Dissertation Delays

On the bright side, my dissertation is complete. On the darker side, it’s currently on a computer I’m locked out of this afternoon. Thankfully, I can get to it by this evening in a worst case scenario. It’s really strange being finished with it and having a few days left to spare. Not sure what I’m going to do for the next few days.

Oh wait, yes I do. I’m going to be packing things. I moved out of Leicester at the end of June, and now the favourite human and I are about to turn around and move to Norwich due to work commitments. He’s going to have an hour commute, and I’ll be on a two-hour commute down to London for my internship. Public transport for both of us, so I imagine we’ll both be sleeping whilst riding in the mornings. I’d say chatting with friends on the ride back, but phone service is admirably spotty on the train lines. I’m thinking attempting to re-read the Harry Potter series over the two months.

It’s going to be another shift in life, but it’s one I’m looking forward to happening. It’s going to be a house and not a flat for a change, and one we both get to create together, rather than feeling like a squatter in each other’s places. It’ll also be doing work directly in a museum environment for me, and I’m so excited to be out of the abstract of academia and back into the real world! From here on out it’s a great internship and job applications galore.

Also in terms of shift, it also feels like it’s time to shift this blog a bit. I suppose you can be a tourist forever, but if you want to live somewhere permanently, it becomes detrimental. I’ll continue to write (and hopefully a little more regularly), but rather than being an intrepid reporter for all things *different* between the US and the UK, I’d like to just write about life as it happens. Things that surprise, comfort, amuse, confuse even. It’s not going to devolve into a Dear Diary thing (I hope), but it just feels more and more awkward to write in the style I have been for the last few months. Instead, I’m going to try to tell stories. Hopefully decently written stories, but stories of settling into a new phase in my life and of all the cast that appear in it. I might even do an overhaul of the blog layout!

So let us spring forth with a new Kate, unencumbered by blog traditions! I’ll start this reformat with a piece I’ve adapted from my fellow blogger Inspired Life and list 20 things I’ve either learned about myself this year, or things about myself that have changed over the last few months.

  1. The further into academia I delve, the worse my cleaning obsessions get. Before university, I was a messy lady. Now, I’ve been spotted vacuuming and wiping counters on a regular basis. I even make the bed! (The bathroom remains the bane of my existence though.)
  2. My accent seems unlikely to change in the near future. The idioms have altered, but I still very commonly stand out as an American. And honestly, I’m fine with it. At first I wanted to do everything I could to blend in quickly, but now I’m finding it alright to just be who I am. Within reason anyway.
  3. I’m learning to better accept that not everyone will like me, and that sometimes you just can’t do anything about it. It stings to find out someone thinks ill of you, but you really can’t please everyone. Just try to be kind in general.
  4. I have been an idiot. Oh, hindsight. I count this as a good thing though. If I can look back at things I’ve done and realised it was a poor choice, then that means at least I’m not as likely to do it again.
  5. There is always time to read. You don’t realise how much TV and internet sucks up your time until you start reading more and realise how far behind you are on pop culture. There’s a balance to it I suppose. I managed to read 53 books last year, and I’m up to 28 so far this year. Some have been school books of course, but a good portion are just for pleasure. The not having to drive places thing really does help with this.
  6. I’ve reached the age where I no longer put my head to the pillow and don’t wake up again until the alarm buzzes. It’s never been insomnia for more than a day, but I’m commonly awake briefly in the middle of the night. We’ll definitely need to move the bed away from the wall in our new place, as being awake in the middle of the night is useless when you’re the one stuck facing the window.
  7. Just like when we moved across the US, there are things I miss from US. Would I want to move back? Not really. Would I like to visit often? Most definitely!
  8. Living the first year of my life with no animals in it has been rough. My chivalric love of cats from afar is getting ridiculous.
  9. I’ve realised that sometimes, the cheapest plane ticket is just not worth it.
  10. Having friends around the world is a fantastic thing, and the ones that keep in contact after all this time will likely be friends for life. With that said, it also really sucks when all your friends are nowhere nearby and you’ve got nothing to do on a Friday night.
  11. I have grown to greatly appreciate adequate public transport. It’ll be nice to drive again at some point, but being able to get nearly anywhere you need to go with public transport and your own two feet is phenomenal.
  12. I’m not sure how long I have to live here to stop being surprised by things, but today is not that day.
  13. I still hold firm that rain and thunderstorms are great. Mists and fogs of water consistently pouring from the sky all day? Not great.
  14. I’ve not gotten any slimmer than when I got here, but for possibly the first time in my life, I’m beginning to feel comfortable in my own skin.
  15. There is, in fact, a point where I can see too many ancient buildings. I never thought it was possible, but here we are.
  16. My alcohol tolerance has gone up considerably since moving to England, but I still don’t think I’ll ever manage to get to the level of drunkenness that the English manage grandly. It’s truly a sight to behold.
  17. I’m not sure I want to continue my education past a master’s degree. I think it might actually break me to attempt a PhD.
  18. If I did go back for a PhD though, it’d be back to my one true love of anthropology and not in museum studies.
  19. Being totally alone in a new city where no one knows who you are and you can do and see what you please is one of the most liberating things in the world. I’d recommend everyone should try it once, even if it’s just a cool new city nearby your hometown.
  20. Watching and learning how a culture works is very different from being immersed in a culture yourself. It’s very easy to say, “Well that’s different from what I know, but it seems to work for them.” It’s much more difficult to allow yourself to be placed into different cultural norms and not rebel against them. Some you will come to accept and love, and some you will consistently struggle with.

— Kate

the internet is coming to get us. well let's get it before it gets us.

Almost Back.

Hello all!

Been busy reading, and rereading, and brainstorming, and writing, and a little morose sulking, and all of those other things that come alongside with dissertation writing these last few months. Side effects include the complete lack of will to blog (“What did I do this week? I sat on the same sofa cushion every day and researched biological growth rates.”), weight gain (an unfortunate product of being planted on said sofa), and general whining (my friends and loved ones are SAINTS I tell you). Thankfully it’s nearly (hopefully!) wrapped up and I should be back to normal-ish by the end of this week or next. Of course, there will be revisions and edits and looking-overs until right before it’s due next month, but at least the painstaking effort of making words appear on a page in sentence form will be done. It’s not all been doom and gloom though, and I’ve had a few glorious breaks in which to get out and see the world. In order to psuedo-catch you all up, I’ll give you the last few months’ highlights in photos.

In early May my favourite human had a job interview down in London, so I decided to take the day off and go wander around the British Museum while he interviewed nearby. That ended up being a stressful experience that no one had planned for. Ordinarily, one needs only to take the train from Colchester to London Liverpool Street Station and then the Underground to Holborn.

We ended up taking a train that stopped once for 15 minutes due to a malfunctioning train in front of us, which then started moving again only to be completely shut down due to an accident on the lines ahead of us. This so happened whilst we were nearest to Shenfield, so due to the train line being closed until police could settle the matter, we had to get out at Shenfield. From here, the options were to take a train backwards to another line that would go into London, or find a taxi, or take a bus kind of backwards and around to the closest Tube station.

We happened to be super lucky and a lovely older couple offered to take us in their car to the nearest Tube station, as the gentleman needed to be in London soon as well. We still ended up being late to that interview, but they were able to slot him in later in the afternoon. Leaving behind a thoroughly rattled boyfriend, I went to wander the museum’s section on Crete and the Minoans.

I’ve always passed by this section, but am usually with others that had no interest, so I was excited to be alone and able to enjoy this obscure section to my heart’s content. And I did. I think I read every single bit of text in the exhibit and even had a little bit of time left over to start into the medieval section. At that point though, the interview was a success and it was time to get the poor frazzled one some lunch and to go back home.

Soon after, I also got to witness British democracy in action, though only from the sidelines. It’s a very weird phenomena to see all these signs and posters reminding you to vote and realising that you aren’t allowed to here. Interestingly though, I did learn that if you are a Canadian or Australian living here, you can vote in UK elections. Commonwealth benefits that Americans obviously missed out on. The only way they’ll ever let me vote is if I pass the citizenship test.

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Watching British democracy in action from the sidelines.

Next was our welcome break from the paperwork monotony at the end of May to Calpe, Spain. It’s over in the Costa Blanca region, near Alicante and Valencia. It was warm and sunny and very laid back, and we had a fun evening in the middle of it celebrating the beau’s birthday!

After Calpe, it was a decently quick turnaround until my parents arrived to see me and tour around the UK. Remember, I haven’t seen them in person since I left in September, so I was SUPER excited to see them again! 🙂 We had a great mix of catching up, explaining the country and it’s quirks, and looking at all kinds of places. We started in London, but left quickly after for Leicester so they could see where I’d spent my last few months. We got to see a Magna Carta performance in the Guildhall, Richard III’s new burial spot, and got lucky and caught the organ player at St. Nicholas’s Church. He let us see the inside, played us a beautiful piece, and even let Mom ring the church bells. She looked like a kid at Christmas. 🙂

Next we went to York. York is just like going back in time when you get to the centre of the city. We saw castles and medieval side streets and ancient pubs galore. We even took a haunted ghost bus tour, which was more silly than scary but still good fun. After a good two days in York, we continued on to Warwick to see the castle. It’s gone a bit commercial these days, but it was still an enjoyable experience – minus the downpour of rain. I did love to see the shock on Mom’s face each time it would start to rain, like it wasn’t supposed to be happening.

Bath was our Sunday adventure, and we fed them a proper Sunday roast before walking the city. The next day we made a quick detour into Wales just to say we’d been there, then drove on to Stonehenge for the majority of the afternoon. You can’t go up and touch Stonehenge anymore, but we had another bit of luck and happened to come in just as the Druids were closing their ceremonies for the summer solstice. It was positively magical! The heritage centre next to the circle is also really well done and makes up for not being able to get as close as you’d like to the stones.

Our grand adventure wrapped up in Reading, but not before we stopped in at Dad’s childhood home in Syresham. Grandpa was in the military in the 70s, so Dad and the rest of the family moved around the world quite a bit. For about 5 years though, they lived in England. Their home is a historically listed property, so it’s still around. Needless to say, Dad was stoked to see it. We only intended to be there for a few minutes to take a photo of the outside and have a quick drive around the village, but the lady who owned the house was actually outside. She was glad to hear about the old stories Dad had and even let us look around the inside. It was such a neat experience to have a visual for all the stories of the place that I had heard as a kid, including the infamous Toast Ghost.

Sadly, we had to leave Mom and Dad from Reading. They took the coach back to Heathrow and safely flew back home. When I called to check up on them this weekend, they’ve already settled back into US summer life, with Dad extending the back deck and Mom slowly deep cleaning her way through the house. I can’t wait until they can come and visit again, though perhaps the next time we’ll stay in one region and make day trips out. Packing a car for four people every day can be more tiring than you think! Still, it was a great trip. 🙂

Now, I’ve just got my conclusion to write and some better signposting throughout the dissertation. And of course all the edits that will inevitably appear after those are written in. Still, I’m only 400 words away from my minimum goal and I can see a future ahead that doesn’t involve staring at my computer all day, every day. I might even get to go for more walks! This summer is full of excitement to come, and I’ll fill you all in later on it. 🙂

— Kate

Green Fig Tree

Hello all!

No grand adventures this week, just mostly working on my dissertation’s literature review and being a test subject for new recipes. I’m totally cool with both. The weather is officially spring now, with temperatures hanging around 14 C and even getting up close to 20! It’s been deliciously warm and sunny the last two days, so I’ve been taking breaks between reading with walks around town and through the park. It also gives me time to listen to the news and not slowly become one with a desk chair, and is well appreciated.

In terms of dissertation though… I can see amongst my friends that dissertation is nearly their entire life, at least according to Facebook. And it brings some real pressure with it. I mean, getting through your undergraduate degree is stressful enough, but then grad school starts. You are let loose with some vague references to literature and told to come back with something good and useful. You get a sampling of this in your undergrad, but it’s a new learning curve to adjust to when you go for your master’s. And really, I suppose if you’re still in the running by the time you get to your actual dissertation, you’re doing pretty well. Still.

Recently, I’ve been really struck with something. I think it’s because with the end of taught lectures a lot of us are scattering to the winds and I will be losing friends back to other countries again. That and the prospect of actually looking for a real career soon is looming. I don’t think it’s regret that I’ve been struck with by any means, as I’m happy with my life choices, but maybe something similar. Have you ever stopped and realised you’ve missed an opportunity in life? That you’re officially past your sell-by date on something in particular? I noticed it at the ballet a couple weeks back. Watching the ballerinas glide across the stage, I realised that yes, I could definitely still go into ballet and probably be decent if I tried hard enough, but in all likelihood my chances of being prima ballerina at the Royal Opera House are long gone by now. It wasn’t a sad feeling, just kind of odd to consider.

I’m also seeing crossroads in my past and just find it interesting to see how many different directions my life could have gone if I had made just one different choice, said yes instead of no, or no instead of yes. When you’re younger you don’t really have this because for the most part everyone is supposed to be achieving the same goals. When you’re 25 though, there are suddenly a lot of options that you could (or have) chosen – marriage, babies, education, moving, careers, passions, travels… It suddenly makes it a lot harder to think you know if you’re doing well or not. I can also see why people have an odd mental timescale of when they’re supposed to have done things by, though it seriously depends on what social circle you’re in.

It just makes me think of the quote from Sylvia Plath:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

Relate to that girl, but don’t be that girl! Really, I’m just writing down what I’m sure literally everyone in my social circles is thinking, so I’ll wrap it up. We’re all in flux right now and nothing is permanent and to be honest, I don’t know if it ever will be entirely, nor would I want it to be. I guess go with the flow, enjoy the ride, and all those cliches?

— Kate

cats in a kitchen with a kettle

3 New Cities, 2 New Museums, and 1 Sleepy Kate

It’s been hectic since getting back from Christmas break, but it’s been educational and fun and MAN have I been lucky to see as much as I have in these few months I’ve been here. To catch y’all up with what all has occurred I’m doing another photo-heavy post, but I’ll try to get some actual writing in later this week and (in theory) be back to the usual by this weekend on scheduling. With no further ado, I launch you into the King Richard III Visitors Centre!

After finding the king in a car park in 2012, the Leicester city council rapidly put together an exhibit in the Guildhall. Soon after, they purchased the historic school building nearby the site and created the permanent visitor centre. They were faced with an interesting dilemma in that they actually have no artefacts to display. Richard is being reinterred at Leicester Cathedral next door, and there wasn’t much in the car park to tie directly to the king. However, the exhibition is put on using digital and print storytelling techniques and used 3D scanning and printing to display the skeleton in more creative ways than they could have with the actual thing. It may cost £8 to get in, but I’d say it’s well worth it for an afternoon adventure.

Next was a day trip to Bath. It was a whirlwind tour through, but we hit all the main spots and I’d love to go back at some point. The city is very strict on how they portray their image and it shows in the modern buildings blending almost seamlessly into the older ones.

The day after Bath we were in Lacock. Lacock is the coolest idea for a heritage project. Basically, the National Trust owns nearly all of the buildings in the village, so they have strict control over what is done to them. However, they rent them out for people to live in, and there are still enough shops (albeit mostly for the tourists) that it still feels like a functioning village. One that hasn’t progressed past the 1700s, but a functional one nonetheless. While we were there we got to walk through a house from the 1450s that was available to rent by the week if you fancy a novel holiday…

The next adventure was Brussels, as it was Valentine’s Day weekend and going to Paris would be absolute madness. Brussels was a much better choice, and we had a fantastic time! Unless you’re going to see all there is to see of Brussels and the museums they have, going over a weekend is plenty of time to feel like it’s worth it. Also much better to have good company that can speak a lick of French or Dutch. 😉

Finally, there was our programme trip to Manchester last week to see the Imperial War Museum North as a field trip. They were another case study of very little actual artefacts, but you wouldn’t realise it right away. Most of their displays are papers and letters, but they use multimedia and interactives to really offset what could have been a super dry experience and instead make it a very personal one. It’d be worth a visit if you’re already in the Manchester area.

So that’s all for now, but I’ve got another field trip Friday to Hampton Court Palace outside of London and possibly a visit into London for another wander this weekend. We shall see. It’s just going to be busy whirlwind life for the next month and then dissertations begin after that. Woo.

Wish me luck!

— Kate

It’s All About the Mentality

Something that you will probably not consider too seriously (but totally should) when studying abroad is what you plan to do with yourself afterwards. After being here a few months I’ve realised that there are three main branches to this – the Education First, the Tourist, and the Not Leaving branches. These are of course geared towards non-EU students doing their entire degree abroad and not study abroad, as it’s all much different and sometimes easier if your country is a part of the European Union. It’s important you figure out early on which one you are, especially if you’re on a limited budget, so you know how to make the best of your year. Let me explain through broad, sweeping stereotypes of the groups.

The Education First

The Education First is at this university because it was the best option for their career choices. They can love, hate, or be indifferent towards this new country because they already have a goal workplace in mind (or lined up for them if they’re lucky). This person will go to events and see cultural attractions if it’s reasonable or doesn’t upend their workload, because their priority is first and foremost towards their education. Depending on the situation, they’ll go home for the long holiday periods and may go home for their dissertation if it’s economically feasible. This student will likely be the one with the smallest sum of student loans, because they’ve been planning in the long term what they want to do with their life.

The Tourist

The Tourist is likely planning on going back to their home country after their degree, but they may try for a job in their host country. Regardless, they aren’t entirely sure when they’ll be back in this new country and want to see and do as much as they can with this definite period of time. They will be travelling to see new cities every other weekend and out on the town as much as they can. They’ll likely try to make as many friends (and memories) as possible because this is a liminal year and should be lived to the fullest. This student will want to save up as much money as possible beforehand and be chill about cheap accomodation and odd hours for inexpensive transport options.

The Not Leaving

The Not Leaving is decently versed in visa regulations and is determined to become one of the limited accepted immigrants into their new country when their degree is done. They will likely be jockeying for anything to tack on their CVs that will make them stand out and will (like the Education First) be hesistant to going out on many adventures across the country. It’s not that they don’t want to go, but they see it as something to be visited later when they’ve got jobs and instead save the money for the few months post-degree that they’ll be applying for work before the student visa runs up. These students will want to save up money like the Tourist, but hoard it for the costs that trying to stay inevitably drag up.

When it comes down to it, most people in this experience won’t know for sure what they want to do until they’re already here. I know there are some folks in my programme that definitely started in one group and have migrated to another, and there are others who came here knowing exactly what they intended to do and are sticking to it. And you know what? That’s awesome either way. It’s just something you need to stop and think about when you decide to do your higher education in another country, and something to consider of the friends you make while you’re there. I know I haven’t gone on as many trips and events as some of the people in my group, and I only hope they don’t think I’m horribly antisocial, just maybe taking a different mentality of my time here. Or maybe that I’m just perpetually broke being a student on student loans. :p

— Kate

 

turns out meeting new people is a lot more complicated than I'd originally thought