Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Black Dresses and Networking

Sorry for the lack of posts.  Unfortunately, there is not much to say right now.  Life has slowed considerably.  After last week's packed schedule, this week (the week before class starts) has been a rather sleepy, humdrum existence.  We do have some reading and writing to do; there is a practice essay due on the 18th.  It's only about five pages but there are some preliminary readings and we are expected to research and organize the way we would one of our longer term papers.  The essay won't be graded but it is a chance for Lars (our academic director) to provide feedback so that we know better how to meet the expectations of the term papers.  

I did have a formal college dinner on Monday, which was an interesting experience.  Colleges in Britain are completely different from the American concept of a college.  For students, it is their university.  You have to be accepted both into a college and into the university.  All of the administration side is run by the college and there is no central university office.  In addition, it functions very much like a Hogwarts house: the students live, study, and eat together.  These colleges are old, important (and usually very wealthy) establishments.  Their money does not come only from the students; they receive huge endowments from former members and fellows and also own land or have investments elsewhere.  One of the colleges here (Trinity) is one of the wealthiest establishments in all of Britain!  I am including the picture of my college (Emmanuel or Emma, as it is known) below:



Large formal dinners are frequent events held by the college for their students and consist of multi-course meals of the finest ingredients.  I wish I had known these existed before I came.  Last Saturday I spent several hours shopping for a formal black dress!  Thankfully I was able to find one that was modest and only 20 pounds.  It may not be the fanciest dress at these things, but it will do the trick!  Monday's experience was interesting but not entirely enjoyable.  There was a "drinks" period before the meal (they had an Elderflower cordial for non-drinkers like me) but the grad students here are definitely not trained in making others feel welcome and included!  Lucy, my British flatmate, is also in my college, which is a blessing because no one else in my program is (again, "college" in Britain does not mean the department under which a program functions).  The two of us stood together and talked but without knowing others ourselves (and therefore unable to break into other circles) or seeing others who looked unsure or friendless, we were left to ourselves on the side of the room. Eventually Lucy did find someone she knew and we were able to get talking but I found it difficult to meet the vast array of people like I was expected to do.  These meals, after all, are all about networking and making connections.  

The dinner came next.  My one fear was that I would be seated next to someone very quiet and I would be doomed to sit with that person in silence for two hours.  I was not blessed with the talent that Dave has for getting people talking!  My fear came true in part; the girl I was sitting next to was very, very nice and I hope to become better friends with her.  But we were in the last two chairs at the end of the table and the two chairs across from us were empty!  So I asked Siobhan (sitting next to me) everything I could possibly think of about 13-14 century British manuscripts (which was her PhD focus) and her background but really, it is very difficult to talk to someone you have just met for two hours!  She might be the only one I've run into so far, too, that knew nothing about Middle Eastern politics...she did ask me what I was studying, but wasn't able to continue any kind of conversation.  The American guy sitting kitty-corner across the table from me was starting a PhD in theoretical chemistry.  Good grief!  But the meal was very good - we had a smoked salmon salad to start, a roast lamb loin with au gratin potatoes and roast carrots for the 2nd course, some kind of banana/toffee flan/parfait thing for dessert and port and cheese for the 4th course.  They have these dinners every two weeks for grad students so I suppose I will go, both for the gourmet food and the "networking."   

3 comments:

Stacie said...

wow that sounds interesting. i am glad you had someone to talk to at least for a bit. im not good in huge groups not knowing anyone. so nerve wracking. sounds like you handled it well though and hopefully the next few dinners coming up you will get to meet more people :)

Dave said...

So is it odd that the main thing that stuck out to me upon reading this was that she spent "hours" shopping for a dress? I don't think I have spent that long shopping for wardrobes.... On the other hand I am really glad she takes pride in her appearance. And by the way, that probably stuck out only because I heard most of the rest on Skype already

Amy said...

Haha no worries. Dresses are really tricky. They have to fit just right. And you have to go from store to store checking EVERYONE'S black dresses :P Actually, though, the most time consuming thing about shopping were the lines. Stores can't sprawl here because the city is so old and space so constricted. Huge dressing rooms like we see in the States are non-existent. Basically, every time you want to try something on you have to wait at least twenty minutes...

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