I arrived in the London Heathrow Airport on September 13, 2012, and have since been engaged in a bit of a whirlwind tour, becoming acquainted with Norwich and the surrounding country. But let me start at the beginning…
Is it ridiculous that my most vivid memory of Heathrow is of the birds at the bus station attached to the airport? The bus station’s glass doors seemed to be permanently open, and it kept me in a bit of a permanent chuckle to see pigeons and sparrows wandering around between the seats.
Road to Norwich
I was surprised to find that the countryside around London was very similar to that along the rural highways of southern Ontario, scrubby trees and all. However, as we approached Norwich I noticed that hedgerows, rather than trees, divided many of the field networks, and that almost all the houses in the small villages we passed through had tiled roofs! I’ve since found out that tiles are typically used in preference to shingles in England, but when I first saw them I thought I’d never seen anything so unusual and attractive – they made even some of the more modern buildings fit easily into the landscape. By the time we arrived in Norwich, I was jet-lagged enough just to want to find somewhere to eat and sleep… But the next morning (a “misty, moisty morning” in the traditional English style), I very much enjoyed wandering the city. Everything seems a lot more densely packed than at home, with contiguous rows of flats and shops being favoured over free-standing buildings – but the buildings have so much character that this style looks homey and natural. The downtown core seems very vibrant, with people living in amongst the shops. I find the river winding through the middle of the town especially soothing.
Mary Chapman Court
I moved into Mary Chapman Court on September 19 (International Arrivals Day). A white concrete building next to the River Wensum. Canadians would call it a suite-style flat, but at UEA, Mary Chapman is considered a “standard” residence. I had a very nice reception here, since one of the SRs (England’s version of RAs) was waiting outside to greet the international arrivals. Mary Chapman has a bit of a reputation for looking “prison-like,” but I think it has been maligned. It’s clean and comfortable, and the concrete-block interior is fine once you put up some pictures. The amount of storage space is amazing, and I’m revelling in having a full kitchen. I also love the view from my room, which looks over the river. My flatmates, who are all UK students, didn’t arrive until the following Sunday, but settled in really quickly as well.
After a week of international orientation events, where I got to meet a lot of the other international students (hailing from everywhere from Zimbabwe to Sweden), classes began on September 24. I’m enrolled in Environmental Sciences here, and am taking mostly ecology-related courses, although I’m also taking a couple of history classes as electives. I’m especially enjoying the fact that “full time” here consists of three courses a semester, so you can really delve into subject that interest you, and still have some free time. The campus buildings are not terribly prepossessing (they’re mostly concrete, in the style of Western’s Social Sci) but the campus itself is a beautiful mix of meadow and woods. There is even a “broad” (lake), with reed beds that harbour all sorts of birds. I found out the other day that the university rents Highland cattle and sheep in order to keep the reeds and grass on campus, respectively, “trimmed.” At first I thought this was a joke for gullible newcomers, but now that I have seen the cattle, I can doubt no longer. It sounds a bit hilarious – but you must admit it’s practical, innovative, environmentally-friendly, and economical, compared with hiring people to mow the grass!
I’ve now been in Norwich for a month, but if feels far longer – or shorter! I could have been here all my life, but I haven’t seen half the things I want to see yet. Thank goodness I have a whole year to explore…