city streets in beautiful buildings with meticulously manicured lawns and pristine flora.

I’m looking forward to exploring the city more and excited for the Oxford Open Doors weekend on Saturday. This is the day when most of the universities open their doors to the public for free. I’ll be sure to keep up with everything, so check back periodically if you’d like to see what else Oxford has in store for me.