So, as most of you know, I am spending my summer in Cambridge, England for the summer working on some (to me, super exciting) research! After living in Spain for 9 months, I really forgot what it’s like to move to another country (I know, sounds strange). I have only been here for 6 days, but already there is so much to share with you. Let’s start from the beginning!
I arrived in Cambridge with a very warm welcome at Homerton College, a college a little outside of the city center. The campus is absolutely beautiful and people here are really nice. There are 31 colleges (I think) at Cambridge and even though this one is the “reject” college (the rich kids with important daddies are placed in the ‘cool’ colleges), I think that it is the perfect fit for me! The students here are super nice, the staff and porters (doormen: people who take care of general building and are present at reception) are extremely helpful. When I walked through the door with my suitcase, they greeted me by name (I guess I was the only newbie that day) and made sure that I was comfortable.
When I walked into the student residency halls, at the risk of sounding cliché, I really felt like I was Harry Potter. The College buildings are huge and old and beautiful. The huge wooden front doors are automatic so when I walked up I snickered to myself a little bit imagining some Hogwarts magic happening (haha). The Great Hall, which is basically the dining hall is amazing as well. It has a huge stained glass window that looms over the high-ceiling room with wooden tables and chairs. Minus the ceiling that magically turns into the sky above, and the fact that it’s quite a bit smaller, the Great Hall again reminded me of Harry and all of his ‘mates’.
My room is quite nice, and it even has a cute little fireplace. Aaaaand, we even have house-elves that clean our rooms and change our sheets and towels (okay, there are no house-elves but a nice woman named Hillary with the cutest accent I’ve ever heard and a huge heart for the students who live in the Hall). I feel very, very comfortable here, and honestly, a bit spoiled.
I spent most of Friday running around getting things in order, most of Saturday sleeping and resting (my god, it’s been a long year!) and Sunday I spent roaming around the charming city of Cambridge. It’s such a lovely town and the sights are wonderful. Cambridge is an old university town with Colleges spread throughout the city. There is no ‘one central campus’ but rather different department buildings and colleges, so most streets are filled with students and tourists. I think my favorite place so far is at “The Backs“, which are the beautiful back sides of some of the oldest colleges that run along the river.
The town is full of life and quaintness and I really think that I will enjoy my time here!
On Monday, I decided to start in on my academic affairs and get to work. This means a visit to the University Library. Holy crap, the library! It. Is. Huge!!! It is so huge, in fact, that I couldn’t get it all in my camera frame, so you will have to settle for an image leeched off the internet. This library holds over 8 million items and it is one of the three legal deposit university libraries in England, therefore it is entitled to request a free copy of every book published in the UK and Ireland. That is a lot of books, people! In reality, the library itself isn’t so glamorous. The main floor is quite elegant but the elevators to the other floors seem like prison cells and the shelves are so tightly snugged together that there is hardly any light. It’s kind of scary, actually! Before I went I was talking with some of the students at Homerton who were prepping me for my first UL experience and telling me that it has an “Auschwitz” fell to it. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but yeah… it’s kind of oppressive feeling. When you look out the tiny windows there is wire to keep the birds away and the sound of silence and florescent lights kind of make you go crazy. But hey, you grab your book from the scary towers, jump back in a prison cell that will take you back to the main floor, and you’re back to library bliss! Back on the main floor, there are shelves and shelves of books, quaint little nooks, huge reading rooms, and library goodness. Just don’t spend too much time anywhere else!
I’ve only been here for 6 days, but I’ve already found myself a routine. Most mornings are calm. Most of my days are spent in the library, and my evenings give me time to either go for a run along the river or spend some time in the dance studio at Homerton. I absolutely love the dance studio! It’s open whenever I want it and most of the time I’m the only one there! I have spent hours already dancing my heart out and loving it!
So, this is my life so far and I am loving it. It’s a tad lonely, however. Most students are finishing exams. They are either studying like mad for exams they are about to take, or partying like mad because they’ve completed exams. Either way, they don’t have much time for a newbie 🙂 I did make one friend, however. The porters thought that I was Spanish (not only because I come from a Spanish university, but apparently they think I speak English like a Spaniard too… right… Crazy Brits) so they hunted down the one Spanish student in Homerton so that we could meet.
So, that’s my life and routine at the moment. But what about the differences between England and Spain, you ask? Many people have asked me if it’s strange to be back in an English speaking country. Well, yes, it is. For one, the English is hard for me to understand. It’s kind of funny because I’m a language nerd but have a hard time with my own! My husband, Patrick, makes fun of me because often when we watch a film from the UK, I have to put subtitles on because I can’t understand what they’re saying! And it’s not only the accent, it’s the vocabulary. Mailboxes are called “pigeon holes”, trucks are called “lorries”, I can’t figure out if a “coach” is a bus or a train, “jumpers” are sweaters, “anti-clockwise” is counter-clockwise, a “chemist’s shop” is a pharmacy or drugstore, a crosswalk is called a “zebra crossing” (I know, ridiculous, right?), a “biscuit” is a cookie, a wallet is a “purse”, and a purse is a “bag”.
I was in the Homerton Library one afternoon and a librarian walked up to me and said “They’re squashin’ biscuits downstairs”. I didn’t understand why anyone would squash a biscuit in the library. She then explained to me that “squash” is juice and that there are “squash and biscuits” provided to students every day at 3:30. Ooooooooooh, now I get it… kind of.
There are other differences too. For one, you all know that they drive on the other side of the road here. I have a mild heart attack each time I cross the street. I get so confused! Even when I know which way I’m supposed to look, my instincts scream “Amanda, for Pete’s sake, look the other way, you’re going to be squashed like a biscuit!!!”
I am also often confused, and piss off other cyclists/runners, on the trails as well. It feels strange for bodies to be moving on the other side of the path. At least in England, people actually notice you and get out of your way when your barreling past them on the trail. In Spain, they wait until they are millimeters away until there is even a hint that they care about you crashing into them. That’s another thing. I forgot about “personal space” for a while there. Spaniards’ “personal bubbles” are much, much smaller than those in the UK and US cultures. I forgot that when it even seems like you may bump into someone you have to say “sorry” for potentially invading their space. In Spain, you don’t often hear “sorry” or “excuse me” unless there are mild concussions or arms out of sockets involved in the collision.
There is also the whole “what happens at what time of day” thing. Mostly this is has to do with eating schedules but also the time of day people wake up and go to bed. In general, Spaniards stay up way later than those in the US and UK. In Spain, a normal lunch time is between 2-3 in the afternoon and a normal dinner time would be around 9-10 (and could be even later if you’re going out to eat at a restaurant). In England, like the US, lunch is at noon and dinner is at six. The dinner hall here at Homerton closes at 7:30. In Spain, you wouldn’t even be able to sit down to eat that early, the kitchen wouldn’t even be open! I’m also not used to most stores and libraries being open all day long and until 11:00 p.m and even open on Sundays! In Spain, most places close for a couple of hours during lunch time and on Sundays there are very few places open for business. That is one thing I actually miss, everyone being on a similar schedule. Most people eat around the same time and on Sunday, there’s not much else to do other than to rest, no errands, no shopping, no business.
Well, folks. That’s all for now, I’ve got some work to do. I hope to post again at some point soon. Cheerio!