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8.27.2011

Days 6-9: (Old) York

On Wednesday morning at 9:50, we were lined up outside our hostel for our private coach bus... which didn't arrive until 11:30. A group of us sang some a capella music, which made it a fun wait, despite the fact that it was slightly chilly and a little rainy. We climbed gratefully aboard the cozy coach and drove to Hadrian's Wall, where we had a tour and some free time before driving on to York.

The Ace York hostel was kind of fancy-looking, which was cool. It was also kind of creepy due to a number of bizarre plaques that said stuff like "Lord Somebody and Lady Somebody Else conceived their only child, Mildred, in this room in 1XXX" and "So-and-so and other so-and-so were caught copulating in this room by their servant. Although she swore to protect their secret, her body was found in the river a month later." That really helps you get to sleep at night!

While in York, we toured York Minster. I discovered that I am a huge fan of guided tours, especially when the tour guides is English. Our lady had such cute phrases and a quirky sense of humor! The stained glass was AMAZING, and it was so interesting to hear about how the church survived centuries of challenges, from arson to the threat of bombing during the war.

We also had the opportunity to attend Evensong, which was one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. At the Minster, you can also go to the basement and see the Roman headquarters that were in place many years before and were below ground level by the time the Minster was built. I saw a marble statue of Constantine's head down there, which was really cool in light of Misc 224:7. 

My last highlight from our time in York was just wandering along the streets. I came across a thrift store whose profits are donated to a good cause. I bought two cute scarves for two quid 20 p (two pounds and twenty pence) each, and a nice button down shirt for four quid. Not bad! My last lunch in York was a chocolate and banana crepe, a lemon muffin, a vanilla slice, and a chocolate cupcake. I had to share the cupcake with a friend because everything was so sweet. I had tried to leave room for dessert all week, but never could, so I finally decided to go all out. This was not the first time I'd had dessert as my meal, but it would be the last... at least until we got back to Oxford!

8.24.2011

Days 3-5: Lessons Learned in Keswick

After attending a lovely Christian Science service in Oxford on Sunday morning, we traveled by train and bus to Keswick, which is part of England's gorgeous Lake District. A friend and I enjoyed a few hours on the first train ride putting together readings for our Wednesday evening testimony meeting. We focused on Psalm 91 and the story of the Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace. Throughout the second train ride, I marked my books and chatted with a new friend while engaging in occasional witty banter with some friends behind us through the crack between our seats. The final leg of our journey was a fifty minute bus ride, and I was unconscious for about forty of it. In a delirious moment between naps, I looked out my window and saw a huge hill cloaked in mist, grayish-green in the twilight. The first thought I had as I stepped off the bus was, "Wow! I already understand Wordsworth better!"

I think it will be easiest to describe my two days and three nights in Keswick in terms of the lessons I learned, so here goes.

Lesson One: Ask before you order. Yay, me for trying new things! Silly me for ordering a "garlic bread pizza," which turned out to be garlic bread cut in slices like a pizza. No cheese. No sauce. Six pounds. (That was how much it cost, not how much weight I gained by eating it.) Recovery: I used the marinara left over from a friend's meal to turn my appetizer/side into a meal.

Lesson Two: Bring a Camera. Obvious, right? Well, I didn't bring one on our Monday morning hike to the Castlerigg stone circle, which was created around 3000 BC. It was a beautiful hike, and although I was glad to experience the people and the scenery with my eyes instead of my camera lens, I would have enjoyed taking a few pictures of my own. Recovery: I had a friend take a fun picture of me with her camera, and I now take my camera in my purse wherever I go.

Lesson Three: Have some bonding time with a friend in a way that connects with his or her area of expertise. This is a lesson I learned by doing it right. Hurrah! On Tuesday, we were free between breakfast and 7:30 PM. Heidi asked us at breakfast if anyone wanted to go with her to see William Wordsworth's homes. (Dr. Heidi Snow, one of the two professors leading our abroad, is the reason I am an English major; her classes are the most interesting and most challenging I have ever taken.) I was the only student to take her up on her offer and BOY, AM I GLAD I DID! We took a bus to Grasmere. (Quick side story: we waited in a queue for the bus, and when it arrived about 15 feet away from where it was expected, the queue snaked around gracefully so that those in the front of the line could still get on first. SO different from the American scramble! Queue-jumping is a major violation of the unspoken rules of English culture.)

Dove Cottage
Back to the Wordsworth story... Heidi and I had plenty of time to chat during our two bus rides, the walk to Dove Cottage, the hike between Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount, and the hike back to the bus stop. We talked about everything from Wordsworth's writing process and his sister's clothing to the merits of the Restorative Justice system at Principia and which shop in Grasmere sold the most authentic gingerbread. We paid to walk through the garden at Rydal Mount, where we enjoyed lunch and Heidi read a few of Wordsworth's poems. A marine biologist on his first trip to the ocean after years studying at Sea World might understand what it was like to be an English Literature major in the Lake District. It was especially fun to share that day with Heidi after taking six amazing classes from her.

Lesson Four: Bring an extra camera battery. Again with the camera lessons, but, hey, I'm learning! During my Wordsworth trip with Heidi, I took two pictures of a hilarious sheep and three pictures of Dove Cottage before my camera battery died. It gave me a nice opportunity to have no reaction whatsoever because there was nothing constructive I could do about it. I was disappointed, but I committed myself to taking some mental pictures as we enjoyed our day. Recovery: Heidi had an iPad with her, courtesy of Principia, so we figured out how to email ourselves a few pictures we took.

Lesson Five: Yes, you are supposed to tip at English restaurants. Oh, dear. I'm pretty embarrassed about this one. On Monday night, we ate at an Italian restaurant. One of our party was convinced that, in England, you are not supposed to tip your waiter. We believed this easily because the English can be a little uncomfortable dealing with money, especially in service situations, partly because they don't like to focus on anything related to class differences. For example, after ordering a drink at a bar, you say "...and one for yourself," indicating a tip, after which the bartender adds the price of a drink (his tip) to your tab. Although we won't have the opportunity to try this, we have joked about saying "and one for yourself" after ordering fish and chips. Ha! Anyhow, we found it believable that the tip might be included in the price of the food, just as the tax is already included. So we didn't tip our waiter.

The following night at the same restaurant with a slightly different group of students, we debated again about tipping. I was concerned that if they avoided the whole tipping process on purpose, it might be offensive to leave an extra tip - it might communicate, "I feel bad for you; you're a waitress and are therefore more deserving of this pound I can so willingly spare." So, again, we didn't tip. Eager to double check the validity of the course of inaction I had promoted, I asked Heidi and Chrissy about it. To my dismay, they said you are supposed to tip waitstaff about 10% at a sit-down restaurant. Recovery: I ran back to the restaurant and, apologizing, overtipped our waitress. Then I found a waiter who had been there the night before and falteringly tried to identify who our waiter had been the night before. I left him a sizable tip with a few waiters and fled, quite embarrassed but still glad to make things right.

Lesson Six: Speak English, laugh American. On Tuesday night, we went to a production of Noises Off at the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick. It was absolutely hilarious and very well-acted. During the first act, I noticed that after every funny moment on stage, the English audience members laughed, but nowhere near as loudly as our group did. I was already a little concerned about our volume level in general, as most English folk are pretty quiet and polite in public. I saw a number of other audience members giving our group a look after each burst of hilarity. I talked to the students around me, asking whether they thought we should attempt to mellow our laughter a little bit. The general consensus was that we should just enjoy ourselves, so I backed off.

After a hilarious third act, the audience was invited to stay for a talk-back with the actors. We eagerly moved to the first few rows and, along with about thirty other audience members, asked some questions about the play, the theatre, the actors, etc. At one of their witty answers, we all burst out laughing, and the actors gestured excitedly at one of our party. "That's him!" they said, "There's always one laugh we can pick out of the audience, and yours was it tonight! You have a wonderful laugh!" We jokingly apologized for being such a loud group of Americans, but they quickly stopped us, explaining that they absolutely love to have a crowd that is into the show. Occasionally, they have a very quiet audience, and it becomes difficult to keep the momentum going onstage. We were all cracking up at this fun feedback, and I was relieved to be proven wrong again. Recovery: I apologized to the few people with whom I had discussed our noise level during the show and expressed how overjoyed I was at being wrong. It was a fantastic conclusion to a laughter-filled night!

All in all, it was a wonderful half-week in Keswick. I definitely learned a lot and enjoyed every minute of our time there. In some ways, the Lake District was the "true England" I was hoping to experience on this abroad. Maybe I'll be back someday!

Hiking with Heidi near Wordsworth's home in Grasmere.

8.20.2011

Day 2 - An Atypical Stag Night

Three girls and I went to the Four Candles pub for dinner. I saved our table while my friends went to the bar to order our food (fish and chips for me). I observed a group of men in their late twenties/early thirties, one of whom was obviously having his stag night (bachelor party). He was dressed in an inappropriate "French maid" costume, complete with a bow on his head, and had a beer mug taped to one hand and a large rubber male organ taped to the other. A few minutes later, I saw that he and one of his friends were talking to one of my friends who was still standing at the bar! I walked down to see if she needed rescuing.

As I approached them, I heard them offer her alcohol. She said that she didn't drink. "Now's a great time to start!" they offered. "It's actually against the laws of our school," she said.  I greeted them and added, "It's actually against our religion, too." "And what religion is that?" "Christian Science." "Those two words don't go together."

Their genuine interest led to about twenty minutes of friendly and earnest conversation about Christian Science. We talked about the Bible, the Genesis 1 and 2 creation stories, Jesus, the pool of Bathesda, alcohol's influence on our ability to think and pray, angel messages, synonyms for God, the kindheartedness of those in the medical field, the "what would you do if's" of Christian Science, the assertion that God created medicine for man's betterment, the problem of evil, the devil, the benevolence and omnipotence of God, the merits of allowing children to grow into their faith, etc. For parts of the conversation, each of us talked with one of the men, while during other portions all four of us spoke together.

It turns out that these men were graduates of the University of Oxford; both are scientists, and one does research to develop new medicines! They enjoyed challenging us and learning about our perspectives to the extent that they gently avoided returning to their drinking party, members of which came up occasionally to persuade then to return. When we finally said goodbye, the friend of the creatively dressed "stag" said to me, "I hope someday if you get really sick and your religion doesn't heal you, that you'll turn to medicine." I said, "Thank you. Likewise; I hope if the medical field ever says, 'Sorry, there's nothing more we can do', you'll consider Christian Science." He said, "I definitely will." And we parted ways.

Just in case this seemed as out-of-the-blue to you as it did to me, here's a tidbit more from our evening:
As we were walking out of the pub, a pair of men (maybe mid-thirties?) stopped us, asking us if it was our first day in Oxford. We had a friendly chat and asked them if there were any local places we should check out when we returned to Oxford. They listed a number of pubs and dance clubs. "Any places for activities other than drinking?" I asked. "Who said anything about drinking?" one guy joked. "Why not drinking?" "Well, we don't drink because of our religion," I explained. "What religion is that?" "Christian Science." There was a brief pause, in which we prepared ourselves for the usual response.

"Mary Baker Eddy?" one man asked. "Yes!" we said, delighted. "Yeah, we walked past that Christian Science Reading Room back there", he said, gesturing down the road. The other man said something about Scientology and the first man said something to the effect of, "No, Christian Science is totally different than Scientology. Scientology is that wacky religion for Hollywood Movie Stars." It was quite a fun moment, and although we didn't talk much longer, it was fun to hear that someone had an idea of where we were coming from.

Not exactly what we expected to experience in an English pub!

8.19.2011

Day 1 - Fly me to England

From my journal:
<<< Here I am on a plane thousands of feet above the Atlantic Ocean, on my way to spend over seven weeks in England. I've been aware of this moment for years now - as a dream, a potential, an expectation, and now, finally, a reality. This is the beginning of what will hopefully be a lifelong adventure outside of my comfort zone. Comfort zone, really? More like the teeny box of life experiences I've had thus far. I want to recognize that through a reliance on the Comforter (Christian Science), my comfort zone can include every right, good, selfless, challenging, growth-promoting activity. I don't want to limit myself even by my own human will or mortal tastes - those just aren't mine and don't need to govern me! I want this trip to be about living selflessly. I want to care more about my peers than about myself. I want to be quieter, more thoughtful. I want to maximize my moments, create time to study, reach out to God, and support others. Because this desire is in line with "unselfed love" I know it will "[receive] directly the divine power" (Science and Health 192).

Okay, as inspiring as I just attempted to be, I'm not done writing... While eating a mini pizza on the plane, I got a chunk of tomato in one bite - the kind of thing I'd usually just put back on the plate. Instead, I heard my own encouraging voice in my head: "That's right, H-ie! It's a tomato!" and then I ate it. Great progress, self! I also ate a salad with pepper cream dressing; the fact that I even opened the dressing package impressed me enough to eat the whole salad. Not bad - sort of like ranch dressing's mild but classy big sister.  >>>

Moments when I got a little giddy: when the plane started circling the airport (I literally clapped my hands), when I saw the sign for "lifts" and "authorised personnel only"in the airport, when I saw Ali Bradshaw (my first familiar face abroad), when Ali's dad asked, "why is everyone queuing up over there?", when Ali's rabbit starting running on my feet under the breakfast table (which means it wants attention), when a taxi found me after I realized I didn't know how to find a taxi, and when I saw my abroad group!