Tower of London

Tower of London

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Message For All Future BSP Students

There is a chance that if you are reading this blog, then you are heading on your own British Studies Program adventure. Congratulations!!!!! You are in for one of the most exciting, overwhelming, and memorable months of your life!

There are a few things I wish I had known before I left. There are a few I never even thought to ask. So I thought I would share them with you. Half of the fun is in finding out things for yourself in a new country, so I have tried not to "spoil" that experience for you. Here are a few must knows:

* Jet Lag: There is nothing like a long flight like this one to help you put your priorities in order. Or at least that is what I found to be true! Your schedule will be off for almost the first week when you get to London and the professors are going to push you hard to help you get acclimated as soon as possible. In fact, that first night you are already out and about learning the city and walking all over God's creation. Thank them for this. As much as it seems impossible to move those first few days, you will be eternally grateful to them later. By the fourth day it seems like you have lived in London forever and you can't remember a time when you did not know how to take the tube, order at a pub, or maneuver the London streets.

* Homesickness: No matter what they say, EVERYONE feels homesick. It is often the ones you least expect who are feeling it the worst. Whatever you do, do not leave for the first week. I know it may seem impossible that you will ever get used to it or that missing everyone back home will become bearable, but I promise you it is true. You owe it to yourself to stick it out. You were brave enough to commit to the trip in the first place, you definitely have what it takes to succeed in this program. As Dr. Mackaman says in orientation "I bet you know a lot of people who thought about coming on British studies, but I don't see any of them sitting here. I see you sitting here." This is a big deal-and you are the reason why! Besides, who wants to take another day long plane trip so close together?

* Laptops. The internet access you are given is in the lab across the street from the apartments (flats). It is open 24 hours and it is a very nice lab. However, most of the time you will really not want to drag yourself over there after a long day or be in the crowd while you are trying to get your thoughts together. You can buy an inexpensive air card at Carphone Warehouse and you can get access in your room. I would have loved this even if I only used it for non-internet projects like downloading my photos and writing blog entries which I could then put online at the lab. The rooms are safe and you won't have to carry it everywhere. If it is not obscenely heavy, it is definitely worth bringing.

* Laptop warning: If you have the type of personality where you will never leave your room if you have your laptop, leave it at home. This is a once in a lifetime experience, don't let the internet suck you in and don't let it be a security blanket. It is a great tool to keep up with the work, but it is not worth missing out on everything else for it.

* Alcohol: If you are anti-alcohol, do not hang out with people who drink. If you do, then keep your judgments about alcohol to yourself. Everyone is an adult on this trip and people need to experience London on their own terms. If this is a problem for you, then you need to do some serious thinking about this trip. And I am not speaking of binge drinking-although the same does apply. A glass of wine or a drink at dinner does not an alcoholic make. If this is a problem for you, avoid the situation. Everyone paid to be there and they left their parents at home. Be a friend, not a chaperon.

* Walking: They are not joking when they say you are going to be walking EVERYWHERE. Be up to at least 3 miles a day when you leave and walk the sidewalks. Tracks are nice, but they are a lot smoother than the London roads. You can still handle it even if you don't do this, but it will make life a lot easier.

* Sandwiches: Get used to them. London LOVES their sammies!

* Fruits and Vegetables: If you are a vegetarian, make Mark and Spencer's your best friend. The food is by far the freshest and best quality in the country. You will have a fridge in your room and the nearest M&S is right at the tube station. Not only will you save tons of money, but you will be able to eat a normal diet for most of the month rather than a constant stream of restaurant and takeout food.

* Speaking of food, the only thing open on Sunday morning are some of the places in Waterloo station. The local bakery on the side street next to King's is wonderful, but closed on Sunday morning.

* Bring towels!!!!!! I know you are told that King's College provides these for you, and it is kind of true, but unless you are cool with using the same one ortwo towels for a month bring a spare you can wash with your other laundry.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Things I Will Miss About London

There are so many things I will miss about London! This list only looks shorter because there is no explanation necessary. There's no dirt to give, so why not keep it short and sweet? My dear London, you were so good to me. The things I will miss will stay with me in my heart until next time...

* Being handed my newspaper on the street every day.

* Musicians playing on the tube and in the neighborhood streets.

* Seeing people randomly reading just for the share pleasure of it by the droves!!!!!!!!

* Marks and Spencer (the best grocer or superstore, grocery and department store, EVER!!!)

* Seeing major adverts for books wherever I went.

* A room of my own (but I am thrilled to be going home to my husband/best friend!)

* Cleaning service (admit it, if you could hire a cleaning service it would only take you about a half a second to do so!)

* Good friends!

* A constant version of the Biggest Loser workout (minus the vegetables, see previous post)

* Street performers (for the most part, he knows who I am talking about. don't take 60 minutes to get there and then only stand on the bike as the big finale-what's wrong with you!!!!!!!!!)

* London Walks (If you are ever in London-TAKE THESE WALKS!!!! It is the best way to see the city by far.)

* The green initiatives. Americans should be ashamed of themselves. If London can do it this well and make money, then we have no excuses.

* The Tube. Even for all of its quirks, it was one of my favorite things about the trip. So long public transportation, hopefully Rhode Island will catch on to your wonders soon.

* Making a photo!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Things I Won't Miss About London

I am getting ready to go home tomorrow. While I am going to miss London terribly, there are a few things I will be glad to leave when I get on the plane.

Before I start, a short note to London: I really do love you and no place is perfect. But, let's be honest here. I have a much longer love list than this. And besides, everyone back home wants to hear the dirt. So let's give them a little something before I leave!

* Being shouldered every time I am on the street. (Remember, we are being honest here London and the people here are just downright aggressive. I swear I have permanent bruises on my shoulders. There is no need for that. Play nice.)

* The lack of vegetables. (I used to adore cheese. And I was a fan of bread and meat. However, I now realize that vegetables are really the thing that keeps us going. So London, how is it possible you are not the nation with the most deaths from heart disease. Really. It is an honest question. I was only served vegetables with one meal the whole time I was here and that was not for a lack of me trying to order them. So what's the deal? Are the crops on strike?)

* Sandwiches. (Really, there are millions of other foods in the world. I know this is a commuter town and everyone is on the go, but please. If I see one more sandwich in the next million years I am seriously going to hurl. See the above as well. They go hand in hand. A nice big veggie salad never hurt anyone.)

* Unrefrigerated food and warm drinks. (Okay, I know I raved about the food my first few days in, but I may have been a bit hasty. I miss cold drinks like I miss my husband. I can't get back a minute too soon for a nice ice cold gallon of water.)

* Having to push buttons and slide cards to be let out of doors. (Remember that episode of Monk where he caught the criminal because he stopped before walking out the door and he knew that the guy had been in prison. It's just like that. I am going to have to keep low when I get home so I don't get fingered as an ex-con!)

* The worthless value of my dollar.

* The customer service in restaurants. (Don't even try and deny it-it was horrendous! It was so bad it was almost laughable except for that night at Giraffe. That service was so bad it was offensive. I miss our values of customer service back home. Get ready folks, give me good service when I get home and their is a HUGE tip in your future!)

* Having to run to a million stores to do what I can do in one store at home. (Okay, so everyone knows I love supporting small business owners, but this is really too much. Nothing is next to one another and there is no car to put it in when you are done. Target, here I come!!!)

* Public love sessions. (I get the whole in love in London thing, but really? Remember that dignity I spoke of earlier-it's running out the door hoping you will catch it.)

* Always being late to our appointments. (I know this is not London's fault and it is tough to get a group of people anywhere on time, but still.)

* Fire alarms. (I know they serve an important purpose here, but I can use a break from random fire alarms at least once a day!)

* No clean towels! (My only complain about my lodgings. I still want to take my room home!)

There they are. Nothing too major. London, I love you. But that doesn't mean I always have to like you. If you were being honest, you would agree I drive you crazy too! We always have next time to do it better!

A Space of One's Own

I love my room in London! Cozy is the way I would describe it. It is not as nice as the pictures on the website make it appear, but that is okay. Once I got here and made it my own, it was even better (and I think I had a better layout!) It has everything that I need-a bed, a reading chair, a desk and office chair, closet, refrigerator, and even a private bathroom! I share the kitchen area, but that only makes the room cleaner and cozier.

For years, I have wanted an area that felt like this in my home. To put things in perspective, my entire room here is only slightly larger than a prison cell (okay, it might be the size of two cells). But the fact that I have a desk and three comfy reading areas make this my ideal space.

My husband has been yelling at me for years now that our entire apartment is not an office. Yet, when I got my laptop, the idea of a desk for me was nixed because the theory was that with the laptop I should be able to work from anywhere in the house.

I realized in London that I really do love having my own desk as much as I thought I did. In our next home, I want my own little corner where I have a desk and maybe we could put a reading chair and a futon there as well and make that area a family corner. We can have a real cozy are to sit and talk and let our creative juices flow.

I would love for Tony to have his own work area, so maybe we can keep the studio a family area and find a place where he can have a dedicated "Tony Only" space. As long as I get my desk, I don't care what you do in your part of the house. How do you like that idea buddy?

It is amazing how much you can get done when you don't have a television. It is even better when you love the space because it feels like it was made just for you!

I will certainly miss my London home. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the entire staff of the Stamford Apartments at King's College. My stay was wonderful and you were such a pleasure to get to know. I will forever have amazing memories of my "Room of One's Own".

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Checking In...

Hi Everyone,

I just realzed it has been a little while since I posted to let you know where I was I arrived back in London after a wonderful time in Ireland on Monday. It was quite the adventure! We took a taxi to the boat to the bus to the train to the tube and then we used our feet to finish the journey. 12 hours later and we were back home to our Stamford Street Flats at King's College. I don't know about any of my travel buddies, but I for one was saying "Home, Sweet Home."

Speaking of home, it's only a few more days now!!!!!!! I have lots to do before I leave London, but I am excited to see everyone real soon. Stick with me on the blog once I get back because pictures will be going up daily as will further details about my adventures abroad. For example, did you know that there is a site in Ireland that is similar to Stonehenge, but it appeared more than 1000 years earlier than Stonehenge and 500 years earlier than the pyramids? Neither did I until last week.

Also, I must remember to tell you all about driver Tony and the guy we saw getting arrested, but those are stories for when I have time to regroup. School work must be done this week, as much as I hate to waste a minute of the time I have here, I do have responsibilities to my classes and I want to make sure that I am on the right track before I come home to Rhode Island and my professor returns to Mississippi.

I will leave you for now with this: One of my dear friends on this trip almost had an international incident at Parliament. Why, you ask? It had to do with her knickers and her necklace.

When she was about to go through the metal detector she asked if she should take her necklace off. Well, the two adorable elderly security guards thought that this beautiful American woman had asked if she should take off her knickers.

Security Guard #1: (blushing profusely) "Well, you don't have to but if you want to I suppose you can." Security Guard #2: (also blushing a little while laughing heartily) "What, she wants to take her knickers off? I told you it was going to be a great night!"

Needless to say, she kept her knickers where they belonged and we managed to somehow make it through security without being pulled into some small room for questioning about our intentions in Parliament! She made the guards night and watching the live action of Parliament was one of the highlights of our trip. (Believe it or not, the antics of the House members was even crazier than that of the guards!)

See, if you stay with me next week you will get more of this great juicy behind the scenes action! I'll be back soon.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Things I Won't Miss About Ireland

To be fair to Scotland and Ireland, I must post the few things I won't miss about Ireland. It was almost the perfect love affair. At least this way I can remember that not all was lush and green in my new favorite place (except for Wicklow Mountains).

* 2 am fire alarms. (Okay I know the hotel we stayed in was apparently the happening night club as well, but really? Every night?)

* Lack of street signs. (Okay, this was actually kind of funny, but a little stressful. I thought we were bad in Rhode Island about giving directions. My favorite part is that they purposely put the wrong street name on the signs! You have to admit it is funny!)

* Cork. (Cork is a 4 hour drive from Dublin and it had a lot of things happen that day were not its fault, but Cork be happy for your library because otherwise I might have thought it was a punishment instead of a privilege to be there. P.S. Your library rocks!!!!)

* Cork Cafe. (We found this little cafe to grab lunch and get out of the rain. The food was actually worse than that in London. Didn't think it was possible.)

* Newgrange. (Okay so the tombs and the towns were cool, but the last tomb was just cruel. Claustrophobic, birds attacking me and I slammed my head on a slab of rock thousands of years old. Is this because I didn't like Cork that much? Cause it really wasn't that bad.)

So, even the bad stuff wasn't that bad. Maybe it is love's eyes, but Ireland, I will take you with your faults any day!

Things I Will Miss About Ireland

EVERYTHING!!!!!!! Ireland, in you I found an unexpected soul mate. If there was ever a place I did not want to go, it was Ireland. Your fiction authors depressed me (and I certainly tried again and again), your history made it even worse. What did your country do for such bad karma? And I love nature as much as the next person, but really 40 shades of green just weren't doing it for me.

Thank you to my friend Allie for giving me my boat ride and forcing me to face my arch-country Ireland. I have learned that in life you need to do the things that you REALLY want to do and those you REALLY DON'T (so long as they are not physically or mentally harmful). I REALLY DID NOT want to go to Ireland, but I could not be happier that I did. Just to prove it, here are the things I will miss the most:

* Tour Guide Tony! (If you are ever in London, go on an Over the Top Tours adventure. If you are really lucky, Tony will be your tour guide to the Wicklow Mountains. He knows his Irish history and his personal history is fascinating including a 30 year career on the Irish Garda. He was the sweetest and funniest person I met on my entire trip. Check out the entry about the Wicklow mountains. for more information about the tour or Tony.)

* Wicklow Mountains. Right up there in the top two best days of my life along with my wedding day. Thank you again Tony!

* The wonderful Irish People. (For as much as Londoners dislike Americans, and they do. the Irish love us and can't wait to speak to us. They look at us as partners in freedom since we all seceded from the British. They think that itself is hilarious. How can you not love them?)

* The Bog and the Bog People. (See the Wicklow Mountains blog. Gotta love the bog!)

* Bobo's! (For the best hamburger and onion rings on the planet, you MUST go to Bobo's. It is a little whole in the wall place that will make your whole life worth living in just one meal!)

* Fruits and Vegetable!!! (For as much as London lacked them, they were abundant in Ireland. The land must have some of the most fertile soil in the world because I have never tasted anything as fresh, green, or tasty as the vegetables in Ireland.)

* Funny (or lack of) shop hours. (The Irish are great! They work when they feel like it and they don't if they don't. Shops that don't have hours listed on the window are totally on the whenever system (and some of these are even chain stores) and those that have hours listed are optional. You can never make a special trip to any store, but it is a hoot to see how the city runs.)

* A million shades of green. (It is Ireland after all. And they are right, there are a million shades of green in the world!)

* Ferry Rides. (I love boats. Taking them on the open ocean from one country to another is even better!)

* The Bathtub. (Best. Bathroom. Ever. Now only if I could have found some bubble bath in this country!)

* Cows and Sheep. (The Irish would be lost without their cows and sheep everywhere. I love it! I withheld the urge to go up and hug every single one, but that is only because of electric fences and a little better sense.)

Ireland, I haven't even gotten on the boat back to London yet and I already miss you! We'll always have Wicklow Mountains!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

ACADEMIC- Marsh Public Library

The Marsh Public Library is Ireland's first public library-ever. Established in 1701, it still stands today, although it is no longer a lending library. Their website describes their mission today best: "Marsh's Library is a treasury of what might be called the European mind; it is a rich source for studying the history of ideas, the birth of new ideas, the rise of science and attacks on Christianity."

The Marsh library no longer circulates books or adds to its collection, but it is intent on keeping the spirit of its existence alive. It was born out of the belief that all citizens should have access to the written works of the time. By keeping their doors open, it is a reminder to all subsequent generations that the idea of the right to read and an education is a long-held belief of the nation and something that should not be dismissed lightly.

It was incredible to walk into this library and feel how few differences there are between this 18th century library and the public libraries of today. The stacks were set up using the traditional ladder system, but otherwise, you could see how it was set up for user friendliness. The long tables for study areas and chairs for reading would make it a comfortable reading room today.

The library hosts exhibits to keep people coming through its doors; but for this librarian the real exhibit was the library itself. There is so much to see and learn in such a small space. It makes me feel more attached than ever to the librarians of our past, the keepers of the culture of their time. It turns out, that their time is much more like our own than we would ever like to admit.

For more information about the Marsh Public Library in Ireland, click here.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

ACADEMIC-Cork City Library

(This image used courtesy of the Cork City Libraries website and can be found here.)

The Cork City Library in Ireland is the place to go if you need information, a cool music library, parenting information, or just something to do with the kids. It has internet access, reading areas, a great mix of old and new in the building, and just a general feeling of being welcome.

It is no surprise that everyone feels welcome, when I was speaking to the circulation librarian about membership, I was in for a big surprise. There are two forms of membership at the library. For the first one, you only need to have a name. No proof of address, no two forms of identification, no promise to donate your firstborn child to the library. Just a name that you tell them. It's on the honor system! You are allowed to take books out. The next level up is the traditional membership we are used to in the United States and it gives you access to the library's entire collection.

When I spoke about the basic membership to people back home, their first response always related to accountability for the books. How would they know where to charge them if they were lost or stolen? I think this speaks to the truths about public librarianship. While there will always be people who are late or often lose their books, the majority of library users are honest, rule-following patrons.

There is something else that should be noted for Americans in this policy. At least in Rhode Island, you do not need to be an American citizen in order to have a library card. I did not learn this until after months of working in a public library, so I think this policy is one that should be made much clearer to the general public. After all, what better way do we have to teach people the English language and to get them acclimated to a new culture than to welcome them as regular library patrons?

With the debate raging over illegal immigration in the United States these days, far fewer immigrants are making use of the public library for fear of deportation. Why can't we make libraries safe havens? I know this is a particularly tough thing to do since most public libraries are government organizations, but the benefits of doing so could outweigh the mixed messages. After all, if we have a way to make our public libraries work to help improve the system, shouldn't we at least give it a try? Cork's library patrons have taught us that it isn't always bad to put our trust in the public's hands.

For more information about Cork Public Libraries, click here.