Sunday, October 02, 2005

Getting my bearings

The irony, ask me: "Where have you been?"
I don't know, I don't know because I don't know where to begin

This Friday marked my second full week in England. For some reason, I'm finding it difficult to transcribe the thoughts running through my head or to describe the moments where I've really thought, "Yes, I've arrived." I think this has a lot to do with how fragmented my time is; on any given day, I have a series of events to attend that are put on by the college, the department, the university, my funding source and the graduate student union. I fly from one social function to another, launching myself into a blur of other fledgling graduates who are beating themselves against the windows trying to "get in" -- even if we aren't sure what getting in entails.

My school is extraordinarily international: in my graduate house alone, I have flatmates from Scotland, England, Nigeria, China and Northern Ireland. Consequently, many of us have lost our bearings completely. Oceans and time zones separate us from everything familiar, and we're all in a mad rush to find substitutes here.

Realistically, this breakneck pace won't last. I've been 100% social since the beginning of the week, and I've reached my limit. I'm not antisocial, but I do appreciate a little down time -- and after my 300th conversation about where I'm from and what I do, I've participated in enough small talk to last for years. So I skipped out on a barbeque today to catch up, chat with Bryan on the phone, file my nails, write this blog and read the news. Without television or a radio (very expensive here), I feel somewhat cut off from the outside world; if I can't get online for an hour to scan the headlines, I may not know anything about current events. This is highly disconcerting for a news junkie, but it's reality because I also have two countries to keep track of now. I want to be aware of politics and global affairs in England, but I still need to retain ties to the US and Seattle.

Being an American here, by the way, is a mixed bag. You're doomed from the moment you open your mouth -- although for some reason, several people think I'm Australian. You know, that Seattle-Australian dialect...erm...Everyone says, "Ahh, you're American," in a knowing way, with a narrowing of the eyes and a tilt to the head that makes you think, "My God, what does that mean?!?" What it means, of course, is a mixed bag: you're forever linked to a country whose global reputation is a bit shoddy right now, but you're also connected with a place that still holds tremendous interest for people. You feel special and embarrassed at the same time, like you should apologize for parts of yourself but still be proud of the whole package.

I start my departmental orientation tomorrow, which is a relief because I don't have the slightest clue about what I'm supposed to be doing. The only things I've learned here so far run as follows:

1. European cheese is really, really, really fantastic.

2. The whole 9-to-5 retail hour schedule, while quaint and ostensibly appealing, is incredibly annoying in practice. You can't buy anything if you're in school all day, and you certainly can't go to a doctor if you have a day job. I'll probably need to cut classes to purchase milk -- or, lord help me, join the throngs who saturate the city's streets on weekends, thereby rendering it impossible to purchase a few apples without waiting for half an hour.

3. Due perhaps to the relatively small size of their nation, English people have endearing ideas about distance. Everyone recoils in horror when they find out my college is "up on the hill! so far away!" In reality, the "hill" is a gentle slope of perhaps 100 yards, and the "far away" is a 10-minute walk into the town's center. The unfortunate problem is that no one will visit me because I am so blooming far from everything. I'm starting to really understand why the vast Great Plains terrified early settlers who confronted their unending stretches.

4. Every night is student night at the bars.

5. Taking advantage of this will render you impoverished and severely irritable.

6. Being from Seattle has its perks. I'm the only one who isn't complaining about the weather. Hell, it's sunny in October! Who cares if the wind is cold? It's SUNNY in OCTOBER! Bring on the ultimate frisbee and the flip-flops!

I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to post all the things I'd like to, but I'll do my best. Tomorrow should be interesting - more to come...

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