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Life, Lately

22 Nov

Hey ya’ll!

(Ed Note: This post is best read while listening to ‘Mylo Xyloto’, since that’s how it was written.)

Lately, it’s been a bit rough with all my friends tweeting and posting about getting to travel home and be with their families for Thanksgiving Break. Jealous!! Especially since no one here has any clue what Thanksgiving even is, despite it being such a massive holiday in the States and somewhat related to their own national history. Several of my flatmates are really curious about it, though. So,  I’m planning a little Thanksgiving craft project for them this week, along with some trivia about the holiday so they can learn more about this American tradition and why it so important: Black Friday. Just kidding! But  I’ll be sure and film it because I have a feeling (based on what they’ve told me what they think the holiday is about so far) it’s going to be funny.

Fall is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year. Back home, it’s starting to cool off and everyone’s eyes seem brighter, their cheeks are red and you can break out the sweaters, scarves and boots. It starts to feel like the holidays. Plus, my mom puts flannel sheets on my bed at home which is, like, the best.

I love my Texas falls – brief though they may be. But I have to say, I am quite enjoying the season here in London. It is significantly colder and with a lot less sunshine (Let’s just say that at the moment, I’m jealous of Edward Cullen’s tan. It’s that bad.) It’s overcast  all day, every day and it always seems as if it’s just rained – though I’ve only felt little drops once or twice the entire time I’ve been here! I think it’s actually rained more back home! But the colors are still beautiful.. maybe even more beautiful against the gray, rainy London weather. Just when I think this Texas girl can’t go one more day without seeing a clear, blue sky, I get the shock of the colorful leaves piled up along the muted backdrop of sidewalk and street.

Cold weather also means warm drinks. The red Christmas cups are back, an almost universal – or at the very least, transatlantic – sign of the season  if there ever was one.  There is just something about sipping a hazelnut hot chocolate (which tastes like liquid nutella a.k.a.  sin in a cup –  I have to go to church after I drink one) or a toffee nut latte on the way to class that just lets you know that you’re gonna have a wonderful day! It always reminds me of great times and great conversations I’ve had at coffee shops with friends like Brooke Bowen and Erin Shay. Plus, the Starbucks on Fleet Street (just down the Strand from King’s) is my new favorite study spot with its giant downstairs seating area full of comfy chairs. I get more work done there than I do at the library!

It does get dark very early here.. by 4 the sun is going down and by 4:30, it’s pitch black outside – which has really been throwing off my internal clock because when I emerge from studying all afternoon it seems as if the entire day is gone! Now each evening when I have to walk back to my dorm from the bus stop in the dark, it seems a lot scarier than it actually is until I remember it’s only 5 or 6 and there are still people out walking around everywhere!

Speaking of marathon study sessions, I have thus far completed two out of the seven papers I have to complete this term. I’m no mathematician, but even I know that’s not a great percentage.  I am starting on the third paper today and hope to have it done by the end of this week. I am really having to buckle down these days to get these papers cranked out. They are longer than any papers I’ve had to write back home and a lot more numerous. The one I finished yesterday, while not the longest I’ll have to write, was still a good 16 pages. For a history/anthropology major, I know this isn’t a shocking amount at all — really, it’s not the length that gives me trouble so much as the preparation that goes into writing.

Back home, I might write a final paper drawing together common themes from the course  or analyzing a particular work or set of works. Here, the prompts are largely over incredibly specific topics that might have been mentioned in lectures or referenced in readings, but you haven’t necessarily learned about them. So, you have to research your topic outside of class before you can even begin to know how to organize your paper, much less what position you’re going to argue and defend.  Again, this doesn’t seem like a difficult concept until you’re asked to write a 20 page paper over something you know nothing about or even where to begin – while simultaneously staying on top of your readings and work for class. I really struggled in writing my first paper and had to abandon the prompt I had originally chosen. It interested me the most, but I had such a difficult time finding adequate sources to supplement what little knowledge I had on the topic that I wasted days digging in the library and hours browsing through JSTOR with nothing to show for it.

For the regular students, the papers have shorter length requirements and are supplementary – they are not for a grade and are not even required.. just highly recommended – wink, wink, nudge, nudge. So, there is less pressure to flex your academic muscle – they’re viewed more like tools that give you a slightly more detailed look into the broader areas you’re already studying. You get them back, with comments and critiques, and you move on! But for me, my only grades for this entire semester will be  the grades I receive on the papers I turn in at the end of the term. At SMU, if you complete a paper or essay early, professors will often look them over and give you some direction before you submit them. Asking professors to look at your work is highly frowned upon here, a lesson I learned from a friend instead of first hand,  luckily!  I haven’t had any feedback on any work so far and am completely unfamiliar with the King’s  grading system in which your paper is graded twice, once by your lecturer and a second time by an ‘external’ grader,  in order to avoid ‘bias’. Needless to say, all of this makes me a bit more than apprehensive about these papers, but my mother has reminded me several times that all I can do is my best. Not a bad mantra to have. That mom, so full of wisdom!

I included some blurry pictures I took today of the somewhat famous  (and by somewhat famous, I mean it gets a mention on Wikipedia) Weston Reading Room at Maughan Library, the Strand Campus central library.  It’s often called the Round Room, but I actually think it’s octagonal. (You can tell I’m fancy because I use words like octagonal.)  Anyway, it’s three stories of walls lined completely with books with the little ladders and everything. In the center are rings of study tables. The glass ceiling is especially pretty.

Awkward Claire Story of the Day: So,  it’s dead silent in the Weston Room.  I tried to sneakily take a photo on my phone, but completely forgot that my phone was set to ‘loud’ instead of ‘vibrate’, so everyone heard the little ‘shutter’ noise and knew I was sketchily taking pictures. The guy sitting directly across from me definitely thought I was trying to photograph him and gave me the most weirded out look. Embarrassing!

I will try to have my photos and post from my trip Dover this weekend edited and up by tomorrow, hopefully! A big thank you for those of you who voted on my last post or sent me feedback. It means a lot to me! I really enjoy taking pictures and getting to hear what other people think about them helps me take better photos.

Thanks for reading!

Cheers,
Claire

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Sweet, Sweet Victory

6 Oct

Peep this pic of the Pieps posing with the Iron Skillet. Class of ’13 and ’15 celebrating our victory over tcu this past weekend.

 

My youngest brother took a picture of me along when he went to get his photo taken so that I could be a part of the magic, even though I’m in London. So proud of this picture and it is definitely getting blown up and hung on my wall.

Love, love, love it. Thanks, Andrew!

I know I haven’t updated in awhile. I have been very overwhelmed now that classes have started. Adjusting to a different system has been a challenge – but I feel like I am starting to understand more about what is expected of me. I met with a professor today who is teaching two of my four courses, and she was very kind and patient with me and all of my clueless questions. The first day, when I was handed a syllabus which just consisted of a list of books I’d never heard of, I had a bit of a freak out moment. But as is usually the case in times of trouble, a quick chat with Mom (via Skype), helped me to get back on track.

I am really good at procrastination. As in, good enough that it could actually be a marketable skill. I should go on X Factor or some sort of equally reputable talent show to display how truly gifted I am when it comes to finding obscure and unhelpful ways to avoid doing any work whatsoever. I think people would really be impressed.

That being said, my biggest struggle will be keeping up with the readings, since there is no system for accountability. The only grades I will have are the papers due at the end of the term! Which seems great when you don’t have ‘homework’ everyday and you’re not in class as often, but when you look at the big picture you realize you still have plenty of work to do and it’s not just free time!

I just found out that one of my best friend’s mother will be in London for a few days and hopefully I will get to see her! It will be nice to see a familiar face from back home!

Cheers,

Claire

Jerry Springer, or ‘How The Rest of the World Sees Us’

25 Sep

Hello!

American stereotypes or stereotypical of Americans?

Going abroad as an American student is certainly a lesson in humility. Not everyone is as big of a fan of the good old U-S-of-A as we might like to think. And while I have not directly encountered any blatant anti-Americanism, it seems that our reputation proceeds us.

During our first days here, the IFSA students stayed at a hotel before we moved into the dorms. We would encounter people from different countries all of the world in the elevators and almost immediately after the doors would close, they would turn to us and say “Are you Americans?” Sometimes without even hearing us speak. Is it our clothes? Our look? Do we emit a subconscious ‘American’ obnoxiousness — like a cultural dog whistle that only other nationalities can hear? I probably couldn’t have told you where they were from just from looking and I couldn’t have asked them in their native tongue whether they were German or Swedish or Norwegian, like they had just asked us — in English.

I think the general European consensus about Americans is that we are overbearing, dismissive of other cultures, ignorant of world events and that we see things as being either ‘our way or the highway’. My flatmate even told me that she thought the show ‘Jerry Springer’ was meant to be an accurate depiction of American life. When I mentioned to one of my flatmates that Americans pretty much know that the French dislike us, she regretfully informed me that, “Most everyone dislikes Americans..”

My immediate thought in response to this was, “But where I’m from, everyone loves Americans!” Now, how American of a thought process is that?

The stereotypes of Texans are even more grandiose (Although I’m sure we wouldn’t have it any other way!). Today, a guy asked me what state I was from and when I told him “Texas”, he said “Oh God! Aren’t you allowed to shoot people in Texas?” and then he asked me if we were all inbred. (Don’t worry, I told him that he was thinking of Arkansas).  Our gun control and self defense laws are extremely horrifying to the British, most of whom have never even seen a gun before. Pepper spray is considered a firearm here, and you can serve a pretty hefty jail sentence just for possession. (I think I’ll keep my passport, money, cell phone and camera, and you can go wash your eyes out, thank you very much!)

Another huge adjustment is the differences between the collegiate systems. British students are on a different path then American students in their first year of college. You don’t shop around the course catalogue, trying on different classes to see what fits best. At university in the UK, if you are going to study dentistry,  you only take courses in dentistry.  They find our ‘little bit of everything’ attitude towards coursework strange. Some of the UK students I’ve talked to even see it as almost non-committal and watered down. Your educational foundation should be established in ‘college’ (high school), and your focus is narrowed at the ‘university’ (collegiate) level. Courses have a much stronger emphasis on self-teaching and individual learning; they assume that if you are a student then you should have the motivation to come to class, complete readings and do research without being ‘rewarded’ with completion grades, participation points or benchmark quizzes.

So far, the greatest lesson I’ve learned abroad is that in leaving behind your home, family and friends (and inevitably a large part of who you are), you discover so much about yourself and the place you are from. When you are taken out of your context, you are forced to define yourself in clearer terms. Your surroundings can no longer speak for you. Your friends cannot be used to reflect upon your character.  You must be able to communicate articulately and distinctly about who you are as an individual, when all of the ‘extra’ falls away.

Living in London, I am learning more about what it really means to be an American, on a personal and global scale. A lesson that is both challenging and enlightening!

Cheers,

Claire