Why I Know the Second Ingredient in Ketchup

I am an English major.
I further identify myself as an English Writing major. I, first and foremost, am engaged in the study of words and the art of creating stories. So, when my mom recently asked me, “Do you like to read more than you like to write?” I was confused why she would even ask the question.

My first inclination was to object and stick up for the love of writing. But when I thought about it, my answer surprised me.  “Yes, I do, in fact, like to read more that I like to write.” My answer came from my childhood experiences that developed in me the passions I have today. When I was younger, my parents discouraged book reading at the breakfast table and during dinner time with my family. I began to understand that it was impolite to read in front of other people when you are eating a meal together. That being said, I read everything in my line of sight, cereal boxes, the back of the ketchup bottle, a stray newspaper that had fallen into the chair next to me…in essence, I read anything I could get my hands on. I was desperate for literature. I wanted to know things.

If someone asked me, “What’s the second ingredient in this bottle of ketchup?” I wanted to be able to tell them what it was, because it was exciting to be able to feel as if I had accomplished something by retaining that fact. (The answer, if you are wondering, is Distilled Vinegar, after Tomato Concentrate and before High Fructose Corn Syrup).

So what does reading ketchup bottles have to do with loving reading over writing?
Becoming an avid reader was necessary to give me the passion to write. The fact that I even cared to know and read the company’s history on the back of a ketchup bottle pushed me to think about who wrote it and why they wrote the words I read. Outside of the words I found on ketchup bottles and cereal boxes, I loved most every character I met between the pages of a book, and I saw myself in many of them. I understood why characters acted in certain ways and I wondered what made people around me act like they did. I started to write stories centered around school and people I knew. It was my way of journaling and working through tough periods of middle school. I turned to poems, which were hopelessly far from modern literature. They were sloppy, feeling driven excerpts from my life that took the form of poems. It was personal, written by me and for me, as I learned more about the process of writing. Save two poems, which I entered in a contest for the judges’ eyes alone to read, I hid my writings away where no one would read them. It was my form of self expression as I wrestled with God’s sovereignty, homework, crushes on classmates, etc.

And here is the moment where I am vulnerable with you. I still write poetry. “Really?” You ask. “I’ve never read any of it.” There’s one poem I have published and one spoken word I’ve preformed, but, to the mass number of people I know, the rest (and there are quite a few of them) stay hidden. Few people have access to it, because I am so vulnerable when it comes to sharing my writing; I feel that I am giving the reader a part of myself. That is hard due to the personal nature of my poems. They are the world as seen through my eyes, and not every season in college has been easy for me. I am a writer who is afraid to share my most developed portfolio with the world. Even my greatest idea for a novel is hidden away. I am so passionate about it that I feel I can’t write it down. I try, and the product is nothing like the vision in my head, so I let it sit in the back of my mind until one night I wake up at 2 in the morning and have brilliant idea that I jot down before rolling back over in my bed. I will say that I love telling people’s stories. If you have not read anything else on my blog (I won’t be mad if you haven’t), know that most of my posts are stories about individuals I have met on my travels. I love telling their stories. In doing so, I capture a memory in writing that will live forever. It is my attempt to capture the small moments and everyday encounters.

So, I absolutely love writing; I am passionate about it, but I am more committed to reading.
I will stay up until the wee hours of the morning telling myself “Just one more page.” I still feel the need to know more and reading allows me to learn about other cultures, time periods, and ways of thinking. Reading is important to me, and I love discussing books with my friends. “Did you read this passage in Chesterton’s book?” I’ll ask, “What did you think? I love how he said…” It is a way of sharing life with people and learning more about the world around us.

Yes, I am an English Writing major. Why am I not an English Literature major? you ask. I have come to believe that I know how to read, and I understand how to analyze and appreciate a novel, play, or poem. What I haven’t quite grasped is how to write in a way that I can have confidence in what I have created enough to say, “I am happy with it.” I don’t have to perfect every single detail, but I am seeing that revisions happen and first drafts are allowed to be terrible. Being a Writing major helps me to balance my foundation of reading with the passion to write, to tell my story.

Oh, and if you ask whether I will go on to teach, the answer is: I have no clue. 🙂 I just want a job where someone will pay me to read books for a living. That is the dream, folks.


The Man We Knew as John

Even to this day, I’m not sure what his last name is, because he is, and has always been, simply John to me. He is quite British in terms of his no nonsense mannerisms, professor-like tortoise shell glasses, brown coat jackets, and his habit of wearing wool scarves. John works at St. Paul’s church in Cambridge as the General Manager. A fatherly figure to our study abroad group, he was always there when we arrived at class and was there long after we left every day. When it was raining, John was there to greet us as we dripped water on his dry hardwood floors, and when it was finally Spring, he was there to usher us in to class and reset the Wi-Fi router for us when we overloaded the bandwidth. He often helped us set up the tables and chairs and helped us put them away after our long class sessions were over. He is the type of person whom you can accidently take for granted because of his constant presence. I miss his constancy, and when I think of my time in England, I cannot help but think of John and his influence in my life in particular.

I admired him greatly, for he reminded me so much of my father, who has the same job title and responsibilities back home in Athens. However, in true British form, John was pleasantly nice and nothing more. At least such was true on the surface; his kindness and character presented itself in other ways than outward smiles and hugging us, which he might have done if he had been raised in America. In terms of our trip, we did not spend a great length of time with him, but in the time we did spend at St. Paul’s, John influenced our experience in many ways that we still may not realize. He was truly kind to us, but some thought he was rather aloof because of his non-American attitude and way of showing affection. So, I decided to reach out to him instead, always saying hello when I passed by his office before class and asking him how things were going when we had been gone for a week of traveling. In my first month there, I asked him how to find the public library and his eyes lit up as if he had just been waiting for someone to ask him this particular question.  “No, not the library.” He told me fervently. “The library is not a particularly good place to study.”

“It’s an eye sore, and only old people like us still go there.” His colleague and friend, Mark, agreed.

We discussed the idea of sneaking in to one of the colleges’ libraries, John telling me strictly: “sneaking into colleges isn’t the best idea either.” I quickly apologized, John showed a rare smile and chuckled, “It’s the Cambridge University Student Center you want.” I asked him if they’d let me in, since, at this point, I was still having a hard time hiding my obvious American roots.

“Oh they’ll let anyone in,” John assured me. “As long as you look like you know what you’re doing.”

I told him I could do that.

“Good. Let’s get you a map, then.”

He spent the next fifteen minutes finding the most bike route efficient map on Google he could and marked out the best route on a printout with a pink highlighter. He told me where to sit in the Student Center and what to do to ensure that no one would ask me to leave, “Make sure you buy something from the café. Tea is the cheapest, and a pot of typical English Breakfast is the best in my opinion.” He showed me on which racks to park my bike and how to avoid the busiest study rooms. “The ones on the second floor are the quietest. Find the politics or anthropology sections; those are the study spots to aim for. You’ll be just fine.”

I asked him how he knew so much about the University Center. “I was a student at the University,” he admitted. “But that was a long time ago, and I’m much wiser now. I’m not happy with some of the decisions I made back then.” He remarked, handing me a printout of the map with a route visibly marked in pink highlighter, and looked at me with a fatherly eye. “But, God gave this old man another chance, so I don’t want you having to sneak around the porters’ lodges in order to find quality study time.”

I felt my face turn red and I smiled. “Thanks, John.”

“Think nothing of it.”

I grabbed my rucksack and my piece-of-gold map and went in search of my bike. “Cheers! See you guys tomorrow!” I called behind me as the front door closed.

The next day John greeted me before I said anything to him, “Good morning, Hannah.” He paused for a second to look closer at me. “It is Hannah, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.” I assured him, smiling. “Thank you again for telling me about the Student Center.”

One of the girls on my trip came up beside me, and John cleared his throat, looking towards our group that had begun to pull tables out of the storage closet. He either didn’t hear me, or, more likely, pretended he hadn’t heard my acknowledgment. “When does class let out today?”

I acted as if I hadn’t noticed the change in topic. “We are scheduled to go until four officially, but Coach told us we can leave at half 3 if we’re done.”

“Good, because there’s a dance class that needs the space at 4.”

“We’ll tell Coach.” I said, indicating Haley and myself. She turned to me and struck up a conversation about the uphill bike to class that morning. “I can’t get over how hard it is!” We both laughed, and I agreed with her. “At least it will be better this afternoon. The ride back is downhill all the way, and it looks like it won’t rain until 7 tonight!”

I watched John walk over to a group of women with strollers who had gathered for the toddler group meeting in the adjacent room. He unlocked the door for them and soon disappeared into his office. Later on that day, I walked by John’s office to tell him goodbye, when he looked up from his desk. “I wouldn’t share the information about the Student Center with all of Cambridge.” He spoke with an exacting tone, but his eyes held a smile. “I’m not sure my University would look highly upon an alumni divulging its secrets. Especially ones pertaining to the best study rooms.” My reaction was to thank him for his advice and giving up information on a study place, but I decided against it, and stuck to simplicity.

“I won’t post by the Colleges or on Facebook, you have my word.” Satisfied, he returned to typing an email and I turned to leave. “See you later!” I called over my shoulder, not pausing to hear the answer I knew John would not voice.  Over the next month, we spoke little more than simple pleasantries, but after our conversation about the Student Center, I always knew he cared. He never failed to ask us how our group’s travels had been, where we went, what we saw, if we enjoyed ourselves. With people, it’s not always a humorous back and forth, and so I’ve found with individuals such as John. He seems comfortable with simple day-to-day conversations, staying well away from his past and talking about his personal life or feelings. However true, I’ve found that he is no less appreciative or kind to others than my Dad is to those who come by his office. John just displays it differently, and sometimes, you have to look beyond surface appearances to find someone’s true character. Without John’s vigor for making sure St. Paul’s runs smoothly, there would be overlapping events, no one to take phone calls, no one to serve food to the elderly group, no one to talk to Lee University students, and no one to reset the Wi-Fi router when too many devices trip the system. His character may not be to smile, laugh, or hug students, but he cares about everyone he meets and always has a good word for those who take the time to reach out to him and ask for advice. 

Dancing in the Rain

And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.
– G.K. Chesterton

After I returned home to the States, and when it rained for the first time in a week, I cried. It was a relief to see it rain. I couldn’t get used to the constant sunshine and yellow coated landscape.

Everyone’s always asking me if I’m glad to be home, if I’m adjusting well. I tell them that I am. I am glad to be home, truly. But there is another part of me that is not glad to be separated from Cambridge. I miss the cobbled streets, the abundant iron wrought lamp posts, the bikes, looking right first before crossing the street. I miss coffee shops like Cafe Nero where the barista knew me and my order every time I walked in the door, I miss having classes around tables like an elementary school room, I miss having bad wifi that forces me and my friends to talk and go outside instead of streaming movies. I miss the outdoor market where I can buy fresh bread, I miss biking past the colleges and smiling at the porters who nodded to me, possibly thinking I was a student. But most of all, I miss the rain.

The feeling of being drenched in English rain is romantic. Not the “head over heels in love” type of romantic, but the rustic romanticism that makes you see the world differently and appreciate the small things. It rained almost daily, without fail, reminding us that things are never as predictable as we might think, besides the rain of course. Often, we’d ride the 3 miles back home and be drenched within a minute of cycling. Raincoats proved to discourage the rain, not prevent it entirely. We soon found the meaning of water proof versus water resistant. The angry feeling of exiting a building and finding your bicycle seat wet with recent rain soon faded and was replaced with indifference, because we learned that it didn’t matter. Don’t sweat the small stuff, we learned.

Now, my love of the English rain did not start out as romantic as you might believe. I was lost in the neighbourhood trying to find the Hamilton, where we lived, and I spend 20 minutes zigzagging through streets that all looked the same and whose similarity created a confusing maze that did not want to show me the right direction. Someone finally pointed me home. I passed the Moyen family on my way to my room-literally soaked to the bone-and I was angry and upset at my encounter with the “stupid streets and stupid, cold rain.”

“You look like a drowned cat.” One of them said.
“I feel like one.” I replied, exasperatedly wringing my hair out in the sink.

Well, after the Moyen’s made sure I was calming down, I changed into dry clothes, drank two cups of tea and immediately felt better. I had survived my initiation into English weather, and I wasn’t letting it get the better of me anymore.

A week later, a friend and I were biking back home from class and got lost on the main roads, which were heavy with afternoon traffic, so we had to bike slowly. After an hour of riding in circles, I was still smiling like an idiot because I loved the rain. “Isn’t this fun?” I thought as my hair dripped water into my eyes; my streaked glasses had come off long ago. I was in Cambridge, ENGLAND, mind you, and I was enjoying myself thoroughly. I know, call me crazy.

A month later, a group of us danced in the rain, laughing and squealing with delight as the drops pelted our upturned faces. Water logged clothes do not always mean you have had a terrible day; they might be uncomfortable, but I soon learned to live with it and enjoy the sudden rain showers that turned landscapes into peaceful watercolors.

Today, as we prepared for the Commissioning service for graduates at Lee University, I watched as people slunk by me, huddled under their umbrellas or focused on their rain jacket keeping water off their shoes. I walked next to them carrying my rain jacket over my arm. “It’s not raining that hard.” I thought. I didn’t even realize it was raining until people passed me under the shelter of their rain gear.

They never looked up, never smiled, never saw how green the rain made everything seem. It was so beautiful, but no one looked past the gloomy puddles and grey sky. I wished I too could forget about the romance of the English rain. But I can’t. I can’t forget a lot of things that Cambridge showed me. Things that we forget about here in America, because we think we have it all figured out; “it’s faster. It’s more efficient. It looks more modern.” I miss the rustic old charm of Cambridge, and the only way I can find relief for my longing of that romanticism is in the rain. It falls just the way it did in England, only less frequently. It reminds me to always look up and love what I see around me. Even something that looks unpleasant can, with the right perspective, be beautiful.


A Thousand Words

We all have heard the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words.” I started thinking about the meaning behind this quote when I was studying abroad. I know that a picture shows so much to convey scenes and experiences to other people that they would otherwise never understand from a visual perspective. They show us a lot about the places we’ve been to and those we want to go to.
But not everything. Pictures, while depictions of beauty and epic moments, cannot portray the life that lives within the moment that exists past the camera frame. There are feelings that a camera can only show in a simple smile or crows feet around the eyes. The sounds of cyclists and voices, smells of the baking bread and the flowers around you, and the slight breeze that’s in the air are all absent in a picture; sometimes I find that words can tell you, even “show” you, more than a photo can.

So what about the words I’ve heard during my travels? Have they all been similar to “How are ya’ll doing?” No, they haven’t. I have included a list of some of my favorites that I heard while across the pond in the UK. They are pieces of the culture and they show the presence of differences between American culture and British culture.

1. Driegh or variant Driech (pronounced Dreeck)
Imagine the most dreary, wet, and rainy day possible. That’s the meaning of Driegh. Saying it almost conveys it’s meaning, as if it’s awful to even utter the term.

2. “What are you after?”
The phrase means “What do you want?” When I was in Scotland over Independent Travel, the Altmans and I were sitting down to dinner when Mike asked me what I was after. I was confused for a second and replied, hoping I was responding to the right thing, “Uh, water.” He was wondering what I wanted to drink.

3. Lorry
I first heard this term when we were driving in England and someone reminded me that the British refer to Semis or 18-wheelers as Lorries. A huge lorry just past us on the road. Sounds so much cooler, don’t you think?

4. Trousers, not Pants
Trousers is the term the British use to refer to pants. They call underwear pants, so don’t say you’re going to go iron your pants too loudly or they will laugh. Serious, they will laugh.

5. Half Five (or half one; half ten; etc.)
The British way of saying “half five” or “half seven” is another way of saying “five thirty” and “seven thirty.”

6. Anti-Clockwise
We would say “Counterclockwise.”

7. Cheers
I’ve heard this so much that it’s practically ingrained into my word bank memory, however it took a few times to get used to the term as it’s used so often in England and the UK. Saying “cheers” is another way of saying “thank you.” If you buy something from a store, the owner might say cheers to you before you leave as a way of saying “thank you for supporting my business.” Or to a waiter at a restaurant, you would most likely say “cheers” to thank him for bring your food to you. This too, is a much cooler term than the simple “thank you”.

So, not every word that means one thing in America means the same thing in the UK. It was interesting to learn these phrases and terms and many more that I haven’t yet shared. (If you’re ever interested in knowing more, just ask!) Much love to you all and cheers for reading my blog! I hope you will still continue to do so, even though I am back in America. I still have tons of thoughts to share with my readers (:


Just Another Saturday in Cambridge (An Update!)

The Highlights (for the skimmers):
I am almost halfway through my study abroad semester.
I have visited Bath, Wales, London, Hadrian’s Wall, Scotland (Edinburg), and am journeying to Ireland this week.
To those who are wondering and have seen pictures, yes, I did in fact buy pink Wellingtons.
Someone asked for my address, so if you to write me message me on Facebook or shoot me an email and I can give it to you. : )

Prayer Requests:
Most of us are sick and all coughing terribly, so we’d appreciate your prayers as we prepare to travel and as we finish up the work that needs to be done before we leave Cambridge.
For traveling mercies as we journey to Ireland.
For my stress about Independent Travel to be alleviated.
That I would continue to look to Christ as the source of all my joy.
That always, God would be glorified.

The Details (for the readers):
Well, I can’t believe that my time in the UK is almost halfway over. I know that most of you want me to come home, but I know that I will have mixed feelings about returning home since I have truly come to love this country and have learned so much through my experiences already. That being said, I love you all! I miss each one of you and would love it if you could just move here. : )

The Lord has been teaching me more about humility and that it’s not just my trip, but also belongs to the 23 other individuals here with me. I have been learning more about how to effectively balance my school work and traveling with my relationships back home. It can be a challenge, and wifi sees to it that it’s not easy, but I am grateful for the spotty connection I do have. On that note, I have the best sister ever, who is super busy with her own life right now and winning every competition she enters. (Yes, I’m proud of her.) She sent me a text yesterday that made me cry:

…I wish you were here and stuff, so I’m wearing some of your clothes. That way you are always close to me <3…

I texted her back and told her that, of course, she could wear my clothes and I was touched that she said that. Also, my boyfriend sent me four boxes of Snocaps and fuzzy socks, which made my day.

So, a few of you have asked about my address here in Cambridge. I think that it is safer if I send it to you in a message rather than posting it on my blog for the whole internet to see. If you would like it, just let me know! A few things about mailing me:

Yay for letters!
It takes about a week for things to get here, so if you send something to me make sure it can get to me before March 27, when I’m leaving Cambridge for the last time.
And it costs more to send a letter or package here than it does within the US, so just be aware of that. : )

What I have found difficult so far:
Being sick over here is different than being sick at home. I hate keeping my roommates up with my coughing and it’s hard to focus on homework when I’m feeling poorly. Plus, not having great wifi is a challenge.

What has been an encouragement to me:
My group stayed in a house on Hadrian’s Wall for three days with no wifi or cell coverage. We had each other for company and could explore outside as much as we wished. I grew so much closer to everyone through those few days and I felt like we were one big family. That makes me excited for the rest of the trip to come.

What I am most excited for:
The Lake District. I’ve heard that it is beautiful beyond words and that pictures cannot do it justice. Wordsworth (a poet) found his inspiration in the Lake District and I am so excited to travel there and finally see it for myself.

I’ll let you know how great Ireland was when I return! Thanks for reading and checking up on me! Love you all!

Daunt Books: Not Everything is As Cool As it Sounds

When I was in London, I went to a bookshop called Daunt Books which was in Cheapside. I found a lady who worked there and was shelving new releases in the travel section. Her name tag read: Lauren.

“Hi, I was wondering if I could ask you a quick question.”

Lauren turned towards me and half smiled. “Sure.”

“I am writing on book shops and wanted to ask about the background of Daunt Books.”

She nodded and explained to me that the books were arranged by countries, and most of the books that they had were related to travel. Upstairs there were separate shelves for Britain, Ireland, France, Italy, etc. The ground floor had maps and a wide range of travel pamphlets and books that dealt with lists of things to do, how to pack, budgeting, and what to see in certain places.

I asked her how long they had been established in London. Lauren told me that the Cheapside location had been there for quite a while, she wasn’t entirely sure when the Cheapside shop was opened. She did tell me though that the original bookstore was in Marylebone, which is also in London, and was opened in 1912; it was originally called Francis Edwards, but in 1990 a man named James Daunt bought it and renamed it Daunt Books. They started selling travel books and maps and began publishing in 2010.

“I’ve been working here for four years, and I also work part time as a supply teacher at a local primary school.”

I asked her what a supply teacher was and she told me that it is the same position as a substitute teacher in America. She showed me how expansive the ground floor travel section was and said that I could find much more upstairs for certain countries if I wished. I thanked her and browsed through the Great Britain section on the first floor which had many interesting titles and books about food, shopping, and lodging. Later, when I left, I glanced back at the sign over the front door. Daunt Books. At first, I had thought that Daunt meant something clever when used as a title for a bookstore, like an oxymoron, because books aren’t supposed to intimidate a reader; they are written to provide knowledge and give the reader a better grasp on the world. It turns out that my thought on the name was nothing more than the surname of a man who bought the book store chain. 

Weathering the Bikes: The Daily Struggle to Keep Peddling

I am riding through the neighborhood to return to the Hamilton while the rain is falling and the plastic bag from the market slung over my handle bars hits my bike frame every so often. The wind is gusting at 25 miles an hour, a fact which almost threw me into the side of the bridge a minute ago. I am panting and my hands are raw from the ride across the city, which is in reality not that far. It’s only two miles, so why do I feel as if I’m about to fall over and die? I am a spry 19 year old. I can handle this… Another gust of wind tells me otherwise. “Are you laughing at me?” I ask. It answers by almost knocking me over again and drenching me with another sheet of rain. The front wheel of my bike starts to wobble. Ok, so maybe I’m not as in control of my bike skills as I thought. “Almost there, just a few more minutes.” I think as I struggle to ride into the wind once more.

Biking here is not quite as simple at it seemed at first. I have to remember that I am not a local, I come from America where we drive everywhere. We don’t walk as much as people do here, and we for certain don’t ride bikes as much, if at all. The last time I rode a bike was three years ago, and it certainly wasn’t a two mile bike ride. Here, we cycle 4-6 miles on average every day going to and from class, the market, the city centre, and the Hamilton. It is something that I still haven’t gotten used to as evidenced by my trip this morning on my way to the market in the city centre. I was at a stoplight and a man and his wife stopped their bikes next to me, and they looked near my grandparent’s age. I was trying to catch my breath and they were talking as if they had lungs of steel. This isn’t uncommon at all, in fact, I see many people riding bikes every day that are significantly older and even younger than I am. The only thing that surprises me is the fact that they are so much more adept on a bike. I took off after the light turned green and was peddling at a decent speed, so I thought I was doing fairly well. Then the couple zipped past me and they continued cycling down the road. I lost sight of them within the next minute or so. Ok, maybe I’m not doing as great as I thought.

The rain and wind can’t deter me forever, but it certainly is having a good go at it. I laugh a little inside every time a University student, local, or a ten year old passes me when I’m riding in the city. It seems to be Cambridge’s way of telling me that I need to keep up 🙂

I’m doing well though, in spite of my encounters on my bike rides, and I am having a marvelous time in Cambridge and journeying to other cities in the UK. I’ll keep you posted!


Challenging My Own Perspective

One of the many things I have noticed so far is that Cambridge provokes deep thought. Instead of allowing passerby to merely glance and walk away, Cambridge draws you in, creating a moment that causes you to stand for a minute or two and truly look at the scene in front of you before moving on. In noticing my surroundings more often, I see myself better. Why does this cause me to feel a certain way? I ask myself. Perhaps it’s because I, and every person along with me, loves beauty and we can see it more clearly now than we had before. I pass by St. John’s and Trinity often; however, I never fail to look at them when I pass by, because the buildings beckon to be noticed. They tell a story to me, and perhaps someone else has felt the same way.

If you stand on a street long enough, you can literally feel the history staring back at you from the sandy brown stone or colored brick. A pair of fellows walks past and enters their college by a side gate, and if you wait long enough, you can see them walking across the green grass of the court that is a privilege reserved for them alone. I can almost see C.S. Lewis in his flowing robes pass by me on his way to Magdalene. The history here in Cambridge never fades; it is not hidden or torn down. The structures that Lewis walked by in his time at Cambridge are the exact same structures that I see today. Time has passed, but it has only deepened the richness of the University and the city surrounding it. In America, we pride ourselves in saying something is 300 years old. Here, that is relatively new structure. While we remove bricks of history, places such as Cambridge, preserve them and lock their world in a time capsule that is waiting to be opened by a traveler who stops to appreciate the meaning and history behind the scene. If you simply look long enough, you can start to see it too.

Midday light on a street near King's College

Midday light on a street near King’s College


5 Differences in Cambridge that Make no Sense to Americans

I begin this post with a disclaimer: Many people have asked me what college I am staying at, or where I am taking classes. To clear things up, I am (very, very sadly) not attending the University of Cambridge itself this semester, although I would love to. I am staying in a B&B and I am taking 3 online courses and another course offsite from Lee University in TN. Our trip director is teaching one class while we are here in England, and we will have guest lecturers from time to time come speak to us.

While we are living here in Cambridge, we are not official students of the University here in the city. If anyone would like to send me here for graduate school however, I would not mind AT ALL. (:

5 Differences in Cambridge that Make no Sense to Americans

1. Cambridge University is divided up in many differences colleges (St. John’s, Trinity, Clare etc.) These colleges all have different academic heads, called deans, and the schools each have numerous departments of study (English, Physics, Music etc.) So, it is normal for students enrolled in St. John’s college and students from Trinity college to study (read) English and have lectures together.

Why: The reasoning behind this is so that the students do not “eat, drink and sleep” the same subject. If a student is studying Physics, he does not board or dine with just other Physics students. It creates variety in colleges and more interaction between students of different studies.

2. When talking about a particular subject or area of study, you do not say that you are studying English. You “read” English at Univeristy. When you are studying for an exam here, they say you are “revising.”

Why: Because it sounds so much cooler that way.

3. Paying with the British Pound is a much simpler system than the American currency system. When a price tag says 5 pounds, it truly means you are paying 5 pounds and not a pence more. Their money is different sizes depending on the value, and the bills are much prettier to look at than ours. They have a one pound coin; this makes life so much easier. When I buy tea at a shoppe for 2 pounds, I hand the shop owner two coins and I’m all set. I don’t have to worry as much about change if I can use coins to my advantage. Also, the coinage all says the denomination on the coin itself. Often, in America, we don’t have the amount etched on the coins, most definitely making it hard for visitors to understand.

Why: You don’t have to worry about tips or sales tax, because it’s already incorporated into the price. The system is easier to understand.

4. EVERYONE here has a bike. It doesn’t matter if you’re a shop owner, student, porter, or have a desk job. If you live in the city of Cambridge, especially near the city centre, you do not own a car. You own a bike. The first day, we drove past a college on our way in and saw bikes parked two or three rows deep down the entire length of the fence. Also, cars are not allowed into the city on many streets at all.

Why: Students at the University of Cambridge are not allowed to have cars. With the lack of cars, it is not because there is a law against it, but because the city council has long installed bollards. These are poles that are placed in the centre of a lane at a stop signal. The only way to activate one and lower it is to have a special sensor. Buses and taxis have these installed on the front bumper, but cars do not. A car cannot slip past a bollard behind a bus, because the bollard rises quickly once the bus has passed and the car behind will be stuck on top of it.

5. No one walks on the grass of a college. EVER. If you pay an admission fee and enter a college, you may see many signs perched on the impeccable green lawns that read: Keep Off the Grass. In many places in America, signs like these have come to merely suggest the idea that one should not walk across the grass. Well, the English do not joke or merely suggest this. We visited St. John’s College and walked through the court (open square courtyard in colleges that is surrounded by a building on all sides). We saw the grass and someone noticed the sign and our tour guide told us that it was a sin to walk on the grass when you are a mere student or tourist.

Why: Only fellows (professors) of their respective colleges are allowed to walk on the lawns, but they cannot go to the college next door and walk on its grass. It is a sign of the students’ respect and the fellows’ status. Plus, there is a man with a machine gun rifle sitting in a tower overlooking the court at St. John’s. His sole job is to scare anyone away if they step on the grass. I’m not entirely sure how true that last statement is, but I’m definitely not going to find that one out for myself.

So, these are my first impressions of the differences I’ve seen (of course there are many, many others like shoppe closing times). I will include another set in a later post, so be watching!

On My Last Weekend in the U.S.

England is just around the corner and my bags are packed. I am just waiting for the plane to leave. That’s all that stands in between me and study abroad. I know that I’m not leaving forever, but I will not set foot on American soil again for three months. That thought is exciting for me, and yet I know I will miss my friends and family here. I read a quote from Chesterton that says,

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.”

I agree with this statement wholeheartedly. I truly have been cautioning myself to travel with the idea in mind to see the world through the eyes of a traveler and not a tourist. Travelers take their time to visit places off the beaten path, while tourists simply see the sights and nothing more. Some tourists are forever perched on the balconies of some centrally located hotel with their instant coffee, and the traveler walks underneath with a market crepe in their hand and a cup of tea from a nearby shop. The traveler might see the well-known sights, but discovers a new world apart from his own in the local people and everyday activities he sees. The tourist sees what he comes to see and nothing more.

I aim to be a traveler. So I’ll start by trading my phone in for a journal and pen. I want to be in the moment, not live in America while I’m in a great place that has so much to offer me. With that in mind, I am off to be a good student and finish my homework before we leave on Monday to board the plane. I will be writing my next post from across the pond!

Until then,