Just thought I'd let you know.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
So I've been here for a week now.
And it's pretty darn awesome.
If you ever come to the UofI - the first thing you'll notice is the obscene size of everything. There is a fully-fledged gym in my halls, and a bowling alley in the union. There are about 40,000 students here, pretty much all of whom are from Illinois. On my floor I appear to be the only foreign student, which means I have both novelty value, and an excuse for doing anything wrong - wonderful!
I've registered for a scant twelve hours of classes, three of which are in 'Fundamentals of Acting 1', which seems a bit ridiculous, but never mind.
My halls are, perversely, absolutely freezing - the air conditioning seems to be turned up to a ridiculous amount. This meant that I had the very odd experience of buying a very thick insulated blanket from WalMart in the middle of summer. (There are three WalMarts in Champaign-Urbana, by the way, all of which are bigger than the city of Durham.)
Continuing with the 'insanely big' theme - my church in Edinburgh is around three hundred strong. My church here is something like 2500! They have a gym...inside their church. Utter madness.
However, they are all really cool, and I got on with them really well. I think I'm improving on my record from first year in Edinburgh, where I knew very few people, and almost none in my halls. So far, I've got to know a load of people on my floor really well, and we're looking at starting an intramural soccer team. It's shaping up to be a really awesome year.
Friday, August 18, 2006
I'm currenty speeding from O-Hare airport (which, during my brief stay there, I discovered is named after a famous fighter pilot. Just thought you'd like to know.) onboard a small minibus, which has been christened with the somewhat overdramatic title of 'The Lincolnland Express'. My flight from Minneapolis, where I was staying with my family, was fairly painless. As ever in my travels, it was the eve of the day of travel which provided the excitement. Coming from Edinburgh to Pennsylvania, it manifested itself in lost tickets and my travelling companion locking his bags in an unoccupied flat. The night before I left Camp to head to Minneapolis, somebody got fired, and I got hopelessly lost in the forest. All par for the course, really.
The fiasco this time revolved, of course, around my packing. I arrived in Minneapolis with one bag. My parents had brought another one over with them when they visited my Minneapolis family earlier this summer. Following so far? In addition to this, I had with me a backpack, and my parents brought my laptop with them in another backpack. Actually, come to think of it, there's a satchel packed into one of my suitcases for when I get to Illinois, but mentioning that would just confuse things.
Confused yet? Good. Now, as I was saying, I had my two large bags, and my laptop backpack, which was to bee my carry-on. All other small bags were stowed away in the larger bags. I spent about 20 - 40 minutes packing all my stuff away, which wasn't easy - fitting a year's worth of stuff into two bags can be pretty tricky like that. About 10:00 PM, my aunt pointed out that, even though I was flying domestic, it was probably still a good idea to take my passport. Good point, I thought. I'm ahead of the game, I smiled smugly. I opened my bag, and took out my lockbox. "It's right in here." Unfortunately, the lockbox was locked. Guess where the keys were? Inside my backpack. In the bottom of the bag I'd just packed.
So, I unpacked that bag as best I could, scrabbling my way to the bottom of the bag. I pulled out the backpack, and guess what? No keys. Uh-oh. I repacked the entire bag (not an easy feat) and then turned to my carry-on laptop bag. I unzipped the side-pocket, and, of course, there they were. I unlocked my lockbox...and my passport wasn't in there. Great. I started to get the sinking feeling I'd had before, except that last time it had involved lost tickets, and had resulted in a last minute call to two airlines, and a very hectic weekend. I didn't have anything like that time, as at that point I had about eight hours till my flight left. Me being me, of course, I didn't tell anyone that I couldn't find my passport, as I was terrified of looking stupid. With the other prospect being the utter derailment of an entire year of schooling, it was good to see I had my priorities correctly sorted. I proceeded to check through my carry-on multiple times, both my large bags, unpacking and repacking the four or five times, before searching the entire house, all the while striving to 'act casual', so my relatives didn't twig that something was up. Having spent about an hour doing this, I checked my carry-on bag one last time. And there it was - right where I could have sworn I'd looked about twenty times.
But the fun doesn't stop there. Oh, no no no no! Because, having finalised everything that was in the bags, I remembered that there was an limit on the weight of my checked baggage. So off we went again, wheeling out the scales, and futilely trying to balance a very large case on what seemed like a very small set of scales. Depending on the scales used, both cases seemed to range from just under the allowed weight of 50 pounds to about twelve pounds over. This prompted a frantic display of packing and repacking, culminating in me abandoning a bag in its entirety, and replacing it with a larger one. After about an hour, we figured both bags were roughly about maybe 50 pounds.
So this morning, my cousin accompanied me into the airport, so that if anything was too heavy, I could load him down with non-essentials to bring me back under the weight limit. We queued up for some time, before finally reaching the check-in desk. I dumped my first bag on the scales, and waited with bated breath...47 pounds! I exhaled loudly. Now for the next one. I groaned as I saw the dial read 52 pounds. I frantically started calculating what I could leave behind. I could get more bodywash in Urbana, right? Nobody needs such a big towel - maybe I could make do with a facecloth till I got a new one. Did I really need that pot of marmite? What about...
My panic-stricken reverie was interrupted by the check-in associate smiling at me, and saying 'Oh that's fine. Two pounds is nothing really."
What? "Are you sure?" I asked, almost as if I wanted to argue with her. (At this stage I'm not entirely sure I didn't - I'd got myself all hyped for an argument, and now she was backing out - who did she think she was?)
"Absolutely. Don't worry about it." I could have kissed her.
I didn't, of course. We are at Threat Level: Orange, after all.
Friday, August 11, 2006
we took a busride to the camp the next day, along with the rest of the international staff. At this point, we were all being horrendously polite to each other, to avoid making a bad first impression. They all seemed nice, and, in truth, they all were nice.
We got to Camp William Penn just as the heavens opened, and one of the biggest rainstorms I have ever seen was unleashed upon the land. It was pretty wet. The Camp Director, Michael Shelton got onboard the bus, and asked me forward to check everyone was there. As I came up to him, he passed me the list of names, and then said "Oh, by the way - you're going to be a Unit Leader this year."
My response to this was: "Ah. Right."
Basically, I got a promotion in everything but money. I was in charge of around 10 to 20 kids, and four to six staff (Although one week there were ten staff. Crazy). There were four ULs in Boys' Camp (although one of them got fired the day before the kids arrived), and four in Girls' Camp; and between the eight of us (seven after the training week), we managed the everyday operation of the camp.
The kids this year were, on the whole, pretty good kids. I did have the unfortunate reputation of being the only UL to send kids home (one after only forty minutes at camp), but at least none of my kids got arrested for aggravated assault, unlike one of the other ULs. Another good thing was that this year, no-one tried to sue me, which was nice.
On the downside, however, I did quite seriously damage the muscles in my back around my lung. That hurts. On the other hand, I'm on enough painkillers that I wouldn't know. :D
In summation, then, I had an awfully large amount of fun this summer. I'm pretty sure that I'm going back next year as well. Right now, I'm camped out in my Aunt's basement for a week. Next Wednesday I fly out to Chicago, and then take the shuttlebus to Urbana, where I shall start the next stage of my exciting adventure.
That's going to the University of Illinois, in case you hadn't worked that one out.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
So, it's been a while.
Camp is now done. And it was officially awesome.
We finally got to America, after a series of farcical cock-ups. First the airline lost my reservation, then they found it, but couldn't confirm it, and then the check-in lady at Glasgow just gave up and decided to let the people in Heathrow fix it. I had a pretty low opinion of her by this point, but that plummeted after the following conversation:
Me: Could I have my passport back?
Her: I gave it to you.
Me: No, you didn't.
Her: Yes, I did.
Me: I don''t think so. [checks pockets, and asks travelling companions] No, I'm sorry, you definitely still have it.
Her: [v. sarcastically] Oh, well maybe I'll just check under my seat then. [she does so. she finds it] Oh.
I mean, really.
When we got to Heathrow, through a series of more screw-ups, I ended up havinig to completely check-in again, and go back through Security. This could have taken about an hour, but I managed to blag my way into the Speedy Check-In, cutting out 90% of the queue. Nice.
Still, it could have been worse - the lady at Glasgow managed to actually cancel my friend Clare's reservation from Heathrow to Newark.
I think the moral of this story is clear - never, ever fly BMi Baby.
When we finally did get to America, the fun hadn't yet finished. They nearly had to divert us to JFK because of a bomb threat, and then when we finally did land, the man at immigration managed to stamp the wrong visa on my passport. Idiot.
Roger, of course, managed to get himself left at the airport, after forgetting to fill in a form at customs. Using his traditional flukey luck, however, he somehow managed to get picked up by the Camp Director of a different camp, who gave him a lift to the hotel we were staying at, so he arrived before us. Crazy.
Anyway, I have to go to the beach now, so I shall update you on what happened next at a later date. Suffice to say, with me and Roger involved, it was just a little bit farcical.