Looking back across the pond

I have less than a week left in Charlottesville now. On Sunday I will be travelling to New York where I will spend two nights before flying home on Tuesday, and I’ll be back for a month. I really can’t wait to get home now, actually. I’ve been away for three and a half months now, which is hard to believe, and I do find myself really missing Britain at times, more than I thought I would as someone who has never really felt particularly British. Obviously I miss friends and family a lot, but I also miss things about the country itself. Time for a list (not entirely comprehensive but rather arbitrary things off the top of my head):

– British TV. Surprising, since I watch so little of it – almost everything I tend to watch is American anyway. Maybe more specifically, I miss the BBC. Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, things like that… and even the stuff I don’t watch regularly but is just comforting to know it’s there, like The One Show and Antiques Roadshow and the Six O’Clock News. (A lack of ITV I have been totally fine with, by the way.) American TV is just awful. Of course there are a lot of good shows, but most of it is utter crap and there are SO many ad breaks (hence – missing the lovely, advert-less BBC). I still don’t understand the difference between the channels or which is on what number or how they figure out all the time differences across the country. It’s totally confusing.

– Christmas things. This encompasses mince pies, mulled wine (which I don’t even like but I guess it’s nice to at least have the option), town centre Christmas lights, Christmas crackers (which totally don’t exist here, FYI, and which I have had to explain multiple times), Christmas adverts (including the John Lewis one, although I have actually seen this year’s already on YouTube because I’m that cool), decorations everywhere… obviously there are Christmassy things here but it seems like not nearly to the same extent. Luckily I will be home to experience all of the above in time.

– Cadbury’s. You can buy it in a few places here but it’s not entirely the same.

– Sausages and mash

– Spaghetti Bolognese

– Pubs (the one ‘Irish pub’ I’ve been to here looked like the most stereotypical American bar you could imagine)

– Not so much dependency on cars. I even find myself missing the British train system (maybe. Just a little tiny bit.)

– Custard. It may exist here but I haven’t come across it and it probably wouldn’t be the same anyway.

– Real cheese.

– People who understand what all of the above are.

– Most of all I miss things that are hard to put into words. I feel like, particularly around Christmas, there are things that bring everyone in the country together simply through common experience (of Christmas traditions, TV shows, even just by all complaining about the same things). Although obviously I’m not American and so not fully part of the ‘experience’ or whatever, I feel like the country is so huge and diverse that there isn’t quite that same sense of shared experience. Like I said, it’s hard to put into words. But I miss it.

Although all this might seem slightly negative about my experience here, I’m just getting myself excited about coming home. The truth is if I made a list of all the things I’m going to miss about America and UVa (which I’ll do before I leave for good) it would probably be much longer.

Strangely patriotic love,

Natalia xxx

P.S. On a slightly related note, today I mentioned to my roommate that I didn’t really like tea and she said, “Wait… you’re British and you don’t like tea?! That’s awkward. Maybe you should move…” I said, “I did!”  and she replied, “No…. as in for good.” Looks like I fail as British representative in this respect!

Advertisements

Nearly there…

Hello! I am still alive out here, albeit drowning slightly in end-of-semester assignments. The end is very much in sight though, I really only have three pieces of work left to do and THAT’S IT. This weekend I’ll do a proper post (and try to dig up some photos) but right now there’s a 12-15 page paper due tomorrow. In spite of this, things are really, really good. Several things to look forward to before I leave (like Lighting of the Lawn tonight, a big event where everyone gathers, singing groups perform and the whole Rotunda and Lawn get lit up for Christmas), and I’m also very excited about coming home (in less than two weeks!).

But first – epic theatre and staging ‘Angels in America’ (which I can’t really complain too much about since it is an extremely interesting topic. But good lord I will be happy once it’s done.)

Natalia xxx

A bit of a song and dance

Coming to UVa, I knew I wanted to join a drama society, preferably one with musical theatre involved, just as I had when I came to Birmingham for the first time. If I’m not going to be spending all my academic time doing theatre I’m certainly going to be spending all my spare time doing it. So in the first couple of weeks I signed up for the First Year Players (FYP), who are staging a production of ‘The Music Man’ this semester. There didn’t seem to be as many drama society options as in Birmingham; there was one doing some Shakespeare and another doing sketch comedy-type things, plus the big important proper Drama Department shows (which had been all cast and sorted out the semester before), so I thought FYP would be the best bet.

It’s called First Year Players as the cast is entirely made-up of first years, or transfer students in their first year at UVa. The artistic staff and production staff are all second years or above, and the pit (band) and techies can be any year. They put on two musicals each year. Apart from the first year thing, it seemed very similar to my society back at Birmingham, GMTG, but I have come to notice some major differences. So. Some observations about my experiences so far with FYP:

Firstly, everyone is so! Excited! All! The! Time! I suppose this is to be expected, Americans are oddly enthusiastic in general, plus theatre people tend to be conspicuously in love with pretty much everything, so combining the two together creates a happy little world of sunshine and positivity and peppiness. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just an adjustment. I’ve never seen people get so excited about the prospect of building a set before. It does make me realise how much we in Britain tend to complain, and I think a bit more positivity might be beneficial. Cheering and whooping every single meeting, every single time someone introduces themselves as a first year (and there are a lot of them) does seem a little intense. But even this is becoming normal.

This is not to say GMTG people aren’t ridiculously excitable sometimes. Not by any means. But we’re still British, so there’s always at least an underlying layer of cynicism.

Secondly, the sheer number of people involved. This is how many people are involved in a typical GMTG musical:

25ish cast members, 1 director, 1 musical director, 1 choreographer, 1 producer, 1 co- or assistant producer, possibly 1 assistant MD, 1 stage manager, 4ish random crew/ASM types, 1 costume person, 15ish band members and 6ish techies. Total: 57.

This is how many people are involved in FYP’s ‘The Music Man’:

25ish cast members, 1 director, 2 assistant directors, 2 choreographers, 2 assistant choreographers, 3 vocal directors, 1 musical director, 1 producer, 2 assistant producers, 1 technical director, 2 assistant technical directors,  2 stage managers, 1 business manager, 1 assistant business manager, 2 set designers, 1 lighting designer, around 50 other techies of various job descriptions and teams (assistant carpenter, sound manager, run crew chief, hair and make-up team, etc. etc.), 7 fundraising/publicity committee members, 25ish band members. Total: 132.

Yeah. I’m in two minds about this as well, part of me feels like it’s so cool that so many people want to get involved and love doing it, and part of me feels like it’s totally unnecessary – we put on very very similar shows with less than half the amount of people! You’re not needed! But I suppose letting everyone be a part of it is a pretty good thing. It’s also evidence of what I’ve mentioned before – the willingness of UVa students to get involved, to actually do things. No way would you be able to put together a team of seven people just for fundraising and publicity for a musical back home.

But also – every performance of every FYP show sells out.

The structure of the society, with regards to committee, production staff, artistic staff, elections, show selections, and so forth is completely different, but since I can only think of a few select friends of mine who might be interested in those details, I won’t bore you all with them.

FYP, being geared at first years, is all about being friendly and welcoming and looking after the ‘firsties’. There are parties held every few weeks which are closed to everyone but FYPers and always have ‘sober staff’ on hand to look after people when needed. As a side note, seeing as first years aren’t legally allowed to drink here, on all emails alcohol is amusingly referred to as ‘ice-cream’, those who don’t drink are ‘lactose intolerant’ and those who have had a few too many have a ‘brain freeze’!

Everyone in FYP is also drafted into a small FYP family within the big FYP family. This means that all new people are called ‘Littles’ and they each have an assigned ‘Big’. A few weeks ago we had the Draft, where all new people (i.e. all the millions of first years, a couple of transfers, and me) had to get up in front of all the old FYPers and say something interesting about themselves (my accent helped me out here). Then the Bigs got to choose their Littles and began contacting them, anonymously. Their job basically seems to be to make their Little feel special and just shower them with love and affection and treats and gifts. As a Little I can say this is totally no bad thing. My Big asked me some questions over email (sent from the address nataliasbiglovesher@yahoo.com!), such as my favourite colour, snacks, candy bar, etc. plus where I lived and what my roommate’s name was. And then I came home one afternoon to find this waiting on my bed for me:

It included everything I had mentioned that I like, including Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bars (how she found those I do not know), stationery (I mentioned I couldn’t live without notebooks) and a martini glass with my name in glitter. Plus it was blue, my favourite colour.

Last week I got an email telling me to go to Arch’s (a frozen yoghurt place) on Friday at 2.30 where I would meet some other FYP people and get some free frozen yoghurt, compliments of my Big. Which I did.

This week I got an email telling me to go to the Rotunda steps tomorrow at 2, for something that wouldn’t take more than an hour and would be very worth it. I have no idea what this is going to be. But I’m excited.

For the last couple of weeks at every tech meeting there have been gifts delivered to first years: cupcakes, balloons, boxes of treats, etc. all packaged beautifully. The amount of effort put into this is really amazing.

Now the Bigs are meant to be anonymous at first, but most people revealed themselves at last week’s party, which I wasn’t at. However, my Big accidentally put her name onto the email account she set up, so I do know who she is, but it doesn’t matter. This whole set-up is freaking amazing. I simply cannot imagine anyone doing this back home, putting all that the time and effort (and presumably money!) into gifts and surprises for someone you don’t really know yet. Nobody seemed as amazed about it as I was though, this sort of thing is just part of the culture. Doing things for other people isn’t as big a deal here. I guess all the Bigs were once Littles (and family lines develop, when a Little gets a Little who then gets a Little, etc.) and want the experience to be as special as it was for them.

Now this is totally different from back home. And I love it.

Interestingly, one aspect that I have found to be just the same as with GMTG: the level of talent and experience of the cast and staff, and though I haven’t seen a full finished FYP production yet, I’m betting the quality is almost the same as well. Interesting.

We are currently in tech week for the show, meaning everything’s being built and painted, then on Sunday the proper tech and dress rehearsals start. I’m looking forward to it. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Tremendous, copious amounts of sparkly hyper sunshine-y musical theatre love,

Natalia xxx

 

p.s. Yeah, so I also went to hospital this week, but I’m ok now and I don’t think the adventure really warrants its own post. Although if I get desperate, who knows?  Suffice to say, I have awesome roommates who looked after me very well, and American hospitals seem very good… and I did kind of feel like I was on Grey’s Anatomy. I had a very nice resident and a rather attractive attending looking after me and everything! Anyway. This post has gone on for far too long. Over and out.

Of Late

October was a whirlwind month, filled with lots of travelling. Following the road trip down south, I went to Washington D.C. to meet my mum and Cecil who had arrived and we spent the weekend seeing the sights. I liked DC, so many interesting things to see and fantastic museums (the Newseum, all about journalism and news reporting, was the best of all, just amazing), and Georgetown was a particularly gorgeous area. It was also great to be back in a big, bustling city after two months in little Charlottesville!

Lincoln Memorial

Georgetown

The following weekend we went to Staunton, a lovely little town (i.e. even smaller than Charlottesville) in the Blue Ridge Mountains where, randomly, they have a recreation of Shakespeare’s Blackfriar’s Theatre at the American Shakespeare Center. We saw a production of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and while the theatre was lovely and obviously the play is fantastic we didn’t think much of the production (overacting, semi-American accents, lack of clear direction, etc. etc.). Very lucky to have that space and all those resources though. Made me very jealous.

We then went on to eastern Virginia, to Jamestown (site of the first permanent British settlement in the US, i.e. where it all began) and stayed on a wine farm in Williamsburg. Before we left to go back to Charlottesville we walked around Colonial Williamsburg which was beautiful and not nearly as fake and touristy as we had expected.

The College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg.

All in all I feel much more acquainted with Virginia now and feel very lucky to be in this state! So much history, so many lovely places to visit and God, so beautiful. October really is an amazing time to see it, the colours are incredible and as you can see from the pictures, we had perfect weather.

It has since become a little colder here in Charlottesville but we’re still getting clear blue skies and sunshine almost every day and everything looks so lovely. Autumn here is so much better than at home, I have to admit. There’s also a proper seasonal feel to it, with ‘fall’ decorations in and around many shops and houses, pumpkin-related products available everywhere, and of course everything to do with Halloween, which is a very big deal. One of the biggest traditions at UVa is that on the afternoon of Halloween all the local children from Charlottesville and the surrounding area come to the Lawn in their costumes and go around to all the Lawn rooms, trick or treating. It really does get packed with children and families and is probably the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I mean, come on:

It’s such a lovely event that brings the community to the university. I can’t really imagine anything like it happening at home. My history professor said that in all his 30 years or so at UVa his favourite memories are trick or treating on the Lawn with his kids when they were young.

‘Fall’ is amazing. Although I’m getting very excited for what comes next – Christmas! Today in a shop I heard Christmas songs playing for the first time this year. I imagine December here will be just as good as October. Just have to get through November first, and if October was the month for travelling, November will be the month for theatre, since ‘The Music Man’ starts it’s tech week on Monday, with the show the following week. Which provides a nice segue into my next post, all about this organisation called the First Year Players… but more on that tomorrow.

Red, gold, brown and yellow-leaved love,

Natalia xxx

Out of Office

Yes I know it’s been a while. And I’m very sorry. October has been crazy busy with lots of travelling, family visiting, and even more deadlines and reading than before. Speaking of, I need to finish a paper. Like, right now. However, I do promise to write something more interesting (with photos) before the end of the week. And now I’ve put that down in writing I’ll have to stick to it. So. Watch this space.

Wishing there were more hours in the day,

Natalia xxx

On the Road, Part 2

We arrived in Charleston in the dark on Saturday evening and eventually found where we were staying, the NotSo Hostel. This place is incredible, if anyone is ever travelling to Charleston you must stay here. Such an amazing atmosphere and just such a nice place – definitely the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in, and our kitchen and bathroom were far nicer than any chain motel. It’s really hard to describe, so I’ll let some photos do the talking:

Our building – our room is the one with the open door.

Our room!

Our kitchen, shared with two other rooms.

I would happily spend a week in this place, and it was a shame we were only there two nights. There was a free bagel breakfast served every morning in one of the main house kitchens and there were so many lovely little touches everywhere. It being a hostel meant that we met several people also staying there, several Americans and also some British, Scottish, Dutch, German and Belgian people. I so want to go back.

On Saturday evening, after arrival, we walked down King St, one of the main shopping streets, until we got to the proper downtown area, and had dinner at this really quirky little French restaurant where we sat around a big table/bar with other people and had amazing soups and desserts.

On Sunday we spent the whole day out exploring, and met up with some of Cornelia’s Dutch friends who were on exchange at College of Charleston and they showed us round a bit. How to describe Charleston? It is honestly one of the most amazing cities I’ve ever been to. It’s so beautiful, and the architecture is just amazing – the city is filled with old houses of a very distinct style, with two tiers of porches on the side of the house and painted all different colours. There are tons of fancy shops, restaurants and hotels, but there is also a definite grittiness to the city as well – it’s not as clean-cut as Charlottesville is, there is a kind of dark, sultry undertone to it. It’s also very cultural and artsy, there are more art galleries than I’ve ever seen anywhere and lots of interesting independent shops and cafes. Charleston has a large part to play in US history (it was where the Civil War started, for one, was an important port and used to be one of the biggest cities in the country) and is also famous for it’s many many churches, all of which are stunning. As the building of the city predates cars it’s very walkable and has a very European feeling to it in that sense, while also mixing in a tropical/Caribbean feeling (there are palm trees everywhere) with a distinctive American style – I’ve never been anywhere like it and can’t wait to go back.

On Monday morning we packed up and left straight after breakfast and spent the whole day driving back to Charlottesville – about an eight or nine hour drive, this time on the interstate so not as much to see. Still, nothing like being out on the American road.

Other things that happened on this trip:

– We saw actual cotton fields.

– We got a parking ticket in Chapel Hill. Luckily only $15 but took us until South Carolina to notice it was on our windshield!

– We ate: the aforementioned grits, blueberry pancakes, biscuits (the American kind), dried okra, bagels, fried green tomatoes, chicken tenders, Belgian ice-cream and French soup.

– We saw the sea!

– We had an on/off relationship with our GPS navigator, an Australian-accented voice called Lee. By the end we were quite attached.

– We listened to a LOT of music while driving, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Coldplay and old 80s/90s stuff being most dominant.

– We got very confused at several gas stations about how the paying system worked. And about how to open our fuel tank door.

– We learnt that Denny’s Diner is surprisingly good and much better than Huddle House.

– We fell passionately in love with Charleston.

Tomorrow I leave for DC as family have arrived in the US for a visit. A very busy time indeed.

Southern fried love,

Natalia xxx

On the Road

This past weekend was UVa’s fall break, so three other exchange students and I decided to do the American thing and hit the road. We rented a car on Friday and headed south.

Driving down through Virginia we kept away from the interstate highways so we got to go through a lot of little towns and really see the countryside properly. It was a beautiful day, we plugged in our iPods to the car stereo and watched the scenery go by.


That evening we arrived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and checked into the Red Roof Inn. We went into town for dinner at a bar/restaurant named, slightly hilariously, Spanky’s, then went to a few bars. Franklin Street, where the restaurants and bars were, was right next to the University of North Carolina campus, but seemed to be all there really was to the town, though I can’t be sure. It was fairly similar to the Corner here at UVa though a bit bigger.

On Saturday morning we headed back into Chapel Hill for breakfast at Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe (we didn’t have waffles. Pancakes for me, while Annelie tasted the very southern dish of ‘grits’… imagine cous cous all mashed up and gooey with absolutely no taste. We were not huge fans.) before exploring the UNC campus. It was game day as well, which made it fun as there were tons of people wandering around in light blue shirts going to support the UNC football team.

At the motel

On Franklin St

We all loved the UNC campus, which had lots of green space and trees and nice old buildings, although they weren’t as uniform as they are at UVa. We were discussing it and agreed that in some ways UNC’s campus was better as ours can be a little too perfect, in that it almost doesn’t seem real. UNC has a proper university campus feeling to it. Seems like a great place to go, although of course my allegiance is still firmly with UVa!

A rather harsh reminder that yes, this is the South. (By the way, the cocktail-drinking chili pepper isn’t anything to do with the sticker that was plastered on his sign, although he looks pretty angry about liberalism too.)

At 1pm we headed out of Chapel Hill going South again and got lunch at the North/South Carolina border at some chain diner-type place called Huddle House.

We were on our way to Charleston! But more on that tomorrow.

To be continued… (because this post has actually taken me hours with my crappy internet connection and now I must do work.)

Road trippin’ love,

Natalia xxx

These Days

Yesterday…

– I had my first ‘midterm’ exam, which was for history and only 50 minutes long and went fine. Luckily it’s my only midterm, and now my first UVa exam is out the way!

– I learnt that ‘apple cider’ here is non-alcoholic, non-sparkling, and often served warm. It’s a ‘fall’ thing that little kids often have. How bizarre.

– I went to the gym, forgot my keys and got locked out of my apartment, with no phone either. Almost everyone I knew in Copeley was also out, finally went to the boys’ apartment and hung out there for an hour or so (in a disgusting sweaty post-gym state… terrific.) before going back and discovering that one of my roommates had actually been in the whole time. Oh well.

Today….

– Has been a really beautiful, sunny day. The last few weeks have been very grey and rainy so it’s lovely to have weather like this.

– I got the last actor on board for my Directing scene, so I can get underway with that now.

– I got an A on the first paper I’ve written here, also for Directing. Extremely happy about that.

– I’m seeing the Drama Department’s production of Parade, one of my favourite shows, which I saw a stunning production of back in London in August. It’s directed by my Directing professor and I absolutely cannot wait to see how they’ve done it, and how it compares to the other one I saw. Next weekend I’m going to Washington DC and there’s yet another production of it playing there… is three different productions of the same show within two months a bit excessive? Maybe, but I’m still tempted!

Tomorrow…

– I have no classes, as it’s a Friday. I love my free Fridays. Definitely going to try to have the same set-up next semester. This Friday is the start of Fall Break, which means we have no classes on Monday or Tuesday. Like our Reading Weeks back home, except only two days. No slacking off here.

– I’m leaving for a road trip down south with three exchange student friends in a rented car. First night in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, then two nights in Charleston, South Carolina. Can’t wait to get on the road and see a bit more of the country. Hopefully lots of photos and stories to come next post!

Natalia xxx

TJ

On Saturday I went with a group of exchange students to Monticello, which was the home of Thomas Jefferson (for those of you not too hot on your American history, he was the third US President, one of the founding fathers, Governor of Virginia, US Ambassador to France, wrote the Declaration of Independence, founded the University of Virginia, helped write the Constitution, was obsessed with science and invention, spoke seven languages, taught himself architecture, basically was an all-around overachiever, and around these parts he’s Kind Of A Big Deal). We had a tour of the house he designed himself  and then wandered around the grounds, taking pictures, writing with quills, and checking out the slave quarters (they try not to make too big a deal of this part) and TJ’s grave. He’s a very important figure in American history and so it was interesting to find out more about him, and the grounds and countryside are lovely. However, I suppose growing up in England and getting dragged around taken to lots of historical National Trust houses, a smallish 200-year-old house doesn’t seem massively impressive, but it is still a lovely place and I understand that Americans don’t have a lot of places like this. Plus, I quite like Thomas Jefferson. He was all about the freedom of the mind and was a man of science rather than religion. He founded UVa to be a beacon of human enlightenment and learning, and made the Rotunda, which was a library, the centrepiece of Grounds, rather than a chapel, as was the norm at universities of the time. Here are a few of my favourite quotes by him:

[On UVa] “This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

“Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to ; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.”

“If a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was & never will be.”

“And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.” (This one is not exactly emblazoned around everywhere of course; many Americans like to think of him as a committed Christian.)

Having played such a major role in the founding of the country, I wonder what he would think of America today. I’m sure he’d be very impressed by how UVa is doing. However, from his quotes, I have a feeling he’d be very disappointed with a lot else. This is why America is so fascinating: founded with some of the very best ideologies, values and kinds of establishments one could hope for in a civilisation (“The dawn of reason and freedom of thought”? What could be better?); essentially the chance to create the perfect nation from scratch, free from the messy political, royal and religious histories that other Western countries had, and in 200 years somehow straying so far from those ideals. Americans may disagree, after all, the word of the Constitution is still revered almost (not quite!) as highly as the word of the Bible. But looking at those last two quotes above in the context of everything I have come across and studied about America today… it hasn’t worked out exactly as planned. Sorry, TJ.

Deep and philosophical love,

Natalia xxx

The good and the bad (nothing here is ugly)

THE GOOD

–       Incredibly beautiful campus and countryside, lovely downtown area, mountains, vineyards, apple orchards, pretty colonial-style houses, red brick, white pillars, green lawns, white picket fences, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

–       Student involvement. It’s so nice here that it seems every student is really involved in activities outside their classes, most in several. The number of clubs and societies is staggering and students are just so motivated and pro-active and energetic about them. I think most of them are running purely on caffeine with zero sleep. But they’re productive! I’m especially impressed by all the service organisations and volunteering that goes on – there are things like Physicians for Peace, Hoos Open to Preventing Eating Disorders, Students Supporting Soldier Psychology, Linguists Helping the Homeless with AIDS in Darfur, etc. etc.  (that last one doesn’t exist). Now I fully realise that most of the students at UVa are extremely high-aiming and driven and are trying to build up an impressive resume to get a good internship/job/place at grad school. But it’s still nice to be in an environment full of focused, productive, enthusiastic people who, at least on the outside, seem to really care about helping others. It’s not a bad thing.

–       Free stuff. Free gym and pool access. Free university buses and Charlottesville city buses, plus a trolley (totally not shopping trolley. Kind of like a tram.) that goes from grounds to downtown that is free for absolutely everyone. Free entry to football games and lots of other sports matches. Free food, a lot. Free t-shirts and cups given out, a lot. It’s awesome. Well, with out of state students paying over $30,000 per year tuition, I guess you want to get something in return.

–       The professors (the four I have, anyway, can’t speak for all of them) are really nice, interesting, clever people. They seem to really love teaching, as opposed to some of the lecturers we have, who seem to be an academic/researcher first and foremost, with teaching as an unfortunate but necessary secondary aspect of their jobs. Here they really want to you to come and speak to them in office hours and seem to love properly engaging with the students. It’s nice.

–       The vast majority of students use backpacks for going to class. Not so at home – I guess some boys do but very few girls. Here even some of the most stylish girls are toting around a Northface backpack. I’m a fan of this. They’re so practical and comfortable. Therefore I have bought myself one.

THE BAD

–       In every public toilet there is a gap of at least 1cm between the cubicle doors and the frames. Meaning that people can see in. Well, I don’t know how well they can see in, but you can most definitely see out. What is this all about?

–       SALES TAX. My hatred of this began when I was in New York a couple of years ago, and it is still raging. I don’t get it, why in God’s name do you not add the tax into the price of the thing, like we do? It’s so infuriating when you are buying stuff and have the price worked out in your head in relation to how much cash you have or whatever, then you get to the till and it’s more than the listed price because of flipping sales tax. Meaning nothing is a nice easy $5 or whatever, it’s all awkward prices. I wonder if I’ll ever get used to this and accept it. I feel probably not.

–       The tap water seriously smells like a swimming pool because it’s so chlorinated. It doesn’t actually taste too bad, but not as good as water at home.

–       No proper cheese. All plastic-y stuff. Good for on burgers, but not for much else. I have actually found some real cheese at a fancy supermarket nearby but it’s like $8 for a bit of cheddar. I think I’ll wait until I’m really desperate.

–       Even though Charlottesville is very pedestrian-friendly and has excellent public transport, still, for the first time in my whole life, I want to be able to drive and have a car. There’s just something about being in America that makes you seriously feel you need to be automobilised. But of course, it is not to be. Luckily a lot of people are in the same position.

Natalia xxx

p.s. I know people read this as WordPress gives me a handy little stats page. So perhaps a little comment here and there wouldn’t go amiss? Just saying…