28 February, 2012

Cross Cultural Education: Travel

Many of you are traveling for break this week!  The London Center has come up with some phrases that may help you in the countries you're visiting:

I'm staying in a hostel, but my friend booked it and can't remember what it's called.  Is there an internet cafe nearby?
Italian: Io rimango in un ostello, ma il mio amico prenotato e non ricordo come si chiama. C'è un internet cafè nelle vicinanze?

Oh no!  I think I left my passport on the train!  Where's the nearest US embassy?
Greek:  Ω, όχι! Νομίζω ότι άφησε το διαβατήριό μου στο τρένο! Πού είναι η κοντινότερη πρεσβεία των ΗΠΑ;

 I'd like to buy this bag, but 1,000 Moroccan dirham is too expensive!
Arabic:                          وأود أن شراء هذه الحقيبة، ولكن 1000 الدرهم المغربي مكلفة للغاية!

What's the local delicacy at this restaurant?  I've heard the squid is very good!
Spanish:  ¿Cuál es el plato típico de este restauranteHe oído que el calamar es muy bueno!
(all translations are from Google Translate, so I'm not sure if they're any good)

We also have some culinary tips:
  • Spain: try the paella, the chorizo and manchego
  • Holland: hema rookworst, bitterballen, and patat met
  • Italy: pasta (though it may indicate that you're a tourist), gelato, and thin crust pizza
  • Greece: baklava, as many olives as you can carry and moussaka
  • Ireland: mashed potatoes, roast potatoes and Taytos
  • Germany: wurst, schwarzewald gateau and Berliners
  • Switzerland: fondue, roesti and bretzeln

And some common sense:
  • If you're in Venice and the directions to your hostel involve getting on the bus, your hostel isn't in Venice.
  • Even if you sound silly trying the local language, they'll respect that at least you're trying.
  • If it's your hen do, have it in Orkney at your own risk.
  • Losing your passport may extend your break, but not in the good way.  It will also extend your wallet in ways you hadn't thought it able.
  • The weather in London will probably be better than it has been previously this semester.
  • For the post card and souvenir competitions: more pornographic/erotic doesn't always equal more tacky.
  • Those crazy Europeans drive on the other side of the road.  Who does that?!?!

24 February, 2012

Bill's Working on the Book

Bill Sheasgreen: Claire, I'm trying to write a book about London Center and its 40 years.  Would you help me?
Claire Mokrauer-Madden: Sure!  I'd love to help.  What can I do?
BS: There are so many facets to Elsie's history, and my specialties are World War II and later 20th century youth culture.  I'm considering presenting Elsie in her youth as a post Mary Quant-loving, experiment of the 1970's, but I can't seem to mesh that with her Victorian facade.  Any ideas how to resolve this?
CMM: I don't think the London Center was born as a bi-product of the swinging 60's.  As one of many American study abroad programs to have been established in London in 1972, can you talk about studying abroad in London and how the experience has developed over the last 40 years? 
BS: Perhaps.  I've certainly seen it all happen.  Disguised as a history lecturer, I was a part of London's 1970's scene on the King's Road in Chelsea.  I walked the same streets as Mick Jagger.  He learned his famous swagger from me.  That's a little known fact that could go into the book!
CMM: You seem to make a lot of assertions that I find hard to believe. 
BS: No, that's a true fact.  I would put you in touch with the man himself to confirm, but we aren't on speaking terms anymore.
CMM: I'm not surprised to hear that.  What can you say about Elsie in the 1980's?  Didn't Ithaca buy the building then?
BS: Yes, the 80's were a good time for us.  I remember when Ithaca bought this building, and the sellers were generous enough to include Fred as the caretaker in the deal. 
CMM: Fred certainly was the glue of the London Center while he worked here.  And if he was out of glue, it was nothing a few nails and/or screws, some honey mustard dressing and some white paint wouldn't fix.
BS: We were also doing much of our faculty selection from north London.  Not that we were biased, but it was nice to have a good group of Arsenal fans.
CMM: I was about to take exception to that and tell you I wouldn't help you with the book!  But if it was all in support of Arsenal, I bet you were blinded by passion.
BS: Perhaps we could include a chapter in the book about Elsie's Arsenal years.
CMM: Probably not.  But a chapter about Fred would certainly be nice.  Except for the London Center's more recent alums, most students who passed through our doors will have at some point been made to think that they opened the door into Fred's head and nearly knocked him down.  The closest thing we now have to Fred's practical joking is you Aprils Fools jokes.
BS: Oh, yes!  Shall we have a chapter about how successfully we've celebrated April 1st for so many years?
CMM: Perhaps.  Are you bummed that April 1st is on a Saturday this year and you won't be at work for it?
BS: Who says I won't be at work for it?
CMM: True point.  But will you be designing a prank for yourself?
BS: Undisclosable.
CMM: I don't think that's a word.  Don't use it in the book.
BS: But I will possibly be including April Fools jokes in the book. 
CMM: So have I helped you?
BS: Barely!  We haven't made it to the 90's or the 21st century!
CMM: Perhaps they can be included in volume 2?
BS: You think I'm going to make it to volume 2?
CMM: I have high hopes for volume 1. That'll be the hard one.  Volume 2 will probably write itself.
BS: I like your optimism, whether or not I share it.  You've been a big help, and I have a lot of ideas to use.  Volume I of the London Center's history is going to be amazing!
CMM: I wait with baited breath!

*Bill really is working on a book celebrating the 40 years of history in the London Center.  We look forward to the final product!

22 February, 2012

You'll Have to Sit Down for This One...

What do I do when I'm low on blog post ideas?  Embrace the random factor.

I may or may not have previously mentioned that the London Center is 40 this year.  As a result, you may imagine that we have been through our fair share of chairs in this building, but what you may not know about are the real classics to which we have clung.  Yes, your worst fears are true.  Today I will be reviewing the chairs of the London Center. 

My first chair is not just a chair, but the set found in Bill's office.  I would like to be able to put a date on them, but their classic design and unending series of tears in the leather just say to me that they have been around the block a few times.  These chairs welcome coffee talkers, visiting alums, faculty and the surveyors who will be giving Elsie a once over.  The set of four (2 taller armchairs, a lower armchair and a loveseat) are centered around a table that has hobnobs on it on a good day, and a semester's worth of Bill's Sport in the UK marking on a bad day.  On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best, Emily and Michael gave them a 9.85 overall for comfort, ease of use and closeness to biscuits.
Emily stealthily checks the arms of the chair
Michael is loving the loveseat

The next chair is also part of a set and also green.  Under the stairs in the front hall there is another loveseat and an ottoman that is most frequently used as a seat.  It seems that the comfort of these items of furniture balances out the danger involved in getting into and out of them.  They are truly seats for experienced sitters.  They sink and suck you in when you sit on them and have a table, a wall socket and a radiator nearby, as well as a small window.  What would only make the situation better would be if so many people didn't bump their heads on the stairs standing up to leave the sofa.  Also, if you listen closely, you can hear Harry Potter quietly doing magic in the cupboard under the stairs and plotting his escape.  Points out of 10? 9.2, say Brittany, Carolyn and Cristin.
Neither Brittany or Carolyn bumped their heads standing up!
Cristin didn't mind that there's no back to the ottoman

Next we moved up to the Common Room.  Here is a similar style to the set in Bill's office.  These chairs are old, broken in and wear their age well.  If I were to compare them to zoo animals I would say they are most comparable to wise elephants.  The leather sags in places, but these chairs don't seem to be forgetting the last 40 years.  Literature lecturer Lee White gave them a 6 out of 10.  He wasn't impressed by the chair's lack of support and was disappointed by how far away it was from any biscuits.
Lee wears his disappointment about the lack of biscuits

Fourth is our freshest set of chairs.  Within the last year the faculty room received leather armchairs which are still so new, they smell a bit like the shop.  These chairs don't leave the sitter too high or too low, but rather just at the right height.  Ian Green, film lecturer, felt they were some of the best in the London Center, giving them a 10 out of 10.
Ian's comfy in the new faculty room chair

The final set of chairs is easily my favorite.  If I was told they came with the building, I would believe it.  These old, green friends have been repaired innumerable times, but being too good to let go of, they are currently haunting room 8.  They're lumpy but loveable, socially awkward but trend setting.  They're representatives of life- they dictate where you're allowed to sit on them (bumps vs. holes), but welcome you with aged velour upholstery.  They take and they give- they're not just a place to sit, they're a way of life.  11 out of 10!
For Rosie, the party starts in these chairs

If you're really well behaved I'll let you know next week which classroom chairs we're still using since the 1980's!


16 February, 2012

Solitary Scotland?

Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities in the UK.  For now.  For a different opinion, see Renton's Rant in Trainspotting.  Architecturally, it wears its history on its sleeve.  It's got a castle, a palace, the Old Town and New Town.  Its terrain is made of extinct volcanoes.  It sacrifices itself every August to become the amazing madhouse that is the Edinburgh Fringe, a month of theatre, comedy, music and most types of performance.  Living in Edinburgh Zoo are the UK's only two resident pandas.  For now.  As the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh houses the country's parliament, a modern building opened in 2004.  The devolved parliament governs education, health, agriculture and justice.  For now.

When the south wanted to secede from the Union in 1861 war broke out in America.  When the governing party in the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish National Party, suggested independence from Britain a referendum was put on the cards.  Current plans by the SNP are to hold the referendum in autumn 2014.  Though I don't think it's fair to describe David Cameron as the Abraham Lincoln of the UK, he is urging Scots to vote against independence saying, "Together we are actually stronger."  In response a spokesperson for First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, described Cameron's argument as a "threadbare case for an outdated nation."

What would Scottish independence mean?  Will there be conversations about ownership of the North Sea oil (if there's any left)?  Will Scottish Parliament look after a new Scottish military?  Will you need your passport to go to Scotland from the rest of the UK (which you do not currently need)?  Could it also mean an import tax on Irn-Bru and haggis will raise their prices in England, Wales and Northern Ireland?  Will Scottish Pounds (which already look different from English and Northern Irish pounds) inflate at a different rate from Great British Pounds?

Will Scottish Gaelic be brought into the national curriculum?  Currently only 1.2% of the population over 3 years old speak it.  In Ireland, Irish is taught in most schools and teachers must exhibit a certain amount of proficiency to be employable.  21.7% of the Welsh population can use the Welsh language.  Could a surge in Scottish nationalism revive the language (these facts come from Wikipedia, so make of them what you will)?

With the pandas on loan (sounds nicer than 'leased', which is the word the BBC used) to Edinburgh Zoo for at least 10 years, will China and Scotland develop a relationship separate from the one between China and the UK?  What will that relationship be?  What will the relationship between Scotland and the UK become?

Personally, I don't think I know enough of the reasons behind the SNP's proposed referendum for independence to take a stance on the issue.  Historical cultural differences between Scotland and England aside, I understand that though the SNP proposed the independence referendum in 2007, they delayed holding it in 2010 out of concern that there wasn't enough support.  In Scottish Parliament's General Election in 2011 the SNP increased its majority over Scottish Labour and the Conservatives.  Perhaps this has brought more confidence to the SNP bringing the referendum forward again.  I wait with interest to see what happens as 2014 approaches.
Arthur's Seat, conquered last spring

As an outsider on this issue, I would like to list a few things that I think make Scotland great.
  • Robbie Burns
  • Nessie
  • Irn-Bru
  • Tartans
  • Ceilidhs
  • David Tennant
  • Neeps and tatties
 Whether it's separate from the UK or not, I stand by Mike Myers when he said, "If it's not Scottish it's crap!"


14 February, 2012

Valentines Day- The Subtext

Does she like me?  Does he like me?  Am I obsessing over Valentines Day too much?  These are the panicked questions that surround Valentines Day.  We silently ask them to ourselves, and they can become overwhelming.  But this isn't the subtext I'm thinking of.  This isn't the real subtext.

For years it's troubled me that Valentines Day's initials are VD.  I was once wished a happy VD, and I wasn't sure how to take that.  The overseeing powers of New York City must have noticed this, too, because they give out free condoms on Valentines Day (I don't know if they still do this).  This got me thinking about the other possibilities of what Valentines Day could be.  Aside from venereal disease, there's also The Vampire Diaries, vapor density and, though more of a cousin, VJ Day.  It makes me wonder if we're exploring all of our VD options.  Flowers are a classic, but what about giving fake vampire teeth?  Perhaps instead of chocolates you can give hydrogen (for measuring vapor density against).  Most appealingly, instead of a trip to an STD clinic you can go to Japan.

For many students this may be your first foreign Valentines Day.  It's just as marketed in the UK as it is in America (some say even more so), so there isn't much difference there.  At the ICLC we're trying to promote open mindedness in love.  I arrived this morning to a message that seemed to say that I love work placement site contact details.  On our Valentines board there are messages of love to classmates, flats and public transportation.  On our candy love hearts at coffee talk, some of them say, Looking Fab, while others say, Just Say No.  This all encompasses our many interpretations of what the day is about.  Bill gave gifts of candy and spicy food suggesting we make his heart burn.
Flowers, chocolate and some creative additions

Here are some of the things that we're loving this year at the London Center:
  • The girls of Cumberland Mansions
  • Dr. Kidd
  • Soup, tulips, snow, rainbow sunsets, 80's pop, old cars, sun-roofs and otters.  And strong tea.
  • Blue roses and ponies
  • Eva
  • Pedro
  • Bill
  • Jackie
  • Richard
  • Flat 30 and chocolate
  • Park West
  • Jack 
  • Devon
This was how my desk looked this morning...

Though there are many ways of celebrating February 14th.  The ICLC is sticking with the traditional expressions of love for the most part, but if a trip to Japan is on offer, I won't turn it down.


10 February, 2012

Bill Sheasgreen- No Longer Shrouded in Mystery

I realize that I write a lot of blog posts about Bill.  It's not that I want to be him or anything- he has difficult shoes to fill (when they match).  But when writing about Bill, it's as if the material writes itself.  And I mean that in the most flattering way possible.  Whenever I interview Bill, there's no need for me to actually talk to him.  He seems to be a really good sport about the things I claim he says, which in reality he has nothing to do with.

I write about Bill because he's a universal factor of the London Center.  Not only has he been part of it since its toddler-hood in the 1970's (he only narrowly missed its birth), he is currently one of the main forces that keeps it a study abroad destination that IC students recommend to their fellow students.  As well as most of the ICLC's students from at least 1997 onwards knowing him, Bill is also a fixture of the American study abroad community in London.  I was once told that fame depends on the circles you run in- within Bill's circles, he's famous.  And if I keep tagging him in blog posts, he'll become famous on Google, too.

No, I'm not fishing for a raise.  I'm prefacing a blog post that he pretty much asked me to write: an alphabet of why it's good to be Bill.  He didn't ask in so many words, but he did suggest it.  Sort of.

Here is a compilation of nouns that resonate fond thoughts with the man.

Arsenal- he loves them
Bicycle- may not cycle much these days, but still carries a pump for stranded cyclists at the airport
Claire- gets to work with her
Dance- cuts a mean Dashing White Sergeant
Dancing the night away at a ceilidh

Elsie- he knows her better than anyone else does
Fred- without whom Bill doesn't get to read The Sun
Gardens, 35 Harrington- he never quite seems to leave this place
Heather- gets to work with her
Ithaca- goes there each year
Jokes- his favorite holiday is April 1st. Beware!
Keeps everything- forever.  Explains his office floor
London- he's lived here longer than all 3 of his staff combined
M- if this were James Bond, that's who he would be
North London- without which he couldn't deride south London quite so much
Olympics- has hosted a few conferences on those
Pukka pads- seriously lost without them
QPR- a good day out with sport students (or anyone who wants to see a footie match)
Rugby- likes it almost as much as cricket
Sarah- gets to work with her
Transport for London- does that for free
U-boats- Bill knows a lot about World War II
Visibility- anyone seen his orange Guardian bag in a while?
Walks- is the master of them
Looking for Bill?  He's the man in the bright coat

X-ray- he's had plenty of those
Youth culture- a reason to take his students to east London
Zebra crossing- he's probably just as famous on Abbey Road as the Beatles

This year the ICLC is celebrating its 40th anniversary.  Yes, Elsie has been around longer than many of the buildings on our home campus in Ithaca.  Bill is the latest in the succession of ICLC directors and is the longest standing.  I hope that after reading this you feel like you know the man behind the London Center a bit better than you did. 
You can't knock the man's generosity

08 February, 2012

How Are We Settling In?

Today marks the first day of the second quarter of the semester in London.  How does the time fly!  I'm getting the sense that everyone is settling into their classes, their work placements, their flats.  Students are finding budget airlines and hostels, learning to use the bus, finding places to go on the weekend in London.

With any luck you're also starting to feel like Londoners.  Has anyone stopped you on the street to ask you for directions?  Were you pleased with yourself when you knew which way to send them?  Did you fake an accent so they wouldn't know they were asking someone who has only lived here a month?

Here are some things going on around here that all good locals should know about:
  • The Six Nations is a rugby tournament between England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, France and Italy.  It's shown on tv in many pubs around town.  Even non-rugby fans come out for this one.  It started last weekend (4 Feb.) and will run until 17 March. 
  • The Queen's Diamond Jubilee is this year.  She found out 60 years ago (yesterday) that her father, the king, had died and that she was now queen.  The big party is the first weekend in June, so if anyone asks what you're doing for it, you can casually reply that you'll be out of town that weekend.  (It'll be similar to Elsie's Ruby Jubilee)
  • The 2012 Olympics are in London this summer.  Again, if anyone asks if you're going to any events, you can casually reply that you're getting out of town and renting out your flat.
  • The honours list went out earlier this year and now Helena Bonham-Carter can join Elton John and Mick Jagger leading the British army into war.  Well, it doesn't quite work like that, but you know what I mean.  Also, an honour that had been awarded a few years ago has recently been rescinded.  Ex-Sir Fred Goodwin, head of Royal Bank of Scotland leading up to the credit crunch has received a lot of flack for being a dilettante as the country sunk into financial disrepute and he retired, claiming a massive pension.  He's now on the same list as Robert Mugabe for having his honour taken away.
  • Karen Gillen has announced that she is leaving Doctor Who.  How will the Doctor find a replacement for Amy Pond?
 There are loads more ways to get into the local mindset and immerse yourself in the culture of living in London.  Even grocery shopping is a cultural experience.  You can wait until the end of the semester to do all the touristy things you were too settled-in to get to.