Week Six Wrap-Up: Cream Tea and Conversation Workshops and Country Hopping

This week’s post comes a little early I’m heading off on Friday for some travel – yay for Opportunities Week! But I will make sure to get some reading done or I’m going to come back from my mini vacation to a mountain of work and that’s not a mountain I want to scale.

Cream TeaI had my very first cream tea ever at Tea on the Green, which identifies itself as Exeter’s most traditional café. It was so lovely and quaint and right in the courtyard of the Cathedral so it had the loveliest view. I went with one of my friends from my flat and we got to sit upstairs, right by the window! I always knew tea was a thing in England, but cream tea is something particularly special to Devon, and its surrounding area. As I have been led to believe, traditional cream tea consists of tea/coffee, scones, clotted cream, jam, and preserves. I’d never ever had clotted cream before so in my head, I imagined clotted cream to be like whipped cream. Unsurprisingly, the notion in my head was nothing like the real thing. Clotted cream is more like butter in its texture but it’s not salty; rather, it’s a little sweet, like cream (brownie points for pointing out the obvious?). I’m envious I don’t get clotted cream back home. The cream tea came with two scones per person; I never thought that two scones could be so filling but they really were! It was a delectable little meal/break for the afternoon and definitely an experience in and of itself.

I signed up to be a language teaching assistant and we had our first orientation meeting today. I’m really excited for this! This scheme is for international and Erasmus students and essentially, teaching assistants help language tutors lead one-hour conversation workshops in their native language with a small group of University of Exeter students studying Modern Languages. I have to say, as an English student, one of the questions I get asked the most is, “Do you want to be a teacher when you’re done at school?”, and every single time, I stifle a sigh and answer, “No, that’s about the last thing I want to be.” I’ve really never imagined myself having a career as a teacher, and plainly put, I just don’t think I’m cut out for it. Yet somehow, I’ve found myself in a sort of teaching position a lot the past few years. I used to teach at a music school, I worked as a writing advisor for my home university, I volunteer with a local after-school music program back home… All these things just add up and I’m almost starting to get the sense that I’m just in denial. I had someone tell me once that if life consistently puts me on a certain path, maybe I should just go with it, so maybe I should just go with it.

A friend I met here is hosting a photography exhibition this Saturday (The Glorious Art House, in case you’re wondering) showcasing the different traders and histories that make up one of the busiest and most eclectic streets here. As I’ve likely mentioned before, I think the heritage here is just absolutely incredible and I think this whole exhibit that she’s helping put on is super amazing. In my opinion, there’s so much value in knowing about the history of a place in which you live; it really opens up your perspectives and makes you see the place in an entirely different light. It also makes me wish I did a part of my degree in History back home.

Super excited to be heading off to Scotland and then Ireland for some adventures during Opportunities Week! I wish I could pack Exeter’s sunshine with me, but I’ll have to settle for hoping that the sunshine decides to come along with me on my trip.

Week Five Wrap-Up: Milestones and Me Moments and Movie Theatres

Tuesday October 13th marked me having been in Exeter for one month – I can hardly believe it! It seems like everything has just flown by. I feel like I’ve been here a lot longer than I actually have, and I can bet I’ll feel like I hardly spent any time here when it is time to leave.

This week was a bit of a milestone week as I also handed in my very first couple of assignments on Thursday. Exeter uses an electronic submission system and while it’s very sustainable of them, I have to admit that handing things in online scares me a little. I’m someone who likes things to be more tangible and I quite revel in the feeling of having a printed copy of my essay and giving it away to the professor for him/her to decide my fate. Submitting something electronically gives me the impression I’m giving away my efforts to an abyss. To be fair though, I did like the fact that I got to hand it in whenever I pleased instead of waiting for class time and having six pieces of stapled paper feel like the weight of the world in my bag.

In light of having made it through my first due dates here relatively unscathed, I treated myself to a little break after the big deadline day. I took advantage of the lovely, crisp weather and poked around Exeter, walking into the little eclectic vintage-y stores in which Exeter seems abound and sitting down with a delightful cup of coffee and taking a “me moment” in one of the many coffee shops on High Street. I love the vibe here; people really know how to sit back, take their time, and enjoy things. They also know how to make incredible coffee.

An especially enjoyable part of my week was when I went on a city walk with my film class to look at past and present cinema venues in Exeter. Britain had a pretty big cinema culture in the early 90s so there were no shortages of theatre spaces back then. Unfortunately, during the Blitz of WWI, a lot of the original buildings were destroyed, but it was still really interesting to go around and see how the locations had changed. It surprised and disappointed me a little to discover that a lot of the old cinema venues weren’t commemorated in any way, shape, or form. Granted, given the number of venues there used to be (about ten locations all within a ten block radius), I guess it wouldn’t be very practical to have a plaque for every single one, but I feel like there is a lot of heritage and historical value there that’s worth preserving. However, I will acknowledge that I may be sappier than most people when it comes to stuff like this. The walk also made me think about how much I knew about the spaces I live in back home and I realized it wasn’t much. This is definitely something I’ll have to change once I get back.

Opportunities Week (or Reading Week as I’m more used to) is coming up soon and while some time will need to be set aside for a bit of work, I’ll also be taking the opportunity to travel around. I’ve been making some plans this week to figure out where I will be going and what I should see; I’m looking forward to acquainting myself better with more of England! One thing I was quite baffled to learn was that Opportunities Week is not something that all the students at the University get; it depends on what you study, what year you’re in, and probably a slew of other factors of which I’m not aware. Fortunately, I am one of the lucky ducks who gets the luxury of Opportunities Week so I’m not going to deny that I’m quite pleased.

It’s starting to get cooler now but I’m loving it because it means that autumn is really here. This is probably my favourite time of the year, and I’m glad Exeter isn’t one of those places that just goes straight from summer to winter. I love the feeling I get when I step outside and it’s cold but not cold to the point where I feel cold, I love seeing all the green of the trees transform into brilliant reds, fiery oranges, and golden yellows, and I love watching the magic of 5 o’clock light give the city a magic touch. Perhaps it’s the season but I must say that Exeter has also given me its magic touch; my time here is almost half over but I can hardly imagine leaving!

Week Four Wrap-Up – Parades and Prehistoric Monuments and Palatial Baths

Exeter proved me wrong this week and didn’t rain cats and dogs like I had predicted. Now usually I don’t like being wrong but in this case, I can make an exception. Besides, I think I got the better end of the deal because it was, once again, lovely and gorgeous outside for most of the week.

Unfortunately, I spent more time than I would like to admit in my room as a good part of my week was given away to doing Skype interviews back home. Time zones definitely did a fantastic job of boggling my brain as I tried to keep myself organized; with having my laptop still on Canadian time, my little clock on my nightstand on UK time, and my wristwatch forever stuck on 12 o’ clock until I get some new batteries into it, it proved to be a bit of a challenge. However, that’s over with now and fingers crossed I’ll have a job when all is said and done – I have to fund my exchange experience somehow!

It’s Thanksgiving back home so I thought it would be good to stick with the tradition of giving thanks for all the wonderful things I have, so here’s a quick recap of some of other the lovely moments that happened this week besides interviews:

  • Lunch with all the girls in my flat. We’re all one-semester exchange students from different parts of the world so it was really nice to get together and chat with one another. It’s been almost a month since we all moved in and we hadn’t really done much as a group just because there were so many little finicky things we had to take care of in the beginning, so it was high time we finally did something altogether.
  • Meeting my global mentor for the first time. She just finished a year abroad (and in Canada!) so it was really great to hear about her experience.
  • Having some really wonderful flatmates who made me dinner one night after a particularly long and trying day. It was an extremely sweet gesture for which I was immensely appreciative, and I loved having had the opportunity to get together for a wonderful meal with great company and conversation.
  • Rehearsals. Because no matter what or when, music just always makes my life better. And I also got to try out an alto flute at flute choir this week. It was really, really, really, really cool and just so, so much fun! I hope I was able to adequately convey my level of enthusiasm there.

In addition, I had a fairly eventful weekend of fun. I went to the Exmouth Illuminated Carnival (Exmouth is about a half hour train ride away from Exeter and it’s super convenient to just hop on a train to get there) with one of the girls in my flat and we milled around the carnival area for a bit, then stayed on into the evening to see the parade. The procession was great with the creative lit-up floats and assorted displays of talents (the majorettes particularly wowed me with their baton twirling). One of the best parts for me was seeing all the younger kids looking so excited to either be a part of the parade or just watch it. There’s just such a really great community feel here. I come from a suburb back home and I live downtown during the school year; therefore, being in Exeter and the surrounding area is a change for me in terms of the way and pace of life, but it’s definitely a refreshing and welcome one.

The fun continued on into the next day as I took part in a trip organized by the University to see Stonehenge and the city of Bath. The morning looked a little gloomy and foggy but by the time we got to Stonehenge, the sun had decided to come out to join us in our fun. We only got to spend about two hours there and I really wish we could have had more time to really see everything. Yes, at the end of the day, maybe they are just rocks but there’s such a rich history that goes along with it and the surrounding area is absolutely beautiful as well. I also wish we could have gotten to stay on into the later hours of the day; the stones in this prehistoric monument are aligned on the solstice axis, making it a must-see during the sunrise of the summer solstice and sunset of the winter solstice, but I’m sure it would have been incredible to see it even just on a normal day’s sunset!

After our visit to Stonehenge, we boarded the coach and set off for Bath. We arrived around 3:45pm and were instructed to reconvene at 6:45pm to return to Exeter. For me, one of the most peculiar (and perhaps mildly frustrating at times) things about England is that everything closes so early. Stores and tourist sites and the like will all close up shop at 5pm, sometimes 6pm if you’re lucky. I’m sure this is rooted in some cultural norms and habits that are valuable, but I still haven’t fully gotten onboard with this yet. I’m the kind of person who could spend an entire day, or probably even an entire week, at something like a museum, so I felt like the 3 hours we had wasn’t nearly enough time to go around the city and truly take in everything. Nonetheless, sometimes you just have to make the best of what you have. My friends and I chose to spend our time going through the Roman Baths and venturing around the city’s centre and waterfront. Bath’s 18th century Georgian architecture was absolutely stunning; this is going to sound a little incredible on my part but I felt like the ancient spirit and energy of the place was still alive in the city in all the buildings. All in all, the day was a thoroughly enjoyable one, albeit a tad rushed at times, but it was still lots of time and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to venture outside Exeter and see more of what England has to offer.

So after a weekend of playing hard, it’s time to get back to the grind. I’ll be handing in some assignments this week for the first time as a University of Exeter student and I’d prefer not to make a bad impression here or give a bad rep to Ottawa. I have to admit though, sometimes I wish travel could be a course. I know some universities have Harry Potter as a course so why not travel?

Week Three Wrap-Up: Windows, Winding Roads and Walter Brennan

As of late, I’ve found that I’m beginning to notice less the stark differences between here and home and rather, more embracing what is here that I would not have, or see, or be able to experience back home. I feel more like I’m a participatory observer versus an outsider looking in, and it’s a refreshing perspective.

Last weekend, I looked outside to see my very first lunar eclipse. I stayed up to see a part of the eclipse and then gave in to sleepiness, but I managed to wake around 3:30am when there was supposed to be the supermoon; therefore, despite my tiredness, I managed to get my eyes open and myself out of bed to look out the window. The entire spectacle happened at much more reasonable hours for my North American friends, but from what I heard, I think I had the better view so I guess you win some, you lose some.

When I’m back home, light pollution basically zaps any and all chances of seeing celestial extravaganzas. But here, as long as it’s a clear night, you look up and you can see the stars, and they are absolutely beautiful. I can’t say that it’s exactly comparable to stargazing in the middle of nowhere, but it’s a million times better than what I am used to. My dorm room has this big lovely window that’s reminiscent of a skylight and I remember being really excited about it when I first moved in. The excitement fizzled out fairly quickly when I realized I couldn’t keep it open 24 hours of the day because it would mean that I’d rise with the sun every morning. But I’ll really have to find a clear night to stay up to slightly ridiculous hours and pretend to be a stargazer – I won’t have this kind of view forever! If I were an Exetonian (I learned that term during quiz night this week), I really think I’d get into the whole business of real stargazing.

Anyways, I think that’s enough starry-eyedness about something as inconsequential as a window. So besides having the good fortune of being in a part of the world where the lunar eclipse/blood moon was visible, I also got to visit Cornwall last weekend, courtesy of some lovely friends, one of whom possesses a car. I do have a driver’s license back home and I do drive every so often; however, I could never imagine myself driving here. The roads are much narrower; a three-lane road here (not that there seem to be many of those) would likely only be a two-lane back home. On the drive to Cornwall, we took some roads that really only had space for a single lane of traffic to proceed at a time, but that same road allowed traffic to travel in both directions. Add in the hilly terrain that this place is known for and it made for an adventure that was packed tight with thrills. Cornwall was beautiful – we went through the Teign Valley and made a stop at the beach. Or I guess, one of the beaches. Honestly, there are so many beaches here on account of us being so close to the water.

Being close by the waterfront also means that I’m always treated to really incredible views. The weather was absolutely lovely this week, with sunshine and blue skies nearly every day and so I got to bask in the full splendour and beauty of this place. Some days are a little more brisk and the evenings a little cooler but it was nothing an extra layer couldn’t fix. I’m utterly sold on Exeter’s magnificence…but now that I’ve said that I’ve bought into it, it’s probably going to start raining cats and dogs next week. I’m sure that will be wonderful.

The rest of the week was business as usual in terms of class and rehearsals, coupled with a few interviews. I have to say that I quite like how they run classes here. Classes won’t go beyond 6:30pm, and I believe it’s to allow time for extracurriculars, which is super fantastic. There are also more breaks during lecture here. I have one lecture that is a straight 3-hour block and I personally struggle a bit with the longer lectures. However, over here, the Professor gives us a break at every hour. I think after three months of this, I’m going to find it extremely hard to go back to 3 hour lectures at home with only one break at the halfway point and classes that can go from 5:30pm-7pm, or, heaven forbid, the dreaded 7pm-10pm.

A particular highlight for me this week was when we got the chance to go through some archive materials from the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum for the film class I’m taking. Yup, the University of Exeter has a museum on its premises (not to mention a theatre not unlike the NAC), and it’s about one of the grandest discoveries I’ve made, along with the fact that the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and the Exeter Phoenix (an art gallery) are both about a 5-10 minute walk away from the heart of campus. And they’re open every day. Free admission too. Now that, is incredible. It pains me terribly to say that I have not very thoroughly made my rounds through either of those magnificent places, but I intend to do so soon!

But back to archive materials. We’re learning about fandom and fan culture in cinema during the early 1930s, and we were going through fan magazines, scrapbooks that fans made of their favourite stars, postcards, and fan mail. I think I suppressed it pretty well in class but I was buzzing with excitement on the inside. I don’t know how I could have not been excited – I mean, I was touching a piece of history! Maybe I’m a bit of a busybody and I enjoy other people’s life stories, but for me, it was such a treat to have been able to go through all those items and get an inside look at a piece of the culture at the time. At the end of the lecture, the Professor mentioned that the collections were open for viewing during business hours. I think I’ve found my new haunt.

On my walks to and from campus, I’m starting to see leaves on the ground now. It is autumn and there are so many trees here so I’m sure it will look fantastic once the trees colour. As of right now, the trees are all still looking very green to me still; maybe I’m looking in the wrong places or just not being all that observant overall, but I’m hoping there will start to be more autumn colours soon!