Mindful of how expensive food and lodging would be in Europe, the Hendrix planner folks decided to make the Hendrix-in-London program fairly compact -- starting two weeks later and ending a week earlier than the normal Hendrix fall semester. So on this eleventh day of my Winter Break, with most of my friends still not back from their respective colleges, it seems suitable for me to reflect on my time abroad. And since I didn't really celebrate Thanksgiving this year, it's time for me to be grateful, too.
I got into Conway at 10 p.m. on a Friday night, the day after I got back into the States. Two of my best friends were waiting for me in Couch lobby; they attacked me with hugs and then took my little suitcase up to their room. Unbeknownst to me, about twenty of my other best friends -- the whole crew -- were inside waiting to surprise me! Someone had even baked a cake! Ever predictable, I cried.
While I was away, Facebook had made it easier to keep in touch. I could see people's photos and write on their walls. But it's still pretty much of a gamble to leave for seven months after only knowing your friends for seven months. I don't play cards enough to make an extended gambling metaphor out of this, but I can say sincerely that I picked great friends.
I'm probably the only Hendrix student who was out of the loop about the whole Wellness & Athletic Center building project. I planned on remaining faithful to the old Mabee Center, since that's where the racquetball courts are. But during my visit to Hendrix, my dear friend Emily toured me through the new WAC. Did you know the roof above the swimming pool is retractable? And the treadmills have TVs attached to them?! Who needs an iPod, now? (Convenient, since mine just broke.)
As neat as it was to see the new things on campus -- the WAC and the labyrinth -- it was so nice to be back in my old haunts: MC Reynolds, Something's Brewing, El Acapulco, the Burrow. It was even nice to visit the library -- especially since I was already done with finals. It was nice to eat cafeteria food, nice to see the cafeteria ladies, nice to hope for one of the coveted disco trays. Nice to visit the Eco House and walk past the organic garden. Nice to be back.
Although it was amazing to reunite with friends and be back to the familiar, I can't thank Hendrix enough for giving me the opportunity to go abroad. I come from a Pell Grant family, and without Hendrix's generous financial aid, there's no way I could afford to go off gallivanting across Europe. The Hendrix-in-Madrid program was heavily subsidized by the college, and the Hendrix-in-London program allows you to use your traditional scholarships and grants. Plus, there are extra study abroad scholarships available through the Murphy program.
With all that help, my family was able to use some of the money we'd saved to allow me to travel on my own for a month, in between the two programs. Overall, while I was across the Atlantic I quintupled the number of countries I'd visited in my life, from three to fifteen!
I even bought a digital camera, to record all the good times. I took a few dozen of those photos and made some photo books as Christmas presents for relatives. Here's the link to an online copy of the book. (It will take you away from the blog unless you right click.) You may have to register with Snapfish.com in order to view them. I also apologize in advance for the photos with "low resolution not recommended" stamped across them.
While I'm at it, I want to thank Beth Tyler and the Admissions folks for giving me the opportunity to blog. I'm horrible at keeping a diary, so this gave me a reason to write about the adventures I was having. I also want to thank you for reading this! If you're a prospective student, I hope it gives you some insight into the fantastic adventures that you could have at Hendrix. If you're not a prospective student, I hope you find it worth your time nonetheless.
I expect I'll mostly be on hiatus during winter break, but I'll be back again next semester with more stories, more pictures, and more adventure. Until then, stay warm.
After 20 hours of travel, I arrived in St. Louis last night at 8:30 p.m. CST. My little brother and my dad met me at the airport and took me out to Imo's Pizza, where -- as planned several months ago -- I had a fantastic pineapple, green pepper, and onion thin crust pizza. I can't tell you how nice it is to be back in a country where pizza is eaten by hand! On Monday I went out to a nice London restaurant and ordered pizza; my wrists got sore from cutting the pizza with knife and fork. ... It was a big pizza.
On the flight to St. Louis, I was struck by how long it had been since I had met someone who knew where St. Louis was. What a shock, then, to be suddenly surrounded by dozens of people who not only knew where it was, but wanted to go there!
It was equally shocking to open my closet door this morning and see the beautiful, huge array of clothes! I've been wearing the same five shirts, three pants, and one poor pair of shoes for the past six months. Some had gotten so disgusting and worn that I didn't even bother bringing then back home. At travel expert Rick Steves's suggestion, I didn't bring any sweatshirts to Europe -- they're too bulky, and don't stay warm when wet. It's hard to decide whether I want to play dress-up with all my cute newly-discovered clothes, or if I'd rather just wear sweatshirts for the next month and a half. Hmm ...
I'm headed back to Hendrix today to visit all my friends I've missed for so long. In the airport last night, in front of my Dad, I accidentally referred to my trip to Hendrix as "going home". Oops!
And now, I bid you adieu so I can go unpack.
Step 1: Have two other super-long papers and a presentation due that week.
Step 2: Get no sleep for the few days before writing.
Step 3: Go through your entire iTunes collection, re-ranking the songs. Those songs you liked last year really don't deserve five stars anymore, you know?
Step 4: Now that your critical and analytical skills have been sharpened, it's time to practice grammar. Visit www.apostropheabuse.com to see some of the best of the worst.
Step 5: You've been working so hard for so long! It's time to take a break and do some Facebooking. Your friends probably think you're dead, you've been working for so long!
Step 6: Realize your paper is due in an hour, minus the time it takes to print and run to class.
Step 7: Cry.
I forgot to mention: after class yesterday, we all walked from the National Portrait Gallery, where we gave our final presentations, through Trafalgar Square, down to the Thames, and across to the London Eye. For our goodbye celebration we decided to take a ride on the London Eye as a group, to get one last, great view of our city as we prepared to leave it. This is the view of the Eye as we walked across the bridge toward it.
The Eye is the world's tallest observation tower, reaching 135 meters. If I had to be stuck 135 meters in the air, I'd pick these guys to accompany me. Aren't we cute?
We didn't spend the whole time posing for photos. Here's one I snapped of Big Ben and Parliament. I had never appreciated the full size of London before. It stretched as far as I could see-- which is apparently about 40 km on a clear day.
As our little pod crested and started its descent downward, the atmosphere in the pod became quieter and more somber, and people started discussing their plans to come back to London for grad school. I only have about 36 hours left in the city, and I still have to write that Shakespeare paper ... .
About two weeks ago, I wrote distressedly about the rigor of my academic life: a final presentation on Tuesday, a paper due on Wednesday, and another final presentation on Thursday. The horror! The horror! I slept so little during those few days that during my weekend trip to Paris, I fell asleep at 6 p.m. Friday night and didn't wake up until 7 the next morning.
I spent last week writing another paper and trying to recover from the week before. Oh, if only I had spent some of that week working on the work I have to do now! Monday: 1500-word paper and final presentation. Tuesday: 2500-word paper. Wednesday: final paper of unassigned length. Since it's Tuesday evening, I should be working on my last final paper, which is due tomorrow at 5 p.m. (In drastic situations like these, it's essential to know exactly what time the paper is due, so you can make use of every last second. I finished the paper I turned in today 15 minutes before I handed it in.) However, I'm still trying to recouperate from last night's all-nighter.
It was an unconventional form of all-nighter, and one that was very effective. Because London is pitch dark between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m., it's possible to take a late nap and convince oneself that you've had a full night's sleep and it's early morning already. My roommate and I pulled that trick today. After a three-hour nap last night, we awoke at 2 a.m. and started working. During the ensuing 11 hours, I crafted a well reasoned, well cited 14-page paper about the pros and cons of the license fee used to fund the BBC. (If you have any questions about that topic, let me know. I'm a veritable encyclopedia.)
Unfortunately, I only consumed a small bowl of cereal (ok ... and half a roll of ginger snaps ...) during that time. So when the professor who had assigned the paper took us out for a celebratory end-of-term pint, my usual pint of cider went quite a bit farther than usual. If you've taken an afternoon stroll around London while half-drunk, famished, and exhausted, I highly recommend it. The whole lot of us were a mess, all having procrastinated, all having stayed up all night, and all being equally knackered.
After a veggie burger and a delicious two-hour nap, I am largely recovered. Convenient, because I'm about to do it all again, this time for my Shakespeare class. Thankfully, I found a Longfellow quote to inspire me:
"The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night."
Except ... I don't think any of my companions are getting any sleep either.
Unfortunately, I didn't actually get to re-visit Cambridge. But I did ask Dave, my English host there, to take a look at my earlier blog post and add let me know if I'd missed anything. Here are all the things I didn't get right:
- For his trickery, I should have called him a suitably more forceful word than "jerk." He said he'd "prefer a more cutting insult." But I try to keep it PG for you folks, so I won't go with his suggestion.
- I forgot one of his most clever statements during posh-Dave mode. He lamented the lack of history of his particular college, Downing; it's a baby at 210 years. Immediately afterward, he inquired about the age of the United States, creating a brilliant juxtaposition. Terribly sorry I forgot that one, Dave. (I like to think my forgetfulness was symptomatic of the easygoing, forgiving nature of Americans.)
- I myself was tricky enough to get him back later. On Thursday morning, I convinced him that in the drunken haze of the night before, he had grossly offended his too-sweet-for-words friend James. Two points for America, my friends, bringing the score to a tie.
- If any stalker types want to trek to Cambridge and go everywhere I did, you'll want to make sure to walk through Kings, Clare, Downing, Queens, Corpus Christi, Pembrooke and past St. Katherines and Emanuel.
- "P.S. You can find loads of photos of Cambridge on the university website www.cam.ac.uk."
Thankfully Dave knows I'm just a dumb American, so he didn't hold any of my mistakes against me. The English are so merciful!
Today I went out on the town, more or less tracing (backwards) the steps I took on my first sightseeing walk through London. I started out at Westminster Abbey, which I had so far managed to neglect seeing. Conveniently enough, it was closed, so I may never get to see it. From there I headed north, passing Parliament, Big Ben, the Memorial to the Women of WWII, and Trafalgar Square. I spent a few hours in the National Portrait Gallery, the first museum I visited in London. It's probably my favorite, which made it the perfect choice for my final art history paper: an analysis of a London museum or gallery. After taking copious notes and photos -- and then getting in trouble for the latter -- I headed north up Charing Cross.
I walked the infamous orange bargain bookstore, where three months ago I bought all the Shakespeare texts I'd need. This time, I bought a book for the flight home. I came in with an open mind, wandering around the shop, waiting for something to catch my fancy. Bill Bryson's Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States was the first to. Bill Bryson is always an informative, entertaining read -- not too technical, but not too shallow. An audiobook copy of his Neither Here Nor There: Travels through Europe accompanied me on my trips this summer, and a paperback of Notes on a Big Country helped me pass the time on a flight to Belgium. Another Bryson book seemed the perfect way to end my travels, and I hoped this one would help me fall back in love with my homeland.
I had almost made it to the cash register before I had a look inside to make sure it was The One. ... It wasn't. The font was awful, the letters were tiny but too bold, and the line spacing was far too tight. Perhaps I'd have bought it anyway, if it were for class or research. But a pleasure book must be easily readable. I put Made in America back down and picked up The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America. After skimming the back cover, I deemed it too depressing and exchanged it for A Short History of Nearly Everything. It was too expensive and too large, but the font and subject were better. I bought it.
The new book and I made our way up Tottenham Court Road together and passed through the local Sainsbury's grocery store, perhaps for the last time. (It was the first place in London I bought groceries. ::Sniff::) Now, I'm off to my last Saturday night dinner in London. It's all much too soon.