30 June, 2011

Elsie Will Not Be Our Kitten's Name

Yesterday Sarah revisited an idea that is on the permanent back burner.  The ICLC needs a kitten.

There would be a few rules.  It needs to be a perpetual kitten.  It needs to stay young, adventurous and carefree to keep the atmosphere perpetually lighthearted.  It needs to be hypoallergenic in case anyone has allergies.  It would be great if we could adopt it from a shelter.  It feels nice to take in a rescued kitten.  It needs to be ok with being named after a football player, because my guess is that Bill would be given the honor of naming it.  It would have to like Queen, Billy Joel and Hit Radio Ö3 (die beste Musik von die 80's, die 90's und Heute!), because I would like it to come out from under Sarah's desk and into my office sometimes.

It will be a very well behaved kitten so that we can bring it on the trips.  It can come on the Stratford trip and listen intently to Dr. Kidd's lecture on Shakespeare's life there.  It can come to Bath, but not go into The Baths, because kittens don't like those.  Perhaps it can even go to Paris with Jack Hrkach, if it can keep up with him.

I can see this kitten assuming a real position of power at the ICLC.  If flights get cancelled, flatmates disagree or finals week takes its toll, the kitten can come to the rescue with a few purrs and curious paws at exhausted students.  With its supreme calming powers the kitten may start considering world domination.  Indeed, the power to subdue the masses is what many a dictator has sought.  And being a kitten, it wouldn't be warlike, so it would be a peaceful domination of the world.
The closest we may ever come to our kitten.

Anyway, we can live in hope, as far fetched as it may be.


28 June, 2011

Four Month Let!

Last summer Bill, Sarah and I all wrote posts about where we live as an effort to get conversation about housing rolling.  What that turned into was Bill slamming South London (he is a passionate North Londoner, and Sarah and I both live south of the river).  This summer we are taking a new approach.  Sarah has put a poll up on our facebook group so that students can get a jump on organizing groups for housing.  Living in a group is great for cost cutting, and they usually range in size from 3-6 people.  Bill has emailed a document with information about housing in his last group email.  Have a look at it and start preparing yourself for the flat-hunt, if that's the route you choose.  There is also info about pre-arranging your housing by going the homestay or dorm route.  These options may cost a bit more than a flat found during the first week, but you can usually move right in when you arrive.
Spring 2011 flat hunters

The flat hunt is something of an ICLC tradition.  For many of you it is something you have never done before, and you will continue using the skills you pick up throughout your life when finding a place to live.  Bill, Sarah, Heather and I are here to coach you all the way, so even though you will be swimming in the deep end, we have never known any students not to make it out the other side of the flat-hunt.  For some of you signing your name to a lease may be the first time you have put your name to anything other than an email account.  A lot of students mature significantly while flat hunting.

The story of my group's flat-hunt nearly a decade ago has gone down into ICLC folklore.  In some versions of the story we were wandering the streets of London like 6 hungry, homeless students.  In other versions we lived in a palatial, penthouse flat.  Just to clarify, it's all true, with a little exaggeration.  Yes, we were all theater majors, yes, life was all drama, but just remember, Drama is something people can major in.  Looking back, the real issue was that our friends were housed and we were not (for much of the week).  In reality  we had options.  We saw a lot of flats, and we said No to a lot of flats.  The flat that we finally settled on was one that seemed too good to be true.  Until the estate agent explained that the owner was desperate to let her flat, so much so that she had reduced the rent, we thought it might be a scam.  From Tuesday morning when we first saw it until Thursday afternoon when we decided to revisit the flat, the time that passed felt like an eternity of never ending flat viewings.  We signed Friday morning and enjoyed a lovely weekend of moving in and finding a local grocery store.  I can't remember if this predated Google, but it definitely predated having internet in our flat, so we had to find a store on foot.  Three of us went left and three of us went right and the group that found a supermarket phoned the other and tried their best to give directions.  Again, more drama ensued.

Most students find flats in the first couple days.  Everyone finds something by the end of the week.  This is one of the most frequently read responses in our evaluations when we ask, What 3 things do you think are essential for us to tell you when you first get here?  The Spring 2011 group said, "I think it was important to hear everyone say that we would find a flat no matter what because everyone was so nervous about it", "Don’t stress about housing, you WILL find a place to live", "Don’t panic, you will find some place to live and you will figure out how to get around".  A few people have asked to see what the private landlords that we have contact with have available already.  We will post this information when you arrive.  It changes so quickly that orientation week is the earliest we can give you accurate information.  Students have tried to prearrange with private landlords in the past and have been disappointed with the flats they discovered they had signed for without seeing.  This is mostly a question of expectations and we recommend that you see what is being offered before putting anything on paper.

Things you can do before you arrive:
1. Find people to live with.  Remember that it is only four months and that you will probably be out enjoying London and traveling more than you will be hanging out in your flat.  We have set up a facebook group called Ithaca College London Center Fall 2011, which you are welcome to use to meet the other students coming over.
2. Think about how you will access your money.  At the end of the first week here you will need to pay 1 month's rent in advance AS WELL AS your security deposit (a few weeks worth of rent).  This is a lot of money and most people pay it in cash (check out the previous post about accessing your money while abroad).  Keep an eye on the exchange rate at www.oanda.com.
3. Do a bit of research on areas in London.  Recently we have had students living in Bayswater, Edgware Road, Hammersmith, Fulham, West Kensington and even a group in Kilburn.  Go to www.tfl.gov.uk and become familiar with the tube map.  You can also research bus routes from there.  Buses that stop near the London Center are the 49, 74, 430 and C1.
This is how excited you will be when you are done flat hunting!

Most importantly, stay open minded and enthusiastic.  You are here to experience life in London.  It will probably be like nothing you have ever done before and nothing you will do again.


24 June, 2011

My New Favorite Tube Map

My right to live and work in the UK is based on my German citizenship.  I'm also American, but for me to live and work here based on that passport I would require a work visa and some strong legs for jumping through hoops (verify this with Jack Hrkach).  But as a German I am part of the EU, and I just need to flash my passport to get a job.  I should edit that- obviously I need to be qualified for the position as well, but my passport helps me clear one hurdle.

As you may have discovered, we are an international community within the Ithaca College London Center.  All four of us have lived in multiple countries in our lifetimes, and even back in Ithaca, Rachel Cullenen in International Programs is fluent in Italian.  For the World Cup Final last summer Bill bought Sarah (originally from Wales, grew up in Holland and later moved back to England) a Dutch football and wristbands.  And when The Times printed a map of what the London Underground would have looked like if Germany had won the war, he brought it directly to me.  Oder sollte ich sagen London Untergrundbahn (pronounced Lone-don).

Last week Bill sent out a quiz on London transport in his email (he should be announcing the quiz winner in this week's email).  The winner was pretty quick in sending back a complete set of correct answers, so I suggest that the version of this week's quiz that that student receives should be in German.  Just to level the playing field.  We've also got Spanish, Dutch and French (Canadian-style) in our repertoire here and can send back to Ithaca for an Italian translation if necessary.  Don't be discouraged, we had many sets of correct answers, it's just a question of getting in there first.

Anyway, if you, too find that navigating the TfL map is easy-peasey-lemon-squeezey, next time do it in German.  It's a good laugh.  Plan a journey von Ritterbrücke zu Kantenwarenstraße.


*The ICLC does not advertise or endorse any products.

23 June, 2011

Will You Be Banking on HSBC?

I promise that the ICLC does not endorse any particular bank.  This is not an advertisement, it's just a question.  I ask this for a couple reasons.  First, it introduces the subject of money, and when students are preparing to come over to London, we get loads of questions about money.  What's the best form to bring it over in?  Can I open a British bank account?  Does anyone use traveler's cheques?  Can I use checks in USD to pay my rent?

The best way to bring money to the UK is much too subjective to give a specific answer.  The most important thing is to ensure that you have more than one way to access funds so that you don't find yourself stranded in any way.  Have a debit card and a credit card.  Come over with some GBP in cash and some traveler's cheques (only sold in USD in the USA).  Or any combination of the above.  The most important thing is that you don't find yourself stuck with no access to money.  If you are doing the flat hunt in the first week you will not only have to pay your first month's rent at the end of your first week in the UK, you will also have to pay a deposit, which is usually another 4-6 weeks of rent, at the same time.  Remember that you need to have your money in your checking account at your bank because British ATMs don't ask if you want to take from your savings or your checking.  They will ONLY draw from your checking account.   And remember that exchange rates and commissions fluctuate whether you are exchanging traveler's checks or withdrawing from an ATM.  Shop around to find a deal.

Opening a British bank account can be a tricky one.  A few students have had luck doing this in the past, but general practice is that students who will be in the country for less than 6 months are declined for opening British bank accounts.  It's best to assume that you won't get a British bank account.  What you might want to do is see if your home bank has a sister bank (I think Bank of America is sistered with Barclays, but check this out yourself to be sure) in the UK where you can use their ATMs for free or more cheaply.

Some people use traveler's cheques.  The trick is to shop around for a good rate.  Many places that change them advertise the rates that they buy and sell at in their shop windows.  Some students have expressed frustration in the past with the difficulty they may have encountered finding a good exchange rate.  The positive side of them is that they are non-negotiable, ready cash.

Paying your monthly rent (advertised at a weekly rate, paid at a monthly rate, multiply by 52, divide by 12, we will explain it all when you get here) to your landlord is usually done in cash.  This is probably different from the regular practice in Ithaca of writing a cheque each month, but as it is unlikely that you will have cheques in GBP to write, you will probably pay in cash.  Most landlords will NOT accept cheques in USD because it is too much of a kerfuffle (that's the technical term) to change and cash them.

The second reason I ask my original question is purely out of curiosity.  Not that we are trying to take stock of our audience, no don't bank on that.  Bill, Heather, Sarah and I are people you can count on, that's all.


PS- Keep an eye on the exchange rate at www.oanda.com.  We do endorse this.  Actually the UK Border Agency endorses this as the only site they recognise for official exchange rates.  And the ICLC does what the UKBA tells us.

21 June, 2011

MFA Does Not Stand for Moving Furniture Around

"MFA does not stand for Moving Furniture Around".  This was a phrase that I heard around Ithaca College's Theater Department as and undergraduate there.  It was a constant battle to keep furniture in its appropriate place.  And many of the faculty and staff of the department, with their Master of Fine Arts degrees, could be heard repeating this.  Needless to say, this phrase trickled down to undergraduates who also found themselves trekking furniture across Dillingham.  Unlike most of my Ithaca College lecturers, I went on to do an MA.  Unfortunately the phrase, "MA does not stand for Moving Around" doesn't have the same ring to it, and, frankly, doesn't make that much sense.  Moving around isn't a point of complaint.  So I'm borrowing someone else's phrase, and it has been the motto of the day.  Probably also the week.  And the month, too.

The summer is when the ICLC gets a bit of the love and tenderness that has been put on the back burner while the building is full with students.  Last summer it was new toilets.  This summer it's new carpets.  We are having new carpet put into the classrooms, the back stairs, Heather's office and my office!  With so much furniture that needs moving around, Sarah and I have begun in my office.  With our hands firmly on our bin bags, we have been culling old phone books, staplers that don't work and broken shelves that stand in the way of the furniture we need to move. 

My office is only scratching the surface of the work that we are doing to 35 Harrington Gardens this summer, but I imagine if I continue down this route the story will devolve into my To Do list.  Our building is generally accepted as a lovely one. It has a beautiful 19th century red-brick exterior, an expansive common room, wood paneling around the building, a thickly carved cornice in the director's office and the coziness of a well loved old building.  So, to our Fall 2011, this is what it won't look like when you get here:
The current state of Claire's office, involving experiments with desks

The front hall as a storage space
Bill's office.  Not just during cleaning season, this is the year-round look.


16 June, 2011

An Interview of Bill Sheasgreen (at which he wasn't present)

Bill Sheasgreen- director of Ithaca College's London Center, Egyptologist by trade, cricketer on the weekends and all around popular guy at the ICLC.

Claire Mokrauer-Madden: Bill, thanks for taking time out of your busy day for me to interview you.
Bill Sheasgreen: No problem, I'm glad to do it.
CMM: I understand that you moved to London in the 1970's.  What prompted the move?
BS: I was going to Cambridge to write my PhD.  I arrived into Heathrow with all my luggage, and I planned that day to go directly to King's Cross train station to catch a train up there.  But as soon as I came out of the underground station at King's Cross I came face to face with why the area around King's Cross had such a poor reputation.  The area has since been rejuvenated, but back then I was shocked by what was in front of me.  I turned right around and headed back into the London Underground, heading for the Piccadilly Line to go back to Heathrow and fly back to Canada.  But part way along the journey I had a revelation.  They called out that the next stop was Gloucester Road and I remembered that famed early 20th century Egyplologist, Howard Carter, the man who found King Tut's tomb, had lived in that area.  I decided to alight there and pay homage to his home.
CMM: Didn't you have a lot of luggage with you?
BS: No, I'm a very practical packer.  I brought enough clothing so that I could get by without doing laundry for about 2 weeks.  I had also ordered my Cambridge University uniform and had a few sets waiting for me at my halls of residence.
CMM: That sounds reasonable.  Is that why you have been toying with the idea of uniforms for Ithaca College London Center students?
BS: Partly.  The rest of the reason is that American students, whether they are 2, 12 or 21 go to school.  In Britain only children go to school. As more mature students they attend college and university.  But when our American students arrive here they say that they are going to school.  As you have noticed about the school children passing down Harrington Gardens on their way to school, they all wear uniforms.  As our students believe that they are also attending school, and we want them to have as much exposure to cultural immersion while studying abroad as possible, I believe the ICLC should begin having uniforms for students.
CMM: I see your reasoning, but I can't imagine that will go down well with the students or with our colleagues back in Ithaca, NY.
One possible version of the uniform for faculty

BS: No, you're right, I have received no support for this idea.  Nonetheless, I continue to keep the innovative ideas coming.  And Professor Hrkach has agreed to trial my Uniforms for Faculty idea.
CMM: Anyway, getting back to your move to London, what happened once you found Howard Carter's house?
BS: Well, after a short wander I found it at the end of Harrington Gardens.  I had passed up and down both sides of the street and knocked on a few doors, so by the time I found the house I was feeling pretty well acquainted with the area.  I decided that if South Kensington had been good enough for Howard Carter, it was good enough for me.  So I moved there.  I worked on my PhD remotely so that I had as little contact as possible with King's Cross station and eventually began teaching at the Ithaca College London Center down the road on Harrington Gardens.
CMM: Thanks for taking a few moments to answer my questions.  I hope that in time you get over your fear of King's Cross!  Do you think that one day there will be a blue plaque at 35 Harrington Gardens marking your career, just like Howard Carter's?
BS: No worries there!  I put in the application in 1983!