Thursday, October 8, 2009
Sunday, October 4, 2009
There are no actual classes at Cambridge.
There are lectures, which anyone can attend, at any point, anywhere. As one grad student noted yesterday, "They say you can even go to the medical one where they cut up bodies if you want." Of course, I responded. Of course I want to go.
This is Cambridge. Wow. (All the pics included in this post are leeched from google. I didn't take my camera with me running. I have been a touristy failure. FAIL.)
School hasn't even officially started and already I know it will challenge me in entirely new ways. The course structure is unlike anything in America. Instead of sitting in classrooms with 20 other students, I will be sitting in "supervisions" with a peer, a professor and my paper. Wow.
My room is slowly but surely coming to. I found bed sheets and towels between meetings yesterday. Brian took me to buy a phone and showed me the nearby Cambridge Market. "It's not quite a farmer's market," he explained as we walked by fruits, cheeses, vegetables, food stands and soap vendors. "But it is here every day."
Last night I attended the graduate student movie-and-popcorn affair instead of the Cambridge Fresher's Fancy Dress (costume) J for St. John's party and pub crawl. This will undoubtedly surprise those back home, who know I love my ale as much as I love my mathematics. ... and my late nights... and spiders.
Meeting other graduate students instantly humbled me. One was studying Babylonian languages. Another was working on his post-doctorate examination physics. Me? "I'm from Omaha, Nebraska. We have corn."
"Try this. It's kettle corn. It's sweet. Not salty." Yes, I did bring kettle corn to the graduate mixer. And yes, I did force that darn corn on unsuspecting graduate students from all over the world. They ate every last kernel.
After a somewhat rough night of sleep, I forced my cold bones out from under my now-sheeted blanket and pulled on my running shoes, preparing for my very first Cambridge jog. Although the cold temperatures made moving difficult, once I was out running along the river, nothing could stop me.
Rowers out for early morning practice
Cambridge is a beautiful place to run. I gave up on my map immediately, as few of the streets are actually marked and my sense of direction has always been terrible. Instead, I just headed in one constant direction. I passed rowers slipping along the river, their breath rising in the cold morning air. Weeping willows nodded sleepily into the water.
Bridge of Sighs, which is in the middle of St. John's campus
The sun was just rising (because yes, thank god, there is sun) and occasionally I would move through little bubbles of orange-lit warmth. For a while I trailed a couple who had an unleashed scottish terrier trot-trotting perkily alongside.
Scottish Terrier, a la Lady and the Tramp
My run finished at the market, where I bought a bag of farm-fresh apples with the currency of the Queen. I found a cup of black coffee and sipped it as I walked back to St. John's. At 9 a.m., church bells began to till and chime loudly, echoing off buildings and crashing through alleyways until the music came from all around.
This is my home. For two years, this is my home. It may be cold, rainy and heavily-accented, but it is my home.
I am so lucky.
Side notes: I ran by Abbey Road. I think I may pick up rowing. The activities fair is on Tuesday, so I'll know more then. Brrrrr.
Friday, October 2, 2009
I am here. Finally. I am finally in England. Goodness knows it took a dramatic force of effort these last couple weeks to make the old show happen.
Proof I am still alive... and that my room needs sprucing.
Long story short, there was some difficulty obtaining my visa. My first application was denied, which resulted in many tears, gnashing of teeth and all around stomping of feet. I haven't been so frustrated in over a year, not since handling all the logistics of Leia in the legal system after mum's death. Suffice to say that sometimes, bureaucracy is a bit awful.
View from dorm. Most freshers have family helping them move in.
Thanks to amazing efforts by both Cambridge and Creighton, my second visa application was rushed through the system. A process that is supposed to take upwards of three weeks took three days. I have some pretty amazing people behind me.
Another view from Ye Olde Dorm
So! I got my visa. Then I got on the plane. Then I got back off the plane, because the first flight I booked (which technically was the second. First one was scheduled to leave weeks ago) had some sort of mechanical plane hooblah nonsense. At the risk of electrocuting us, the pilot recommended we stay grounded for a couple hours. That meant I missed my connecting flight to Chicago.
Third time's the charm, though. I finally caught a plane out of Omaha, travelled to Chicago, ate copious amounts of veggies in the process, hopped on another flight, watched a really awful movie (transformers? Why did I think I'd even remotely enjoy that?) and arrived in London.
Flying over the city made me grin, feeling like a little kid popping into Hogwarts and High Fashion all at once. I hopped a coach (BUS!) to Cambridge, half-dozing as the sun rose over ridiculously green grass. A cabby took me to St. John's propper.
Bed area needs serious help. No sheets. Nuffin :/ YET!
I walked through the entrance, tugging and pulling two years worth of luggage over uneven cobblestone. A scottish man looked at me from behind the desk. "Ello!" That's when he started to speak fast and I ceased to understand. Accents are interesting.
Fortunately, Brian Biggs (last year's winner of the Davies-Jackson) is smart... smart enough to realize how absolutely exhausted, bleary and generally incoherent I would be at this point in my journey. He left a note with Sir Scottish Man that said to contact him upon the arrival of one Miss D.D. Mercer (me. That's how they write my name here. D.D. ... eee.)
My bedroom view
Energetic and equipped with college know-how, not to mention arms made strong from rowing, Brian helpfully guided both my bags and me around campus. I was paraded through a series of rooms and filled out a good many forms. Library card, gym membership, buttery card (aka dining hall, I think), first born child, I signed for it all and was handed pamphlets of What-To-Do-TODAY in return.
There's a lot to do today.
I'm headed off for a formal dinner this evening, followed by a wine 'n cheese with some grad students, a chilling-at-the-college-bar with some undergrad students, and possibly a movie night with some international students. As a Davies-Jackson scholar, I fall into all and none of these categories at once. I'm thrown somewhere between. It's confusing, but as Brian mentioned earlier, it's also pretty amazing.Now that my luggage is tucked safely behind closed doors and I have napped for an hour or so, I feel ready to embark on the next step of my Cambridge journey. I need to start decorating my room stat. It's as simple as dorms can be. Any suggestions?
My current closet situation: all over the floor.
And here's a random highlight of my day: a little surprise was waiting for me in my pigeon hole (mailbox). Someone annonymously wrapped up a book on baking tarts, with a postcard saying 'Welcome to Cambridge.' I wonder who...
I think I'm gonna like it here.