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!