August 2010


So, I’m pretty set on accepting this Hild Bede Scholarship.  I am still incredibly waffly (is that a real word?) about this, as I have no idea what the College of St Hild and St Bede’s postgraduate community will be like.  It’s apparently the largest college (Good?  Bad?  I don’t know; more people but pretty gardens and a library), and most of my tuition and accommodation will be paid by the university.

I know it’s so silly that I even considered turning it down.  I suppose it’s because on online forums and through my communication with a MA Med/Ren student from last year I felt like I know what to expect from Ustinov.  I don’t really know anything about Hild Bede, as I was supposed to be prepared for this and notified by the college by now (and, really, about the scholarship about 6 weeks ago, ha…).  It’s a very queasy feeling.  Do I take what I know or take the money and bet my living arrangements, hoping with three weeks to go I’ll have everything arranged?

My main motivation is for my parents.  They’ve been so wonderful, and I know that grad school, especially in another country, is pricey.  This scholarship means that airfare, other travel and paperwork, and a bit of the tuition as a non-EU student is all we’d pay for out-of-pocket.  One of my wisest friends, Heather, said that she knew how I felt about community and the social aspect because, let’s face it, I am rely on my friends and connections.  They’re my life.

Another decision I’m coping with is what to take with me.  I know that there are things I need to buy… and quickly:

  • bookbag or backpack of some variety, probably leather for a “grown up” lifestyle
  • day trip tote/purse for camera, wallet, books, and various smaller necessities
  • coin purse (Damn you, coinage!  How dare you scatter all over the bottom of my bag!)
  • boots, waterproofed
  • coat, waterproof, warmer than my raincoat
  • camera, larger than a pocket-sized, but not $800 like some photo shops would have me buy

And then there are the things I want, and think would be practical, if not necessary:

  • printed photos
  • books (Oh, the agony of whittling down my bookshelf!  ARGH!)
  • DVDs, iPod, computer with its new international ports
  • little reminders of home
  • maps and guidebooks I’ve picked up along the way

Plus the absolutely necessary: clothing, setting up a bank account, passport with completed visa (ta-da!!!), transcripts and related academic stuff, toiletries, etc.

I need to buy a lamp, bookshelf, sheets, etc. there, which will be a pain.  I definitely smell a trip to Newcastle and a large order on Amazon.co.uk.

Amazon reminds me of my time yesterday at Half Price Books, a dangerous, dangerous place for me.  I have read several of Marie de France’s lais while at UW, including Lanval (knight of King Arthur’s court) and the wonderful Bisclavret (werewolf, based some on Petronius’ Satyricon, hooray!).  Not one person in the store had heard of it, but I did get one amazing anthropologist staffer intrigued!  I think before bed I’ll order the book, which will make happy reading.  I also picked up J. C. Holt’s book on Robin Hood, the Old French Tristan saga (translated!), an anthology of women poets from antiquity to modern times, and a good resource book on Arthur, including the research and theories about the legends beginning with Malory, Wace, and Laȝamon.  Good stuff.  Very bad.

I’m reading the second book by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, which is a prequel to The Shadow of the Wind.  It’s called The Angel’s Game and am loving it!  I also recently read my first book by Isabella Allende, Inés of My Soul, which was completely appropriate with its just post-Inquisition Spain/Peru/Chile setting following my Late Middle Ages’ lecture on the Reformation, the Reconquista, and the Inquisition.  Mmmmmm…  So many books, so little time!

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I thought I had everything worked out.  Well, at least mostly.

Of course, this means that Fate, Fortune, the Universe, God (whichever deity or force you believe in) has thrown me through a loop.  Of course.

I was set on Ustinov College.  It’s the only postgraduate-only college at Durham University and has a large international community.  Sure, it’s rather far from the city centre (comparatively) and has no dining service, but every student there will be going through the same “Holy crap!  What did I sign up for with this whole grad school thing?!”  I believe there would be a great sense of community, which is a key ingredient for my school experiences.  There are seminars where we present our research and bond with other postgrads.  It looks so great!

However…

This morning I got an e-mail saying that I had gotten the Hild Bede Scholarship, which is one of the very few funding opportunities for non-UK/EU students.  Money is fantastic!  Don’t get me wrong.  The HBS is full tuition at the EU/UK rate plus room and board and three squares a day.  It’s close to the city centre and almost all the academic departments and is supposed to be one of the most beautiful colleges at the university.

However…

Most of the students are undergraduates.  I have nothing against undergraduates, but they have not yet worked out their academic niches for the most part and don’t have the same types of classes or pressures as postgraduates.  From what I imagine of grad school, high school to college is a big leap, but classes are relatively the same format with homework, papers, and reading.  The type of social and community scenes are the largest difference.  From college to grad school, the workload changes (300 academic hours per class per term, bare minimum) and the classes are seminars once a week.  The reading, as I understand it, is more reading a lot of what is assigned, but not all, and the reading leads to a large paper which is the basis of the grade.  I didn’t really understand that until I took a graduate-level class and looked at a possible schedule for Durham.

So, what do I do?

Do I take the generous offer and possibly forsake close ties with many other postgraduate and international students at Ustinov or depend on my parents’ generosity more than before and forsake ready-made meals and all that money?  Either way, I’ll be at Durham, but the location of my accommodation and the price out-of-pocket for tuition and board will be different than I’d ideally like.  Why can’t Ustinov offer a scholarship?!

At any rate, I will doubtless have to spend more time on paperwork, as I will need to accept or reject the offer (if I can even reject it) and change my details on my enrolment (sic!  Britishism!) forms and visa paperwork.

I can’t make that decision now, but maybe a nice Italian meal and some bonding with Hamlet and Suetonius will help.  Chocolate never hurt, either.

I have a new goal, which for me is actually quite a challenge.  It’s something close to things already on my list, but this one has a definite end date and is actually manageable.

Thirty Books Everyone Should Read Before They’re Thirty

So, in the order of the list, here are the books.  The books I have read are in dark green type.

  1. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
  2. 1984 by George Orwell
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  4. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  5. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  6. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  7. The Rights of Man by Tom Paine
  8. The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  9. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
  10. The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin
  11. The Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton
  12. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  13. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
  14. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
  15. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkein
  16. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  17. Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot
  18. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  19. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  20. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  21. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  22. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  23. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  24. The Republic by Plato
  25. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  26. Getting Things Done by David Allen
  27. How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  28. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  29. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  30. The Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulakov
  31. BONUS: How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
  32. BONUS: Honeymoon with My Brother by Franz Wisner

So, as anyone can see, I have a bit to go on this list.  Some of these I haven’t ever heard of (Wisdom in the Desert, The Master and the Margarita), while others I’ve avoided because of their style (anything by Charles Dickens or Charles Darwin or Ernest Hemingway, more by Steinbeck; I feel reading A Separate Peace four times in high school and Great Expectations three times has put me off of that almost lumbering and depressing storytelling).  I also, as you may have guessed, don’t especially like older American literature.  I’m a fan of the more modern “literary fiction,” which is on the rung above romance novels and Twilight, but doesn’t have the prestige of the “greats” like Dickens.  Others on this list I’ve avoided because of the story, like Clockwork Orange and Lord of the Flies.  While I love the film of CO, my mental theatre is quite imaginary, and somehow I find the words and suggestion more influential and uncomfortable than the screen imagery.

I have a lot on this list to do, and after I finish my Isabel Allende/Spanish kick, I may read these.  This will be a challenge, but reading is supposed to inform and sometimes entertain.  Hey, I got through my high school readings just fine, and this time, I have medieval texts to balance it out…

Also on the topic of books, I turn my attention to the declining sale of hard, feel-them-in-your-hands books.  Beloved Barnes and Noble has put itself up for sale and Kindles are being snatched up as fast as Amazon can produce them.  I stumbled upon this post by another WordPress blogger with an amazing quote from a Wall Street Journal writer.  The blogger does not, I repeat DOES NOT lament the change from physical books to electronic, and maintains that readership of literature will still be big in this digital age.  From what I was able to read from the WSJ article (I couldn’t read the entire thing, as I have not paid for a subscription, alas!), the author (like me) feels a loss and sadness about the replacement of books.

Brightly flashing screens have not only replaced letters and face-to-face contact, but have begun to replace the one material thing I value above all others: books.  I cannot believe that this is just the next step to a civilized and technology-filled society and that “it’s proven to be one of the best things that can happen to something we love.”  Can you imagine as a child snuggling up to your mom or dad to read a story from a Kindle or Nook?  Would you want to teach your kid to read on a screen?  If you went on a trip or got lost on an island, what would you read once the power went out?  As a student at university or of life, how will you remember passages from books that have touched your soul when you only have a screen?

Another challenge for me is to find a way to help people to respect the written word and the various forms in which it comes.  While I appreciate any medium that helps people to read and to expand their minds, I cannot help but think of the books that could have been picked up and appreciated in their dust jacketed glory.

It’s no secret that I believe in the power of an excellent faculty at a university or college.  At Gustavus, the faculty made the school and community.  I met them in the local co-op, saw them at midnight showings of new movies, and had dinner at their homes.  The faculty were a large part in my life at college and created an encouraging learning environment.  I quickly conquered my fear of calling my superiors by their first names, and appreciated being able to know them on both academic and personal levels.  While I realize St. Peter is much different from, say, Seattle with its small college, small community, and Midwestern mentality, I believe that some of this comfort with faculty can be achieved by hiring good teachers.

Rarely are good teachers closed-off or secluded people.  While at the U of Washington, my best experiences have been with faculty who add personal experiences to lecture (personal travel photos, comments about a new sunburn, new films they’ve seen, etc.) and who are open to emails and office visits from students.  That being said, it seems like half of the professors I’ve loved are actually not technically employed by the school!  My Chaucer professor retired after this past spring term, and they are not adding another tenure track position.  And a permanent position for a medievalist in English or history?  Forget it.

I cannot understand the resistance of schools to hire quality faculty.  They are the life and breath of the institution!  Why would anyone fight adding an excellent and well-liked teacher to their university?  In my recent experience at a large university (and in friends’ experiences in graduate school), some tenured professors are employed because they bring a certain prestige to the institution.  They seem to not care about the quality of their classes or student interest, and in fact, some shirk their duties to their advisees.  Is prestige really worth the unsatisfactory student experience?  These students will become faculty and probable funders of the university.

With my rant over, I’d like to make a general plea to universities everywhere.  Good educators come in every field and are every age.  The end-of-term reviews should indicate to you how amazing or underwhelming professors are, and there is little point in constantly shuffling your faculty members because you have not kept tenured positions.  Please take a hard look at your popular classes and professors and fill those nonexistent and temporary positions with qualified and passionate teachers.  We, the students, appreciate it, as do those who donate.  Please help to nurture your university by giving quality education by qualified and interested professors.

Professors shouldn’t just teach or help students to get needed credits.  They can inspire true passion and interest and be life-changing.

Men exist for the sake of one another. Teach them then or bear with them.  –Marcus Aurelius

The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.  –Aristotle

Good faculty make living much easier and can turn that bitter root much sweeter.

“Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.”

    (from a letter to Ophelia, Hamlet 2.2.116-119)

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

    (Sonnet 18)

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no!  It is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

    (Sonnet 116)

Among the things that make me very merry happy are flowers and colors.  I’m in the middle of Hamlet at the moment, so I figure I need all the merry happy things I can get right now.  (Not that I mind Shakespeare’s most emo character, but as my mom would say, “there’s a terrible sense of foreboding” and Ophelia, Gertrude, Hamlet — okay, every character — could use a bit of counseling.)

Merry Happy – Kate Nash