Saturday, January 31, 2015

Eye saw LONDON

Last weekend the American exchange students all went on a trip to London from Friday to Saturday with the British Studies sponsors. On the itinerary we were scheduled to see various things, but I think one of my favorite things was the Churchill War Rooms.

It took a little under two hours to get to London from Canterbury, and when we first got there we had some time before we went to the Churchill War Rooms so Tayler, Jara, and I went on a little walk beforehand.

Yeah, my day did not start out poorly...

The Churchill War Rooms is a museum that shows the underground bunker that Churchill and his staff stayed in while London was being bombed by Germany during WWII. The Churchill War Rooms are preserved and staged in a way that is authentic to how it would have looked during the time it was being used:

Churchill's room:

Instead of going back Saturday afternoon with the group, a few of my friends and I decided to stay another night in London and see some of the things we wanted to see. We grabbed our backpacks off the bus and went straight to...


I would highly recommend that anyone going to London take a ride on the London Eye. You will not be disappointed. It required a lot of queuing (how the English say "standing in line"), but it was well worth it. There is a lot I could say about this experience, but I'll let some of my favorite pictures do the talking. 

After we got off the Eye we went to find our hostel, which ended up being on the other side of the city and required a taxi. To get on the other side of the River Thames to get to a taxi, we had to cross Westminster Bridge, which brought out the inner English nerd in me. One of my favorite poems, Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 by William Wordsworth, is about his experience standing on Westminster Bridge and being overcome with emotion by the simple and quite beauty of London in the morning. I couldn't help but take a moment to stop and try to appreciate what he so greatly appreciated over 200 years ago (although I don't think it looks exactly as it did in 1802). 

The next morning, we got up early and went to the Tower Bridge to see the sunrise. It was only about a 5 minute walk from our hostel and when we got there the drawbridge was up, which was kind of cool.

And this sunrise was probably the highlight of my weekend.

It was very special to find peace in an unfathomably large and busy city. This is why I love to travel.

"Collect moments, not things."

Monday, January 19, 2015

Scooter Takes Rochester

I've been in Canterbury for three weeks now, and this city still amazes me. There are several moments where I haven't felt like I'm living in a different country. It's a comfortable place for me, with no sense of being misplaced or foreign. (Sure, my accent gets me strange looks when I'm in the check-out line at Asda, but that was expected). But I find it hard to think that I'm only here temporarily, as it feels like I have been here for years.

Before coming to England, it was obvious that everything we saw or visited would have a long line of historical facts attached to it, but the reality of that is multiplied. Everywhere I look there is something tied to pilgrims or Marlowe or Dickens or King Henry IV. It's incredible. One morning after trying unsuccessfully to make pancakes in our flat (they are like crepes here, which means very difficult to make when you put chocolate chips in them...) we went downtown to the American Pancake House. This place is delicious, fairly cheap, and--surprise--historical. The building is actually where the original contracts for the Mayflower were planned and signed. It's neat to think that while I chowed down on pancakes, hashbrowns, bacon, and eggs, I was sitting in a spot that changed peoples' lives forever.

On Friday, CCCU also took us on our first field trip. We took a coach to the city of Rochester, about an hour away, and visited Rochester Castle and Rochester Cathedral. Though it was a rainy morning (as it often is) the sites were incredible. We climbed all the way to the top of the castle and got an incredible view of the city and Cathedral. The castle was incredibly old and so interesting, right on the banks of the River Medway. It was hard to imagine people living in such a place. The cathedral in Rochester is also the second oldest cathedral in England. It was very beautiful and so interesting to look around, seeing tombs and plaques that honored important historical figures. It wasn't nearly as big as Canterbury Cathedral, but it was just as fun to explore.

After Rochester Castle and Cathedral, we visited Fort Amherst and saw the underground tunnels and such. It was interesting to see, but I mainly just wanted to see the ghost that wanders through the tunnels looking for her father, who had been killed in a mining accident. Unfortunately, she didn't make an appearance. We also walked up to the Chatham Naval Memorial, which was really beautiful. It overlooked the entire city and was so huge, a constant reminder of brave men and women.

Classes here are starting off well, but I can already tell it will be a difficult adjustment when I go back to Columbia. Our classes here only meet once a week! I have modules on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, which gives me a four-day weekend. I seriously love it. There are also no exams, but only a couple of papers in each class. It's very different from what I am used to, but I think I can appreciate this set-up. Maybe Columbia College should look into adopting this policy... :)

Some upcoming trips with the school are to London, Bruges, and Dover Castle. It's amazing how close everything is to us, and I'm really excited to explore more of the UK and Europe!

Cheers!  - Jara

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Land of Smiles

My journey began when I left my house in PA at about 3:45 am. It was a long 45 hours of travel. I didn’t sleep much and I had a dreadful 14-hour layover in Doha, Qatar. The airport was nice sure, but being trapped anywhere for that long can really wear a man down.

My Apartment
My apartment is very nice. It is about the size of a dorm room, but I have my own bathroom and a balcony. The landlord, Ms. On, is very nice and speaks English well. The building is about a five-minute walk to the university and a main street that has countless shops and street food vendors. My apartment also has food to order from the kitchen and it is very cheap.
The People
The Thai people are very friendly. I have learned how to say hello and thank you, but I’ve learned that a nice smile can do a lot of talking. They call Thailand the “Land of Smiles” and that is most definitely true. However, most of the people don’t speak English, and if they do it’s usually difficult to understand.

First, I have to wear a uniform and I am not fond of it. I have to wear long black pants, black dress shoes, and a white button down shirt with a school tie. Any time one goes to campus, they are required to wear the uniform. For example, when I go to get my school ID on Monday, I have to wear my uniform although I don’t have class. It may not sound too bad, but walking in 85-degree weather with 90% humidity in pants and a long shirt is unpleasant. Once you get into the school buildings, the air conditioner is set at maybe 60 degrees.

The food is absolutely phenomenal. I have had quite a few Thai dishes so far and I have liked them. ALL Thai food is spicy but still very enjoyable. My favorite dish so far has been a coconut curry fried chicken with rice. The chicken wings are also unbelievably good. If I am ever feeling less adventurous, the fried rice is usually a safe order.

On day two I went the mall with the Finnish girls that live in my apartment. There were five of us and we took a taxi. It cost about $1.50 to go maybe six miles? The mall was called Future Park and it was the largest mall I have ever seen. We were there for three hours and saw only a quarter of it. On day three (Saturday) 10 Dutch girls who have been here for three months and are nearing the end of their stay showed me how to get to Bangkok’s largest market. It is called Chatuchak and it was unfathomably large. I bought two pairs of really nice shorts and a linen shirt for less than $20. After the market, a group of us went to a place called Red Corner and got pizza. It was really good pizza. After pizza we went to a club. The music was good but no Thai people were dancing! What a strange culture.
Issues Thus Far

The first issue regards my classes. Before leaving CC I chose some classes and had them approved by evaluations. However, at orientation here we had to register for courses and none of the classes I had previously chosen were available. But it doesn’t matter now. I am here and I am taking what I can. Hopefully it all buffs out in the end. The second issue is adjusting to the jet lag, I am 12 hours ahead and it has been difficult but I can already feel my internal clock getting closer to normal.

Desk in Apartment
Bathroom in Apartment
Bed in Apartment
Fried Rice with Vegetables 
The girls and me on our way to the market

Boy Scout uniforms for sale at market (Ha!)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thoughts From a Confused International Student

I would like to preface today's blog post by saying that I absolutely love Canterbury (pronounced Canterbrie), which I now have engrained in my mind after hanging out with some locals who, in good humor, always yelled "Like the cheese, like the cheese!" at my mispronunciation. However, the international students being thrown into the British Studies Program are all beginning to realize that there are some flaws in the system. Here are some collective thoughts from me and my peers:

1. Overall, there has been a general lack of guidance.

Upon arriving in Canterbury, the international students slowly met and began asking each other about their thoughts/expectations for the term. Something that none of us could agree on was when our lectures actually began. We knew that we had two days of orientation on January 5th and January 6th, but we some people did not think we started class until the following Monday on January 12th. Jara and I had absolutely no idea, so we just went with it and were looking forward to a few days of break before classes started. When orientation began on Monday, though, we were informed that classes would begin for us on Wednesday. This was new information to us, so we quickly had to mentally prepare ourselves for class. We also find it problematic that orientation (on Monday and Tuesday) took place when all other students were actually beginning lectures, forcing us to miss the first two days of class.

2. Why are the Americans grouped together?

During our orientation, we had the opportunity to mingle with the Erasmus students (Erasmus is the European study abroad program) and the South Korean students on exchange, but we were then separated from them and I have not seen one single European or South Korean exchange student since orientation. This is because, for the most part, the Americans were put into student housing with other Americans. My flatmates are Jara, a girl from Arkansas State University, and a girl from Illinois State University. Fortunately, I am extremely grateful for the flatmates I have, and we get along well. However, it does not create an environment conducive to any kind of cultural immersion. The international students have been kept extremely distant from the rest of the CCCU students--even the two classes I have had thus far consist of students from the American Midwest who are in the British Exchange Program. This creates an added challenge for us to make friends, or even feel immersed in a different culture. At times, it is almost like I never really left home at all.

3. Why doesn't the program last the entire length of the term?

At CCCU, classes last for the whole year. It is understandable that the British Exchange Program only lasts one semester because that time period is more appealing to a larger number of students than having to commit to 10 months abroad. This program is unique, though, because it is only 3 months, and we leave CCCU before the classes are even over. Students will still attend the classes we were in until May, long after most of us are back home waiting for our friends to get out of school, or starting summer jobs to pay off the debt we are all about to get ourselves into. The structure of the program also creates more academic obstacles for international students because the grades we get here affect our GPA at our home institution--which, in turn, affects scholarships. We are joining classes for a minimal amount of time, and graded on a completely foreign and incompatible system to the United States. I say that the grading system is incompatible to the US because here most students receive "marks" between 50% and 70% which is completely acceptable. What is considered excellent work in the UK, a 70%, is average in America--or below adequate depending on what grades are needed to maintain a certain GPA required for scholarships.

With all of this said, I understand that there is not going to be a perfect study abroad experience. When there are varying grading systems and term lengths between different countries it is going to be challenging to have a flawless program and effortless transition. I also have met some wonderful local CCCU students on my own time, which is the main source of cultural immersion I am experiencing. At the end of the day (which is about 4:30 in the afternoon here), and even with all of the confusion, I am extremely happy to be in Canterbury and excited for the many experiences I am going to have in the next few months.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My Canterbury Tale Begins

The first four days in Canterbury have been interesting and exciting, combining my expectations of what England would be like with some surprises. There are some aspects--which side of the road the cars are on, the double-decker buses, cobble-stoned streets, and historic buildings--that scream 'European'. However, America has a presence here too, or at least it does to me. From Asdas (the store about two minutes from my flat, which is practically a Walmart), to Pound Land (pretty much a Dollar Store) and even the McDonald's downtown, there are small bits of what I saw back home. The area we are in is most likely Americanized by the tourism industry, since tourism is a big part of the city. People here, though, are not at all like back in the US in the way of outward communication. People seem more reserved. They don't smile back on the streets or greet you when you walk by; everyone kind of keeps to themselves. (Admittedly, the distracting beauty of the city can be a probable cause of this..)

The living situation has come with several surprises on its own. Considering Donnie and I put different preferences on where we would like to live, and the fact that studying abroad is meant to give us new experiences/friendships, we were surprised to learn that we are flatmates. It's nice to have someone familiar close by, and we were able to travel downtown a lot the past few days to familiarize ourselves with the area and check out the shops. One of our other flatmates arrived yesterday, and--surprise!--she is also from Missouri, but attends school in Arkansas. We met up with people from her school and have made friends with several American students now. I'm anxious to meet other students at the start of the school year, especially because I have yet to speak with any native British students, or even any other students from other countries.

The thought of school is quite terrifying. I feel unprepared and nervous because I have no idea what my schedule will consist of or what classes will be like. Truthfully, I don't know a lot about the program, such as when classes even start or when I pay my housing fees. There were never any straight answers given to such questions, which has been rather frustrating. Hopefully we will be given some answers at orientation on Monday/Tuesday.

Living in a brand new country (and on my own for the first time) has been a fun journey. We have learned that washers/dryers in England are very confusing, and that it is better to ask someone how to use them than to Google instructions. CCCU should have made sure that all of the appliances had instructions because it has taken awhile to figure out how to use most of them. We still don't know how to work the oven, but hopefully that will change soon.

Donnie, her friend Sarah, and I went to the Canterbury Cathedral on New Years Day, and it was honestly the most awe-inspiring place I have ever seen. Pictures do not even do it justice, but it was so beautiful and much larger than I expected. We walked through the Cathedral, saw tunnels where pilgrims were kept to be separate from monks, the crypt, the tomb of King Henry IV, and so much of the incredible stained glass and art in there. I could have walked around for hours, just imagining how long it took to construct such a magnificent place.

- Jara
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