Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dear Global Warming:

As the proverbial poison fruit of our collective loins,
I know that you have the potential to the cause the demise of our world,
(Not to mention my love of hot summers),
But since you recently brought warm sunshine to England,
Right now, at this moment,
I kind of love you. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

Something old and something new

In theory, traveling around Europe is buses, trains, and flights ahead of other areas of the world in the sense that it is possible to venture out to exotic destinations for next to no cost. However, these travel methods do not always ensure a quick or simple route. In fact, in order to make my trip to Copenhagen even remotely affordable, I embarked on a precarious chain of travel.  Much to my surprise, the only notable event amidst my succession of various forms of transport was a prickly encounter between a crotchety old woman and a group of young traveling musicians. This battle of the ages quickly escalated from a noise dispute to a disagreement over the value, or in the view of the old woman, the worthlessness, of young generations. The contrast between historical perspectives and progressive views made any form of agreement an impossible goal, however, it did make for some solid entertainment.  

The city of Copenhagen not only reconciles this clash between new and old but also the classic and modern, the sober and the completely gone. From above, the city is a uniform landscape of classically cut buildings; long, rectangular and clean. The homogeneity of the cityscape is occasionally punctured with the historical spires and turrets, a reminder of the city’s role as host to the Danish monarchy. Nestled within the upstanding Danish capital is a squatters’ village turned residential collective called “Christiania”. Here, the only the rules are as follows:
  1.  No hard drugs (though “herbal remedies” are openly sold)
  2. No fighting
  3. No guns
Everything else goes.

Between visiting Christiania for optimal people watching, day drinking at Copenhagen’s famed carnival, and just hanging out at the university with other exchange students, I realized that a large part of traveling is just about shifting your frame of reference.

Media theorist Kracauer said that:
“Travel…has no particular destination: its meaning is exhausted in the mere fact of changing locations” (1995:71)
Visiting my friend in Copenhagen, I got to see how my exchange may have been had I gone to Denmark instead of the UK. I got a glimpse of where I might have stayed, the people I could have met, and the town that would have become my home away from home. The similarities between both of our experiences made me wonder whether or not studying abroad is really contingent on location. Instead, maybe it’s just about who you are at the beginning and how the conventional experiences change who you become by the end. The difference between the "old" you and the "new" you that returns to Canada. Like Copenhagen, studying abroad can appear to be standardized, but there are bound to be personal spires that break through the homogeneous experience and make it unique to each student. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010


With the earth throwing a justified hissy fit, the impact of the natural phenomena occurring around the world cannot help but sound somewhat fantastical. For instance, I never thought that I would furrow my brow over whether or not a volcanic ash cloud would impede my travel plans, and yet, here I am. Constantly checking any and all forms of weather reports, “ash predictors” and volcano trackers. I have become a veritable follower of a culprit that I cannot even pronounce. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Exams make the heart grow fonder

Leeds is known for having a happening party scene but right now, the hottest ticket in town is to the University Library. Every study carrel, group table, comfortable corner, and even the uncomfortable scraps of floor house stressed out undergrads trying to cram enough knowledge in before judgement day. Welcome to exam period.

For the first time, my year end exam period is lacking its usual dose of caffeine induced jitters. As a parting gift, the University of Leeds has bestowed upon me a single exam and a solid 17 day free to prepare. Since studying straight for that amount of time would melt my brains beyond recognition, I have made travel plans for this upcoming week. While still in Leeds, I have been trying to keep on top of things, slowly yet surely prepping for my one and only final. However, a light work load and distant deadline make for bad study habits. Anything and everything is a distraction.

Given that potent combination, yesterday I substituted reading the collective works of the Frankfurt School of Theorists for Bollywood movies on Youtube. I only meant to watch a few scenes but somehow ended up watching the entire three hours of family melodrama turned musical saga. Though this movie was so over-the-top that it made "White Chicks" look Oscar worthy, I still found myself oddly moved my its soapy portrayal of family.  In the isolation of exams, I realized that I missed being surrounded by people who I had known for longer than a semester, those who loved me before I became all cool and worldly. At the end of the three hour epic I felt the slightest, yet noticeable, pang of homesickness.

At least, I think that's what it could've been the questionable sale meat that I had purchased earlier that day. No. I'm definitely starting to adjust to the idea of returning to the homeland.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Too much sun?

In the winter, if you blinked you risked missing the daily ration of sunlight. Dawn was late and sunset was early. The winter was darker than Darth Vader. As the months edge closer to summer, the sun is making more frequent appearances in Leeds. It hadn't occurred to me that when the summer came, the days would elongate far beyond what I was used to. Almost overnight, I was thrust into the land of perpetual day, where I woke to daylight and darkness did not descend until 9pm. The sun became more frequent, although not nearly as regular as one might hope, and very rarely accompanied by any semblance of warmth.

Though the irregularity of the English weather was new to me, the rest of British society had adjusted. Due to shyness of the English sun, British girls took to fake tanning. However, this trend reached a level that is neither attractive nor logical. Even if you lived outside and basked in every brief moment of sunshine, there is no way you could naturally turn munchkin-orange in the English weather. It was bad in the winter, but apparently any semblance of sun warrants extra applications of tanning lotion. I now live in the land of bleach blond female carrots. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

The beginning of the end

In a lot of ways, this day has been a long time coming, but now that its here, I just can't figure out where the time went. Today is the last day of classes and marks beginning of the end of my study abroad period.

Though many students ended their classes by claiming their study corner in the library and nestling in for the horrors of exam period, I was given somewhat of a gift. Courtesy of the University of Leeds, I have a solid 21 days to study for a single exam. Granted, that exam warrants a hefty amount of library visits, but 21 days of solid studying would drive anyone mad. Therefore, for the sake of my sanity, I have decided to squeeze the last bit of travel and general English galavanting into the next few days, before I board a plane headed back to the Americas.

My courses may be packed away, but I'm not yet ready to leave.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

3 places and some giant stones

When attempting to kick an addiction, they say that quitting cold turkey is the hardest way to go. Taking this advice to heart, I decided ease into recovery from my month long Eurotrip by going on a three day weekend trip to Stonehenge, Bristol, and Bath.

The first stop on my road to recovery was a big pile of rocks, known to the tourist world as Stonehenge. Much like my first celebrity siting, I was surprised to find that Stonehenge was much smaller in reality than what I had imagined. The giant slabs  of rock that lie in a crumbled structure that only alludes to the original arrangement are exactly what is pictured, rocks on a hill. What those photos don't reveal is the highway that extends on either side of this historic site. Apparently, no magical alien construction could halt English road construction.

After leaving the small roadside stop, it was on to Bristol. This English city appears to be a bit rough around the edges, until you travel to actual edges of the city. Outside of the downtown center lies a huge gorge with the city's pride, the Clifton suspension bridge. The natural beauty of the town's perimeter stands in stark contrast to the not-so-natural beauties of Bristol's night life. In this hip, hardcore party scene, the dress code is the highest of high-heels paired with the shortest of skirts and the tightest of low cut tops. After observing the clubbing uniform, I opted for a Saturday night at the movies.

Since I clearly have trouble staying in one place for an extended period of time, I also slipped in a day trip to Bath. As one would expect from a town so named, Bath is squeaky clean and in the summer sun, almost seemed to sparkle. Named after  the ancient Roman Baths that run beneath the city, Bath is absolutely one of my favourite UK cities thus far. The city is layered; founded on Roman ruins, covered by medieval abbeys and cobblestone streets at ground level and topped with modern day shoppers' haven. I returned to Leeds with a few more postcards for my collection and a few more pieces for my wardrobe.

Highlight of the trip: Happening upon a rehearsal for the Bath abbey choir concert. Though it cannot fully do the experience justice, see the video below.