Week Twelve Wrap-Up: Concerts and Conducting and Checklists

IMG_3855 - churchHappy December! Time is really flying for me. I can’t help but find it a little odd that it’s December and there’s no snow, but the gales of wind and sporadic showers of rain are doing their very best to make up for it. I found out the other day that they have wind warnings here and I thought it was just the strangest thing. But then I thought about how we have cold warnings at home and how out of place that concept is in a place like Exeter, and then the wind warnings made a touch more sense.

For those of you concerned with my academic wellbeing, I have indeed started one of the essays I promised I’d start writing in my last blog post. I’m quite excited for this actually (I know that sounds super lame). But I’ve really loved Modern Irish Literature and I’m quite happy with the topic I’ve decided to marry (I borrowed that brilliant expression from my lecturer). I also get to tie a bit of Canadian literature in it as well, and Canadian literature was one of my favourite English courses I took back home, so it’s quite honestly the best of both worlds.

In other news, the concerts have started! As a music kid, the end of term is typically that crazy time when you have so many rehearsals, so many sectionals, and then the actual concerts themselves, but you’re also juggling culminating assignments at the same time. It gets a little insane but in my opinion, it’s 100% worth it and makes for an experience like no other.

I played in my first Christmas concert here with the Exeter University Concert Band in Topsham. St. Margaret’s Church was a lovely venue and the concert went quite splendidly if I do say so myself. I’ll also be playing in the joint flute choir/clarinet choir concert next week, making my debut as an alto flautist AND a conductor. The flute choir’s conductor has very graciously let me take a turn at standing up in front of all the wonderful flautists and waving my arms around and trying to look like I know what I’m doing. Hopefully, I’ll be able to pull it off – wish me luck!

I’ve finally started making some headway on getting Christmas presents for people. I’ve made my lists and checked them twice so it’s about time I start taking some action. The thing is, they have so many lovely crafty Christmas-y things here and it really is a struggle for me every time to be judicious and not purchase every cool little trinket I lay my eyes on. I’ve managed to get some wonderful, unique little gifts from the Christmas market as well as the craft markets that seem to pop up every weekend, so I think I’ve been making decent progress on the present-acquiring front. The present-wrapping part will take a bit more work – it’s not exactly my strong suit but I shall do my best.

I’ve also had to start sending some of my friends off in the latter half of the week as a couple of them are leaving Exeter already. I love get-togethers and gatherings but I’m less fond of the fact that they’re for the purpose of saying goodbye. I’m not someone who is very good with goodbyes; I’m more of a see-you-later kind of person.

Next week is going to be hard when pretty much everyone is going to be leaving because classes will be over. I think this is one of the best and worst things about exchanges – you meet so many incredible people with whom you become such good friends, but it feels as if your time together is finite. However, I think it’s something really special to be able to make friends with people from other countries with whom you wouldn’t have had the chance to get to know otherwise, and hey, whenever you go globe-trotting, you’ll have a few extra couches you know you can crash on.

Week Eleven Wrap-Up: A Woman’s Film and American Thanksgivings and AHVC Excursions

The most noteworthy this week was how unproductive I think I was. This is the strange time in the term when all that’s left to do for classes is the summative papers, but those are due in January of 2016, which seems a very long way away. At the same time, those summative assignments are worth a scarily significant portion of our final grades, so it’s probably in my best interest to move it closer to the forefront of my mind, rather than pushing it to the back. I will make plans for them this week. This is now in black and white; I can’t shirk from it now!

I watched a grand total of four movies this past week. Impressive, no? It doesn’t sound as incredible when I say that two of them were for class though. We’re studying the woman’s film so this week’s screenings were Gone with the Wind and The Wicked Lady. I’d never seen either, but then again, this is a statement coming from the girl who’d never seen The Matrix or a single horror movie before this month. I also saw Mockingjay Part 2, in the Odeon but this time I got to experience the larger screen, and Carol at the Picturehouse. Just like there is a smattering of unique cafes each with their own individual atmospheres and vibes, the same holds true for the cinema venues here and I quite like that.

Last Thursday was American Thanksgiving and one of the girls in my flat was so lovely and generous as to make us all Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve never had a proper “Thanksgiving dinner” before so it was a treat. She made the turkey (she says it was her first but it was so delicious I have a hard time believing it still!), the stuffing, the casseroles, everything! My hat absolutely goes off to her and I want to extend a ginormous thanks for the wonderful meal and evening!

Over the weekend, I went with the Art History and Visual Culture Society (AHVC) to Bath for the Christmas market and to see the Fashion Museum and Victoria Art Gallery. It was really nice because it meant I got the chance to go around the city some more as it was my second time in Bath. It was a bit of a drizzly and wet day, but when you’re in the company of good people, you can always make a good time. Bath is a bigger city than Exeter so the market was much more spread out and I felt like the Christmas mood pervaded more of the city overall. There were also many more people; at the peak points of around noon or so, we were packed like sardines and even just walking through the market street was something of an ordeal. To be fair though, this may have been because we went on a Saturday that also fell on Black Friday weekend and the opening weekend of the Christmas markets. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful time.

I also tried my very first mulled wine there; I think mulled wine is something of an acquired taste. I can’t say definitively whether I like it or not. To me, it tastes like something of a combination of warm apple cider and red wine blended together with some spices. While I wasn’t sure about the taste, I quite enjoyed having something nice and warm to wrap my hands around. It’s also only offered around the winter/Christmas time (kind of like eggnog back home?), so it was still well worth the try.

I was talking to one of my flatmates the other day and we were just saying it felt like last week that we had come back from our Reading Week adventures and were exchanging stories; now we’re talking about making plans to see each other off and to see each other again in the future sometime. Things are coming up so fast and it feels like everything will be over so soon, but I guess it speaks to the fact that you really have to make the most of everything when you have it. I have about 19 more days in Exeter so while I’m starting to have to count down the days, I’ll also have to make all the days count!

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 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!

Week Two Wrap-Up: Film Screenings and Freshers Flu and Flute-Playing

I decided that it was kind of boring if all my blog titles just always consisted of dates so I tried to jazz it up a little. We’ll see how that goes. Perhaps my lack of foresight for my titles gestures at the fact that I might not be a very forward thinker, but hey, from here on out, it can only get better, right?

And the same can be said for my second week in Exeter. This is going to sound super nerdy, but this past week was the first week of classes and I have to say, I quite enjoyed it. I felt in my element again surrounded by my works of literature and lined paper. (A4 paper here is not the same as A4 paper back home, though. Here, it is just that little bit longer so the ends of all my handouts stick out of my binders and frustrate me to no end.) For folks who may not be as enthusiastic about my academic endeavours as I will soon prove to be, feel free to skip the next two paragraphs because there will be a lot of raving about the classes I’m taking.

A large part of the reason why I chose to come study in England was because of how steeped I believe English literature to be in this place. This may sound a little (or a lot) far-fetched but for me, studying English here seems almost reverent. English literature is such an integral part of so much here and it has so much significance and prominence; essentially, to offer some perspective to my Canadian peers, it’s like studying engineering back home. For the first time, I feel like what I’m studying is actually valuable because of how closely the culture here embraces it.

This semester, I’m taking two modules (or courses as I’m apt to call them): Modern Irish Literature and The Dream Palace: Cinemagoing, Audiences and Media. Both are courses that wouldn’t be offered back home for which I’m ridiculously excited (yes, again, what a nerd thing to say, I know). Perhaps a part of my excitement stems from the fact that there are really nice lecture halls here. Complete with cushioned bench seating and enough table space for people to actually have a binder and a textbook out, it feels a little like a paradise. Mind you, the chairs don’t swivel and for anyone who has had a class with me back in Ottawa or just knows my habits, you would know that I rather enjoy swivelling around in my chairs just a little too much. However, this doesn’t exactly allow me to give the impression that I’m paying attention in lecture so perhaps it’s for the best. Lecture hall excitement aside, the syllabi sounds super interesting and I would say that both of my professors are great lecturers and really enthusiastic about the subject they teach, so I’m really looking forward to the rest of my semester.

Unfortunately, by the middle of the week, I’d caught a tail end of Freshers Flu. When I had made it to the end of Freshers Week last week without feeling awful, I thought I’d gotten lucky and managed to skip that bit of the experience. However, I guess the conspirers of the universe thought it would be best if I got the whole experience so I can now say I didn’t miss out on Freshers Flu. There was a fair bit of hibernating (or hibernapping as a friend of mine coined it) going on towards the end of the week and I drank water like it wasn’t a finite resource, but I think it did the trick. Hopefully, that will be it for my encounter with maladies here.

This week was also particularly exciting for me because societies (essentially clubs or extracurriculars…goodness, I feel like I need to have a glossary or something at the end of my posts) started up. I’ve found myself involved in two music ensembles for the term, concert band and flute choir. Music has always been a constant for me in my life and I’m glad that I am able to keep that up here. There was one thing that threw me for the loop a little though. The music terminology changes, but at this point, I really should have expected it by now; everything here seems to be called something different than what I’m used to. Here, note names consist of semibreves and quavers and such whereas I call them quarter notes and half notes and the like. I’m seriously contemplating making up a little translation sheet so I can get all the terms down pat because once those semibreves come into play, I’m completely lost. Luckily, the notes on the pages themselves don’t change how they’re supposed to sound and I can still read sheet music about as well as I can read a book, so I think I’m still good on the actual music-playing bit. Music is definitely where I can always feel at home, even if I’m away, and it felt really nice to have found a music family here at Exeter who welcomed me with open arms.

For the next two weeks, in addition to classes and the extracurriculars, I’ll be doing Skype interviews to hopefully obtain a co-op work term placement for when I get back to my home university in January. It’s going to be a bit of a juggling act for me in terms of managing everything as well as making sure I get all my time zones straight; here’s to hoping I won’t drop the ball!