Not resolutions…but resolutions

I always cringe at the idea of New Years’ Resolutions. I mean, think about it- the idea that anything can be truly resolved in a year is a funny one. Often people choose the same resolution again and again and again because they still haven’t resolved the one from last year. But these are 10 ‘ideas’ of things I want to ‘achieve’ or focus on this 2nd semester and because it has a definite end period, I guess I can find some sort of peace with resolving to follow them for the next 5 months. For some the success can be measured (how many cm can my nails grow?), others I’ll just have a shot at following with no distinct measure of success or failure. So no failure, just an attempt at building my own little philosophies to get me through.

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(A picture of me and my New Years’ kiss, in keeping with the theme)

  1. To stop biting my nails

I have always bitten my nails from since I can remember. I distinctly remember one time in my life when the cuticles went past the tips of my fingers and the pride I felt in this achievement. I’d love to feel the same sense of accomplishment again one day… I can’t remember another moment quite like it.

2. To cook more

Every time I do cook for myself or with a friend, I will sit down on the sofa in my homestay, perhaps put on Netflix and feel so settled and content and ‘at home’. Often any anxieties or stresses of the day can disappear while I have a little escapism through a film or TV episode (‘Friends’ if I don’t have much time!) and curl up with my/our food thinking “I am a culinary genius” or “I am the best chef I know” (P.S. I have even convinced some meat-eaters of the wonders of the vegetarian curry 😉 )

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3. To play my violin

I felt like I was conquering America, or at least Boston, striding through the airports with a violin in my hand. Unfortunately, airport staff thought so too and I was questioned many a time on “what’s in the case?”. However, now I have an instrument with me, I need to make the most of playing it! Hoping to join an orchestra- would be great to find some chamber opportunities too, or the Breakfast and music ‘Jammin’ Toast’ sessions perhaps.

4. To get off campus to a cafe somewhere in Boston to sit and write at least once a week

Cafe study/essay writing sessions are always something I enjoy doing and also find to be incredibly productive. Perhaps the added pressure of spending $4 on a coffee spurs me on to new heights in terms of focus and output. However, I would also like to creatively write for my playwriting class and being in a neutral space will help with feeling more relaxed and inspired…at least I’m hoping so.

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5. To not take it upon myself to save ALL the food waste on campus

As noble as this can be, and as appreciated as it was last term among my fellow internationals, it also became a little over-the-top, to the extent that I’d be eating the same sandwich three times over 2 days because I picked up all the ones being chucked out at the end of a Hillside shift to prevent them going to waste. But feeling a little ill by the third slightly off sandwich and not enjoying my lunch breaks actually negate the whole “not going to waste” desire, because it is going to waste in a way by not making me feel too good. Therefore, the ‘cooking more’ aim will help me to just enjoy the food more with more energy and feeling healthier and more in control in a happy, positive way. However, I will still be taking the 3 ends of the Hillside loaves that are too small for sandwiches and making my own mini loaves of bread-  I’m not quite turning my back on my free supermarket I’ve developed for myself!

6. To do something more concrete about the waste on campus

Watch this space. Not sure what form this will take but there’s other people who hugely care too and I will be getting in contact!

7. To not allow myself to be crippled by my extrovertedness

I’ve realised that although I absolutely love being an extrovert and loving so many people and getting my energy from being around all the wonderful people I’m lucky enough to have in my life (cheesey but true and genuine), I have also noticed how I can sometimes turn that into a pressure to get on really well with EVERYONE. And if I struggle to click with someone, I can blame myself and my inability to be the person that the other person would get on with better, OR I’ll become frustrated by my own judgements and decisions that make me choose to not be with someone because I’m an extrovert and therefore need to be friends with everyone and with everyone ALL THE TIME… So *deep breath* because while I feel like I click with a lot of people here, there are some people I won’t be best friends with and that’s ok. Because it’s natural to get on with some people more than others. Life lesson #101.

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Joy of a new vegan discovering the three bean chilli

8. Equally to be ok with spending time on my own

Being in a homestay in a suburb where no other international exchange students live, far away from all off-campus students and living on a different schedule to my non-student family can sometimes feel a little isolating. (Especially when there’s a foot of snow and it’s minus 26 degrees CELCIUS!) But I think it’s actually a really good opportunity for me to start feeling ok about (maybe even enjoying *GASP*) spending time with myself and being alone. The world’s my oyster! I could read a book, or watch something on TV or my lovely American family’s Netflix, (still yet to watch a TV series while at university so life goals..) and not feel like I need to be connected to everyone all of the time. So spending time alone also includes putting down my phone and not instantly messaging people or finding a friend to call (particularly as those I want to catch up with are long asleep by the time I’m home to relax after a day’s work)

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9. To ‘do me’

“Do you boo” is a piece of wisdom from a best friend in sixth form/last years of high school that I have always under appreciated..until now! When asking myself what I want to do, I am going to actually properly think about what I want to do, not what I think I should do, or even what I should want to do. I can be old-fashioned or cliche or extra or nerdy and all the above options are ok. Cause they are parts of me that I want to just celebrate with no inhibitions anymore.

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(To be completely honest- I want to be a fairy)

10. To make the absolute most of being in America for another semester!

The other day, walking round in -15 degrees, it suddenly hit me (the wind chill was FREEZING)- I’m in America again! Because I’m on the other side of the world, in a different time zone, saying that I wear pants and walking on a sidewalk all over again- and how lucky am I to be studying at an American college for another semester?! So I’m just going to enjoy it, build on friendships from last term, learn more both inside and outside the classroom, challenge myself to be spontaneous, AND make plans, go travelling, find myself and lose myself all over again, and be truly myself …only in the US.

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P.S. This month I have been participating in RED January, doing some form of exercise every day in a way that is beneficial for my mental health. Giving myself time to do something for myself has always been something I know is important but don’t always prioritise. If you would like to donate, below is the link for my just giving page. 1 pound or dollar can go a long way and help motivate me for the second half of this month, particularly when trekking through the snow counts as my daily exercise (my legs ache from the effort!)

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/red-january-2019-e5965aa4-e035-4b6f-9657-ee762b447fca

All proceeds go to MIND: the UK mental health charity

https://www.mind.org.uk/redjanuary 

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Don’t let me drone on…

“I was a Gatwick survivor”

I write this now, 3 weeks after the traumatic event, having just about caught up on sleep before becoming jet lagged once again. I consider this a remarkably quick recovery period. Me and my fellow passengers joked that the scenario would become a funny story in about 2 Christmases’ time. I’ve just about got over the rawness of the event… or enough to write this anyway.

Okay, perhaps I’m exaggerating slightly, but consider this: 36 hours on public transport after 2 weeks of American college ‘finals’ when I was functioning on an average of around 4 hours a sleep per night, and maybe you can forgive this slight, well medium sized demand for attention and pity!

Here is the story of my journey Boston-Gatwick via Paris, Calais and Dover!

The day of my flight from Boston, I woke up feeling very jittery and anxious, probably a result of too little sleep for too many days and the emotions of saying goodbye to all the wonderful international friends only doing 1 semester in Boston.

I managed to drag myself out of bed at 6:15am and got to work with a cheesecake and signed card in hand to give as a thank you to the staff team from all of us international students working at the café (the manager himself was surprised by how many there are of us now!). It was rather an emotional last shift, the last time for a while that I will have seen two of my co-workers and fellow internationals who are in at least in the “top twenty, if not the top ten” (as my Kiwi friend said to me!) of my friends at BC! But Spain really isn’t that far, and I have plans for NZ..! Also, have to say, despite the overload of emotions, and my nerves about flying, the omelettes were cracking that morning!

I then went home to finish packing and relax and sort out cupboards and freezers and do my washing and all those wonderful tasks, while mixing in a bit of yoga to try and calm the swirling anxiety in my stomach about flying (I was sooooo nervous and didn’t know why- weird premonition perhaps?!) while watching The Great British Baking Show to gently reintroduce myself to British culture, soggy bottoms and all..

Had a very interesting Uber ride which I treated myself to, given the unreliability of the Boston public transport T-Line (for details see previous blog!). The driver had been a professional footballer in Spain in the 80s. I sadly left my scarf behind in the Uber but fortunately had everything else more important with me, and got through checking-in, security and boarding very easily without any stress. However, the work stress hadn’t yet ended for term and I had an assignment I had to get in for midday British time the next day for Bristol. So I was scribbling away in the airport and spent the first hour on the plane writing a 2500 word essay (no idea how many words it actually was!) with a trusty pen and paper-to which someone remarked “don’t see many of those any more” -writing my ‘reflection’ essay about Boston college to meet Bristol University requirements.

Once that was done and I’d eaten my “dinner” of uncooked risotto and an apple puree dessert, alike to what you give a baby because being vegetarian seems to equate to not being allowed a chocolate brownie for this airline, I settled down to sleep in the knowledge that Norwegian Airline food is of a much lower standard than Aer Lingus!

But I didn’t sleep- not a wink! I was surrounded by babies and toddlers, a little girl of around 6 years old sleeping next to me kept stretching out in her sleep and kicking me, and the child behind me did..not…stop…crying…AT ALL!

AND THEN…our plane was diverted… to Paris.

Many things go through your head when your plane is diverted. First is the selfish “This is going to make me so late. I’ll miss my VISA interview. I won’t be able to see my friend in London.” Then when you’re told the plane would be landing in Paris because “All UK airports are shut down” you really start to feel very concerned about what on earth is going on in the UK right now? Terrorism is the first word that pops into everyone’s head. But why all airports? Why isn’t the pilot able to talk to any UK airspace officials to land the plane on the right side of the channel?

N.B. (By “right” side I mean, according to our chosen destination- I would, on the whole, rather be in Europe than out.)

Of course, some of these questions I still ask now. Why didn’t we land in Stansted or Manchester or (the joy that could have been..) Bristol! Why were we told all UK airspace was closed? And why, or maybe rather how did one drone close an entire airport? Or was it a drone?

Anyway, by the time we’d landed in Orly airport, everyone went online straight away to find out more about what was going on, desperate to get more information than that which we were getting from airline staff, who also didn’t know what was going on.

The word “drone” started as a murmur and built up to quite a group discussion about drones and whether to shoot one down or get control of it or trace its signal… and this conversation went on, and on, and on, and on..

We were stuck on board this grounded plane for 4 and a 1/2 hours. And it’s so interesting watching how different people responded. We weren’t even allowed to step outside the aircraft onto the platform to get fresh air because of “health and safety reasons” but obviously, health and safety was very clearly compromised by keeping 100+ people in a cramped space with no air conditioning for such a long amount of time. I can only understand that they were hoping to be told any minute that they could fly into Gatwick and the airport had been reopened, but as we know, that didn’t happen. Most shocking was when a girl of around my age who appeared to be having a panic attack after 4 hours on-board, stepped outside the aircraft and the only open door to get some air, only to be have the air hostess threatening to call the police if she refused to get back onto the aircraft. Meanwhile, she was throwing up off the side of the steps. I hope she shares her story and gets an apology.

After these ‘Lord of the Flies’ style four and a half hours, we were finally told we could leave the aircraft and we were being unloaded, along with our luggage.

“What next though?” I asked. “That’s the question” another passenger chuckled!

In Orly airport it was very clear that we were unwelcome guests! We were sent from belt to belt searching for our luggage: “number 4…no, number 5…no number 3”. After an hour of waiting, I was the first person to pull my luggage off the rack. I held it up and cried out “there’s hope for us all!”, getting a cheer of relief from the group around me!

We then all wandered separately through the airport exit with no information about next steps. There had been some rumours about a replacement bus service (joy- we all love those…) but the lack of information meant everything felt very confusing. I managed to stumble across (literally) an airport person (don’t know what his job was but he was wearing a yellow high-vis which seemed promising) so was able to ask where this bus for Norwegian Airline passengers would be. He told me to wait while other passengers would join us- there was 2 of us out of however many people came off the 4 long-haul flights from America.

After 10 mins of trying to boost the life of my dying i-Phone, he told us to “Follow” and we did, hoping to find a way to get on our way again…the two of us. While walking through the airport, we passed many confused passengers but the high-vis man didn’t seem to think telling people he was the person to follow for a bus service to Gatwick would be a good idea, so instead I started telling people we were following him to find a bus, hoping that he was right and did know what he was doing and where he was leading us…

We left the airport and proceeded to walk further and further away from the relative safety of Orley, 10 minutes down the road to an abandoned car park where there were 3 coaches! A promising development- until someone asked how long it would take to get to Gatwick and the original response was “trois heures”. Now I’m no expert in Geography but even I know it would take longer than that. The journey time continued to be debated until we settled on 6-7 hours.

I stood outside the bus for a good 15 minutes trying to work out if I wanted to get on it or not, weighing up my options.

a) ridiculously expensive and packed Eurostar train was out of the question

b) wait for a flight to another airport at Orly and hope that Norwegian Air would compensate and consider it “reasonable expenses” which was the rumour of our reimbursement options from one person who’d apparently “told them what’s what”…

c) Try to get to Charles de Gaule, crossing Paris and getting on a flight straight to Bristol, again on the “reasonable expenses” claim

d) Sticking with Norwegian Air’s option, get on this coach with the driver who seemed to think it was all a bit of a joke and appeared to have no idea of how long it takes to get to Paris

I decided that crossing Paris alone would be too much, especially without a working phone, and once there, there would be no guarantee I would be able to get a ticket on the Bristol flight and no certainty of Norwegian Air reimbursing me because they were supplying the replacement bus.

I still don’t know if I should have risked it and gone to Charles de Gaule- that I will never know.

What I do know is that a 7 hour total journey time was optimistic at the best of times. Let alone during rush hour in Paris. It took us 6 and a half hours to get to Calais alone, if not more. I completely lost track of time without a phone or watch, and thinking for half of my journey that the clock on the coach was working. Nope- it was giving us a time neither British nor French but didn’t really make much difference anyway. I was in “coach time” and was so sleep deprived, I wasn’t even jet lagged!

Highlight of the coach journey was chatting to the gentleman next to me who also wanted to get to Bristol. We made it to Bristol 7:15am after getting on the early train from London Paddington at 5am. I was determined to make it to a breakfast at Bakesmiths café with friends in the morning, and he wanted to get to his granddaughter’s carol service! I might be launching a “does anyone know a man…” in a couple of weeks because his kindness was wonderful and got me through the journey feeling pretty positive. After the plane situation, slowly restoring my faith in humanity. There was also a lovely family who also got the coach who were also keeping going with British irony and sarcasm in the humour, appreciating my “Home sweet home” comment when we got back on the stuffy coach, after having to show our passports at Calais checkpoint.

An experience like that one I will never forget. I also feel I learnt a lot from it.

People really can be inherently selfish. Everyone’s concerns begin with their own needs and journeys. It took people a second glance to think about helping the older lady with a walking stick down the steps from the airplane, or to offer a hand to the mum with 2 young children and all their luggage.

But there is no bonding experience quite like being on a coach for a long period of time. I know that from 32hr music tour coaches, but at least those journeys were expected… You can sit alongside a stranger on a coach and by the end of the journey, feel like you’ve really shared an experience together. I have always been someone who enjoys striking up a conversation with a stranger on public transport and I would encourage everyone to be brave and do it. Start with a friendly smile when you or they realise they have to sit directly next to someone they don’t know, and you never know what you can find out.

Me and my Bristol travel buddy talked about America, Britain, politics, travel, being a student, his marriage and divorce, my friends in Bristol…we shared our stories with each other and I think there’s something very natural in that, but it just doesn’t happen enough now, with phones and technology preventing real human face-to-face interaction and people seeming to always be scared of other people.

I am now back in Boston, after enjoying a textbook flight over, which even landed early in the chosen airport! Met a couple of international students at other Boston colleges on the flight, and not a screaming child around me.

As for the drone that caused it all, having watched the Doctor Who New Year special, I think I’ve solved the mystery.

It was a dalek.

Case closed.

Everyday shmeveryday

It can be so easy on blogs to describe events or particular themes without actually giving an insight into life in the everyday! So for those who are thinking “what are you actually doing out there in Boston on a regular day”, this blog is for you!

(I wrote this a while back but forgot to post it with finals, so take yourself back to November 2018 for a while..!)

I live in a homestay with an American lady, her daughter, her puppy and 2 cats in Newtonville. From my room I can hear the stream that runs down the back of the house gurgling away and these last few weeks, I can usually hear the rain. I’m generally woken up by the dog rather than my alarm. Pearl always barks around half 7 every morning so unless I had to set my alarm earlier than that to finish an assignment or get up for Hillside breakfast shift (which demands an alarm set for 6:15am), my alarm is her bark.

I have a 30 minute commute to Boston college campus, although I can get it down to 20 minutes if I run and if the bus leaves as soon as I get on it! I walk 15 minutes (although have been known to run it in 8) to the Law Campus which is where half the freshman dorms are located, and from there ride the Newton Bus onto main campus. Being on this bus makes me feel old. The conversations are often about school or “tests” and professors, or “nights out” which are parties in each other’s dorms, and I think back to my first year and wonder if that’s how I sounded to third years! It’s usually an amusing ride. When I get the 7 o’clock bus, my fellow students are generally comatose in their seats as they have just rolled out of their beds and onto the bus for a sports team practice or gym session. I, however, as an early morning person and having had 8 minutes of exercise (this is usually the bus I have to run for!) am quite ready to engage in conversation! Usually the “how you doing” exchange with the bus driver is all I get so early in the morning.. My favourite Newton bus moments are watching extroverted freshman trying desperately to engage introverted freshman in conversation- painfully funny, probably because I really relate with the person trying to start up a chat!

Someone asked me last week whether I, as an international student, feel integrated into Boston College student body? I can say yes! My three key communities are church, the theatre department and Hillside cafe! I am proud to announce I have been (unofficially!) promoted to omelette making, so am now flipping eggs around in the mornings, trying desperately to keep them all up to the high standard expected by one of the full-time staff workers. I have successfully remembered the names of my regular customers (and now say hello to them around campus!), although I think I’ve scared one guy away by remembering his name, as he now stands further away from the counter when waiting..! I even got a free lift in an UBER with one of my regular omelette clients who I bumped into on the platform of the T-Line (Boston’s tram service) after the Boston Red Sox parade. Word about the joys of working at Hillside has got out and now many more internationals are joining the team, making it an opportunity to catch up as well. We can also sympathise with international customers equally confused about why “steak fries” is not a steak and fries..

I always seem to develop some sort of random reputation where I go, and here I have a reputation for delivering all the Hillside leftovers round my international students still working hard in the library at 8:30pm. Upset by the lack of recycling and the amount of food waste, I take it upon myself to save all the leftover food- should honestly be given a trolley and official title by now! My aim for next term- to make Boston College change their ways regarding the environment because it is quite frankly disgusting. Any eco-warriors out there, please get in touch with ideas/experience of making institutions change on a large scale, before I get the nickname ‘Bread Bin’ with the amount of leftover bread I take it upon myself to take home after shift to save it being chucked!

The other reputation I’ve managed to win I’m pretty pleased with! In my favourite class, due to the classmates being friends rather than mere ‘we sit in classes together for 2 1/2 hrs a week and I know nothing about you other than the fact you have an Apple Mac laptop you use to look at Facebook on instead of contributing to class discussion’ acquaintances, the professor invited us all round to her house for the final class of term to just chill out together, and she commented on how this is the only class where the students talk to each other before she enters the classroom, rather than just looking at phones and avoiding eye contact with each other. She asked whether we knew each other before or what’s different about the group, and one of the girls pointed at me and the other English girl and said “It’s because them two started chatting  on the first day of class and then it became ok to start chatting to each other”. So that’s a little reputation I’m rather proud of! And now I have a whole group of friends from that class and we’re going to have a wine night together in the new term which I’m already looking forward to!

Relationships with professors are different as well; they know me by name and know what I’ve written, and thankfully none of my essays have been an absolute car crash so I’m not embarrassed about the fact they know my work is MY WORK! Rather, it means the conversation can continue beyond the classroom more and I can take advantage of office hours and really enjoy them. One professor even brought a Dominoes delivery into class. I was very confused when I tuned into her talking about cheese and being vegetarian not vegan until I saw the pile of pizzas on the table next to her! Didn’t think it make sense in a historical discussion..!

I have also attended many inspirational talks, from a transitional justice conference on Ireland’s mother and baby homes, to playwright Marcus Garvey discussing what makes a ‘black play’. There’s always plenty of talks to attend on many interesting and challenging topics around campus and I intend to make the most of as many as I can, particularly when they’re giving away free food!

I am in the library much more than I have ever been in Bristol, and I have had to explore more study space options away from fourth floor after realising the space was making me feel encased in a world of work I was never going to escape! However, the record for time spent in the library was definitely set by another international student friend who was there for over 48 hours straight (sleeping at the desk) during ‘finals’ week, until a couple of friends sent her home! (Not healthy or to be recommended- she was becoming delirious and playing ‘peek-a-boo’ behind bookshelves..) I think all of us internationals have made a pact to choose easier/less courses next term for our own sanity, now we are more informed about American study! In a normal week of term I asked a classmate ‘How late were you in the library last night?’, after leaving 11pm myself. “Not very late – I was there until 1” IN THE MORNING!!!!! This is an AVERAGE weekday, not a deadline date. Ridiculous student hours! It’s no wonder I hardly see Deborah sometimes!

So this is a little overview on the ‘everyday-everynight’ element of studying in America! Let’s see what changes in the term ahead, with the winter season, inches of snow and my new-informed self choosing different courses to study and having discovered the joy of borrowing a library laptop!

A POEM FOR OCTOBER

This is the poem to answer the questions

of why I haven’t blogged in so long.

I genuinely have to stop and consider

Where on earth the last month’s gone

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October literally flew right by

November’s already brought the snow

Thanksgiving is literally round the corner

The term is building up momentum towards its close

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I’ve been apple picking in New England

On that wonderful ‘Parents’ Weekend’

Ate many apples, ‘cider’ donuts and even some pears

While really getting to know some (now-really) close friends

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I’m ticking off more places on the map

Getting those American experiential kicks

I’ve now officially had “The Best Cheesecake in the World”

And successfully ate a whole bowl of noodles using chopsticks

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I cycled all the way round Central Park

And am amazed we all survived

I still can’t quite believe the strength of a friend

Who carried his entire week’s weight of luggage on the ride

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I’ve spoken about global politics,

Identity, Human Rights and more

Important conversations

In the library at midnight on floor 4

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I also went to Boston Red Sox parade

The city celebrating its major win

BC success in football brought cameras to campus

Sport really is a BIG thing!

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Halloween Night was ironic

I’m in America where the traditions began!

But instead I was stuck in a rehearsal

Until 10, then went home, ate ice cream, prepared for an exam

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Achievements: I now know how to ride the T-Line-

Hop on, don’t pay and then sit tight!

I’ve also been BC bike trained

Although need to remember to ride on the right!

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Difficulties: the amount of work

Always an essay or dissertation

I’ve started making omelettes at Hillside

As a form of procrastination

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So I guess that’s a round up of October

Lots of theater, essays, work and events

But the most important thing about October

Is that I’ve made a home here, feel rooted and content 🙂

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It’s an American thing!

I write this on the first day of ‘Parents Weekend’, having just walked into a library packed full of students’ parents! For one weekend only, parents are welcomed by their children onto campus and can take part in classes, visit the libraries and dorms, attend this weekend’s BC football game (tailgating as usual, but on a larger scale with other parents) and see how their child is getting on at the $$$$$$ a year institution the parentals and bank loans are financing !

I can’t see British students welcoming their parents into campus 4 weeks into term any time soon…

It’s an American thing..!

Since I last wrote, I have fully ridden the wave and landed into a swirling whirlpool of Boston College life; I would say ‘university life’ but BC is just more intense, more campus orientated, more busy… I’ve actually found a way to be busier in America than I was in the UK!

But I’m really enjoying it! I can’t believe it’s over 2 weeks since I last wrote- the time has just flown by. Two weekends ago I visited New York with the incredible Antara, and we gave a speech about ‘Bristol student life’ to American alumni (the reference to the Cori Tap cider got the largest laugh!) and enjoyed sharing stories of our student experience so far at BC…

Well, two weeks later and I now feel like I am truly a part of the BC community-despite the fact I will not be taking part in ‘Parents Weekend’! Instead I’m doing the classic New Englander trip apple picking, which I’m incredibly excited about!

Another experience I want to briefly share with you is going to the ‘restroom’. For some reason, all toilet doors have gaps in them between the door and frame. When washing your hands in the sink, you can see in the mirror the outline of the person on the toilet! At first I thought it was just that toilet, or that room of cubicles, or a BC thing; no, now I’ve realised it’s just an American thing!

The main difference in my routine since writing last is my on-campus job at Hillside; one of the on-campus dining halls. I’m absolutely loving working there! Discovering all the language differences in the heat of the kitchen is fun: my question asking about the whereabouts of ‘butter’ was repeated three times until I realised the difference and asked for ‘bu(tt)er’! I have conceded defeat overy the “toma(y)to”/ “tomato” debate, because it causes a lot of confusion and not worth the hassle when the queue is building up! I also worked out the hard way that ‘How are you doing?’ isn’t actually a question asking about my wellbeing or life story that day, but simply a greeting, another version of ‘Hey’. The first few times I tried to answer the question and open up a conversation (in less busy queue times) by responding ‘Oh I’m good thank, how are you doing?’ was met with a confused stare, a shake of the head and a bemused ‘oh, I’m ok…’.

I’m learning..! It’s an American thing!

Most fun shift the other day was with two ladies from the Dominican Republic working on online orders, opening up the hatch window to pass food through the hatch to the smart BC students skipping the queue and opting for the ‘Ready for pick-up’ option, probably to take to library to do their 5 assignments for the week. Those who smile through the hatch when giving us their name and order would gain a nod of approval once the hatch is closed, as we searched for their order behind the scenes! I really enjoy opening the door to find out who’s on the other side- like a fun game of ‘keeping house’ that you used to play in nursery!

I also made a bit of a fool of myself when I tried to show plenty of initiative by taking the forks, knives and napkins I’d been given to load up the stations ‘out front’, assuming my job would be to replenish a supply running low. Just as I opened up the dispensing machine for plastic forks (I KNOW, I’m working on it…EcoPledge here I come!), my fellow co-worker came running round and beckoning for me to come back into the kitchen, laughing away at my mistake! Instead my task was to wrap up all the plastic forks and knives (hurts me too..) into napkins for the online orders! I had just taken what she had given me and while she was still climbing the ladder, disappeared round the corner; she had just had a little game of hide and seek around the kitchen until she discovered me doing the wrong job!

I am also now Starbucks trained (don’t ask how much syrup goes in a Peppermint Mocha..!) and will be getting a shift in the bakery some point soon, as my boss discovered I enjoyed baking and said he could get me the opportunity to work there! I also made him some scones, after telling him all about the Devon-Cornwall rivalry when he asked about Devon (I’m spreading the scones love, literally- with cream first!) However, I am yet to find clotted cream- any tips, let me know! My boss is the loveliest man though, and is someone making me feel fully at home here.

I have been so busy I only saw my homestay mom this morning after a week of only hearing each other in separate rooms! Have seen the animals more; Pearl is fully recovered from her op and wearing a cone on her head, and is instead continuing to cause mayhem -although I’ve learnt to keep my sandwiches well away from the edge of the table now- and the cats are creepy as ever (I’m really not a cat fan!).

Had a weird sleepless night couple of nights back; firstly woke up sneezing because the rain had released a lot of pollen and I was suffering the effects, second time woke up because the cat was trying to get into my room, weirdly stretching its paw through the gap underneath and rattling against the door, and third time was Pearl collapsing (collapsing is the right word!) down the stairs: bless her, 6 month old puppies do not have control of their limbs…

Anyway, I think that’s an update of what I’ve been up to; basically a lot but enjoyable and fully getting involved. But don’t worry, I am a Bristol girl at heart, and I wear DUNGAREES!

Riding the Wave

This week has been quite a long one…it’s been a week of two halves. And it has been all about riding the wave…(*spoiler alert* I don’t mean that I’ve been surfing; I’m not THAT Devon, yet…)

Tonight is the first night in over a week that I’ve been home before 9pm; it’s been pretty darn busy this week!

Began with Labor Day which was labour day, and that’s not supposed to be the purpose of the day- in fact it’s supposed to be an opposite, like a Bank Holiday -but after a weekend of auditions (can’t believe that was only a week ago!) I had so much work to do that when we reached Monday, I was unable to choose to do anything else. It was also sooooo hot that the only other activity I undertook was 5 cold showers in one day (when I say it was hot, I’m talking that sticky sweaty heat that makes you have to peel your bottom off the chair…) and managing to leave a biro in the washing machine and getting lovely black ink blotches over my first clothes wash..(yay me!)

Because it may only be second week of ‘school’ here but that didn’t stop one of my professors giving me a book to read and a 5 page assignment in for the second class of semester. That’s before you start on all the other readings for my other 4 classes.

So work stress certainly didn’t help my overall outlook, and I found myself feeling rather low the first half of the week. But I knew it was a wave that just needed to be ridden…

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The classic Bristol breakfast of avocado and poached egg on toast for a taste of familiarity!

Because it’s only natural that the excitement starts to wear off a little. I knew couldn’t keep going on the absolute euphoria that I’d been experiencing over the last two weeks.

So I found myself experiencing the ‘lonely in a crowd’ syndrome, wondering whether anyone really likes me enough to be close friends, feeling isolated in my homestay and in over 90 degrees heat, unable to sleep leading to the vicious cycle of feeling anxious about not getting enough sleep while knowing how much work I had to do the next day and that I needed to be sleeping, making me more unable to sleep…! It’s amazing the tricks the mind can play, and my mind loves playing those mind tricks of convincing me I am alone and that I think that I think I have more friends than I do…woah those layers; it’s like my own little Inception film…

But hold on a minute! I’ve only been here 2 and a half weeks. It took me at least 2 months to settle into university in first year, and another 2 months to feel really comfortable around my now closest friends. And it took me 2 years of being at Bristol to find all the amazing people I have to rely on in Bristol, those mates I could always message ‘you around for a chat?’ to, and those incredible gems of human beings who sent me off with a little Good Luck book filled with the most wonderful messages I read over this week to remind me of who I am (thank you to everyone who contributed!)

So CHILL OUT ABBIE! (And get your head down, get your essay in and then you can get sociable again without that library guilt…!)

And that’s what I did. Got my assignment in, actually really enjoyed the book I had to read for the essay all about expression of Italian Catholicism in Harlem New York, and after class went for dinner with a classmate I hadn’t spoken to outside of class before. And from there onwards, I’ve had the most wonderful weekend, meeting more lovely people and getting closer to those I know already.

And I absolutely love being a part of an international community. We had a little party of our own after the football game (I’m talking American football!), sharing different dance cultures and catching up after the first two weeks- and it was genuinely such a highlight of my time here so far.

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Wednesday evening we had a ‘Taste of Off-Campus’ event which was also a real pick-up mid-week before I went to the library to start and finish my assignment, although when my bag full of all the freebies, information sheets, an off-campus t-shirt and cupcakes that I’d lovingly saved to be eaten later in the library were swept away into a rubbish bag (and by rubbish I mean garbage because don’t get me started on recycling here..), I honestly almost burst into tears then and there…just about held it together!

Thursday evening I found a wonderful small group community and was lovely just to hone in on what’s important in life and why I’m here, and to be reminded that I’m never alone. And another opportunity to meet some more wonderful people I can get to know over the year here in Boston.

Friday was a ‘Night at the Museum’ evening at MacMullen museum which is part of Boston College or has a link to BC. A really powerful exhibition featuring works by Carrie Mae Weems commenting on racial injustice of America. AND wow, I knew the situation was shocking but it really hit home how much basic human rights are being institutionally and fundamentally ignored..and that makes me so incredibly angry and I need to find a way to channel this anger and DO SOMETHING. And today (Sunday) I watched a play called ‘The Niceties’ at the Huntingdon Theatre, one of the most naturalistic plays I’ve ever seen, an incredible script and acting that stirred up so much feeling and emotion in the pit of my stomach when watching it. (Look it up but I’m going to write a full blog account about what I’m learning in American regarding structural violence)

Saturday was ‘Game Day’ which is when the ‘pre-game’ (the standard word for ‘pres’ here) begins in the morning before the match starts at 1. So after a party the night before and a DMC* lasting till 4 in the morning, I found myself back at a party at 11am before the football game. Everyone tailgates outside, which is when people host BBQs and lots of parents come and set up their grills in the parking lot at BC. It creates a great atmosphere and on our way to the Stadium, we were offered some free food from a rival tailgate from Holy Cross, not that BC rivalries are all that important when you’re being offered free food…

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I loved the game itself! Carmina Burana is often played by the band, at which point BC do a unified swipe-clap (don’t really know how to explain it!) extending the arms out above the head to cheer the team on. There’s 54 players in an American football team, and I did not mind right behind them all on the front row of the stands! The shoulder pads fashion statement is quite a look..! I can’t say I’m fully versed on the rules of the game, but I stayed beyond half time, which is more than most students do. Although this game was an exhibition for BC, who thrashed Holy Cross 52-14. I wore my free BC t-shirt I picked up at Activities Fair last Friday with pride!

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After the game we went and got food at Cleveland Circle, passing the pub I can no longer go into, and then hopped around different student houses, all extremely big and grand and built for frat parties, before I bumped into an international student at the bus stop when walking home and ended up going to the other party 2 hrs early; which was where we had the Latin dance party!

Soo….busy week!

Why did I want to write so honestly here, and give a very basic rundown of the last week?

a) when people ask what I’ve been up to, I’ve realised I haven’t actually given that much info on what I’ve actually been doing, so here’s an overshare!

b) I want to reassure all those whose minds also like trick them into thinking they’re isolated to remember that the mind is a trickster and by telling people you feel isolated, you realise you’re not isolated at all, because you have people to tell…

c) a year abroad is going to be full of waves; we have a lot to think about! I’ll be sitting writing a blog and suddenly realise my bank transfer hasn’t gone through yet and I need to pay my medical insurance (!!!) which has me grappling for my to-do list (you know how I love lists..!) and writing the 12th item under the ‘Important Tasks’ header. But it’s learning how to ride those waves and share those stresses, accept the culture shock and find a way to enjoy the journey and the learning processes, that will make the year so much more rewarding

d) I am now 3 weeks in and that’s another milestone!

 

*DMC= direct meaningful conversation for my older/American/Chair of a certain Network readers ;’)

Expectations and Reality

With Mamma Mia 2 soundtrack playing in my head, and an image of myself as the carefree traveller, as beautiful as Lily James and as determined as Donna, I stepped off the plane, planting my feet in US soil for the very first time…

(Well -onto the carpeted aircraft tunnel surrounded by sterile airport white walls, but work with me here..!)

And I was so incredibly excited, and indeed still am! The newness of being in America has not worn off yet, and I’m still getting used to the singing of the cicadas at night, the intense New England climate (reaching 90 degrees this week), a few choice insects, drivers on the right-hand side of the road, the lack of streetlights and the differences in language I didn’t anticipate…all aspects of living in a new country that I’m finding so exciting!

Once I’d finally stepped out of the confines of the airport, having successfully located my luggage from the conveyor belts, I walked out into the Boston sunshine to meet my lovely housestay mom, who was starting to get rather concerned about where I was. She greeted me with a warm hug and a lot of relief, and her 6 month old Burmapoodle ‘Pearl’ greeted me with the boundless enthusiasm of a typical puppy, albeit as an oversized one of the Burmese mountain dog variety. We managed to squeeze my three bags into the car, I walked round to the drivers’ seat before realising my mistake, then proceeded to circle the car to the amusement of Sandra* as if inspecting my new carriage and safely climbed into the passenger’s’ seat, holding Pearl’s lead to prevent her from jumping out.

Bearing in mind I hadn’t slept more than 2 hrs in around 48hrs, I just about managed to hold a conversation as we drove round Boston, sweating under my multiple layers of clothing, still wearing my bum bag (aka “fanny pack”) in the car seat. We waved at a few neighbours as we passed them, me being introduced as the ‘guest from England’!

When we pulled up outside my new American home, I couldn’t believe my luck. It is the most beautiful house, with terraces all around the building, lots of greenery and a wild garden, and artwork painted by my American mom on the front deck. Inside, the dream just materialised as stepping inside into a cacophony of beautiful vibrant bright colours and patterns and original artwork and homely  photos everywhere..Mamma Mia couldn’t help but spring to mind!

Once I was introduced to the penultimate family members (the two cats), I was shown my room which is probably the most beautiful room I’ve owned, artwork and decorations around on the walls, floor and lampshades! I also found my ‘Welcome Abbie’ pack which contained a Boston magazine, a Red Sox t-shirt and ‘Boston Baked Beans’ (peanuts covered in a red sugar casing!).

There have been a few low points, from being in Bank of America for 3 hrs having not had dinner and feeling extremely jet lagged, to uploading medical forms onto the bc website and feeling as if I was completing an intense IQ test trying to work out what vaccinations I have and haven’t had! There was also the moment I realised I’d paid $2.56 for 3 apples at Star Market, and the time I stayed up for an hour waiting for the two damn cats to leave my room before I could go to bed, having realised I am a little allergic to them (problematic as they like me much more than I like them..!)

But when people ask ‘How’s it going?’, I can’t help but say that at the moment, things are A OK! I might have a 5 page assessment due for this Thursday, but I have also made some wonderful friends within the BC community and feel positive about meeting more as we go further into term.

The most challenging experience so far: doing an american accent in front of a room of Americans at a callback for Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. I must confess, that offended both my Sense and Sensibility..

 

*names have been changed (ooooohhhh!)