Monday, February 18th, 2019

A reflection on my trip and a note on life

Posted on October 27, 2014 in Uncategorized
By martinconte

Martin Conte

Up to now, I have spent a majority of my time writing to you about the sights I’ve seen, the places I’ve been, the romance of English history and village culture.  This week I thought I’d take a breath, and introduce you to the typical, day to day life on campus at Winchester.

Typical student life in England consists of four classes, called modules.  The system of British education places strong emphasis on independent research. However there is an expectation, and even a requirement,  in each of my classes that I am reading and writing outside of the syllabus.  All the reading, lectures, seminars (in our THREE HOUR classes!) culminate in a final project, in my case typically a critical essay and a presentation.  This has allowed me to direct my study, to favor one class over another, and to read widely in Winchester’s 24 hour uni library.  It has also sparked a grating apprehension of those final weeks when, after a semester of almost no written assignments, everything is due all at once.

But Uni is not all reading, of course! The social life of a student in Britain is different from the outset than that of a typical American college student, and that is mostly due to the lower drinking age. There are two cash bars on campus, run by the Student Union. In one, students can be seen taking their lunches with a pint of London’s Finest Ale.  The other is a fully equipped, fully functional nightclub, every day of the week, complete with intimidating looking bouncers.  Uni clubs, here called societies, are also often pub oriented, and a typical club meeting ends up in one of the dozens of pubs in town (I hear there’s over 100 of them).  The student body, which makes up more than 10 percent of the city’s population, sprawls its streets at night. Yet this does not give rise to the typical conflicts that American universities face with drinking; because drinking in youth culture revolves around the controlled environment of the public pubs, the binge-oriented, chaotic, often dangerous ‘frat parties’ for which American schools are so famous don’t exist here.

My semester has so far been filled with fascinating people from all around the world (Winchester’s student population is nearly 9 percent international), professors who actively seek to participate in student life outside of the classroom (it is a common site to see students taking lunch with professors in the various dining halls), and a genuine engagement with the very idea of university. Because students have already completed their distribution requirements before entering uni, they enter already immersed in their course. Casual student conversations often revolve on literature, philosophical and ethical dilemmas, complex political debates, etc.  While these conversations also exist at USM, there is a sense that the American University as a whole is losing this sort of critical focus.

Of course, like life anywhere, there have been setbacks, difficulties and sabotage.  First of all, I’m sick!  A perpetual cold has floated over my head almost since arrival. Additionally, technical difficulties during the first week caused my motion-sensored light to turn on erratically through the night in something akin to sleep deprivation torture methods. Food is well, university food. And there is the constant, almost pervading, sense of temporality: my time here is limited, my ability to form lasting friendships with the people I’ve met is constantly threatened by that foreboding January 7th date when I ship back to the states.

But the dampers are few and the joys are many. There is a genuine sense of caring, an openness to relationship and a dignity and respect for each individual. When you look lost, as I shamelessly often do, someone is always there to help. When you order a drink at the pub, someone is always open to conversation (although this may be due to my extraordinarily sexy American accent). Surrounded by the English language, the fact that I am indeed in a completely foreign country is occasionally lost to me. But it is present; I am learning to recognize the English gentleman, and discovering in myself what it means to be the American version. These discoveries are always aided by the intellect, the caring and the love of the beautiful friends I’ve met along the way.


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