Kenyon College

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Greetings from Exeter!

I've been here for a little over half a month now, and I still feel slightly overwhelmed every now and then. There is so much to see and do here; everything is completely different.

Small things:
- My little room in Lafrowda has an east-facing window, so I get to see the sun rise over the buildings when I wake up in the morning.
- There are small dirt and gravel footpaths that weave all over campus, making their way through woods and by ponds and gardens. I've only just begun to discover the beauty of this school, let alone the countryside!
- Nutella is probably the most delicious food in existence. Strange yet tasty breakfast: fry two eggs, toast two slices of bread, put peanut butter on the toast, put Nutella on one of the slices as well, then sandwich the eggs in between and cut diagonally. Made even more scrumptious if the eggs are still runny.
- If you weren't completely grossed out by the above, then kudos to you for your courageous palate! Devon cream tea.

But, as I said, it was somewhat overwhelming, trying to adjust to living here. Not only are there the everyday aspects of life to which I must adjust, but also I have to come to terms with the fact that so many other Kenyon students have done this before me! Bundles of us have tottered weakly off airplanes, been shipped to the university on a bus, introduced to a grand disorganized set of rules and regulations, not to mention a whole host of new faces and strange ways of speaking (read: sometimes indecipherable British accents) - and so many of us have been wildly successful.

It is fascinating to me that, in coming here and living here, each of us has had a different experience of this place. Each student who has been on this program had a series of first impressions, and made different choices as to how to adjust. I am trying to write a blog of impressions and choices - there is, as one might encounter when trying to write a sonnet, a whole tradition behind me, a whole gallery of experiences that other students have had. The question is, how will my story stand against the backdrop of Exeter impressions? What will I add to the great complex picture? The answer: what I can.

The Thames at night

To begin I'd like to talk about London and Shakespeare.

To be completely frank and not hyperbolic in the least, London is the greatest city in the universe. I arrived, I stepped off the bus, and fell immediately into a sort of breathless love - breathless in that I kept looking up and around me at the glorious city tumbling on every side, and I forgot to take breaths.

Before I met the lions of Trafalgar Square, I and everyone else went to go see Shakespeare's As You Like It in the Globe Theatre, which sits on the Thames and is quite near the Tate Modern. We stood as groundlings in the yard as the play unfolded whimsically around us, Orlando's verses tumbling from the wooden pillars and Touchstone's antics drawing the audience even closer to the happy energy of the production. I couldn't help thinking of our discussion in class earlier that week: These characters were exiled to the Forest of Arden, a place completely different than the pomp of the court from whence they came. As Professor Laycock mentioned, is that not our situation, as American students in England?

I thought about it: Rosalind, Celia, Orlando and even Touchstone, they all change in the process of being in exile. Rosalind experiences the sort of liberty that comes from pretending to be of a different gender - in short, she rocks it. She was a fantastic man. Celia lets the restraint and elegance of court go loose when she takes on the role of Aliena, and Orlando plunges himself wholly into a role-playing scheme with boy-Rosalind. None of these drastic changes could've been made if they were all still at court. There would have been no need, and yet they are all now happier for the change.

I thought about it further: Being American students exiled (by choice) to the United Kingdom, a magical place in and of itself, we have just such an opportunity as Shakespeare's characters had. We can buckle under the weight of too many differences, or we can embrace them, adapt, and change. We have an amazing opportunity here to grow: by being alienated from what is familiar to us, I am certain we will find out of what stuff we are made.

The Globe theatre: open to the sky, with yard standing and seats.

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