Monday, May 23, 2011

Weekend in London

We got up in plenty of time to get to the train station. I packed my backpack for the weekend, ate two pieces of toast and set out with Tabitha. As we approached the bottom of the hill we saw the #120 driving past. No worries…another one will be by soon. So when we boarded the next bus we still had adequate time. As we disembarked I saw a clock (we have no timepieces except Tab’s iPhone) and realized it was 10:15 and it left at 10:27. No worries…we had prebooked the ticket and just had to pick it up at the kiosk, and it’s a small station. But of course, the kiosk wouldn’t work with our credit cards (we are both having a lot of trouble with that) and we had to wait for an attendant. Thankfully, there was another train that left at 10:35, and we made that one instead.

I sat across from a young guy with a red/blue rep tie and very polished black oxforda who was talking quietly to himself. I pegged him for a lawyer going to London for a case. It turns out he was a lawyer who was going to London for a job interview, and he was going through his answers. We talked for awhile and he got his jitters out. Before long he was on his way to his interview, and Tab and I were hitting London.
We picked up an Oyster card for the public transit, and went to a hotel-finding service. After haggling with Ivalyo of Bulgaria for awhile over the price, and after he threw in breakfast, we settled on the Rockmont as inexpensive enough by London standards, but not sketchy. It was near Victoria station, and Tabitha liked its proximity to the Queen. With me navigating we made one wrong turn, but realized it fairly quickly, and before too long we arrived.
Tabs and I split up for the rest of the day. She went to the Tower of London for the afternoon, and I went to the Tate museums. Although I enjoyed the pre-Raphaelites and the Turners, I was underwhelmed. It seemed like the collection was small in the kinds of works I really wanted to see. I had seen more pre-Raphaelites in Washington, and more large Turners in Paris. So after awhile I headed for the Westminster tube stop in order to get the subway to the Tate Modern. However, while at Westminster, I decided to wander around a little and get a few shots of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. As I approached Westminster Abbey (closed to visitors) I noticed a that it was almost time for Evensong. So I decided to stay for the service. I got to listen to those lovely choir voices, heard at the Royal Wedding, fill Westminster. The acoustics were phenomenal. It was such a treat.
I made my way over to the Tate Modern. I really just wanted to see it, housed in a a converted electrical building. I’m not a huge modern art person, but I did see several big names in the modern art movement…. May Ray, Gerhardt Richter, Mark Rothko, Picasso, etc. But only rarely does modern art move me (especially countered against the choir voices at Westminster), and so I didn’t stay long.
Tabitha and I met up at the hotel room for dinner. We just walked down the street to a Cyprian restaurant and it was fabulous. We shared a plate of delicious Yogurtlu Tavuklu Beyti and called it an early night.
Saturday we enjoyed a fabulous breakfast, where we sat next to a nice Australian couple from the Gold Coast. Of course, since Grayson lived in Surfer’s Paradise on the Gold Coast, we had an immediate connection and visited for a long while. After breakfast we tried to make some travel arrangements but without much success. So then we left for the day and went to Buckingham Palace and saw the changing of the guard. From there we walked up the red road to the Wellington Arch, and to the Houses of Parliament. After lunch, we walked through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, to Notting Hill. Tab’s knee had been getting increasingly more painful for her over the day, and I feared she wasn’t going to make it to Portobello Road. Obviously the bargains and shopping there got the best of her, and she forgot her knee momentarily. After an unremarkable dinner, we thought we’d go out on the town. However, with little entertainment budget, we wandered around Carnaby Street and people watched. In the subway station, we were going down the escalator while a woman (who otherwise looked sane) was trying desperately to go up the down stairs. Not sure how that ended up working for her but we heard her clomping up the risers until we boarded the train. We got a good chuckle out of it.

Sunday, we had another great breakfast and decided to hit a museum. I had never been to the Victoria & Albert, and Tabitha didn’t care. (She had seen Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye. She was satisfied.) Some of the V&A was tedious (really? An entire wing of ‘Ironwork’?) but there were some really great aspects. One was the amazing jewelry collection. The other were the two exhibitions going on. Tabitha went to Yohji Yamamoto’s fashion exhibition, and came away inspired to pull out the sewing machine and sign up for Project Runway. I went to The Cult of Beauty, a magnificent exhibition of the pre-Raphaelites. Lots of my faves were there: Burne-Jones, Alma-Tadema, Rosetti, Whistler, Leighton, William Morris, Julia Cameron, etc. It more than made up for the dearth at the Tate (and maybe that's where the Tate ones were hiding!)

We visited over lunch with an elderly London couple; she remarked that she had an American Army boyfriend during the war and I asked, “His name wasn’t Herb, was it?” Her husband laughed and said, “No, and it’s a good thing. Then I wouldn’t like you so much!” We enjoyed Victoria’s own recipe for sponge cake with strawberry/cream filling, and it was to die for. We left the museum thinking that since it was such a lovely day we should head to a garden and walk. We went to the Chelsea Physic Garden, and on the way passed the Chelsea Flower Show. I would have loved to have had tickets to that! (I bet they let Obama go on Tuesday when he gets there, but for me, they were sold out!) So I can honestly say I went TO the Chelsea Flower Show, but not that I actually went in. ☺ From the Garden we caught the bus back to Victoria Station for our subway to St. Pancras and ‘home’ to Sheffield.

I decided that yes, I could live in London, for 2-3 years but not forever, if I lived in Chelsea or Notting Hill or somewhere like that (high on the quaint factor). So if anyone out there on the internet has a great job opening in London, for an American, I’m all ears!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A peek inside higher ed: Sheffield edition

If higher ed doesn't interest you neither will this blog post. You've been warned.

I'm learning so much about other ways of doing things. The U of Sheffield is one of the Russell Group schools, the top tier of universities in England, against which they all benchmark each other. It is also one of the 'red brick' universities, Victorian-era schools that leaned away from the liberal arts (as Oxford and Cambridge) and toward research and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programs. Being a red brick, Russell Group school means that it does things well. Although their campuses and histories are very different, I see several similarities with Clemson: size of student population, research emphasis, "Top 25", and engaged student bodies, to name a few. The Student Union here is top rated across the UK, and I've been so impressed with it. It is a completely separate entity from the University, completely run and funded by students via their elected representatives. Much of what Clemson (and US universities in general) provides in the way of activities, restaurant venues, student support, facilities, programming... is handled 100% by students here. They hire a manager of the Union, who in this case is very effective in collaborating with the University. Relations between the Student Union and the University are currently professional and cordial and cooperative, but the two are completely distinct. It's an interesting model to observe.

I see a very strong model within the University itself of collaboration and student support. It seems everyone I meet with has a job that requires them at many points to work in conjunction with other departments or people. The silo approach to departments seems not to exist. Maybe I have dug far enough to find it, but it's a very different approach from what I've studied/seen before. Sometimes I fear that on some American campuses, the point of higher ed -- the EDUCATION -- piece, sometimes gets lost, or at least obscured by layers of jargon and programming. I remember at the ACPA conference being stunned by the dearth of actual helpful information about supporting students in their academic studies. Here, a bachelor's degree is achieved in three years, not four, and the academic piece is paramount. To see student affairs at work is to see things revolve around making student's academic life succeed. Some of the functions that student affairs in the States takes on, are handled through the Student Union, and thus for and by students (or those hired by students) themselves.

The project I'm working on here integrates many people and I've tried to take advantage of interviewing as many folks as I can, under the auspices of my project. Really, however, I'm just trying to be a sponge and learn how it is done, what the similarities/differences are, what they see their challenges as. I am catching a glimpse of administration on a large campus in action (as a fly on the wall). It would be nice to think that I could come back to the states and get a job putting these perspectives to use. Here's hoping.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


These are my fellow interns in Sheffield. We have one other intern in Rome, but I'll have to talk mention her when we visit (hopefully!) In the meantime, it's me, Tabitha and Ryan. They make great traveling companions. Here's why:

Ryan. He gets lost -- a lot-- and so he is happy to let map-fiend (me) and schedule-master (Tabitha) do the navigating and planning. I can't imagine someone more easygoing. He is a good conversationalist, and makes us laugh at his observations. He's smart and curious and well-informed, but happy to just take life as it axes to grind or anything to prove.

Tabitha. She's uber conscientious. She's wickedly funny. She is always happy to stop for cake, chocolate, coffee, fudge, tea, biscuits, a beer at the pub. If it has to do with food/drink/sweets....she's game. She laughs at me when I trip or ask a stupid question, so I feel quite at home (my kids do the same, so they'd be pleased.) She listens and commiserates well.

Yep, I like my partners in crime.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The joys of walking everywhere

In the last few days, I've been trying to make sure that I take advantage of free or cheap things to do, to make the most of my time here. There's an element of making up for what I couldn't do this past year at Clemson because of my distance from campus. I always felt that I was having to pass up concerts, get-togethers, sporting events, etc. because I just couldn't stay any longer, or didn't want to cough up the time and gas money every time something happened. Anyway, since I have a bus pass here in Sheffield, and the university seems to always have things going on, I am making an effort.

So besides the neighborhood pubs, the three of us went to a great concert Thursday night held at the university. It was British folk, and the guy was really, really good (Chris Wood). Afterwards, we waited close to an hour for the 'every 10 minutes' bus, and then of course, had the half mile straight uphill walk from the bus stop to our house. Friday we walked down the hill and rode downtown to take in what the city has to offer. We walked to the Weston Park museum, which is about Sheffield history. Then while Ryan and Tabitha did whatever, I went and got my hair cut and colored. Yes, in a strange city I played roulette with my hair. The folks at Wigs & Warpaint did a great job, although because of the crummy exchange rate, it cost a bit more than it would have at home. Met up with them at a coffee shop and walked over to the art museum, which, truth be told, is slim on anything remotely 'must-see'. But we managed to make it fun. Next stop was walking down Ecclesall Road, where folks had said there were nice shops, pubs, etc. So we walked down the road, stopping only at the tattoo parlor, and for me to sample some tiramisu. Then we kept walking what seemed like forever, until we got back home.

I turned around Friday night and went back to campus for a movie. Which, although it was good enough, was about a marriage that was splitting up. So once again, things were a little too close to home. So I thought, very unwisely, I'll just walk downtown and people-watch. Which I did in the 44 degree 'spring-like' weather. Being alone downtown on Friday night was the unwise part. Not from a safety point of view, but just from an emotional one. I realized this pretty quickly, and tried to catch the 'every 10 minute' bus, and once again, had to wait for almost an hour.

However, the people-watching was outstanding at the bus stop. Every girl looked ridiculous. Most teetered on stilletos 4-8" tall, on cobblestones (this is nothing against heels, because I love a pair of beautiful shoes -- but these were just tall to be tall...not beautiful). Most were wearing short dresses (and by the word 'short' I mean, almost covering their butts, but not quite) without sleeves. In 44 degrees. It was then that I realized how very tired I was that young women feel the need to look like street-walkers in order to be seen as attractive. Hopefully the tipping point is being reached, and the pendulum can swing back to something more reasonable. Anyway, I made it back home finally, and tried to get over the feelings of isolation that I was struggling with.

Today, we walked back down to Ecclesall Road and caught the #272 to Castleton. It's in the heart of the Peak District, and was a lovely ride. Once in Castleton, I regretted that I had not packed a parka, scarf, hat, gloves, smartwool socks, and thermal underwear. The rain wasn't too bad, but the wind was driving, and it was cold. But if you walk long enough, you stop noticing how cold you are. And so we walked and walked and walked some more. The English love walking, and there are footpaths to everywhere. We walked up to Peveril Castle, overlooking town, and we walked to the caves outside of town. And then we walked underground. And then we walked back to town, rode the bus, and walked home from Ecc. Rd., yet again.

I was going to go to a Haydn concert tonight, but I am simply walked out.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A little too close to home

Today I was allowed to sit in on some student financial counseling, with the intention that next week I will myself counsel students whose accounts are in arrears. I was looking forward to getting such direct student contact. The student services administrator I was shadowing went over the three cases we would handle, what kinds of questions she would ask, and what she anticipated would be the outcomes. The first student was well off enough, and was able to pay his fees after all. And the last student was just an issue of timing, but not of need. So those were straightforward cases.

But the woman in the middle was not so simple and clear-cut. She was 15 minutes early for the appointment. Her eyes were so sad. Her husband back in Nigeria had cut off her financial support as their marriage was crumbling. Now, she was here in a foreign country without means. She had scraped up what she could and had received a small amount of hardship aid. She had spoken with family members, and with the community leader who had arranged her marriage. But even if these people came through with the promised help, it would probably not be enough to satisfy her school bill.

She tried so hard to remain composed and with her head held high. But one by one large tears formed and slowly trickled down her cheeks.

I could barely stand it, being on the side of the desk saying 'You must pay this debt' but understanding the position way too well of being the one who is trying to remain strong in the face of rough odds or devastating news. I thought of a family member, who has been in the position of that student. I thought of several friends who have been in that position. They trusted someone to be there for them, and found themselves out in the cold, on their own, left to fend. And I witnessed this woman, at that place in her life, trying desperately to create alternatives out of ashes.

I didn't want to be there. I wished I could have given her a hug, cried alongside her, and offered some kind of assurance that 'it will be alright.' But I needed to be the professional in the situation, and besides, I know better. It might not be alright. She might return to Nigeria without her degree, without a husband, and without options.

So what did I learn today? I learned how incredibly difficult it can be to leave your own junk out of the room; to remain compassionate and empathetic while upholding the realities of rules and regulations; and to look injustice squarely in its tear-filled eyes.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Elizabeth....with a zed.

I met my new colleagues today and think this will be a great department to work in and learn from. One of the goals I have is to learn how another entire system 'does' higher education. What seems to work better? What do I like about the American system? My overview today shows me that I have much to learn! It is a bit daunting when you realize you can read an entire page of proper English, and have no idea what's been said. Same words, but arranged oddly, or with different meanings, so that while they have an air of familiarity, they don't convey the same ideas. Words such as faculty, modules, program(me)s, bursaries, invigilated are either new to me, or new in the way they are utilised (that's how they spell it here, too.) We cannot even agree on the names of the letters, for heaven's sake. I went to get my ID card, and was asked if I spelled Elizabeth "with an ess or a zed"? Um, I guess, given those options, with a zed.

So much of my day was spent learning how the organizational chart of the university here works. It's a changing thing right now, but at least I received the overview. I admired how the student affairs were left to .... the students. The Student Union is run by students, with student labor and management. It's like a labour union (note the extra u...I'm trying to improve my British spelling), but for students. (They build bars in their unions here...drinking age is 18, and there seems to be less ridiculously immature drinking behavior issues. Most of the disciplinary issues are those relating to academics, like cheating.) Most of the student services department deals more with issues surrounding academic support, whereas it is the Student Union that mans a "Student Advice" desk to address student advocacy.

I learned that the British system of examinations is much different as well. The professors submit their tests to the Examinations Team, who then schedule and oversee the administration of over 45,000 campus exams each year. These 3-week exam period are held at the end of each semester, and then "re-sits" for those who failed the first time around are scheduled for August. They also use their consulate to administrate exams overseas. Examinations are a big deal. I wonder if US faculty would like someone else to administer their exams for them?

Also see that faith development/spiritual life gets more than a cursory nod. More on that later.

I'll have to write more tomorrow since it's so late. Wanted to try to get first impressions down while they are fresh though. I should learn more tomorrow from my supervisor Ana about the project I'll be working on.

Wuthering Heights

I can't say the word 'moors' without thinking of Wuthering Heights. Not that I read it, mind you. That was the year I got kicked out of high school, and so I missed a bit more than British Literature, truth be told. But 'moors' just sounds like Wuthering Heights. Or like Othello. Either way, it's Brit Lit.
Anyway, I went walking yesterday on the moors. Must have walked five miles or so by the time it was all through. But it was beautiful, and the wind was whipping, the skies were crisp and blue, and all was right with the world up there. OK, most everything was right. There was the unfortunate discovery Tabitha made of a pair of young child's underwear....there are no JiffyJohns on moors. And there was the mental hospital we stumbled upon. OK, it wasn't really, but it seemed like a plausible story. Learned later that it was an old TB sanitarium. And there was the bus stop that had the courtesy to display a nicely printed sign that read "This is no longer a stop." Guess it would have been too much trouble to just remove the stop....gotta give people hope that they've reached the stop, and then crush it. But the swifts and Queen Anne's lace and crumbling stone walls and heath and open vistas... they were lovely. We stopped in at the Three Merry Lads pub (which my Facebook friends have made naughty jokes about). Tabitha ate her third major dessert in 24 hours (but no judgment, really), and I had a latte with Kahlua. Just the thing to warm me up so I could make it to the real bus stop.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

If you have an ounce of a soul in you, you'd probably enjoy Chatsworth House, at least today. Today was filled with gorgeous art and baby animals and gardens and beautiful spaces and flowers. After a WARM night (must have worked to our benefit that I tipped up the furnace) Tabitha and I woke happy. Lisa, our hostess, drove us down to the bus stop to catch the 9:12 to Chatsworth House in Peaks National Park. It is the ancestral (and current) home of the 12th Duke and Dutchess of Devonshire.
After a lovely half hour drive in the countryside, we arrived before opening. We got a cup of coffee/tea and wandered through some shops, then into the gardens surrounding the estate. We lucked into arriving on one of the days of the "Florabundance Festival". Even though it was raining, we walked for several miles admiring all the landscaping and flowers in bloom and baby animals (lambs and ducklings). The home exterior was undergoing some renovations, but the gardens and interiors were still fantastic. The tulips were all in bloom, along with about every other flower you can imagine. It was really incredible. Reminded me a bit of Biltmore House, Versailles... you know, houses and gardens erected by really rich people, who now must let the likes of me inside their homes, in order to pay for them!
We dined at the restaurant and then tackled the house itself. The art collection alone was worth the trip: from Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Franz Hals, and Correggio, to Joshua Reynolds, David Hockney, and Lucien Freud. Then there were the awesome interiors. Then the gorgeous flower arrangements. Just my cup of tea, for sure.

Oh, and be sure to watch the upcoming documentary about Chatsworth House on the BBC. It will feature all three of these feet.

Friday, May 06, 2011 the dodgy end...

Tabitha and I shivered our way through night one. I stayed in bed as long as I could to stay warm. When we both got up, and no one was home, we turned up the heat just a little bit! But of course our dear host Andrew showed up and I was busted! :-) However, the day warmed up and it was absolutely lovely today for strolling around town and checking out our new surroundings. So we walked to the bottom of the hill, boarded the bus into town, and saw what there was to see in downtown Sheffield. Everyone we talked to were like, "You're spending your holiday? SHEFFIELD?" Apparently the convention and visitors bureau has not convinced the locals that anyone would want to come here! But we enjoyed ourselves, especially the little coffee shop where we sipped caramel hot chocolate. As the day got late, we boarded the #120 back to our house. But after circling the city center it veered east, rather than west. Gradually, the scenery got dodgier, and we realized that yes, we were on the right bus, but headed in the wrong direction! After learning some valuable transport lessons -- make sure what side of the road you are on! make sure you wave for the driver or he won't stop! -- we were delivered back to the bottom of the hill. We stopped in the pub there to celebrate our arrival. Then climbed Carsick Hill to our home sweet home. Lisa fixed a delicious vegetarian lasagne which we devoured. We sat around planning our weekend adventures. Tomorrow we will travel to the Darcy estate from the Keira Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice, better known as Chatsworth House; at the end of May, Ryan will join us (and maybe Maja??) to fly to Venice!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Same blogger...different country

Today I landed in Manchester, UK, to begin an internship at the University of Sheffield. However, most sadly, I could not find the cord which connected my camera to my computer, and so haven't a way to upload photos currently, except from Tabitha's camera (where those that follow were taken). I'm going to look to buy a cord here if that's possible. Of course, I still haven't exchanged currency, used an ATM, bought a bus pass, or really done any of the navigating in a new country that I need to.

Tabitha and I arrived here after an uneventful flight. It was the part before the flight that was eventful. My parents dropped us at the airport and we said our goodbyes. Inside, we immediately learned that our baggage was overweight. Not such a big problem for me, as I could carry a makeup bag as my second carry-on, and problem solved. But Tabitha had "weightier" issues: 25 pounds to redistribute, and (Murphy's Law) a busted zipper on her brand new carry-on. Finally after proving that no, we are not terrorists, and about an hour, extra baggage, and lots of discarded toiletries, later, we boarded the flight.
The layover in Atlanta was short. I scarfed down an Arby's as Tabitha tried to hunt down a replacement for the totally worthless Samsonite. As time neared for boarding, I began sending texts: "Hi, I'm leaving the food court." "Hi, where are you?" "The gate is all the way at the end of the concourse. Where are you?" "Our zone is finished boarding! Where are you?????" and finally "I'm on the plane and in a panic." But she made it on, having found unfortunately no luggage to replace the broken zippered tote bag. This was this morning's view out the window:

Jet lag has been my constant companion today. Arriving in Manchester, we navigated our way to the train station and found the train for Sheffield. We called Andrew, our University contact, who picked us up an hour later at the Sheffield platform. He drove us by the University, showing us where we'd be working, and then on to the house we are staying in, high up Carsick Hill, west of the city. The home is lovely... a recently renovated older home with a large (by English standards) lot, 3 darling children, 2 Maine Coon cats (Ra and Isis), and a very kind and accommodating couple. Following leek and potato soup, Tabbs and I both took a long nap. Late afternoon, we walked down the hill to the bus stop, and did a bit of shopping (replacing those discarded toiletries). It is election day here in England:

Hopefully by tomorrow we will have our beauty sleep, and be ready to tackle to bus system, touring around downtown, and getting our local bearings.
So far, these are my observations:
1. It's colder here. Colder in the house, colder outside. I hope I brought enough warm non-work clothes.
2. I want a Maine Coon cat.
3. Even the houses where they wouldn't claim to have a gardener, look quaint and brimming with landscaping. Just on our short walk, we saw peonies, lilacs, columbine, tulips, rhododendron, roses, and about two dozen other plants I don't know... all in bloom.
4. I should have amazing calves by the time I've climbed Carsick Hill daily for 6 weeks. This is a sign posted along the not-very-steep section: