Sunday, September 28, 2008


When I got here, I had resolve. I really did.

And then I saw the announcement for an audition for West Side Story.


Needless to say, I went. Because I'm more addicted to performing than Paris Hilton is to fame. I promised myself that I was done, that I was retired from performing, that I'm now officially an academic. But then I realized something. Pursuing one thing professionally doesn't have to mean sacrificing who you are. I started thinking about this the other day when I was having dinner with Ashley, my next door neighbor. I mentioned to her that I really liked everyone in my course, and I think I'll be able to be friends with all of them. Her response was, "well yeah, except that as soon as classes start you're all in competition with each other for either grant money or Ivy League PhD slots, so you don't really have room to be kind to them." And she's right. She's absolutely right-we are each other's competition.

And I refuse to be that way.

Of course I will always do my best, and I will always try as hard as I can to be thorough in my research. But if someone wants help with a translation, I'll give it to them. If someone doesn't have time to do the reading, I'll give them my notes. I have tried to make kindness a part of who I am as much as possible (whether I've succeeded or not is for you to decide, not me), and I don't want to give up that part of who I am in pursuit of a career goal. Just as I don't want to give up performing for it. I love academia, and I really, truly do want to get my doctorate, get tenure, write something groundbreaking, all that stuff. I do. But not at the expense of my identity. I won't give up my thoroughly non-competetive nature, and I won't give up my hobbies.

Maybe that makes me silly. Maybe that's the formula that makes people who were almost successful, but in the end didn't quite have that extra edge. Maybe. But to me, all the success in the world isn't worth giving up the pieces of myself that I love the most. So I've decided, from now on, I will be a non-competitive academic who sings and dances when she could be doing extra research. That's who I am making a choice to be. And oddly, even though nothing's really changed, I feel better knowing that. More confident. I'm determined as hell to make it in this program, but at least I know that whatever happens, I'll emerge from it on the other side the same person I was when I went in.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

You Want Me To Read WHAT?

Well, I've done it-I've officially signed up for my courses. No turning back now-looks like I'm stuck in it for the long haul. In the end, I signed up for Medieval Manuscipts and Documents, Internediate Latin (ACK!), and Cloisters to Classroom, which is basically a study of how the first universities were formed and how they dealt with the problem of studying theology and secular academia at the same time. Should be pretty cool. I'm also auditing an undergraduate class in archeology, since the graduate level one was cancelled. Another guy from my course is doing the same, so that should make it more fun.

Now, I realize that graduate school will be harder than undergrad. Obviously, this is how it should be. Not only am I at a much higher academic level, but I'm also going to a much better school (not that I won't always have a fondness in my heart for UM, particularly the on-campus frat parties to which I was so partial). I expected a lot of independent learning, extra recommended reading, private study in the library, etc.

What I did not expect was to receive the syllabus for just one of my courses and find attached to it a full 7-page bibliography. Not 7 books, not 7 subjects with a few books each, 7 pages. 12-point, single spaced pages. Of books. Which I am expected to read.

Oh. My. God. I wonder if I should just commence the suicide attempts now. But unfortunately, my refund cheques haven't arrived yet from the school, so right now I can't even afford a bag of crisps, much less a razor blade. Damn. I guess I'll have to stay the suicide attempts until I can afford to purchase a length of rope or the like. I feel like I'm going through freshmen hell week, when you try to join a sorority but all they do is haze you. My terror has now increased 10-fold.

However, it's not all bad and horrifying. I know a lot of grad students who are treated like vermon, and told repeatedly that they are academically worthless until they prove otherwise. This does not appear to be the case at UCL. First off, all of my professors insist on us calling them by their first names. Secondly, they refer to us as "colleagues", not students, which is weird, but nice. Thirdly, we've already had 2 departmental welcome parties, and both involved a lot of free wine, which the professors drank freely alongside us while discussing things having nothing to do with academia. That bodes well for this year; they treat us as equals, which seems to be a rare find in postgraduate programmes.

As there are only 11 of us in my degree programme, it's very personal. David, my dissertation advisor, arranged for us all to go on a free trip to the Tower of London, where we got to go into the private research offices and handle 17th century letters and archives. Also, we got to try on an original suit of armour from the 16th century. Bad. Freakin'. Ass. After the tour, he gave us £40 to go out to a pub together and get drunk, simply because "it would be sociable to go out and get drunk together before the term starts". Which we did. And it was fabulous. I really like everyone else in my programme, which is good as we're going to be stuck together without escape for the next year. And they all seem to be as petrified as I am. Well, except for the Princeton guy, who's just an anomoly.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What Am I Doing Here, and Why Do These People Think I'm Smart??

I had my first meeting with the other students in my course today. There are 11 of us in total, plus 4 professors. The head of the programme, Dr. D'Avery, had us do that thing where you introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you, and then in turn you introduce your partner to the class. So fine, we start doing introductions. Then after my partner was done introducing me, Dr. D'Avery added in an announcement to the whole class, "Also, according to her recommenders, Colleen is one of the foremost up-and-coming experts in the history of religion, so if you need help in that area, she's the one to speak to."


OK-realistically, I know I've written some good papers. I've penned a couple of theories about the evolution of Satan in early Christianity that I haven't seen anybody else touch on. But still...that was just undergraduate work. That was playtime. I don't consider myself an expert in any way, shape, or form. But apparantly, some poorly misinformed person told somebody otherwise. As if I wasn't intimidated enough!

And intimidated I am. I mean, yes, I've got a good base of early Christianity, but I've had an estimation of ZERO experience in Medieval Studies. I couldn't even tell you the dates of the Hundred Years War. As everyone else got introduced, I found that the guy next to me graduated from Princeton and has already written an original thesis on Henry III. Another guy has been studying the medieval period since high school. Every time someone new was introduced, I felt more and more like the pity case who got in because she had a really good social worker or something. Like the bad egg in the omelette. I'm horrified at the prospect of even trying to compete with these people! And now, apparantly, I have to live up to being an authority on a subject where I feel more like a second-grader learning to read than an expert.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Open mouth, insert foot...

Major lesson of the week: just because you're in a country that speaks your language, that doesn't mean you speak the same "language".

I discovered this the hard way. Up until last week, I was staying at my friend Charlene's house. When the day came to finally move into my dorm, I was looking all over the place for my favorite pair of black pinstriped pants. Being completely unable to find them, I went down to the living room, where her roommate Emma and Emma's boyfriend Tom were watching TV. I asked them if they had seen my pants, and proceeded to describe them and mention where I'd last seen them.

This sounds entirely innocent. Unless, of course, you think the word "pants" actually means "underwear". Which apparantly, British people do. They stared at me with their mouths hanging open for a good 30 seconds before Emma, being into fashion, finally remembered that the term "pants" means something very different to Americans. Lesson learned: unless you're discussing your recently purchased thong, call them "trousers".

I've yet to run into any other huge cultural snags, but I still worry that I might. Within the academic realm, I'm not too worried, but it's everyday life that concerns me. For example, I have a date set up for this week, the first date I've ever had here. Now, anyone who knows me well knows that I thoroughly enjoy dating. I'm good at it. I can manage to have a dinner-length conversation with a newel post if required, and having done the casual dating thing for so long, I've got the American dating standards down to a science, at least up through date 6 when you actually have to stop being "date" you and start being "real" you. But when it comes to dating here, I'm totally clueless. Do guys pay for first dates here? When we say we're going out for a drink, is it just a drink or do they also mean dinner, a walk, a movie, etc? Is it normal to kiss on a first date here? Does the holding hands come before the first kiss or after? And how do you do it when you're not going to separate cars, but are both on public transportation? Do you get off the train and walk the person to their door before getting back on? Do you part at the tube station and just awkwardly travel in the same direction and try to be seated in separate cars of the train? Do guys here open doors and pull out your chair or not? Is it OK to have a drink with dinner on the first date, or is it awkward? Is it a cultural faux pas to share dessert, or is it expected? Do guys here actually like girls who eat salad, or do they prefer a screw-it-I'll-have-a-cheeseburger kind of girl? Do British people kiss on the cheek when they greet each other for the first time, or was that a Miami hispanic thing? If so, is it one kiss like the Spanish, 2 like the French, or 3 like the Italians? Are heels sexy or impractical in a city where everybody walks everywhere? What if he does try to kiss me on the first date? Should I let him, or will he think I'm easy? But if I don't, will he think I'm a prude? Is my British cultural ignorance still cute and quirky, or is it annoying?

This should be interesting...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Rules, rules rules

It's been so long since I've been in a dorm that I completely forgot about the insane amount of rules they've got going on here. Unbelievable! I went out with a couple of friends last night who both live way out in the suburbs, and since we were all not what you could call sober and it was 2:30 in the morning, we decided that they would come over and sleep on my floor. But when we got to the dorm, I found out that not only am I not allowed to sign anyone in after midnight, but I can only have 1 person in my room at a time, and there's not really any getting around this as you have to have the front desk buzz you through the turnstiles to even get into the building. Seriously? I'm 24 years old and I can't have a couple of friends come over to chat and then sleep on the floor? Seriously? So then they had to turn around and take the hour long 4-bus commute to get back home in the middle of the night. That really sucks. Ugh, I'm annoyed.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Lonely Friday Night...

I think I officially got hit by my first wave of homesickness today. It's not intense or anything, but enough so that I feel a little bit down and worn out. I'm just in that awkward phase where I'm meeting people and making some friends at school, but I don't really know anyone well enough yet to call them up and hang out without it being weird, so I'm stuck at home on a Friday night with nothing to do. Thankfully, I am meeting up tomorrow night with a couple of people I know from a summer camp I worked at a couple of years ago who all live here, so that will be good. But for tonight, I sit at home with my book. It's not all bad...I know that as of the 29th when my classes start, I won't have any time to read anything for pleasure at all, so I should take advantage of the time I have to read crappy fiction while I still can.

Still, I look around at people in the dining hall, and I feel a little bit separated from them. My dorm is made up of freshers (freshmen) and first-year grad students, and I can tell that the ones enthusiastically making friends in the dining hall are all freshers. I remember being that way once too-nobody knows anyone, so you try as hard as you can to make friends, because at 18 that really is probably the most important element of being in the dorms. Not so for graduate students, apparantly. It's not that I have trouble making friends; I never have and I doubt I ever really will. But I just don't particularly have an interest in hanging out with 18 year olds who are in the "party" mode, and I gather that most other grad students here don't either. The dorms have suddenly gone from being a social event to just being a place to live when you're not at school. It's an interesting change for me, made more dramatic by the fact that this building is cleanly split in two between 18 year olds and 25 year olds. Still, even though I really don't want to hang out in a group of 15 people at dinner and spend an exhorbitant amount of money on pubs and movies and the like, watching other people do it does make me a little wistful for the social climate of freshmen year. I'm sure as soon as the school year starts and I'm swamped in homework and papers and whatnot, the lonliness will certainly fade. But, for right now, I don't really feel like a 24 year old who is staying in to catch up on her reading, but kind of like a freshmen on the first day of college who doesn't have any friends yet.

But on a positive note, I went and explored the library today. Let's just take a moment of silence for the awesomeness of the UCL libraries.......................................ah.

I found a whole room on paleography (admittedly it's kind of hidden in a back hallway on the top floor behind some offices, because really, who goes looking for paleography books?) and they had a few really cool-looking books on medieval Bibles and the production of sacred art in copies of the Gospels and other really cool-looking books. I already checked out 2 books for fun because I know that starting next week, there will be no more fun reading, even if the books are academic in nature. But that's beside the point. The point is, the library is AMAZING. I would have spent all day in there if I hadn't started getting really really hungry. :) Nerd heaven...

Thursday, September 18, 2008


In case anyone wants to send me letters or packages of goodness ::coughcoughgoldfishcrackerscoughcough::, my address is:

Colleen Prior
International Hall, room 5W23
Lansdowne Terrace
Camden, London

On another note, orientation started yesterday. It's been pretty fun. I made a couple of friends-only the international students are around right now, so I haven't met any local students yet, but I hung around for most of yesterday with a guy named Jake from South Korea, and then at the new students' reception last night met a guy named Marten from Germany, and we hit it off pretty well. Who knows, maybe I'll actually get lucky and have real live friends this year. You never know.

Also, I moved into my dorm yesterday. When I said before that it was a closet? Wasn't kidding. It really, really is. But it will get the job done. The bed is comfortable enough once I put excessive amounts of padding on it(i.e. put the provided comforter under the mattress pad since I brought my own blanket), and I have a sink in my room. The bathroom's a little bit of a walk, but I can deal. Also, I have a landline, which I will give the number to once my loan checks come through and I have money to pay the £10 start-up fee.

Another good thing-I'm walking distance to school. Yay! Speaking of which, I must now be off to go finish getting oriented and orientated and whatnot. :) Later!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Almost there!

Well, the time has finally come-tomorrow I get to move into my dorm! YAY! I went to find it yesterday, and it's in an even better area than I thought-1 block from the tube, 10 minute walk from the British Museum, across the street from a cinema and shopping center, 2 minute walk from a pub, and around the corner from a park complete with climbing trees. Awesome.

Orientation also starts tomorrow-it's going to be a big day. I have an orientation meeting in the morning, then I move in during the day, then a new student welcome reception in the evening, which I'll obviously go to because there's free food, which is like oxygen to grad students. After that I've got various seminars and such scheduled for the rest of the week, then next week I start in on meeting with various advisors, gaining access to the medieval manuscript collection at the library, etc etc. Classes themselves start on the 29th, and I can't wait-I found out that I can opt to take Medieval Archeology as one of my optional courses. YAY! So it looks like I'll be taking Paleography (basically studying ancient documents), Intermediate Latin, Medieval Archeology, and meeting regularly with my advisor for my dissertation. Sounds like an awesome year to me! I can't wait to just be moved into my room, have a place of my own to call home, and start in on this program that I'm paying such a ridiculous amount of borrowed money to attend. Onwards and upwards!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Back in the UK!

Well, we're back! Our vacation to Italy was fantastic, if you just don't count the sick days involved. We didn't really do a whole lot of touristy things, but that was actually fine-it was a lot more fun just chilling out and meeting people. I've come to the conclusion that Positano is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I've also come to the conclusion that this little pizza shop on the corner of Via Palerno in Rome sells the best pizza known to man. We had that stuff at least once a day, sometimes twice. Amazing.

All in all though, I'm glad to be back. I'm currently at my friend Charlene's house in Greenwhich, London, just biding my time until Wednesday when I can move into my dorm room and really get my life started. Jon is still here until tomorrow-I think we're going to meander downtown to where I'm going to be living and explore a little bit. I can't wait to wander around the area and find my local grocery store, pharmacy, blockbuster, pub, etc. I love getting to know new places...

Also, I now have a cell phone...yay! Should anyone be inclined to call me, the number (including country code) is:

044 0750 392 1871

I can only call landlines internationally, so if you have a landline and I don't know it, just send it to me by e-mail!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sick as a dog...

So it finally hit me. The cold/flu bug that has been threatening for a week finally got me in full force yesterday. Normally, it wouldn't be that terrible, but I'm sharing a dorm room in Positano with 12 other people (all guys, naturally), so to be honest, I've had better vacations. I spent the majority of last night locked in a bathroom stall blowing my nose and pacing around the bathroom; it's one of those colds that's so bad that not only can I not breathe while lying down, but I can't even breath sitting up-there's nothing for it but to stand. Yuck.

On the plus side, Positano is beautiful; it's a small town on the Amalfi coast, and I can see the ocean from the balcony of the hostel. We met another group of really cool people; the other night we went to dinner with a Scottish girl named Janice, and 4 Australians, 2 guys and 2 girls. I'm quickly finding out that the backpacking industry is basically kept afloat by Aussies-since it costs so much to fly to Europe, they just travel everywhere at once.

The hostel we're in certainly has...character. There are two dogs running around the lobby all day, and a whole myriad of interesting people. I think the thing I like best about hostels is the people-you temporarily befriend people that you never in a million years would have come across. For example, the group that went out to dinner the other night was comprised of an employee of the BBC, an insurance agent from Melbourne, the head medical consultant for The Biggest Loser, and 2 men who work in the mines in Perth. Definitely an interesting group that otherwise would never have crossed paths.

Still, although the town is beautiful and the hostel is a lot of fun and very friendly, I'm looking forward to going home-not that I really have one at the moment. I'm just feeling yucky and wishing that I had a couch to sit on and watch bad TV all day while chugging orange juice in a too-late attempt to get better. Unfortunately, home is really nowhere to be had right now-my stuff is at a friend's flat in London, and I don't have a place of my own yet. So I'm really feeling homesick for a place that doesn't really exist. How very depressing. It's times like this when I kind of want my mommy...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Partying Italian style

Hello from Italy! As you can probably surmise, everything with my visa went through swimmingly; it was delivered to my door about 6 hours before I left for my flight. My mom dropped me off at the airport, and a 1-hour check-in line, £250 charge for my extra baggage, and a ridiculous security line later, I successfully made it to London. And-get this-somehow, after all my finagling with the Consulate, I managed to skip customs all together. The trick is to fly through Ireland, tell the passport person you're just traveling through for a connecting flight, and voila! No customs. Not that I had any intention of skipping it, but apparently any old Irish vagrant can come into the UK without so much as a second glance, so who am I to argue? And they say that UK border patrol is tough...

My first day in London was a little rough...a friend of mine met me at the airport to help me with my ridiculous amount of luggage. Of course, this meant toting upwards of 300 total pounds of baggage through the London public transportation system to get to her flat, which is-naturally-about as far from Heathrow as you can get whilst still in the same city. Not nearly the effortless task it sounds. But, after blood, sweat, and the intense desire to cry if not the emergence of actual tears, we made it, and I even managed to meet Jon at the airport and get him back to the house without getting too horribly lost.

The next day we left for Rome, and almost immediately made friends with 2 French girls and an Aussie who were all at the same hostel. Although I haven't studied French since high school and was embarrasingly bad at it even then, I surprised myself by conversing (rather rudamentarily) with the girls, one of whose English was about as limited as my French. Needless to say, there was a lot of miming. But, as we all met at a pub crawl and were under the influence of a massive amount of Italian beer, it didn't particularly matter. We got home at 4am (I was forcibly reminded of the all-night frat parties that I was so fond of attending at age 18), and the next day Jon and the girls went to the beach, while Tom the Aussie and I nursed our hangovers. Last night we all went out for a real Italian dinner, complete with uneven tables in the street, bottles of wine, reeeeeeally good cheese, candles, and small cars whizzing by the table so close that I feared losing a foot if I let my leg wander past the edge of the table. A true Roman experience.

Our new-found friends all left today, the girls for home in France, and Tom for who-knows-where, so Jon and I went to the Roman Forum and the Colliseum by ourselves. Just as awesome as I remember it. It was stifilingly hot outside, but what can you really expect from the south of Italy in September? Tomorrow we're going to Vatican city, then it's off to Positano and Venice, and then back to London so that Jon can go home and I can start my new life. Anyway, as this entry has gotten far too long (I thoroughly applaud any who read this far), methinks I will say good-bye for now. Ciao!

P.S. I also found out today that my best friend Grace, who is expecting a baby, is having a boy! I get an almost-nephew! Thank God-I wouldn't have the faintest idea how to talk to a little girl, having been thoroughly ensconsed in tomboy-hood for as long as I can remember. Congrats, Grace and Brad!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

All Comes Together!

My visa was approved this morning and is being shipped via over night long as it gets here by 4:30, I should be home free to catch my flight into the UK tomorrow night! To those who literally, metaphorically, and in all other ways crossed your fingers for me, thank you a thousand times!