Jolly Old England

Saturday, October 08, 2005


Okay, so it's impossible to get the right temperature shower for more than two days in a row. First, it was no warmer than room temperature water. I got a decent shower two days in a row. Now today, it was too hot. Today, the cold water tap was HOT -- not warm, HOT. And the HOT water tap was scalding! I set it as cold as I could, and it was too hot to even use on my legs.

There's an electric shower (it's a box on the wall of the shower instead of a normal dial... it takes cold water in and has a heating element inside to heat the water) on this floor, but I can't figure out how it operates. Granted, it must work, because people have left shower stuff (shampoo, soap) in there. I'll have to figure it out. Otherwise, it's really a trial-and-error process trying multiple showers on multiple floors until you get one that works.

A Week in Oxford

I took a few pictures today on my walk to get lunch. I walked through the park to get a couple shots there, and I took a number of pictures of the building and my room. You can see all the locked doors I have to go through to get into my room, which is 25 feet or so from the entrance. :) The pictures are available here. For those of you wondering, the pink stuffed animal is a Love-A-Lot Care Bear. It's on loan to me by Ana.

Also, I discovered that I hadn't yet posted the pictures I took the last day in Wales. They're just pictures of the house I stayed at. You can find them here.

I've been behind on blogging, so I'll summarize day-by-day:

Our first "compulsory" meetings were interesting. Now, in the UK, treating you as an adult is big. However, even bigger than that is their love for rules. In the U.S., if you were to skip a "mandatory" meeting, you'd simply be liable for whatever damage was caused by you missing that information. For example, if they were giving out your University ID, you wouldn't get one and you'd have to spend a lot of time tracking down and sweet talking the right person to get yours. Here, they actually made us check off our names. Anyone that didn't turn up for the meeting was referred to the Dean for disciplinary action.

We had a fire awareness meeting. We watched a video of how quickly a fire takes over a room, heard about how there was a fire here a few years ago (luckily in one of the all concrete buildings, so it didn't spread past the room). Having candles or anything that's a fire hazard will get you expelled from the University immediately. You will be gone within 24 hours.

The fire safety talk was given by a guy named (booming voice) "THE BURSAR". He's in charge of all things money-related and he's the college fire officer. From what people have said about talking to him one-on-one, he's a decent funny guy. But, he is incredibly serious about his rules. Using blue-tac on the walls is against the rules and nets you a £1 per spot fine. Using push pins on the walls will get you a £20 per hole fine, but he'll be nice and cap the fine at something like £200 or £240. The reason the fines are so steep is that those are the costs to repair the damage. They don't go through the rooms during breaks to the extend done in the U.S. because during breaks, they host conferences. These conferences bring in about £500,000 a year for this college alone. That's what helps subsidize the cost of education here. (Remember, £1 is between $1.75 and $2.00 these days.)

We had a couple boring talks on Wednesday morning. The first one was terrible, as the guy had such a thick accent I couldn't follow half of what he was saying. Most of this was like "welfare" stuff... basically, "If you have a problem, you can come talk to this person, or that person, or me, or me, or me, or me, or ..." There were several people there that introduced themselves and talked about their role in the welfare system.

After that, the Bursar talked to us again. This was when he went over the what-not-to-put-on-the-walls rules I talked about earlier. He also talked about electrical equipment. He said we had to have all of our kit inspected. The receptionist in the Bursar's Office said that I should file my request with the guy in my building, since I'm living out. That guy came and looked at my stuff and said it'd be fine. He said they're worried about old stuff, shoddy equipment, appliances like mini-fridges, poor power strips, and cheap voltage converters. I'm glad I got that out of the way.

During his big boring talk, several people came in late. I wouldn't want to be them. He pointed out his extreme disappointment with them, and told them to stay after. I don't know what happened to them. He also totally stopped mid-sentence to single out a kid for falling asleep. I thought he was talking to me at first, as I was pretty bored. The kid next to me also thought it was him. Good thing we kept our mouths shut, as he was waiting for a response from the kid he was looking at. It was someone behind us. Yeah, after that, I think everyone in the room was wide-awake the rest of the meeting. I know I was.

I've decided, though, that it would be cool to be like the Bursar. If you could just switch on that I'm-totally-serious-don't-mess-with-me mode, that'd be pretty sweet, as long as you could be normal the rest of the time. I also decided that the Bursar doesn't have a name. I mean, he must, but I don't know if they told it to us. He's just "The Bursar" to all of us new students.

We had a formal dinner on Wednesday as well. It had a couple sentences in Latin for opening/closing, a speech about the hall, a ceremony (which basically means the pro-principal read a promise to act in the hall's best interest and we said, "I promise.") The speech was good. The theme was the history of the Hall, so he was like, "You see all these other colleges proudly displaying their dates of founding: 1857, 1615, 1550" (numbers not quoted exactly, but accurate to a decade or so) "You notice we don't display ours. It's because we're so old, we don't KNOW when we were founded." For sure, it was here in 1317. It's the only surviving medieval "Hall".

Thursday morning, we had more boring and useless meetings, this time on "study skills". Then we had a talk from the college IT officer. He's from Toronto, Canada. He was pretty nice. Afterwards, I talked to him for a while. It was also nice to finally get a talk from someone who didn't have a British accent. He was easy to understand.

After the presentation, these guys were asking me questions about what sort of computer stuff I do, and I was telling them. During the presentation, the guy mentioned the University (as opposed to him, the college-level) IT staff were thinking about blocking MSN. I mentioned to the guys that I didn't think that would work. And I said, "I'm a developer on an IM client and I happen to be working with the MSN protocol some." Alex (a student from Ohio that came with the Butler program and is studying physics) asked which one. I said, "Gaim". He's like, "really?" I said, "Yeah, I'm a developer on Gaim." He said, "No way!" and hugged me, then said, "THANKS!" It was pretty random.

I decided not to drink any more Sprite over here. It's not very good. 7up is fine, but Sprite is just poor. Things are customized a bit to the local tastes, so they're not exactly the same as in the U.S. anyway, but on top of that, I hear they use more sugar here and less corn syrup as it's cheaper.

Friday, I met the Tutor for Visiting Students. I probably won't ever need to see her during the term, but she wanted all of us to know where her office was, in case we had problems that we couldn't resolve by talking to our subject tutor. I attended an induction (which was an orientation, not a formal ceremony or anything like our dinner) at the Computing Laboratory. They didn't have a record of me, so it took me a while to get my account, but I'm all setup at the computer lab now.

I also finally got to meet my tutor. His name is "Tom". They didn't have my courses figured out like I had thought they would, so we talked about what I should take. He's checking into a couple things and we'll get it all finalized Monday.

Throughout this week, disorganization has been the theme. Unstructured is fine, but unorganized simply shows lack of effort. At least my tutor was nice and said, "It's not your fault [that we don't have your courses figured out.]" Apparently, they had some computer problems, so it's been a mess the last week anyway.

Today I slept in, sat around reading funny stuff on the Internet, then went to get some food (and took pictures). In a couple hours, I have the big Fresher's "bop" (dance) at the college.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Well, I arrived in Oxford on Monday. The bus dropped the Worchester College kids off first, and their tour guide wanted them to look around and get their luggage later, so the bus had to wait a while. We walked to St. Edmund Hall to get our keys, then the bus met us and dropped us at our various residences.

It took forever to get to my place. It's a 20 minute walk from the college. I've been told it's about a mile. The other places are a 10 minute walk from the college in the other direction. Since many of the streets in the center of Oxford have been "pedestrianized" (closed to vehicles), it's a 10 mile journey around the city to get from the other places to here. A couple of the girls were freaking out about it, as they thought we were going to have to travel that far to get the college.

Despite being twice as far from the college as the others, this place is really nice. Granted, some of them apparently have really sweet suites at the Isis Hotel (which is used as a hotel in the summer). Others at the William Miller building have full bathrooms en suite (meaning in their room). We're close to the big University park, so that's pretty cool.

There was nobody to meet us here when the bus dropped us off and there was supposed to be, so the same two girls started freaking out again. The one called the Butler office and they called a guy who came over here. He was the same guy we met with back in London. It was nice he came, as he showed us an alternate route to the college that goes through the park, but we could've figured that out on our own too.

The biggest differences between here and U.S. universities are:

1) They treat you like a complete adult here. I've said that US universities treat you like an adult, but during orientation, they really babysit you. You have group leaders, mixers, etc. Here, you're really just dropped in and off you go.

2) The Universities here are not service-oriented. They are more selective about who gets in and since the cost of attendence is almost entirely* government subsidized, student here treat it as a privilege, not a product/service they're paying for.

* Until recently, University was completely free to UK students. Now it's £1000 a year, and there's talk of raising that (or maybe they have for students that start next year or something) to £3000. Still, that'd only be a little over $5,000 a year. That's less than US public schools, and when you consider the level of education you get at a place like Oxford, you'd really have to compare it to an Ivy League school, or AT LEAST a private school.

On the negative side, the JCR (think student association) members aren't as organized here as they are in the U.S. And yes, there is a difference between structured (which is a different point of view) and organized (which really reflects effort, etc.).

Overall, of course, it's been great so far. This is an interesting and beautiful city, as well, so who could complain. Next to our college is the oldest coffee shop in Oxford, and probably in Europe (which probably means the world). It's like 351 years old.

One of the oldest churches in the city is our library. Walking to it from the college, at least the entrance we end up using all the time, involves walking through a small graveyard. It's really interesting.

The college here is a LOT bigger than you'd think from the outside. It's all walled in, and blends into the city as well. Even when you walk in, you only see the Front Quad (with the forbidden grass). You have to pass through another doorway in the stone buildings to get to the major portion of the college. We apparently have the largest hall in Oxford University, which we use as a dining hall and for parties.

I have been really busy and haven't taken any pictures of Oxford since I got here. On the plus side, I'm keeping up with the Fresher's Week activities, the blogging, e-mail, phone calls, etc. and still managed to find time to fully unpack and setup my room. I'll take some pictures when I get a moment.

Pictures from the Last Day in Wales

Pictures from my last day in Wales (October 2nd) are available here.


Here are a couple short videos. Make sure the volume on your computer is turned way down as a couple of these are quite loud with background noise.

A short clip of a guy playing a recorder in Bath. He was really giving it his all. He was playing when we got there and still playing when we left, at least an hour later. This video is sideways and I'm not sure how to fix that easily at the moment.

The view of the beach at Swansea.
Driving through Mumbles, Wales, part 1.
Driving through Mumbles, Wales, part 2.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

British Words of the Day

I've been slacking with the words lately. Here are a few words and word oddities (As I don't have Internet access at the moment, I can't see if I've already posted these words or not, so forgive duplicates.):

"Cymru" - "Wales", in Welsh

"Famously" - Perfect answer to "How are you getting along?", meaning you're doing well.

"Spot On" - Similar to "Right On"

"Cheers" - Used in place of "Thanks, have a nice day." in some cases, for example, when getting off the bus.

"Rubbish" - Trash

"Pants" - Slang for something is poor. For example, "That movie was pants." To refer to what we call pants, say "trousers".

"Jumper" - Sweater, and possibly a Jacket (at least in the case of sweatshirt jackets)

"Dip/Dipping Headlights" - "Dip" is used in place of "Dim". My question as to what they call "brights" wasn't understood.

"Mobile [Phone]" - Nobody here says "cell phone".

"college" - Can refer to a "college" at Oxford, or can mean school between the ages of 16 and 18. "school" is only used to refer to primary and secondary school.

"Uni" - University

"coach" - A bus. Think Motorcoach.

Most people here don't pluralize "pound" when discussing currency. For example, the all-day fare on the Tube is "four pound, twenty".

Last Day in Wales

Again, this was written October 2nd, but it won't be posted until I get Internet access.

Today, our last day in Wales, we went down to the beach in Mumbles (as opposed to the beach in Swansea that we were at yesterday). Then, we walked along the footpaths on the cliffs. It's definitely some beautiful ocean front out here. Then, we walked along the pier.

I ate at a coffee shop with Brian, Mason, and a girl whose name I don't know. Brian and Mason are two of the guys I'm staying with at this host stay. We were all tired from all the activities we've had, so we stopped by a gift shop and them came back. It took a while for our "host mum" to drive in and meet us, as apparently, her washer had decided to stop working. It must have been a front-load, as she said when she opened it, all the water came out on the floor.

Brian, Samip, and I took a nap. Mason went for a walk. After that, we watched some Rugby before having dinner (fish, potatoes, carrots, and peas) and desert (pears, bananas, and ice cream). It was all very good.

After dinner, we each did our own thing (packing, reading, etc.) in our rooms for a while. Then, we went downstairs and played with Henry, Gill's grandson, which I guess makes him our "host nephew". Henry is 14 months and is here to visit today. He doesn't actually live here.

After that, we went back to doing our own thing. Mason is watching Miss Congeniality with Roy in the "lounge" (living room). Samip and Brian called home, but now I don't know what they're up to. I'm writing this. Later, we're going to give our gifts to the host family, and then it'll be about time for bed. We have to be up earlier tomorrow. The bus leaves at 9:00, meaning we have to be there at 8:45. It sounds like we may have to take two trips to get all four of us and our luggage the bus. European cars are very small.

Tomorrow I'll be in Oxford. It sounds like it'll be a busy orientation week, but I'm going to try to keep up with the blogging.