The first three weeks here have definitely been interesting.
We've been on TV, we've gone to Snowdonia, we've seen
castles and forests and slag heaps and brooks and sheep
and everything is still quite beautiful. However, I've
found myself taking significantly fewer pictures since
I first got here, which is worrying me, as I might regret not having a photographic journal of my trip later.
Living with the family for two weeks was really a good experience. They were all very friendly, and the mother kept a wonderful house. The sons were both very welcoming, and Algon, the younger one, introduced me to his friends, which helped establish me and make me much more comfortable. Living with the family also gave me a lot of insight into what the children usually go through growing up - which seemed quite a bit different than what American children go through.
All of the people here have been wonderful as well! Everyone is completely willing to help us do what we want to or need to to make our studies successful. Remo Catani, who is basically our advisor, is a godsend. He is completely willing to intervene on our behalf in anything academic, which has been a great help in more than one occasion. Sioned Davies has been wonderful and flexible as well, and gave probably the most interesting lecture that I have heard thus far! And, last but definitely not least, Rhodri Morgan has been absolutely fantastic. He was our cultural advisor, and basically his job was to show us a wide range of people and places and get us to see a wide swath of Welsh life. In a lot of ways, I kind of see his job as him trying to show us the rings of a tree and explain them, and he was supposed to only show us a cross section of a sapling, but he instead decided to show us a sequoia - and succeeded brilliantly.
One of the negative experiences I have had is with anti-American sentiments. The head of the Politics department, Dr. Donovan, met with me, and we had a great chat about it. He was saying that he has never met an American that he didn't like, but he still cannot bring himself to like America - his words summed up perfectly what lots of Europeans seem to think. Lots of British seem to see American cultural hegemony as something negative - there are Gap stores, Coke machines, Pizza Huts and McDonald's everywhere, and, in the stores, you can get Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Tommy Hilfiger as easily as you can get anything else. They even have Budweiser next to the Guiness and the Brain's in the pubs, and, even though these people are supporting these stores and helping them to flourish, they see our role in the buisness world as negative.
I have also had quite a few interesting experiences defending the USA, its role in world politics and economics, and its people in quite a few conversations. Lots of British and Welsh like to attack the Americans for everything, from our television, movies, books and even newspapers to our domestic and foreign policies. Some of their attacks are justified, but most of them have simply been personal attacks on me based upon their perceptions of Americans in general that they get from the media. For example, I've had people tell me that I am "completely fucked up" because children in America have filled Super-Soakers with bleach and sprayed people. One girl was under the impression that all of our media sources were nationalized, similar to the USSR, and that newspapers did not have reporters, but rather completely regurgitated the news given to them by the government. She also said that our culture is completely contradictory, and based this upon her knowledge (literally based completely upon Jerry Springer) that Americans are more religious, but, at the same time, are more likely to have affairs than British people. This may be true. She also had some interesting ideas regarding our more recent political scandals. However, I had to remember that President Clinton and former quasi-speaker Livingston have been the major political news stories of the recent past, whereas MP's in Britain have been forced to resign for sex scandals ranging from Tory homosexuality to physical abuse and assault - and many of these resignations happening within the last year.
People here prounounce 'schedule' as "Shhedule" instead of "Skedule."
They also have "Kleenex - For Men" which is still facial tissue, except that it's bigger and thicker. Because Real Men need stronger facial tissue for their Real Men Snot.
There are NO phones in the dormitories. Not even a flat phone. So, basically, people can write you letters or email you or come to your flat. I am going to pick up a cell-phone (over here, a "mobile") soon; however, you have to have been in the UK for 3 years in order to get a contract, so the only option is pre-pay. That's just a tip for people coming over!