28 September 2008

hello goodbye

I made it, and this may be my last chance to post for the remainder of the week, since I'm leaving tomorrow for a Gates Scholar retreat/orientation in the Lake District of northern England. The retreat is a chance for the Gates folk to bond for a few days before the term officially starts, not to mention visit a beautiful corner of the island where Wordsworth, Coleridge, and others went for inspiration.

To make Cambridge any cuter, I think you would have to tear the whole place down and rebuild it out of candy. I arrived by bus -- called a "coach" here if it's a long-distance trip -- to a scene of people lounging and playing football on the lush grass of Parker's Piece. (Parker's Piece, I have since learned, will play a starring role in my daily commute.) The town's winding, narrow, frequently-name-changing streets are packed with shops, restaurants of every ethnic variety, and centuries-old churches and academic buildings. I'm living in a house of eight people on a residential street, a bit of a hike from most of my other buildings of interest, but that should get better once I have a bike. I have met two of the housemates so far, an Italian and a Brit, who by pure coincidence are both studying aerospace engineering.

Unfortunately, I have been thwarted so far in most of my efforts to piece together the logistical elements of my new life. I am still without an e-mail password, a bike, a "mobile", a "chequing" account, an academic gown, a key to most of the buildings at Emmanuel (my college), and various other critical things-- mostly thanks to my having arrived on a weekend, but also in part because of Cambridge bureaurcracy. Trotting off to the Lake District for a few days won't help matters either, but I will at least have Friday and maybe part of Thursday before things really get hectic.

Given my seeming preoccupation with border security, I would be remiss if I didn't discuss my customs/immigration experience. I had a layover in Dublin, and the Irish immigration officer spent a total of about 0.01 second glancing at my passport, remarking that I was moving on to the UK, stamping it, and sending me on my way. At Heathrow, much to my surprise, I didn't pass through immigration or customs at all, presumably because of the EU common travel area. Much different from my '05 experience, when I was doing the opposite-- a layover in Heathrow en route to Dublin-- and I had what felt like a long Q-and-A session at both airports. If I didn't already have a shiny student visa, I might have been disappointed about not having a stamp to commemmorate my official arrival in the UK.

That's all for now... there's been a lot coming at me, so hopefully I will have my head more in order on the far side of the Gates trip. More soon!

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