Monday, September 20, 2010

My not-so-smooth first full day of classes.

First full day of classes was quite the experience. I got up at 7:30 so I could hit the snooze button a few times before I had to actually get up and ready for my 9:00 class. I left 30 minutes early in preparation for my inevitable confusion about the location of the room.

The room number was P.LTA96. From what I was previously told, I understood the P to mean the Pathfoot Building (there are only two buildings: Pathfoot and Cottrell), the letter represents the block, and the number is the room.

When I arrived at Pathfoot, I headed straight to the L section, thinking, “Yes! I understand this system! I’m going to find my class and be there early!” However, there was no TA96 in the L section, which was the farthest side of the building from the main entrance. I gave in and asked the journalism office in the G section, and they told me LT stands for Lecture Theatre in the A section of the building. Right by the main entrance.

I raced back to get there in time for my lecture. I made it at 9:01, and the lecturer wasn’t there. Fairly normal, since I’ve been told classes generally start five minutes after the hour and end five minutes prior to the end of the next hour. Someone screamed out, “Tutorial sign ups are up, but there’s no WiFi here!” And thus began the mad dash to the computer lab to get first pick on tutorial times.

I quickly logged on and got one of the last spots available for the tutorial closest to the lecture time. Then, someone noticed on the syllabus the course is listed as starting at 10:00 instead of 9:00. This worried me as I opted for a tutorial from 10-11 to fill the gap between my magazine lecture and tutorial. I went to the journalism office for clarification, where they insisted the syllabus would have the accurate time above anything else, and that the timetable must be wrong.

I ran to the history department office and asked to switch my tutorial time. They told me all sections were full, but eventually agreed to squish me into the 2:00 class. Satisfied, I headed to my now 10:00 class.

After five minutes of class time, another lecturer entered the room and told my lecturer that we would have to leave, as the room had been double-booked and we shouldn't be there. We headed to a much smaller classroom that maybe had 30 seats for the 45 people in my class. We finished the lecture and headed to the tutorial.

One of the things I enjoyed most from the lecture was the lecturer asking the class how many people wanted to go to the "dark side," referring to public relations. It is interesting that they have the same nickname as all of my journalism professors in Ottawa, so I'm wondering if it is the common name in the business. The other Canadian student told me she wanted to, but wouldn't admit it to the class. It was quite different from at Carleton, where a huge chunk of journalism students actually want to go into public relations.

During the tutorial, we analyzed magazines that we brought to class, examining the section formula for each magazine. It was a bit of an introductory class, so I am still looking forward to actually getting to the meat of the class.

Finally, at the end of the tutorial, the course coordinator sent out an email apologizing for the mixup with the time and room, and letting us know that it indeed will be at 9:00 as scheduled. Frustrated, I asked the lecturer to clarify and he said it is almost definitely right.

I went to the 2:00 tutorial since I didn't want to use my one freebie class absence on the first day, but I ended up getting back into the morning class. I just hope the lecturer doesn't surprise us with another time change next week.

The system here is quite different from back home. Professors in Canada seem to have a lot more power than lecturers here. They can sometimes override class maximums (usually if the student needs the class for their degree, and with the assumption that another student will drop out) and they seem to have more of a say in the class requirements. Here, it doesn't even seem like the lecturers have chosen the required texts, though this may not be true in all cases. It makes it difficult to know who to approach when there are administrative problems, such as this morning.

I have found it to be much more organized at Carleton than at Stirling, though I suspect being an exchange student restricts my access to certain things, such as the ability to change my classes online.

Nevertheless, I'm quite looking forward to seeing the differences between journalism in Canada and the UK. Hopefully it isn't too different, or I'm not sure I'll survive these upper-year journalism classes!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Falling in love with Edinburgh.

Yesterday, I saw the most gorgeous city I have ever seen. Edinburgh.

The Old Town of Edinburgh
To get to Edinburgh, my flatmates and I woke up early and headed to the bus stop. We waited a while but only one bus showed up, and not one that would take us to the train station. After a while, we noticed a sign saying the bus stop was closed and that we should go to the car park outside Cottrell Building to catch it. We got there and found a pipe with cardboard attached with the words bus stop. As there was no list of buses, we waited there until we realized none of the buses into town were stopping there. We wandered about and found a second pipe with another cardboard attached saying bus stop, once again, with no list of buses. However, a bus into town stopped there shortly after and we hopped on.

Fifteen minutes later, we were inside the train station, waiting in a long queue to buy our tickets. Donald waited in the line with a ticket vendor at the end, while Saori and I queued for the electronic ticket agent. He got his ticket really quickly, but our line was moving super slowly. Saori moved into the queue for real ticket vendors, but was next in line at the same time as I was next for the electronic vendor, so we each stayed in our own lines. She came running out with her ticket, while the couple in front of me fumbled with the machine. By the time I got my ticket, it was 11:06–the same time the train was supposed to depart. We ran down the steps onto the platform and press the button to open the doors. They did not open. Instead, we watched the train drive away, and waited half an hour for the next one.

We finally got on the train, and took the hour-long journey to Edinburgh. Within minutes of exiting the train station, all anger was forgotten.

Right outside the train station.
It was like something out of a fairy tale. The streets and buildings were just radiating history, and it became easy to visualize the city in its medieval state. Most of the city is considered heritage sites, so owners are not allowed to change the appearance, and the government apparently spends millions of pounds every year keeping the city beautiful. And it really shows.

We wandered about and found our way to a Starbucks on the Royal Mile, where a free walking tour group was assembling. We joined in the tour and were in for an amazing three hours.

Tour guide Andra from New Europe showed us around in a very entertaining and informative tour.
Our tour guide was a woman named Andra from Toronto, who took a double major in history and drama at McGill University. She was incredibly bubbly and energetic, and quite funny, telling us stories about the history and modern day life of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Castle, built on top of a dead volcano.
She explained the names of the buildings we saw, laughing about how self-descriptive they were. For example, there is an artificial hill created by dumping a mound of earth, so they call it the Mound. This trend continued throughout the city, making it quite easy to remember what each area or building looked like.

We walked through the old town, saw the statues of Adam Smith and David Hume, stopping to rub Hume's big toe for good luck. Apparently this began as a way to get luck in academics, and so many people have rubbed it that they have had to replace the big toe.

On the Royal Mile is the Heart of Midlothian, which represents the heart of the former council area, where an administrative office used to sit, as well as a tolbooth prison, where many people were executed. Now, people apparently spit on it for good luck, and avoid walking directly on it. The tour guide said it is always obvious who is a tourist because they will walk across it. Instead of avoiding this spit-covered part of the ground, she said she sees many people sitting inside the heart to take photos, and has seen multiple marriage proposals on this heart.

Standing in front of the Edinburgh Writers Museum. I felt such a connection with the city. I plan on visiting again and again.

Close to the Writers Museum is this old-fashioned burglar alarm. Residents of the city would build their steps with a trick step on the way up to their house. They would know which one is not a real step and would avoid it when they climbed up and down the stairs, and they would alert visitors as to which one they should skip. However, the trick step was a different number on each house, so strangers would not know which one was a trick. Someone who was trying to break into the house would run up the dark stairs and trip, causing them to fall down the stairs. This would hopefully create enough noise to wake the owner, who would assess the situation and either push the intruder out the door or attack them. The tour guide laughed at its simplicity in comparison with the sensors we use today, but advised the group to avoid this security method so that they won't get sued by the intruder.

We saw George Heriot's School, which is often described as the real-life Hogwarts, where students are grouped into four houses. It is visible from the back window fo the Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling wrote a lot of the series. We weren't able to go inside the school because of weekend activities, but hopefully I will be able to take a closer look when I visit the city once again.

Directly in front of the school is Greyfriars Kirkyard, which is known to be one of the most haunted sites in Edinburgh. Apparently Rowling would peruse the cemetery when faced with writer's block and find  names for characters among the graves. In the cemetery is a grave for a Thomas Riddell and one for a William McGonagall. I'm going to have to go back and visit these graves some time.

On one side is the stone for Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier who belonged to a Edinburgh night guard. His owner, John Gray, died of tuberculosis in 1858. The dog apparently spent the rest of its life, 14 years, guarding its master's grave. The tour guide said its statue is the most photographed statue in Edinburgh.

After the tour, Saori and I headed to the Elephant House for dinner and dessert. It was surreal, knowing we were eating in the very cafe where Rowling began writing Harry Potter, surrounded by a city full of her inspirations. All over the store are articles about elephants, as well as photos and articles of Rowling. On the window, it says "The Birthplace of Harry Potter." But my favourite part was the bathrooms, which had walls filled with messages to Rowling.

I ate a delicious sandwich of chorizo with mozzarella and pesto on ciabatta bread, while Saori had apple pie with ice cream.

The Elephant House: Birthplace of Harry Potter.
Saori and I had a great time here. Definitely will return for a cup of tea next time I'm in the city.
On our way back to the train station, we found a busker putting on a very entertaining performance!

He was quite funny, and performed dangerous tricks. He juggled machetes, doing tricks such as throwing them behind his back or under his legs while juggling. He swallowed a 20" steel blade, and lay down under a bed of nails, while a very large man stood on top. He put on an amazing performance.

From there, we headed back to Waverley Station, arriving just in time to take a train back to Stirling.

All in all, it was an amazing day, and I even found an cute Scottish bear to add to my collection!

I absolutely adored Edinburgh, and I have a new dream: find a summer or winter break job in Edinburgh.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More fun before school begins.

Had another excellent few days. I thought I'd be writing my blog more often but I am quite busy seeing all the sights and meeting everybody.

A view of Stirling from the top of Stirling Castle.

I took a bus tour of the city on Wednesday. We drove into town up to Stirling Castle, which is at the very top of the hill that the town is built upon. It was first constructed in the 12th century, though it has been rebuilt to maintain its structure since then. One of the sides is fairly new and so the colour is totally different from the rest of the castle, but the tour guide said it is the same material, so it will slowly fade into the old-style look of the castle.

My flatmate Saori and me, sitting at the top of Stirling Castle.

I just love the view here.

This is Alessandra from Switzerland.

Kelley from Texas, Colleen from Boston, me, and Alessandra.
There are a lot of monuments to Scottish heroes William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. Both are very important in Scottish history, and the Scottish like to honour them throughout the town.

This is a statue of Robert the Bruce, an important Scottish king who led Scotland in fighting the English for Scottish independence.

Saori and I have been participating in tons of events together. Here we are standing near the Robert the Bruce statue. There is so much beautiful greenery around Stirling!

There are sheep everywhere. We could see them constantly as we drove on a highway out of Stirling to a nearby city of Dunblane.
We visited a medieval church, Dunblane Cathedral, also from around the same era. There are roughly 9,000 people living in the city, but it is still called a city as per a Scottish law that says anywhere there is a cathedral, there is a city.

I've never seen such a gigantic bible. I'm thinking it is a bible for all those religious giants.
The city is very small, but it is a very nice city and there is so much history here. I can't wait to learn about the history in my class, and then go out and actually see the places where the history happened.

Later that night, I went to a pub called the Corn Exchange where international students got to meet locals who were assigned as our "buddies." Unfortunately, my assigned buddy did not show up, but I got to meet a lot of locals and see the two Stirling students who were on exchange to Carleton University last year.

Thursday wasn't too eventful until the evening, when I went with my flat to a pub called the Birds and the Bees. It was an international society event, and we competed in a pub quiz. My team consisted of most of my flat, a Scottish guy named Jimmy, and a Swedish guy named Johan (though one of his parents is Scottish, and he has a mostly Scottish accent). The first round was to recognize skylines and landmarks, and Toronto was there! The next round was general Scotland questions, so it was very helpful having Scottish people on our team. Third was a sports round, so I was mostly useless, although I did learn that curling was invented in Scotland. Next was a music round, in which we had to name anthems. I only recognized USA and France, but it was fun hearing the different anthems. The last round was random questions. In all, we tied for first, but lost in the sudden death round tiebreaker, in which our team representative incorrectly guessed the number of steps to the top of the Wallace Monument.

Friday will be my first day of class: Kingship and Nationhood. I'm looking forward to seeing how different classes are, and whether or not I'll be able to locate the classroom. Crazy Scottish room-numbering system...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Stirling at last!

I arrived in Stirling on Saturday, but I've been so busy that I haven't had enough time to write a proper blog post.

The train from London was beautiful! We went through the countryside and through many small towns with loads of sheep. I tried taking photos but it was difficult on a moving train.

Not sure if it's visible, but those little white dots are lines of sheep.
The weather was absolutely insane. I swear every time I looked up, it changed. I've never seen clouds so low and the Scottish man beside me was laughing every time I smiled and commented on the ways the clouds sit. Generally in Canada, it seems the clouds are so high up, they seem painted on the sky, and they seem to move very slowly. Here, they can pass by very quickly and change the weather right away.

The little houses were gorgeous, and it's very cool knowing that many of them are centuries old.

I got into Glasgow Central Station and ran with my massive bags to the Queen Street rail station only to find my train had been cancelled. I exchanged my ticket and about half an hour later, I was on my way to Stirling.

There was a free newspaper that someone gave me on the train. On the cover was an article about a man whose home had been broken into, and the "thugs" started drilling into his head. A very nice first impression of Scotland, I must say. Apparently Glasgow isn't the best place to be, but the university officials insist the Stirling campus has been named one of the safest in Europe.

The train from Glasgow took about 40 minutes, and I took a cab to the university. It was my first time in a car since I arrived in the UK, and it was a very strange experience. I looked in the front left of the car and thought, 'Why is there no steering wheel?' It's definitely going to take some adjusting.

I arrived at the campus and brought all my luggage into my residence. I began unpacking when my flatmate Gavin came outside his room. He is a second-year student from a town called Peebles a few hours away. He was going to walk around the campus and so I put my unpacking aside and joined him.

The campus is really pretty. Right by my residence is Airthrey Castle, an 18th century castle that has been used for a variety of purposes in the past. The cab driver told me it was a hospital from the 1930s to the 1960s, so anybody born in Stirling between those dates were born in the castle. The law students have classes there. I'm jealous at the fact that it is a castle as well as that it is so close to my residence. Everything else is about a 15 minute walk. At least I get to walk by a castle every day!

I picked up my "Freshers' Week" wristband which gets me into all of the events. I was informed that upper year students all participate in the events, but so far I haven't found anyone, so I have not gone to anything. It's all club nights, and drunk first years taking advantage of being away from home for the first time seem to be the same as the ones back home. I am considering the rock club night, but I'm still undecided. Waste of $60!

I got back and another flatmate had moved in: Saori. She is from Japan, but she is fluent in English and she speaks with a perfect American accent. She said she studied at a British school and learned British English, but when she moved to an American English school, everyone made fun of her English accent, so she got rid of it. She spent a few years in Connecticut in middle school, but she lives in Japan now. Hopefully I'll be able to practice my Japanese with her, but it seems so inconvenient when we can just speak English. I tried speaking Japanese to the other Japanese exchange student, Ryuji, but I seem to have forgotten a lot since my exam in April.

On Sunday, I met most of my other flatmates: Anton from Scotland (though he seems to have spent more time living outside of Scotland than inside), Donald from Scotland (who offered to let Saori and me use his pots, pans, and dishes!), and Matti from Finland. Our final flatmate is Taila from Inverness (in the north of Scotland) and she moved in today.

The international welcome session was particularly good because it brought all of the study abroad students into one room. I met people from the US, Norway, France, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, and more.

Initially, the study abroad manager welcomed each area of the world separately ("Raise your hand if you're from America! Now if you're from Australia!") but she forgot Canada. It was very sad. She is from Kansas but she has been in Scotland ever since she did a study-abroad year in 2004. When she speaks, it is mostly with an American accent, but every couple words is with a Scottish brogue. I wonder how long it takes to start speaking like a Scottish person?

Today was my grocery shopping day. I was very happy that I had time to go out since I don't know how many more meals I could take eating pizza and burgers in the campus pub. I have only had about one meal a day so far since I just don't want that much fried food. Now I have my own groceries in my kitchen, so I can get back on a regular eating schedule.

Tesco is the main grocery store here. It was quite big, though I found the sections to be very different from in Canada, making it a bit difficult to find everything. Food seems to be a bit less expensive, perhaps because I'm buying as much as I can from the Tesco brand. It only cost about $50 for today's shopping, which is quite good considering it's the first one of the year, and I had to stock up on a ton of things. Normally I spend double that on the first shopping trip.

It was quite a novelty to take a double decker bus to the grocery store. Not all buses have two levels, but many do. I wanted to take a photo but the plastic bags at the grocery store were terrible and broke before I even reached the bus stop on the way back to the university. I ended up trying to balance everything as I walked the 15 minutes back to residence. I was lucky it had just stopped raining.

I have a lot more to write, but it is 12:40 now, and I need to work on getting my sleeping schedule back on track. I slept in until 1:00 today–something I never ever do at home–so I need to get into a decent sleeping pattern. Goodnight!

Friday, September 10, 2010

London Day 3: Diagon Alley, Canadian pub, and more touring.

Today was another day of using the hop-on, hop-off bus tour. This time, I had already been on the whole route, so it didn't feel like buildings and monuments were jumping out of nowhere like they did yesterday.

I started the day with a trip to Diagon Alley, which in the muggle world is actually Leadenhall Market. It was interesting that no one seemed to know where it was. I asked my cousin and her husband, but they had never heard of it. None of the tour guides I spoke to knew anything of it. I ended up using a map and making my own way there. Once I got closer, I found signs pointing me right to it.

It was quite a beautiful little area, and I wish I had time to sit and have a cup of tea, but alas, I had a full day of touring ahead of me.

There were tables set up where vendors were selling various treats and foods. There were some meringue sweets that looked delicious, and little tarts and chocolates. There was a huge table full of cashews, peanuts, hazelnuts, and almonds, all in a huge variety of flavours. I ended up buying a bag of mixed nuts cooked with honey. They are super sweet but still delicious.

Yes, I finally worked up the nerve to ask a stranger to take my picture. I have this fear that they'll dash away with my camera, but I've determined that other tourists with big fancy DSLR cameras probably don't want my camera and are quite happy to take photos. I've also approached families and people who are waiting around in one spot for a while.

They had this beautiful pen shop where each pen was super fancy with intricate designs that cost at least about £75. Lots of fun to browse through bit slightly out of my budget, considering I tend to lose pens within days of buying them. I do think someone should open a magic shop there. It would do quite well!

The tour guide said this is the spot where Sweeney Todd is supposed to have had his barbershop. 186 Fleet Street. As far as I know–and I'm not going to research scary things to double-check facts right before bed–the musical has some truth to it, or at least is loosely based on a true story. It is a strange thing, to look at this place and know it is where it may have happened. This is the thought that kept going through my mind as I toured all over London. These are the places where the things I've read in history books actually happened; things that date back centuries and centuries.

Next, I headed down the Covent Garden Market, where I visited some little shops, including this sweet shop. But my favourite was...

Yes, I found a Canadian pub in London.

What made it Canadian? It had hockey jerseys on the walls (Edmonton Oilers–no Sens or Leafs), served poutine, Sleeman, and Moosehead, and had some Canadian employees. Apparently the cheese on the poutine is grated cheddar, not cheese curds, so I'm not sure it counts as poutine, but the menu swears it's an age-old recipe from Quebec. There was also a bear and a TV that supposedly shows hockey games.

More than anything else, this pub reminded me of a British pub that you'd find in Canada. However, I will make sure I remember it for when the homesickness kicks in.

Next, I took a boat cruise down the River Thames. The guide was really funny, and he shared some interesting facts about some of the buildings we passed.

This building is along the river. Technically, no buildings are allowed to advertise along the river, so OXO hid it in their stained glass windows. Apparently, someone took them to court, where they argued that they didn't realize that the windows spelled the name of the company and that it was simply a coincidence. The judge believed them, and they have had free advertising where there should be no advertising for many decades.

I just liked this photo because the glass building really stands out among the older style structures around it. The guide joked that inside was a university for glass cleaners. I can't quite remember what is actually inside, so a glass cleaner university is how I shall remember it.

This is the Tower of London. Its purpose has changed over the years, but it is famously known as an execution centre. In a 400 year span, over 100 people were beheaded here, including two of King Henry VIII's wives. Apparently, if the executed person was important, their head would be preserved in tar, put on a spike, and placed along the river to warn others. According to the guide, William Wallace, Mel Gibson's character in Braveheart, was one of the last people to be executed here.

This was the end of the boat cruise, so I headed back onto land for some food.

And what do I eat for my first meal out in the UK?

Fish and chips of course!

A creepy bird decided to perch down beside me while I ate.

It was nice to have some company while I ate my deliciously greasy meal. Lucky he wasn't a mooch.

And that's marks the end of my London adventure! My conclusion: London is very pretty and there was so much history in every spot. I didn't fall in love with it like I thought I would, but I did have a lot of fun. I'd like to see the museums and perhaps the Changing of the Guard but I figured I'd save some things since I am sure I will be back.

I will be heading to Scotland tomorrow, so I'm sure there will be more blogging from there. I'm really looking forward to meeting students, as it gets quite lonely touring alone. But for now, my job is to figure out how I can possibly repack everything in that luggage bag. Goodnight readers!