Week One In Review - Jan 11-18
To begin my adventure, I departed on my first 747 flight from Miami to London-Heathrow. I got to sit on the top floor of the double-decker plane after a snafu with the lovely folks of Virgin Atlantic over my original seat position. The seat had a lot of leg room, but not so much of the actual seat to sit on, especially when the massive man next to me wants to hog the ENTIRE arm rest. When we finally settled in, it became extremely hot as we discovered the AC was not going to work for the first hour of the flight, and when it finally came back on, they put it on full blast for the remainder of the 8 hour flight.
Upon arrival, I was exhausted but still enthusiastic to get to Cambridge to see where I would be living for the next 4 months. It was cool when I was walking to the baggage claim to see all the massive 747 and 787 Dreamliners outside Heathrow from airlines I had never heard of. After I got my bag, I was greeted by the car service driver who drove me to my apartment in a Mercedes taxi. Of course it was very bizarre to sit as a passenger in the seat I would normally be steering in, as well as driving on the (wrong) other side of the road, but I knew that is how they drive in the UK.
Due to my 1 hour delay in Miami, I was one of the last ones to arrive to our apartments from our INSTEP group, but it was refreshing to see some familiar faces when I arrived. After some preliminary meetings, the next few days were spent to explore the city of Cambridge and become a sponge; absorbing all that I saw, heard, or tasted.
One of the things they always tell you about when arriving in a new country is the culture shock. Although both the UK and the USA both speak english, the culture shock was just as real. This city has just as many, if not more, bicyclists than motorists. And they are AGGRESSIVE! They will drive on the street, sidewalk, in both directions, without regard. They will weave in between people and around people silently like ninjas. It reminded of my time in Italy, where everyone drives Vespas and weave in between motorists on the road and at stop lights. Therefore, I walk everywhere I go, and sometimes I will have to walk very far to get to where I need to be. What is cool though is that when I look around, I realize that most buildings I see or go into are older than my actual country, which is hard to fathom sometimes. In fact, the rules of soccer were created only 2 streets away from my apartment on a 25 acre piece of public land called Parker's Piece:
In terms of the food, I have to be honest. A lot of the food here is crap. And I am not hurting anyone's feelings when I say that because most of the locals I have talked to know their food is nothing to write home about. The grocery stores are MUCH smaller than the ones at home, and the selection is pretty slim. Most products are always near expiration, or they don't look edible to buy anyways. With a good comb-through though, my roommate and I will find foods worth cooking back at our apartment. Therefore, we have resorted to a lot of home cooking. I am proud to say we have gotten really good at cooking pasta, toast, and sausages, so we got that going for us. Frozen pizzas, however, are still a work in process. (Trial and error is the name of the game...)
Despite all of this, the group has found a few diamonds in the rough. In town, there is a large marketplace with lots of booths and tents set up everyday with all kinds of produce, homemade products, and other goods. One food truck there serves grilled sausage and bacon sandwiches on baguettes which my classmates and I enjoy in between classes. Another favorite spot I stumbled upon is an italian restaurant and bakery called Patisserie Valerie. They make individual cakes and desserts fresh every day that are absolutely to die for.
My class schedule consists of 2 Monday & 2 Tuesday classes, as well as 1 late Thursday class. This means I have no classes on Wednesdays or Fridays. This was designed to give the weekends the flexibility to travel, something I am planning to do as much as possible. For example, this upcoming weekend 5 of us are taking a coach bus to France and spending the weekend in Paris. There will also be a day trip to the Palace of Versailles. I will make sure to make another blog post specifically for this weekend, and expect lots of photos to come from this and all subsequential trips too! To see photos of Cambridge so far, click any one of the pictures below from that gallery, or go under "Portfolio" above to see all my galleries. I update, edit, and add photos frequently so be sure to check them out!
The people I have met here have been surprisingly very friendly and not condescending to Americans at all. All of my teachers are the smartest and most qualified people I have ever met, and you instantly feel smarter being in their presence. The style of teaching used in every one of my classes supersedes all prior forms of teaching I have ever experienced in the states. The very personal, discussion based lectures require no fancy Smart-boards or projector screens. Just simple, insightful, and intelligent conversation. And ironically enough, I have never been more engaged in the discussions. The even more beautiful thing is that the teachers are some of the most interesting and respectful people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I have yet to feel rushed or under pressure while in one of the classes, which is a feeling many of us experience all the time back in the states. Remarkably so, some of the teachers were directly involved with the events that we are learning in these classes, so their insight is by far the best you can find.
For our INSTEP program, we were given access to be involved with the Cambridge Union Society. For those who have never heard of it, the "Union" (as it is referred to) is a 200 year old debating society, and it is the largest society at Cambridge. It is also the oldest debate society in the world, and has developed a worldwide reputation as a noted symbol of free speech and open debate. This prestigious society has had numerous guest speakers, including Dalai Lama, Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Clint Eastwood, and Jesse Jackson. In fact, Russell Brand was speaking the second night we arrived in Cambridge, but I didn't attend because I think he is a bumbling moron. But you know who isn't a moron? Stephen Hawking. Fun Fact: Mr. Hawking is a local Cambridge resident and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge, so it is not too uncommon to run into him around town apparently.
There are countless societies other than the C.U.S. at Cambridge that we have full access to throughout the numerous colleges. One that I didn't expect to find was the American Football Team. In fact, the head coach came out to introduce himself and recruit players from our individual INSTEP program during one of our first INSTEP meetings. Having many years of organized football under my belt, I wanted to definitely give it a look with some of my other classmates. The Cambridge Pythons are actual one of many American Football teams in England, and they hold themselves up pretty well against their competition. But they are certainly understaffed to say the least. From what I've been told, they have about 18 players on their roster. This provides the opportunity for all players to play as much as possible. And because we are Americans, they already put us on a much higher level experience and talent wise. I couldn't help but think we were getting treated like the Italian brothers from the movie Kicking and Screaming. (See the video above if you didn't get the reference...) We are able to play many positions (both sides of the ball), and some positions that we always wanted to play but couldn't because of organized sport politics back in the states. When I attended my first practice with them, I was surprised to see their skill level was pretty far off from what I was expected 1st or 2nd year players to have. Even more so, I was flabbergasted to see how polite the teammates and coaches were, even for a football practice. It is cool to see a community of American Football fans develop in this area. We practice on Wednesdays at Parker's Piece, and games are on the weekends. I can't wait to play in a game and light em' up!
Thanks for reading my first blog. I promise the future ones won't be this long. I hope you liked it, and please stay tuned for more!
This next weekend, Jan. 24-26, 5 of us will be going on a coach tour to Paris, with a day trip to the Palace of Versailles as well. I am looking forward to this trip a lot! Stay tuned for future blog posts and pictures from this trip.