Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Academics,Jack the Ripper, and Chocolate

Last day of orientation, at least for the before-university part. We had a discussion about academics today, mostly how English academics differ from American academics. I was surprised to learn that if I get a 68% here, it’s something to be proud of; 35% to 70% are passing marks at university. Back home, that would be barely passing!

Academics here are, in general, much more self-motivated. While in America, we get handed the night’s/week’s homework, we were told today that at our universities here, we’ll be given the syllabus at the beginning with a giant reading list and we’re expected to basically do what’s there on our own. Obviously, we have lectures (which can be near 200 students) and tutorials (smaller groups that discuss class topics), but for the most part, we need to do the work on our own. This includes reading at least most of the suggested reading list. I’m kind of worried about this part. I’m a good student and am very self-motivated, but that’s been in the system I’m used to. It might be nothing here. Who knows?

(Random fact: In America, “college” and “university” are used synonymously. However, here this level of education is known only as “university”- it’s not even called “school.” In England, college is a program that comes before university, and “school” is primary school.)

After the general academics talk, we were split up into our university groups for more specific information. Tomorrow at eleven a.m., I’ll leave the hotel to move into Queen Mary University. That’s all there is on tomorrow’s schedule, but Friday, we meet with our academic advisors here. We also have to personally go to our teachers and have them sign our course selection sheet so we can officially take their class. This doesn’t all have to be done in one day, but I hope it goes smoothly no matter how many days it takes; we were told that registration is one of the most frustrating things we’ll face. But QMUL sounds great- it’s one of the few schools with a big study abroad program, which means that the people who work there are aware of our presence and the fact that we might have questions.

Also at this meeting, we were given our assignments for homestay! While some non-QMUL people are doing their homestay this weekend, we’re doing ours in two weekends (the 14th-16th.) Two Arcadia students are going to one home, but we didn’t even know who this person would be. Thankfully, my other person is Adrienne, which will make things a little more comfortable. We’re going to be spending the weekend in Herne Bay with a family of three, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Once this meeting was dismissed, we were free for the day. Adrienne, Laura, and I decided to go to Queen Mary and check it out, even though we’ll be moving there tomorrow. We took the tube to the Mile End station and walked to the university, which is much closer than the map shows. We’re actually almost equidistant from two tube stations, and only a bit further from another, as well as many bus stops, so we have lots of travel options.

I really like Queen Mary’s campus. It’s one of the few universities that has an actual campus that is all in one area. We have a really nice area with all of the residence halls, a student union, two cafes/eateries, a small shop, and two laundry rooms, among other things. We checked out a few of these (no pictures yet). We looked at our dorm building, which is many stories high and located by a small man-made river, which runs down an entire one side of campus and will be very nice when it gets warmer. Stopping in the on-campus store, we were very pleased with what we found- not only well-priced notebooks, pens, and binders, but lots and lots of cheap food; everything from candy to fruit, ice cream to eggs to frozen French fries, cereal to kits to make fajitas. And, forgetting where I was for a moment, I was surprised to see that they also sold alcohol and tobacco there, too! The store is going to be a great resource, especially because it’s so reasonably priced. I’m also grateful to all of these cheap food options because most of my current money is being spent on eating out, as only one meal a day is provided at the moment.

We wandered out of this area and down the street towards more of the campus, looking for the humanities building (we never found it.) There was a store that was more like the one we have at Arcadia, which sold books, school supplies, cards, candy, and drinks. The campus ended soon after that, but we walked a long way down the street, where I found a phone shop and bought the cell phone that I’ll use while over here. It’s the tiniest phone I’ve ever owned, but though it is small, it is very loud and loves to let out triumphant music whenever I receive any sort of message. I’m still trying to figure out how it works, since I’ve never had a phone from this company before (T Mobile.)

It was about 2:30 by this point and we were all very hungry. It took us a long time to get to a place to eat because we had to change tube lines and then found out that the one we had planned to get out at was closed, so we grabbed a quick bite at Pret a Manger, since we would have to eat again in just a few hours if we wanted to be on time for the optional guided tour.

Though London isn’t terribly small, it’s incredible how much you can cover with a combination of the tube and your own feet. We had walked at least a mile away from Queen Mary before we took the tube and after that, walked a good deal more and ended up at the Tower of London. We walked around that area for a bit, oohing and ahhing at the Tower Bridge all lit up at “night” (this photo was taken at 4:30. It gets dark really early here.)

We got dinner at Strada, which is a delicious pizza place (which is also in NYC and possibly elsewhere.) We got there a bit earlier than we’d planned, but it was good we did, because I think it had just opened, so the service was a bit slow while they got everything ready for the evening. Since there weren’t many people there, we hung out for nearly two hours, eating and talking and then trying to figure out the money again. I’m sure by the end of the week, we’ll be used to the system, but right now, we’re still fumbling around with the many coins and multi-colored bills.
There were two optional walking tours tonight: one of Westminster (including the Abbey, I think) and the West End, and a Jack the Ripper tour. While I am very interested in the West End, it’s something you can easily do on your own (in fact, Adrienne, Laura, and I were in that area last night,) so the three of us opted for the Jack the Ripper tour. A lot of people had expressed interest in going on this one, so I expected there to be a huge crowd, but by that point, it was really cold and I think that drove a lot of people away; there were only twenty three in our group.

Though it was very cold, the tour was really interesting and our tour guide was great. I only knew the very basic story of Jack the Ripper, so it was cool to learn more of the details… and a little gross.

So now I’m back at the hotel, watching a history show (they have good ones here- I had planned to go to bed early last night, but then a show came on about the Victorian era) and eating chocolate. I have to say I do like the texture of the chocolate here better than my local Hershey’s, but never will I ever give up Hershey’s for good!

I don’t know when I’ll next be able to update- I’ve been told that the internet isn’t always the best at the universities.


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