Friday, May 29, 2009

Back to America

Study abroad advisors prepare students for the three phases of study abroad: One, honeymoon stage, "Oh how cute they drive on the other side of the road!" Two, bitterness and anger: "WTF, why do they do everything wrong and drive on the wrong side?" Three, acceptance, "I don't know why they do it, but I'll learn to look left...bloody hell." What they don't prepare you for is the last stage, the culture shock you experience in your home country.

I didn't think I'd have much of a problem adjusting to life in good ole' Detroit. I consider myself a pretty adaptable person. The trip home though set me straight.

The 12-hour plane ride from London to Chicago to Detroit wasn't a comfortable, reclining chair affair. I was sitting in my un-cushioned, blue chair that seemed to bend more forward than backward, with Vanity Fair and a pile of Cadbury eggs on my lap, trying to reason myself that going home to Detroit would be Ok and that London sucks, when Little Miss Alma College Sweatshirt with the worst Michigan accent I've ever heard hovers over me.

"You're gonna haave to move. I need to sit there," she said haughtily. 

I said nothing, moved, and gritted my teeth as Miss Alma pushed her way in, plopping her big behind right next to me and her Coach purse against my ankles. Here's America, ladies and gentlemen. I sat back in my forward chair, popped a Cadbury egg and turned on my iPod. Simon and Garfunkel's "America" came on. I tried not to cry, but an overwhelming desire to sob and punch Miss Alma came over me. America here I come.

The rest of the trip was spent playing Evil Eye Tag with Miss Alma as she didn't have any concept of personal space and would bonk, shove and elbow me the entire trip. I huddled to the edge of my uncomfortable chair for eight hours, in between defiantly taking over her arm rest.

I believe I cried 10 times on that trip. Three times during Bridewars, The Office episode when Jim finally asks Karen out on a date and in He's Just Not That Into You, because he just wasn't into got pathetic.

I felt removed from where I was going, apprehensive of landing and wishing I was back with Big Ben. 

Over the past week things have gotten much better, and I haven't cried during The Office since. Still, things are different. Being around Midwestern accents and Bob Evans is a bit jarring after hearing Colin Firth talkers for five months. 

Here are a few things I miss about the UK:

1. "Cheers." I miss hearing this after I bag my own groceries, pay for something, trip, wink, eat, whatever. It has such a nice ring to it.

2. Pounds. I don't miss the conversion rate, but I miss how regal their money looks. It's thick, unmistakably British, and you feel like a Brit carrying them around. 

3. Cadbury eggs. I love them. I think they are now appearing like tumors all over my body, but they taste good.

4. Public transportation. Double decker buses, efficient trains, cleanliness...ahh...

5. Cajun Squirrel Potato Chips, Chili and Chocolate Potato Chips and my favorite, Crispy Duck & Hoisin Flavour Potato Chips. Just kidding. But they are a great representative of English food. What will they think of next?

6. Strongbow. Hello, my name is Rosemary Lane and I am, addicted to Strongbow. It's amazing. Strongbow is a cheap, hard cider that tastes like apple juice and champagne combined. I just found it by my house and I think I almost slapped the salesman out of joy.

7. Iranian-Kurdish-Swedish roommate hacking up phlegm every morning. Enough said.

8. Taxis. The taxis look like elegant, black Volkeswagens. I feel like James Bond every time I ride in them...and they don't have enough money pay...

9. The drinking age. God bless that drinking age. And taking two classes. And having a month and a half off to study for one final. And the drinking age. Amazing.

10. The people. Cheesy to end with that one on No. 10, but I met awesome roommates and friends that I'll keep in touch with. You get to know people fast when traveling, and I'll never forgot my time there. 

Things I won't miss (short list):

1. English food. I still don't understand "mushy peas" (literally, mashed up peas), why chicken has to taste like my stale flat and why there are no preservatives in bread.

2. Bad teeth. It's true.

3. Driving on the wrong side of the road. 

4. My Iranian-Kurdish-Swedish roommate hacking up phlegm every morning.

5. Bagging your own bags at Tesco and then paying for it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

First Taste of English Exams

The University of Kent in Canterbury give its students the entire month of April off to study. All of April off. Hear that American schools? Which means English kids dutifully head to the library every day to "revise" and American kids go on European grand "backpacking" tours to Barcelona, Brussels and Santorini. Living the life.

I'm not excepted from this either. From April 1st, I left the UK and headed to the Eiffel Tower, the Ponte Vecchio, the Grand Canal, the Berlin Wall and the gyro capital of the world/slightly dangerous protest city/Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants set (Athens and Santorini).

When I returned, I spent the end of April doing nothing and most of May doing nothing, while English kids scurried off to "revise," English for study. On the day before my exam, I finally picked up my books and made my one trip to the library for a hellish day of I Told You Rosemary You Should Have Been Studying All Of April And All Of May Instead of Watching The Hills Every Day reminders to myself.

My grades don't count, so I wasn't that worried for exam day, but English kids were. They clumped outside the exam hall an hour before, smoking, heads bent over notes, quizzing each other on the answers, "Marketing, Premium...what's the other one? Bloody hell what's the other one?... Oh, enterprise!" (Those probably aren't the exact words).

You aren't allowed to bring anything into the exam hall except writing utensils, ID, a cell phone turned off and a jacket. One girl had a few extra items in a zip locked bag as if she were going through security at the airport.

My exam was in the Sports Centre. About 200 desks covered the basketball court in an orderly fashion. I had an assigned seat and my test was already propped on my desk. I felt like I was taking the SAT all over again as kids sat quietly with their hands folded, a sense of anxiety pervading the hall. Then a loud speaker out of Star Wars or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World booms "There will be no smoking." Duh. Then other directions. Then, "It is now 9:30. Begin." Woah! I'm used to starting at your leisure. But it was the SAT; people picked up their pencils and began.

Proctors prowl the aisles like stormtroopers in Star Wars during the entire three hour exam. Five minutes in one stormtrooper told me my jacket had to be under desk, not on the back of my chair. I'm sorry but I don't know how to tuck an entire essay in my thin, Old Navy throw that I would wear to the beach. Chill, stormtrooper.

I left the hall an hour before the 200 other kids taking exams, which is a little worrisome. But I strolled home excited to watch The Hills, maybe eat a pie and continue doing diddlysquat.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Canterbury Checklist

For the past three weeks, I've been doing nothing. Absolutely nothing. And it feels wonderful. I have nowhere to go, no grimy backpack to lug, no train to Potsdam to catch, no impending shower to take (well, maybe yes to the last one).

I've enjoyed getting up at 12:45, lounging in moccasins and a College t-shirt all day, watching endless rounds of The Hills, Gossip Girl and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. Add in cheese and crackers and a pot of nutella? Heaven. 

But as my time in Canterbury dwindles, I'm realizing I still have a ton I need to see. Screw The Hills, I have a English checklist to complete.

Here is the checklist, checked and unchecked.

1. Afternoon Tea at Harrods. Check. 

I half expected to run into Queen Elizabeth or Joan Rivers. For a 
21 pound tea (yikes), we
 were served salmon and cucumber finger sandwiches, raison scones and miniature fruit pies. Our waiter introduced our tea like a wine coinoisseur, describing the Georgian tea's "oakey" taste as he elegantly poured it from the sparkling silver kettle. Plus, the meal was all you can eat (I later had to unbutton my pants during the meal).  

Afterwards, we scoured Harrods' bajillion floors, gawked at the glass-caged, 1,000 pound Lady and the Tramp puppies (who are "socialized" every hour), supervised by the Pet Concierge, then checked out
 Armani jackets for two-year-olds and sprayed Harrods perfumes all over our bodies. When at Harrods...

2. Mousetrap. Check

No, we do not have mice in our house (just creepy worm-like creatures with suction cups that like to attach to my computer cord and don't move until my Swedish-Kuridsh-Iranian roommate, who was in the middle of waxing his upper arms, forcefully removed it). 
I'm talking about the play. The longest running play in England. Fifty-seven years. A murder mystery. And it's by Agatha Christie. I thought it had to be good.

Wrong. Unfortunately the Mousetrap's writing seems to be stuck in Pleasantville, 1950. And the suspense? The murder? Letdown. But I can't say more, the murderer told the audience to "intertwine the secret in our hearts." 

3. Camden Market, London. Check.
My roommates and I hit up where People magazine often captures Mischa Barton strolling. The giant market is full of tattoo parlors, leather shops, knock-off Ray Ban sunglass stands, Indian food, and headbands with giant white birds attached to them. 

We grabbed Styrofoam plates of chicken tikka marsala and lay down in nearby Regents Park to settle our hung-over stomachs. Always a good cure. Mischa probably does it too.

4. Run to Whitstable. Check.

Today I ran the five and a half, six or seven miles to Whitstable, a nearby seaside town. All the mile makers and the Internet report different distances from Canterbury to Whitstable, so I'll just go with seven miles.  Along the way, I found convenient excuses to walk, like, "a bug just flew up my nose!" or "my phone just dropped!" or "look at this view!" But I made it, bug and all.

5. Oxford. No check.

This is absolutely necessary. My roommate says if I die on this trip, she'll carry my ashes to Oxford. A little morbid, I know. But I'm longing to see Harry Potter's lunch room, mingle with Dumbledore and feel smart for the day.