Thursday, February 18, 2010

Some observations from throughout the year

I'll update this post as I come up with more stuff for it:

I'm starting to think that the British do drink more than Americans. Statistics on which countries consume the most alcohol back this up, but I haven't seen any separated by age groups.

I never understood how a lack of potatoes could cause a famine in a non-3rd world country - until now. There are 2 or 3 types of potatoes at every meal in the dining hall. I'll probably take a break from it when I get back home. For now, it's a staple. Meals are also pretty heavy, inducing 'food coma' resulting in mid-day naps every now and then.

The semester system (and the quarter system to a greater extent) makes it easier to ditch classes you don't like. Durham runs on a year long system. Two terms are lectures and seminars and the third is studying and exams. The approach that one of my professors is taking towards his class is making it almost unbearable given how long the class lasts. It would be nice to move on to some new topics.

A couple of my classes try to overreach in terms of curriculum. The professors are trying to cover too much ground, in my opinion. In order to go where they're leading us as students, we either need a better historical or technical understanding (in something like economics, for example) to really get it.

British chocolate isn't too bad. It's no Swiss chocolate, but it's better than Hershey's. I didn't realize that Twix and Snickers were British candy bars before George corrected me one day.

A lot of kids around here wear t-shirts, sweatshirts, etc. with references to California on them. It's cool to have those reminders of home and to think that California has a 'cool' image internationally.

Brits don't get out of the way on sidewalks. I talked to one of the California girls about this one and she said she'd also noticed it. It's a small thing, but an interesting difference. They also don't stick to the left side of the walkway as they do on the roads. On escalators, for instance, they stand on the right and pass on the left, as one would in the US.

Durham is the safest place I've ever lived. It has that small town vibe - people leave their laptops sitting out in the library when they go to dinner. You'd never see your computer again if you did that in Berkeley.

Every other British girl is named Emma or Lucy. There's must be a law somewhere - it's worse than the USA's obsession with names like Michael and Jennifer.

Even though everyone speaks English around here, you have to be careful with your language. There are two examples I can think of. 1) 'Trousers' is used for what we would call pants. But 'pants' to them means underwear. So if you don't differentiate between the two, you end up talking about your underwear at the wrong time. When George came to my room to see if I wanted to go to dinner with the other folks from the hall, I said "sure, but I just got out of the shower and need to put some pants on." From a British point of view, it seemed like I was about to go commando to dinner. 2) 'Rubber' is the word for what we'd call an eraser - makes sense, since it's made out of rubber. But it seems a little out of place when someone says they're headed off to math class and they need a pencil and a rubber. Before I realized what they were talking about, I started thinking that math lectures in the UK were far more exciting than the ones in Berkeley.

Positives and negatives of Durham as a place to study abroad:
  1. It's a unique setting, especially coming from an place with little history before 1849 (the California missions are the exception that come to mind). Small town, different climate, etc. It's not completely different from Berkeley, as my experience is still dominated by student culture.
  2. Greater academic independence has given me some new tools to use when I get back to Berkeley. Social science lectures include less spoon feeding of information (1 hour p/week p/class in lectures) which means we head to the library to supplement. I'm not sure that I'll continue using the library at Berkeley that much when I return, since it's not necessary, but at times it can feel more fulfilling.
  3. Basketball isn't as competitive over here, so it's easier to find people playing just to have fun. Athletics on the whole are much more inclusive in the college system. It's a university-wide intramural system that encourages all levels to participate. The social aspect of it is big, too. Team captains are responsible for setting up team dinners, nights out in town, etc. It's a great way to spend time with friends and have fun with your favorite sport at the same time. Here's Grey's team - we have Brits, 'Frenchies', a Greek, a Norwegian, a pair of guys from Hong Kong, and me:
  4. Studying abroad in general is a great way to meet people from all over the world. The international students at Grey are some of the warmest people I've met in my time over here. Almost all of us went to Amsterdam together for a weekend trip - it was lots of fun.

  1. It's constantly wet and/or cold. People use the ledges outside their windows as refrigerators. Even late spring has had a lot of cold, overcast days. Without much sunshine, we're taking drastic measures to keep our vitamin d up to healthy levels:
  2. There's absolutely zero diversity on campus. It's about what I expected, but something of a shock coming from California in general and La Crescenta and Berkeley more specifically. Diversity at Berkeley really sparks a lot of liveliness on campus.
  3. There's not great transportation in the region to go see other places. Newcastle's airport doesn't fly to some of the places I went during my break, so I had to find roundabout ways to get there to take advantage of cheap flights. This is a symptom of Durham being a small town (the only reason it is called a city is its cathedral).

1 comment:

  1. Potatoes are off the menu over spring break - lol. I enjoyed your insights about your life in Durham.