This is only day 1?
June 20, 2011 § 2 Comments
Today was the first day of my two week intensive about e-publishing. The course is held at University College London, and students from three different Library Science schools in the states are participating. I had assumed before arriving that there would also be UCL students participating in the course, but it turns out just to be 18 Americans. The course it taught mainly by one UCL professor, with another UCL professor assisting and acting as administrator, and the dean and assistant to the dean of Pratt Institute are participating, too.
15 of the 18 students are from Pratt Institute in NYC. 1 is from University of Illinois Urbana Champagne, and 2 are from Simmons College (1 from the satellite campus hosted at Mt. Holyoke College and 1 from the Boston campus – that’s me!). We’re discussing e-publishing and the impact it has on libraries as well as the impact libraries have on the e-publishing world. The required product for the course is a website (blogs are acceptable – yes!) that includes a journal with an entry for each day of the course, a literature review of 5 sources, and a paper (not a research paper) about a theme or idea that strikes us as particularly interesting. I am forced to admit that this might be the easiest course I ever take, ever.
It’s wonderful, though, when you don’t feel pressure to meet certain rigid assignments because you get to explore what interests you the most and experience genuine learning that isn’t motivated by grades or rules. I’m excited for the course to develop, and I won’t pretend that I’m not also pleased to have a fairly easy workload (one journal entry a day for homework? sold.). My understanding is that the literature review and paper are both due three weeks after the course ends in London.
Yesterday afternoon we were offered an optional tour of the Bloomsbury area conducted by a UCL graduate student in the Library Studies program. Only six of the students made it to the tour, but the six of us chatted and tried to get to know each other while also trying to understand our Bloomsbury geography (I failed at the latter). After an hour, our tour ended and the six of us went to a local pub to get a drink. The UCL faculty had arranged reservations at this pub for us, so over the course of the next hour and half (we were early for the reservation), most of the other students trickled in. Eventually 12 of us went out for Indian food for dinner, which was very good and a fun evening. We might have had more fun, however, if we weren’t all exhausted from traveling and/or jet lag. We made it an early night and found our respective ways back to our many different hotels and hostels. Although we were able to get campus housing for most of our time here, we were not able to check in until today, so we all had to find another place to stay last night.
My day started at 6:30 when I got up to get ready and finish packing up all of my stuff. It is incredible how much I can fit into my suitcase, and it is even more astonishing how fast it all gets piled around a hotel room. I fear what will happen when I try to pack the Friday after next. In some ways, July 1st seems like it’s just around the corner; two weeks isn’t a very long time, especially when I want to cram as much sightseeing into these two weeks as possible. But on the other hand, knowing that we have almost the entire course left ahead of us makes it seem like an age. It will fly by, I am certain (if my other two 2-week stints are any example), and in no time I’ll be mourning the end of this adventure. Hell, I’m already mourning the fact that it has to end at all. I’m completely in love with London. I might “lose” my passport and just not be able to come back. Or, I might just transfer to UCL. At the very least, I’ve vowed a thousand times over that I’ll be returning, either for my Ph.D. or for work (or both). I am in love, plain and simple.
I left my hotel at 7:30 and hauled 1,000 pounds of laundry and souvenirs to the dorm where I’ll be staying; my trek was in the company of another resident of the same dorm who happened to be staying in a hotel around the corner from mine last night. Arriving just at 8:00, we dropped off our stuff and headed straight to the school. Stopping for coffee along the way, we arrived around 8:20 and found that the 8:30 refreshments were already set up, and our administrator was happily waiting for the students to arrive. You’ve never had refreshments until you’ve had fresh pastries that are still warm.
By 9, the real day began. Our professor is a jolly man who claims to be the oldest active professor at UCL (he can’t say he’s the “oldest professor” because of professors emeritus who are older, but he’s the oldest who is still teaching). He has a mop of mostly white hair and a long, curly white beard. He reminds me hugely of my maternal grandfather, and I get a huge kick out of him. He’s funny and a bit goofy, and he doesn’t seem to take anything too seriously, ever.
We spent the morning discussing course requirements, the plan for the course, information we need as newbies to London, and so on. We also got a quick tour of the campus and got our student IDs. My student ID picture is actually good. It’s really remarkable. I’m looking straight at the camera with a slightly bemused smile on my face. If only every ID picture could be so flattering!
At the lunch break, my same friend from the dorm and I went to King of Falafel (a place I discovered while exploring yesterday). I got a Lebanese falafel wrap, which was really delicious. After lunch, we had a short session in which another member of the Department of Information Studies faculty spoke to us about user behavior in electronic environments. His talk was very interesting, although we all agreed later that we were so tired by this afternoon that we were struggling to stay fully attentive.
We had a two hour break in which to recuperate which I used to check into my room and unpack a bit (and write my Stonehenge blog post – one has to have priorities!). At 5:30, we were invited to an informal reception on campus where we had some snacky buffet foods for dinner (pork pies = not good, but smoked salmon sandwich = yum, and we won’t talk about the sushi) accompanied by plentiful wine.
After the reception, my dorm-y friend and I went to a nearby bookstore, Waterstone’s, which is absolutely ginormous. It dwarfs any other bookstore I’ve ever been to, hands down. It’s like heaven. I had to resist buying too many books… but I did get myself an unfolding diagram of Shakespeare plots and family trees from all of his plays. I’m embarrassed to admit to what degree I’m nerding out over Shakespeare lately… but it’s time I embrace it.
From the bookstore we headed back to our dorm, where I now sit typing this. My room is okay, but I was spoiled as an undergrad by living in the newest, nicest dorms on campus. This is no better or worse than most college dorms, however, with worn out but fully serviceable furniture and carpets. The building has a very institutional feel about it, but we each get a single bedroom, and 5 bedrooms share two bathrooms (1 with a shower) and a kitchenette. It’s a perfectly nice setup, especially for only two weeks.
There is no guarantee that the people you share the flat with are people in your program, though, and I’m quite sure no one in my flat is from my program. I haven’t met my flatmates yet, but I have talked to everyone in the program about where they’re staying and as far as I know no one is in my flat. There are at least two other people in the flat, however, and possibly a third. The odd thing is that the dorm rooms are available just like hotel rooms in the summer, which means that I might have different flatmates every night, in theory. It’s a little awkward, but everyone in the flat is in the same situation so there’s no point in being uncomfortable.
Everyone in the program seems friendly and nice. No one has set him or herself apart as being aloof or snobby, although I think a couple of cliques are starting to emerge. It’s hard to tell, since we’re still in day one (with yesterday being day zero, I guess), but it seems as though we’re likely to have a pleasant 2 weeks. It’s a nice sensation to be sitting in a room of 22 people and feel happily comfortable with every one of them. It’s not as though we’re all suddenly best friends, but we’re all friendly.
Oddly, however, today was only the second time during this whole trip that I’ve had any pangs of homesickness (or maybe it was loneliness, hard to distinguish). Maybe it’s because in Spain I had the comfort of being with family and the past two weeks I’ve had the ease of being alone, but now that I’m in the getting-to-know-people stage, it makes it very noticeable that I don’t really know anyone. It’s not a strong feeling, but just sort of the nagging recognition that I’m not actually close with anyone in the program. It’s magnified by exhaustion, I am positive, and far outweighing that feeling is my excitement for the course and for the various adventures we have planned. It may also either have been magnified or eased (or, perhaps in some way both) by talking to my sister for a while earlier (happy birthday!). Like I said before, I’m sure two weeks will fly by and I’ll soon be horribly sad to leave. In the mean time, I’m looking forward to sleeping for almost a full night. I can promise you that no matter how sad I am to leave, I will most definitely enjoy being back in my own bed again. Six weeks is a long time!