Friday, September 28, 2012


Hello Readers,

Long time no write. Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I've started my classes and am trying to get my bearings as to how much work I'll have and when/how is the best time to do it.
For those of you who care about the classes I'm taking, (hi Mom and Dad!) I actually dropped my Music class. Thy don't really have GenEd requirements so it was filled almost entirely with Music students who almost all seemed to have taken A Levels (the best was I can explain this is that they're sort of like APs) in Music so they all knew so much about music. Now, I love music but I don't know much about theory or history other than maybe a little bit about choral music from being in choirs my whole life.

I have never felt more lost or in over my head than those three hours when I sat in that class and listened to all the students around me name from memory the musical period and years of a multitude of composers. Wen we listened to a piece and were asked for our thoughts they spoke of leaps and instrument types and a multitude of other terms I can't even remember because they were basically Greek to me. Seriously its like they were speaking another language. I realized that I didn't want to start a class basically already behind, so I decided to take Peter's class for credit and duck out of the music class. While I am here to learn, I don't want to go certifiably insane really, dropping this class was to protect my mental health.

I'm in Scotland this week and will update you all on it when I get back!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Let's Get Serious

Well, summer has officially come to an end. It has been awesome to spend the last two weeks in England without any obligations other than visiting amazing English cities, towns and attractions. But now I need to get serious. It's that time when I have to do what I actually came here to do--study. I mean, it is called study abroad, right? It will be hard to get back into classroom mode after my 5 month summer vacation, but I'm definitely ready to be intellectually stimulated again. However, it seems that the University gods are going easy on me this week because already one of my lectures tomorrow and one of my seminars on Wednesday have been cancelled. So, I won't really know the hecticness of my schedule until next week.

I'm pretty excited for all of my classes. I am taking three classes through Oxford Brookes University for credit, one class with our OBU liaison Peter Forsaith not for credit, and one class taught by the HPU professor staying here in Oxford with us. My classes, for those of you who are interested are as follows:
  • Listening to Music History
  • Understanding Media
  • Understanding Society: Differences and Divisions
  • Creative Writing for Nonfiction--Travel Writing
  • British Culture and Heritage (not for credit)
I am a little bit worried that my American-ness (I know that's not a word, but bear with me) will be a disadvantage in some of my classes, specifically my communication and sociology classes. I'm just worried that we'll talk about British media outlets or British society/culture and I won't truly understand everything they're talking about because I didn't grow up in Britain. Or rather, that there will be things that it is assumed that we know because it's common sense but I'll be behind because it's not common sense to me. However, there's no point in worrying about it because I'll know better what I'm facing after my first classes this and next week. And I'm sure I can find people to explain things if I'm feeling confused--I just have to have the guts to ask questions if I don't understand things..

Well, that's all for now. Cheers. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Quest for Gold boxes, I mean.

This past week, we have had time to truly feel like we're living in Oxford, and not just visiting on a whirlwind vacation. We've been hanging out, taking trips into the city centre and just exploring our new temporary home.

Peter, our OBU liason told us that there was a gold post box in Oxford, and our interest was picqued, so on Thursday we decided to search for it.

Let me explain. For the 2012 London Olympics, Royal Mail has painted a postbox gold for every Gold Medal won by a British athlete in the Olympics or Paralympics. A postbox in the Gold Medal Winner's hometown is painted gold, and it just so happens that an Oxford Paralympian won Gold in a rowing event. This is the first time in modern day that post boxes have appeared anything but red, so the gold post boxes are not only iconic but also historic.

We found out what road the gold post box was on and decided to embark on a quest to find it. It wasn't easy to find because it wasn't in the city centre but rather in the neighborhood where Lily van den Broecke's family lives. We did find it eventually, and looked rather touristy as we took pictures with it. But really, we didn't trek all the way there to look at it and leave--we're girls, we had to take pictures.

What was so cool about finding the postbox was this: that even though we weren't in England for the actual Olympics, we were able to experience some of the excitement emanating all over Britain as this year's hosts. This is something that you have to be in England now to experience which was very cool. 

Cheers, Amy. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Life in Oxford

Friday's trip to Ironbridge was the last of our Heritage visits with all 24 of us, so this week has been about truly living in Oxford--eating, shopping and just existing.

Most of the Study Abroad/Exchange students and the Freshers moved in on Saturday and Sunday, so now there is a lot going on in the Clive Booth Student Village (where I live). It's nice to have people around, because for our first week and a half it was very deserted and didn't feel real.

On Saturday my flatmates and I went to an International Student quiz and supper on campus. We were fed pizza and chips (french fries for those at home) as well as a dessert and it was free, so that's always a plus for any college student. We got into a group of 12 and many different countries were represented--France, Japan, China, Korea, Canada, Spain, Italy and the US, of course. There were four round total--some we did really well on like Flags/Capitals and some that were surprisingly difficult like  the UK Round. We got a few of those questions, but then there were some like "What the the tallest mountains in each of these UK countries: Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales?" And collectively as a team we found we couldn't even name a single mountain in all of Great Britain, let alone the highest." But it didn't seem like many teams got this question, so it wasn't just us. Caitlin, Libby, Austin and I kept waiting for them to ask a questions about Salisbury Cathedral, or Bath or any of the places we went to last week, but they never did. Oh, well. It was fun to meet some other people and participate in a quiz. These trivia challenges seem to be really popular here in Oxford--they do quizzes at pubs nearly every night of the week. We'll have to check one out in the city centre soon.

We've also been swapping numbers with other Oxford Brookes students including a British Australian (with a very interesting accent) here on exchange and a British girl who lives in Clive Booth near our block who teaching us all about British culture. More about British culture soon!

Friday, September 14, 2012

It's a Bridge... Made of Iron

I will admit it, I was not really looking forward to our Friday trip to the Ironbridge Gorge... at all. Every other Heritage trip we have taken has been to an iconic British landmark that I've studied in school or wanted to visit, but not so for our Friday excursion. The Ironbridge Gorge was, quite frankly, a place I, and most of my classmates had never heard of (a fact that shocked our leader Dr Forsaith). Add to all this that the Ironbridge Gorge is over 2 hrs away and the coach left at 8am, and, as you can imagine, I wasn't jumping for joy at the idea of the whole thing.

I am, however, pleased that I was proven wrong on that front. Although definitely not my favorite excursion, Ironbridge was a lot more interesting than I expected it to be. It was a rather pleasant day, if a bit chilly, and we walked up to and across the Ironbridge, which was the first bridge to be successfully made of Iron, thanks to the efforts of the Darby family. It was a beautiful site and a great photo-op, as you can see in this picture of me and my flatmates.

Because the Ironbridge was the first bridge made of iron, it naturally became a spectacle, and as people flocked to the gorge to walk across this bridge (for a fee of course) other ventures sprang up in the area including china, tiles and tar. This area, and this bridge were instrumental in the moving forward of the Industrial Revolution. While in the Ironbridge Gorge/Coalbrookdale area, we saw the Ironbridge Tollhouse, the Museum of the Gorge, the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, the Coalport China Museum and the Darby Houses.  As you can imagine, this made for a very long day.

But that's not all folks! Before we left the area, we also had afternoon tea with delicious scones (which Caitlin had been looking for forever, so it certainly made her day) all set up by Dr Forsaith which was extremely generous of him.

By the time we arrived back home in Oxford, we were all exhausted, but I had truly gained a new appreciation for all the Ironbridge Gorge had to offer (and no, I'm not just saying that). While I wouldn't necessarily go back, it was an enjoyable day--it certainly exceeded my expectations.  As always, you can see pictures in the slideshow below:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Don't Drink Bath Water

Wednesday led our group to Bath England to see the Roman Baths, the Bath Abbey and to explore the city of Bath. This time I knew that rain was in the forecast so I was sure to wear my yellow raincoat (also known as my Gordon's Fisherman jacket) and bring my umbrella. We did run into a little bit of rain--not much, but I was glad to have my raincoat.

The first thing we did once we got to Bath was look in the Bath Abbey, which was beautiful. It had a fan vaulted ceiling which was really interesting and different from any of the other chapels that we have seen thus far. There was also a very intricate stained glass window that depicted 56 scenes of Jesus's life (picture in slideshow at end), which was, as you can imagine, a lot to take in.

Next stop was the actual Roman Baths. The museum covers every facet of life when the Roman Baths were in use--it detailed why and when they were built and used, social life of the time, relics from this time period, the explanation of how the Baths work and so much more. What I thought was totally awesome was that the baths are so hot but they aren't heating manually but rather by nature. The baths are filled by a geothermal spring and it take a very long time for the hot water to get from the geothermal spring to the surface so really the water that is currently in the Roman Baths could have been from ages ago, which I think is crazy.

Also included in the museum is an audio tour where you type in a code at any given location to listen to audio from your own personal player. Caitlin, Libby and I found that it was much more interesting to listen to the kids version, which featured characters, sound effects and random facts--much better than the dry adult version that seemed to be a little too much information!

At the end of the museum there is a drinking fountain straight from the spring which means it is very warm and full of all kinds of healthy nutrients. And since healthy rarely equals delicious, the water was pretty, well, disgusting. In my opinion it tasted like copper or blood and it was warm and all together drinking it was not a pleasant experience. But it was cool, I guess. I mean I was in England when it happened, so that makes it awesome in and of it self.

We finished off the day trip exploring the city of Bath and seeing what is referred to as the Georgian Baths--the social culture that emerged when Bath rose back to popularity during the Georgian era. We saw Queen Circus and Royal Crescent which are beautiful houses and we were able to tour a house. My favorite part of this was Royal Crescent because it was actually created to look like the countryside since the elite wanted to live in the countryside because of the views but the city to be near the social center. It was cool to see all this green space in the middle of the city.

Below are some of my favorite pictures from Bath:

It was back to Oxford after that where we made our first real dinner as a flat--burritos. It was fun cooking together and I think this will be a great way to keep the cost down in terms of food this semester.

We have one more Heritage visit to go--Ironbridge on Friday.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Castles and Rocks and Cathedrals (Oh My)

My Monday began at 9am, and from the beginning I knew it was going to be a long day. On the agenda: an intro to our British Heritage and Culture class, Highclere Castle, Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral. Monday was our first quintessentially English day that we've had since our arrival. England had a very rainy summer, but presented us with beautiful sunny weather for our first few days in Great Britain, but today we got to experience the rain. I, of course, forgot my raincoat because I was so sure that it wasn't going to rain, so I got quite wet when it poured during our time at Highclere Castle. The rain pretty much stopped after that, but it was overcast and windy at Stonehenge and Salisbury.

Highclere Castle is the home of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon as well as the main filming location for Downton Abbey. Sunday night we watched the first episode of Downton Abbey (which Austin and I had never seen) so that we could get a feel for the castle and be able to say "That's where Lady Grantham sat!" when we toured the house. They don't allow any cameras in the castle so I don't have pictures to show you, but the inside of the house was beautifully decorated.  In fact, if you'd like to see what it looks like, go ahead and watch Downton Abbey because everything looks the same, minus the family pictures that are removed before filming begins.

Next stop was Stonehenge which is so cool because it is a major mystery as to how (and why) the stones got to their location in Wiltshire, England. They were situated over 2 miles from the nearest settling point and after testing the stones it has been determined that they came from Wales. In 3000 BCE it would have taken a lot  of work and a lot of time to get these massive stones to England. Knowing that Stonehenge has been here for over 5,000 years made seeing the henge and learning about its history so interesting. Unfortunately, this didn't happen (video clip), which was a bummer. Stonehenge would have been much more exciting if the Doctor was there.

Our last stop was Salisbury Cathedral, which I was extremely excited to visit since we learned about it in AP Art History with Mrs. Thorne. It really did live up to expectation. The architecture is amazing and the stained glass was beautiful. We took a tour of the cathedral and we were able to learn all about the history of the cathedral and why it was built in Salisbury. Also located in the Salisbury Cathedral is the Magna Carta--one of the most important documents in the establishment of democracy so we got to see that as well. The last thing we did at Salisbury Cathedral was attend Evensong which was a beautiful service. A number of the choristers were children, and it was amazing how well they sang--you would've thought that they were professionally trained. The choir sang the Psalms, some of the prayers and an anthem and a lectern read two lessons. The Church of England is similar to the Episcopal denomination so a lot of the prayers were similar. The last thing on the agenda was dinner at Sarum College in their tiny refectory. It was a delicious meal--I have to admit I wasn't expecting much but Sarum proved me wrong.

We got back to Clive Booth Hall around 9pm totally exhausted but it was totally worth it. A jam packed day full of picture opportunities so naturally I left my memory card in my computer. The pictures in the slide show below were taken by Libby, Caitlin or Austin.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Oxford, You're Taking My Breath Away

Sunday we had a free day to explore Oxford and really do whatever we wanted. Although we were all exhausted from being constantly being on the move and walking a lot as we explored Oxford and London, Sunday was the last day of Heritage Open Days when a number of British landmarks and cultural institutions are open to the public for exploration. That means that a lot of the Oxford University colleges were open for free, which we had to take advantage of. So, we set off on Sunday to explore Oxford and visit a number of the Oxford Open Door locations.

We started the day at Carfax Tower, which was a great way to see all of Oxford. 74 feet tall, we had to climb 99 steps to get to the top, which, as you can imagine, gave us an awesome view of Oxford. From one side we could see High Street and the rest of the city of Oxford, and from another side we could see into the country side. It was all breathtakingly beautiful. I've put some of my favorite pictures from Carfax tower in the following slideshow:

After Carfax Tower we went to the Old County Courthouse where we were able to sit in the chamber where all of Oxforshire's cases were tried as well as the chamber where the current Oxford City Council meets. We were also able to go in the tunnel under the courthouse that lead to the jail. We then moved on to the colleges of Oxford University. In case you weren't aware, there are 38 constituent colleges within Oxford University. So when you study at University, you must also be enrolled at one of these colleges such as All Souls College, Queen's College and Magdalen College, which are the colleges that we visited. 

When we arrived at All Souls College, a post graduate institution, there was a band playing, which made it a lively environment. There were a lot of people around, laying on the grass in the courtyard and taking photos. All Souls also has an amazing chapel with a beautiful arch and breathtaking artistry. Literally the first thing that I said when I walked in was "Oh wow." For a moment or two there weren't any words to describe it.  

We then went to Queen's College which was a much more sober affair, but beautiful in its own right, especially the ceiling of the Queen's College chapel. My favorite university that we visited, however, was Magdalen College (pronounced 'maudlin'--pronouncing it like Magdalene is a rookie mistake that we thankfully did not make). When we walked into the courtyard, the college looked like something out of a fairy tale, and there is a massive park/garden behind the buildings that was so serene and peaceful. Some of my favorite shots of the colleges can be seen below. As always, just click on the picture to see a larger version.

Every inch of Oxford seems to be covered in history, and as I walk down the street each day, I am amazed that I get to study here for the next few months. I'm blessed to have been able to take advantage of this opportunity and I intend to soak it all up while I am here.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

God Save the Queen

On Saturday, we went into London for the first time! London is such an interesting city because it's most people first compare it to New York, but it gave me a much more DC feel because of the architecture, sites and green space.

Victoria Memorial
This trip, lead by Dr. Forsaith, was designed to give us a taste of London, so we walked around a lot and saw many of the sites from the outside. First on the list was changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I was a bit too short to see what was going on, but Caitlin and Libby let me know what was happening. I also got a bit distracted by the sniper on the roof... During the changing of the guard, the military guard starting playing Dancing Queen and Mamma Mia by ABBA, which was surprising and actually quite funny. Libby and I of course had to sing along.

We then walked through a park by Buckingham Palace to get to Westminster Abbey which was beautiful, and then we got to see Big Ben (which, fun fact, is now called Queen Elizabeth Tower because of the Diamond Jubilee). We ate lunch at a place called Wesley Cafe and then walked around a little more past Downing Street, the houses of Parliament and the Household Cavalry museum and then got back on the bus. We drove around London on the bus for a while and drove past Baker Street (where the famous 221b Baker Street is), Tower of London, Tower Bridge (with the Paralympic logo hanging off it) and other beautiful buildings.

I had a great time in London and can't wait to explore further soon. I have included some photo highlights in a slideshow below (clicking on the pictures allows you to view them larger):

Friday, September 7, 2012

Settling Into Our British Home

Wow! September 7th felt like the longest day of my life! Because our flight left Dulles at 6pm, we got into Heathrow at 1am EST, which is actually 6am BST so just as it felt like our day was ending, it actually began again.  I wasn't able to sleep on the plane at all, so I was exhausted and powered through the day until we were finally able to go to bed that evening. Being awake for 30+ hours can really take a toll on your body and I think we're all still trying to catch up! But I think I've successfully adjusted to British time, so staying up that long served its purpose.

I live in a flat with (right now) 3 other people: Libby, Austin and Caitlin, all friends from HPU. There are five rooms in our flat, but right now no one lives in Flat D. I live in Flat E, which used to be the living room, so my room is actually three times (possibly more) the size of everyone else's room, which only have just enough room for the bed, armoir and desk. Pictures of my room are below:

We also have a kitchen, toilet room and bathroom (for showering) that we all share as a group. Dr Forsaith, our Oxford Brookes liason was kind enough to buy us dishes, silverware and some pots and pans to get us started, which was super nice of him. 

On our first day here, we ate at Turf's Tavern, a famous pub here in Oxford. In order to get there, you have to walk down a (slightly creepy) passage, which means that the only people who go there are people who know where to look for it. Because of this it isn't much of a tourist location. There is a sign pointing the way, which Libby is pictured with the right.  After dinner we walked the city centre to get the lay of the land.

On Friday, Dr Forsaith took us on a more in depth tour of the city centre. We saw the outside of a lot of famous Oxford sighs such as Christ Church, the Bodleian Library, High Street, Broad Street and the Covered Market. Some of my favorite pictures are below!

We also enrolled on Friday, so I'm officially an Oxford Brookes student. I'm so excited for this adventure! I hope you enjoyed reading about my first few days here, and don't forget you can enter your email address to get notifications when I post something new (on the right). 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Down the Rabbit Hole I Go

Soon I will be on my way down the rabbit hole. Not that I expect my time in Oxford to be that much like Alice's time in Wonderland--I don't expect to meet talking flowers or a grinning cat or a mad hatter... well, I suppose metaphors can only go so far... 

But, just like Alice's, I do expect my trip to be an adventure--one that will allow me to grow as a person and experience new things. I have never been to England or any part of Europe so I am so excited for all of the new experiences and exciting discoveries I have awaiting me in England.

It is this potential for personal growth and discovery that made me think of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as I was brainstorming titles and themes for this blog. And the fact that Lewis Carroll spent much of his life in Oxford made the idea more fitting. 

I leave for England tomorrow afternoon and I can't wait for my adventure to begin!