Saturday, 25 September 2010

Beth Versus Shakespeare

Hi and welcome to my blog. Whether you're reading this for the first time, or checking back in as a repeat visitor, do me a favor and click the "follow" box on the right of the screen. Please and thank you. I could really use some more followers.

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, there will be several references to Shakespeare. Apparently he's famous here in England. Sarcasm intended. Don't worry. I won't attempt to write this post in Iambic pentameter.

Channeling my Inner Shakespeare...

I'll start with a thought presented to us during one of our first lectures. Shakespeare penned his now famous works alone in a room. He'd sit there and put his thoughts to paper. We were told that while writing our essays here, we'd be doing the same, and thus we are all very much like Shakespeare. So technically, while blogging, I'm channeling my inner Shakespeare. That's an amusing thought, considering I'm sitting here in sweatpants, with my snuggie on, sipping hot chocolate. I bet Shakespeare was more of a coffee and Chia pet kind of guy...

Stumbling on Shakespeare...

On a more serious note, as it turns out, the pub my friends and I went to last week, The Crown, actually has a connection to Shakespeare. You see, Oxford is located in the middle of Stratford-Upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born, and London, where Shakespeare put on a great deal of his plays, so when traveling between the two places, he'd rest in Oxford and would stay at a hotel called The Crown. He was very good friends with the owner. As it turns out, the site where the hotel used to be is actually an office building now, but a little known fact, even for Oxford residents, is that if you peel back the curtains that line the walls of the office building, you will see hand-painted walls. The best room of a hotel in Shakespeare's time would have had painted walls and he would have stayed in the best room. Therefore, we can conclude with a high degree of certainty that the office building used to be the room where Shakespeare stayed. I actually got to see the inside of the room. It was pretty cool, especially because most people don't even know about it. Anyway, across from the hotel was a pub, also called The Crown, which is where Shakespeare would have eaten and had a couple drinks while staying in Oxford. Well, maybe more than a couple... There is currently a pub called The Crown on that same site, which happens to be the one we ate at last week before we knew it's historical significance. Most people don't know about the historical significance of the pub or the room. It is certainly not well-documented, nor is it posted outside of the buildings. However, one of our tutors, is very knowledgeable about Shakespeare and clued us in on this well kept secret.

Visiting Shakespeare...

On Tuesday, we are scheduled to travel to Stratford-Upon-Avon. This past week we went to London to see Henry IV Part I at the Globe. The current setup of The Globe is the same as it was in Shakespeare's day. Some people stand around the stage and at various parts of the play, the actors actually push their way through the crowd to get to the stage. There is also a balcony. Our seats were on the lower level, so probably the best ones in the house. Though the best seats in the house, in true Elizabethan style, the seats are actually wooden stadium-style benches, so if you're smart, you'll pay the one pound to rent a seat cushion before the play starts, or else you'll be very uncomfortable by the time it's through. Another fun fact is that since the seats are in the original arrangement, you'll most likely have the person behind you's knees in your back the whole time because in Shakespeare's time 5 foot 5 inches was considered tall, so the benches were placed much closer together. Not so fun for the 21st century guy who is at least 6 feet tall. I lucked out and sat in the back row, so I had a wall behind me, not someone's knees. The seating wasn't so bad. If you can survive sitting on the steps of the brick pit at Hendrix during shirttails, sitting through a play at The Globe is a walk in the park.

I really enjoyed seeing the play. It's no secret that Shakespeare is an aquired taste, one that I have yet to acquire a taste for..., but seeing the play definitely sparked my interest. It's not that I don't like Shakespeare. The themes in his work are timeless and I greatly appreciate them, but I am a product of my generation and my generation largely prefers No Fear Shakespeare over the original text. I believe the reason for this is that most students are not familiar with Old English slang and if you can't understand the jokes when reading his plays, then Shakespeare's comedies aren't so funny. The other thing is "reading." So often high school English teachers have their students "read" Shakespeare's plays. I agree that students should be exposed to Shakespeare (and many other authors,) but I think a better approach than assigning roles for each member of the class to read, would be to experience the work in its intended medium: the play. Take the kids to see it on stage! Shakespeare already has a reputation among high school students as being boring and if kids can't understand it, they will lose interest even faster. Furthermore, the average high school student won't necessarily read the lines with their intended inflection, thus another opportunity for meaning to be lost. The point is, let the writers write, leave the acting to the actors and let the students be students. Let them learn and please know that not all learning needs to come from a classroom or a textbook. Take it from someone who is studying abroad. There's a whole world out there. Let the kids see it. It certainly worked for me. Seeing the play, especially in the atmosphere of The Globe, gave me a new perspective. What I'd missed out on by reading the play, I gained by seeing it. Seeing the actors in costume, watching their body language, seeing their gestures, and hearing their tone added so much to the experience. That could not be achieved by simply reading the text, which is why I believe Shakespeare's intended medium was the play. As a prose writer myself, my job is essentially the opposite. When writing a story, my job is to describe the costumes, the body language and the character's tone. A lot of that is lost on the average person who tries to read a play. And I will say this, a play is multi-dimensional. Reading is one dimensional. So the problem I have with becoming frustrated with Elizabethan slang and Old English was not a problem when listening to the dialogue of the play because I was not only listening, I was watching and the combination of the two made it all make sense. However, most kids don't get to actually see the plays they are required to read in English class, which is why I believe No Fear Shakespeare is so popular. On the one hand, it's great. It helps students get the gist of what it going on and it makes the text available to a wider, more modern audience. However, I think more effort should be placed on helping students understand the historical context of the play. Rather than modernizing Shakespeare to fit our needs, let's expand our horizons and learn about his world. Otherwise, if this trend continues, by the time I have kids, the line "Romeo, Romeo, where fore art thou, Romeo?" will be changed to "Romeo, Romeo, where you at, my homie, yo?" which simply cannot happen. I'll save my rant about my generation's use of grammar for a later post, but know that when I hear "where you at?" among other phrases, I cringe, literally.

Researching Shakespeare...

I mentioned in my last post that I will have to write a 4,000-5,000 word paper as part of my Introductory Course. Originally, I had planned to write about the impact of sport on Elizabethan society and I actually did some really interesting research on it. However, the "open-ended, write whatever moves you so long as it pertains to Elizabethan or Victorian England" paper topic was not as open-ended as I'd hoped and now I'm writing about how Shakespeare used images of sport within his works. At first, I wanted to go throw myself into the Thames, but after some careful thought, I think I managed to find a way to merge the research I had already done with the research I have left to do. As I hinted at in the previous section, I believe one should have a relatively good historical understanding before approaching Shakespeare's texts in order to fully appreciate them. How can you appreciate the way in which Shakespeare uses sport? Well, you need to know what sports were around in Elizabethan society and how they were perceived. Translation: I can use some of my research at the beginning of my essay to establish context.

(I was told once by one of my college English professors that out of all his students I have the uncanny ability to pull something out of nothing and somehow make it work. Dare I say I've done it again? I'd rather be able to pull something out of nothing than nothing out of something, but really what all this means is something I've known for a long time. I'm not a cookie-cutter English major. I have unique interests in comparison to my peers, sports being one of them, wearing sweatpants to class instead of skinny jeans being another.)

**Fun yet pointless aside: While trekking through the rather large library today looking for a book I needed about Shakespeare, I saw an college anatomy and physiology textbook with Apolo Anton Ohno on the cover. I took that class freshman year. Why couldn't we have used that version?

Here's some fun facts about sports in Elizabethan England.

1. Soccer, or football as it is called by the rest of the world, including the Brits, was considered "barbaric" and "classless," which is kind of funny since it is now one of the beloved sports of England. Basically, no nobles or royalty during this era would have played soccer. They did "noble" and "honorable" sports like hunting and tennis.
2. Henry VIII played real tennis which is different than tennis. One of the main differences is you can hit the ball off walls and such. I actually got to see the oldest real tennis court when I visited Hampton Court Palace. That court is booked every day of the year except Christmas.
3. The games played after Christmas and before Lent were significantly more aggressive. (Games were seasonal back then, not year round like most sports are today.) The aggressive sports were saved for the spring as a way to release all the energy men had from being cooped up in the winter and a way to let it all out before Lent started and they had to be on their best behavior. (I say men becuase women didn't play sports...don't even get me started on the reasons why.)

The women not being able to play sports because their place was in the home and they were physically weaker than men (which most at the time connected to a dimished mental capacity a.k.a. the men thought they were smarter than the women, a thought which has not completely gone away even centuries later, case and point the attitude of the majority of the guys in my high school graduating class...) brings me to my Travel Woes and Travel Pros section.


I found a gym! It's not as nice as the WAC, so I've had to be a little creative when following my training program.

The Woes?

The heavy weights section is rather small to begin with and even though I tried to go when the gym was not so busy, there was always inevitably some guy using the bench I needed. The funny thing was instead of being self-conscious about being the only female among a bunch of guys, the whole time I kept thinking "man, I'm the only American among a group of Brits and all these weights are in kilograms." (There's a reason my coach last season tried to eliminate all math from my weight lifting... and that was without having to convert pounds to kilograms. It's 1 pound equals 2.2 kilograms, by the way. I do know it. Actually making use of it is another story.) I'm used to lifting with guys. I don't think these guys are used to lifting with a girl :)

The Pros (continued)


Which brings us to the corresponding Woe...

AT&T: We bought the most comprehensive package possible before I left. I'm talking as much internet as I could get, "unlimited" texts between my mom and me, and free calls between the two of our phones since we both upgraded to the international plan, so calling each other was supposed to be free. NOPE. (Is AT&T related to RadioShack or has honest marketing just gone out the window entirely?) P.S. still no refund from RadioShack...never taking my business there again. Basically, we found out last week that we only get 50 free texts between the two of us a month, which is NOT what the salespeople said. Notice I said people, as we went into the store twice and spoke to two different customer service reps. The calling is also more expensive than what we were told it would be.

Why is it that when you try to be prepared before going abroad, you inevitably aren't? We did our research. We asked the experts. Now that I'm here, they're singing a different tune and I don't particularly care for it.

Marketing 101: keep the customer happy. That's what Shakespeare did. He had to keep the monarchs happy and pass their censors. Customer service certainly worked for him.

And on that note, I'll remind you once again to please follow my blog and I'll conclude with my favorite British expression. Cheers. (You'd be surprised at how many uses it has here.)

Sunday, 19 September 2010

And so it begins...

Just to give you a general sense of my first week here, I'd like to start off by adding to my list of Travel Woes and Travel Pros.

First the woes...

1. Cobblestone = slippery when wet. On Tuesday, my housemates and I made the 40 plus minute round trip to Iffley Road Track to check out the facilities. Right as we got there, it began to rain and on the way back home, I totally slipped on the wet cobblestone. Well, actually it was a very slick metal square in the middle of the cobblestone, but I choose to blame it on the cobblestone. No harm done. My 8 years of being a soccer goalie kicked in (no pun intended) and I stood right back up all in one motion, so other than the rather loud and embarassing thud, it was like it never even happened. The plus side? A very nice, and rather cute young British guy who seemed rather impressed with my ability to recover so quickly asked me if I was okay and attempted to help me up even though I was already standing at the time.

2. Cobblestone Woes Part Two: before coming, we were told that we'd have to walk from the bus station to our program directors' house and then get to our own houses. I bought two new bright purple suitcases with the ability to roll in any direction, not just behind you, for this little adventure, as I thought it would make my life easier. Well, the 360 feature certainly helped in the airport. It was easier to roll my bags beside me instead of behind me, but let me tell you, cobblestone is not so forgiving and in Oxford, there's cobblestone everywhere. People tend to give you odd looks when you wheeling your luggage commandeers the whole width of the sidewalk. Anyway, I eventually checked in and made it to my house.

3. Our house was under constuction this past week which wasn't so bad other than the fact that the washer was not working properly and I really wanted to wash the clothes I wore in Spain. It has since been fixed and I have a closet full of clean clothes. Misson accomplished.

4. No dryer: so we have a washer, but no dryer and a clothesline, but no clothespins. (There's also no Walmart here to get the afore mentioned clothespins. There's pretty much a separate store here for everything.) Long story short, I draped my wet jeans over my new suitcases and they seem to be slowly drying. I'm also not opposed to whipping out the hairdryer in the future and using it to dry my clothes, since God knows I never blowdry my hair.


1. Old school city planning: Oxford reminds me of Conway, Arkansas in the sense that everything somehow eventually connects to one other, which means I haven't gotten "lost" yet, just temporarily redirected. Ever want a scenic route? Just ask me to be your tour guide. We'll get there...eventually.

2. Christmas in September: since our program has been around for so long and we've had the same houses for a number of years, lots of little goodies get left behind, including a flat iron, adapters, and a kg/stone scale with questionable calibration. There's also lots of random school supplies throughout the house. I was particularly happy to find the adapters because before I left I went to purchase some at Radioshack and was sold the wrong ones. Mine worked for US to Europe, not US to UK. Furthermore, I bought 2, totaling $62, and the smaller one was not designed properly and will not work in any European outlet. The outlets in Spain, for example, are inset in the wall, so the prongs of the adapter need to be raised on a platform in order to reach. The ones on my weren't, so I couldn't use it. I used the larger one for a couple days for 30 minutes the most at a time and then it crapped out. I'm still waiting to get my money back from Radioshack, but I will be hesitant to listen to their "experts" in the future, as I was promised by the salesman, who led me to the product in the first place, that it would work. (Sorry that this pro turned into a woe, but I'm very grateful to my OOSC predecessors who left their adapters behind.)

Other news...

We started our lectures this week and went to Hampton Court Palace, which was originally built by Thomas Wosley and then later taken over by King Henry VIII when Wosley could not secure him the divorce he so desparately wanted.

Of all the reading we had to do, I have decided my favorite was a play called "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde. I'm not normally a poetry fan, but I have liked parts of some of Tennyson's poems as well.

I have had a cough these past two weeks, so I caved and bought cough medicine. Here they refer to what I've got as a "chesty cough," which let me tell you has been the source of many jokes among the members of our house. It tastes bad, but seems to be working though.

On Tuesday, I will have to submit my essay topic. I am leaning towards "the influence of sport during the Elizabethan age," (shocking that when given the opportunity to write about anything I want, I'd choose sports, just kidding) but I'll have to narrow it down once I can do research. We don't have access to the library until tomorrow, but we have the afternoon off, so I think I'll spend it being studious. I have already checked the online catalog and the results seem promising.

British life has been fun so far. I had a crepe the other day. Not very British, I know, but it was good. I also had a cheese and onion pasty (not pronounced the way it looks) and it was also good. Think crispier version of a hot pocket. (Once again, I don't think I'll be earning an appearance on Rachel Ray with these descriptions.) I went to two pubs with a group of friends (on two separate nights.) We were all pretty hungry after spending 5 hours walking around Hampton Court Palace, so we stopped in to get a bite to eat. I had a burger and fries, which was great and my friends had fish and chips. The second night was with a larger group and was also very fun.

I think it's safe to say that I'm all settled in here. Having nothing to do this weekend was fun, but I am really looking forward to class tomorrow and being able to start my essay. Come back soon for more updates!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Adventures Abroad: Spanish Edition

Last year, during my sophomore year at Hendrix, I had the privledge of becoming friends with a foreign exchange student named Ana. We've only known each other a year, but sometimes it feels like a lifetime, as she has become one of my dearest friends. Ana is not only one of the most genuine people I know, but she is also a selfless friend, who is truly happy for me (sometimes even happier than I am) when I accomplish something. Unfortunately, that trait is a bit of a rarity these days, so I really cherish her friendship.

Anyway, Ana was gracious enough to invite me live with her for a week before I had to move into my apartment in Oxford. Spain. Sounds fun right? Oh it was. Let me tell you Galecia is beautiful. I'm talking beaches everywhere, exercise machines along the boardwalk, which for me was as much of a tourist attraction as anything else and amazing shellfish. Okay, so I didn't actually eat any of the fish while there, but I was repeatedly told how amazing it was. The only down side? I don't speak Spanish. Unless you count the numbers and colors I learned when I was six years old and the conversational phrases I learned in the seventh grade that is. On the plus side, Ana was an amazing translator, her dad was a wonderful tour guide, and my background in French allowed me to understand the gist of what was being said. The only problem was I couldn't say anything back and anything I did try to say sounded more like I was from Latin America rather than Spain.

I visited some truly beautiful places and one of the things that struck me the most was how much everybody walked over there. I know as a tourist walking is pretty common, but how many Americans do you know that walk to the grocery store? In her area, people rely less on cars and more on their own two feet. Even the elderly were out every morning getting their fresh bread and fruit. It was really nice to see.

**A Note to my Readers: for the past month or so, I've been on this "healthy living kick" if you will, so most of my observations of Spain were about activity level and nutrition. Sorry if that bores you, but it also brings me to my next point: Food.

As I already mentioned, that particular area is known for its fish. As my mother will tell you, I'm not a fish person. Actually, my mother will tell you that I'm a picky eater, but this is not true. I hardly discriminate when it comes to carbs and sweets. I love them all :) Anyway, I passed up the opportunity to eat octopus and other rare nautical treasures that most tourists probably flock to. Oh well, someone else can blog about that. I will say though the portion sizes and meals times are a little different in most of Europe. For example, lunch is the main meal of the day and is eaten around 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Dinner portions are much lighter than in America and dinner happens around 8 at night, sometimes later. Regardless of the meal, the portion sizes are smaller and generally speaking, much healthier. This is not exactly new news, but I'm pretty sure if Oreos in the US were packaged the way they are in Spain, there would be an uprising. Oreos don't come in a case with 3 giant rows here. Instead they come in a rather small box which contains maybe six packs of 4 cookies. This helps immensely with portion control. I'm remind of the night before I left for Spain. I visited a certian teammate of my who I swear ate an entire row of Oreos in one sitting. Don't worry. She ran 6 miles that morning so it all evened out, but still, the point is, in Europe eating a whole row of Oreos by yourself just doesn't happen.

In the past few years, there has been a trend of 100 Calorie packs in the U.S., and I must admit I jumped on that bandwagon a long time ago. For those of you who are also on said bandwagon, you can probably relate to my sentiments that a tiny bag of 100 calories worth of our favorite snacks somehow doesn't always satisfy. Well my friends, in Spain it does. Everything from the cookies to the ice cream bars have less calories than in America, but still taste great.

My favorite Spanish recipe was "tortilla y potatas." I'll have to double check with Ana on the exact name and spelling, but basically it is a combination of eggs and potatoes. Onions are optional, but in my case prefered. As I learned during one of Ana's and my many conversations about language, in her region tortilla generally refers to "eggs" as opposed to the thin, round, bread-like wraps we use to make tacos, quesadillas and such. The "sopa" or soup was also really good. It was kind of like chicken noodle soup only minus the chicken and the big noodles. Okay, so it was like chicken broth only a million times healthier. It is bascially prepared with water, carrots, this weird vegetable I had never seen that looked like celery, but tastes more like an onion, a little teeny bit of salt, and a bit of chicken and a bit of beef. The chicken and beef were more like "scraps." Not stuff people would actually eat. They are just meant to add flavor. The end result: a tasty broth. Just add itty bitty round noodles and you've got yourself an authentic Spanish dish. (Based on my explanation of these recipes, somehow I don't think Rachel Ray will be asking me to be a guest on her show, not for cooking anyway.)

In continuation with the food theme, I would like to officially note that Europe and the UK have not yet been introduced to the love of my life since the 2nd grade...MOUNTAIN DEW. (Don't worry I'm surviving on coca-cola.)

This brings me to my next bit which I have dubbed the "Pros and Woes of Traveling." I intend to update this as much as possible with each country I visit and each amusing, frustrating, or otherwise noteworthy experience I have while abroad.

Okay so here goes...

The Pros:

1. I owe a big "Muchos Gracias" to Ana's dad who not only cooked for me each day, but also treated me to serveral wonderful restuarants during my stay. He was truly hospitable, making sure I had a complete and wonderful experience. Thanks to his generosity, I didn't spend a single euro while in Spain.

2. The beaches: Need I say more? On our last night, Ana and I went for one final walk along one of the beaches by her houses. This "adventure" of ours ending up with me doing cartwheels along the beach and Ana channeling her inner paparrazzi.

3. Ana's house: Her house was amazing. When it's time for me to buy a place of my own, someone please remind me I want lots of ceiling to floor bookcases and an L-shaped desk.

4. I learned that I really need to learn Spanish. (Once I have completed my French studies of course.)

5. American style of teaching foreign languages: While in walking around in the town where Ana's dad teaches, we met one of his students. He must have been about 13 or 14 years old, which according to Ana means that he has been learning English in school for about 6 years. When told I was American, he could barely remember the word hello. My mom would say it was because he was captivated by my beauty and I will say that blonde hair and blue eyes are rare in Spain, but Ana had a different theory. In Spain, while they start learning English well before most American students begin learning a second language, usually Spanish, but in my case French, the emphasis is on grammar not vocabulary. Most Spanish kids find conguagating English verbs very boring and never really grasp the conversation skills. In America, or at least in my experience, the emphasis is on vocabulary and key phrases. I only took a month worth of Spanish in the seventh grade, but I knew more conversational phrases in Spanish than this kid did in English and he has much more experience with English than I do with Spanish. So props to my foreign language teachers, because even though there has been much debate about the American education system, especially in comparison to other countries, at least we seem to have the right approach to teaching foreign languages. Ana and her Dad agreed the American appraoch seemed to be much more effective and I will say this, even though all the people I came across were very friendly, I only met 2 people other than Ana who could speak English. One was her sister and the other was an English teacher at the high school. While this reaffirmed to me that I need to learn Spanish someday, it also proved Ana's point, that the "vocabulary emphasis" is a better approach. All in all, let's just say that the blonde haired, blued-eyed, English speaking girl got a lot of stares and curious looks.

6. Customs: I have always dreaded customs. Do you declare it? Do you not? Will the person be friendly? Even coming back to the US, you know the country of which I am a CITIZEN, is not a breeze. (The customs officers in JFK are not very friendly...) You want to know what is a breeze? European customs. In both England and Portugal, I just had to hand them my passport, tell them wear I was going and how long I'd be there and I was sent along my merry way. I didn't have to fill out a million and a half forms, or try to fit my giant suitcases on conveyor belt so they could be scanned so the airport staff to get a good look at my undergarments and prove that I was not in fact carrying a bomb. Nope. It was a breeze.

The Woes:

1. Airport security: As anyone who has flown within the past couple years knows, liquids are limited to 3 oz. Well I wear contacts, and my brand of contact solution is sold in 2 travel sizes: 2 oz. and 4 oz. Both bottles say TSA approved Carry-on Size on the packaging. Naturally, I purchased the larger one. Better value (or so I thought.) Here's the thing. Even though I had not opened the box let alone the bottle itself, and even though it said Carry-on Size, I was informed that my bottle had 118 mL and the limit was 100 mL. And so it was taken away at Gatwick. (Got through Little Rock without a problem.) I told Ana about this and she joked that I should have just left it in my bag and they might not have even noticed it.

2. You don't always benefit from showing up early. My flight from LR to Gatwick got in at 7 a.m. and no, I did not sleep on the plane. (I did however watch The Karate Kid and Letters to Juliet, both of which were good.) My flight to Portugal didn't leave until nearly 5 p.m. I had two large suitcases, a backpack and a purse. As you can imagine it was a lot to drag around, especially when I found out that the airline I was flying with's counter did not open until 10 a.m. So I could not check my bags for 3 hours. Not fun. Life got a little easier once I got myself a "trolley" or cart for my suitcases, but let's just say, I had never been so happy to check my bags in my life. Once I got through security and had my contact solution taken away, I had to wait in the departure area until my plane left. The only problem was that they don't post gates until about an hour before depature, or in the case of my flight, half an hour before take off. So basically I had to hang out in the departure area for what felt like an eternity. It's a lot like a mall so it wasn't all bad, but still, lesson learned being too early, isn't always what it is cracked up to be, especially since I experienced the same thing on my way from Portugal back to England. We got there in plenty of time. I went through security and passport control only to find that the doors to gate 12 were not open and would not open until 45 minutes later.

Well, that's all for Adventures Abroad: Spanish Edition. I am still new to blogging so bear with me. I will try to figure out if I can add pictures of the places I visited and will update about my Oxford experiences shortly.

As they say here in England...Cheers!