Bournemouth and what followed

Dear friends,

I hope you all are reading this in good times. I am finally moved into my new home, which is housed in Notting Hill, a little west of central London. I do have a decent commute to classes (about a half an hour on average), but I should be getting used to the commute, as I was incredibly used to the daily commute from north to central campus back at U-M.

Considering my last update was about Oxford, I’ll keep going with the city-per-post feel, and talk a little bit about Bournemouth. One of my hostel roommates, named “Ivgeny (not sure how to actually spell this)”, talked about how Bournemouth really didn’t seem like a town in England. Having come from Oxford, I did really connect to this comment. Oxford was beautiful in its own way, with forests and pastures of green, and animals grazing in fields housed in differed colleges. I saw reindeer, squirrels, cows… What I saw in Oxford, and what I saw on my way to Oxford, were what I would believe to be “the traditional English countryside.” Included are a few pictures of these notions:

However, Ivgeny (just going to stick with this spelling) talked about seeing palm trees in Bournemouth. I wasn’t aware of this at first, but there they were when I went down to the beach! This town was vastly different than the Oxford-English countryside that I encountered the other day, yet it was still very English in its own way. Despite how different Bournemouth felt, I still got to experience this town in all of its glory, especially through the beach. Most of my time was spent there, only because I knew that my time in the city would keep me from the sea for a good while.

So the first thing I did was go for a run on the beach. However as soon as I made the decision to go for a run, I opened my suitcase and realized that I had managed to forget my running shorts. (Once I make the decision to run, usually nothing will stop me at that point.) I did remember to pack my swimsuit, though! Accordingly, I thought I would manage and take a run in my suit. It was a run on the beach, after all.

While running, I was thinking about how fun it would be to get a picture or a short video of me running along this pretty picturesque beach, with steep cliffs to the north and a deep blue ocean to the right. Considering that I can’t have myself taking the picture of a second “me” running, I waited for the right person to stop and ask for the favor of taking my picture. This subject happened to be a short little Irish woman, looking as if she was on her way home from work. I asked her to take a few pictures of me with the sea and the cliffs in the background, and after a few seconds of smiling I was met with “I’m not sure it’s working!” So I walked up to check and see how she was handling the phone, and she truly did know how to work the camera, because I found these pictures a little later:

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Indeed, the camera was working. I shared these photos on Instagram, because they oddly looked like a selfie, only to reveal that they were taken by a very unsuspected photographer. I loved how she described her relationship with cell phones: “I’m a bit of a jinx with these things, you know.” Alas, little by little, I am experiencing UK culture as each day passes.

My next day in Bournemouth was spent with a morning of sleeping in, only waking up to the sound of someone rubbing the wall of our dorm with a paper towel. I was very intrigued by this sound, as they usually don’t list “scrubbing-wall-with-paper-towel” in the most common alarm clock apps. Only did I find out that our roommate had come back having had a little too much to drink the previous night. Despite his embarrassment, we (Ivgeny and I) managed to help him feel a bit more comfortable with his involuntary (but necessary) bodily functions. (As an aside, it is not uncommon for the English to speak freely about their nights out or about their levels of alcohol intake, while in the U.S. this topic is seldom discussed with ease.)

I managed to spend the entire morning after breakfast on the beach reading, but not until I had the time to sit down in a park that was adjacent to a retiree complex. This is important to note because I shared my park bench with a man who greeted me with a “morning” but nothing else – we both sat on the bench in silence, enjoying the day. Perhaps this was another bit of English culture (reserved, stoic, as some may think), but as I write this, I wouldn’t doubt this happening in the U.S. either.

To top my day off, I went on a little mecca to a locally-renowned fish n chips place in Westbourne, call Chez Freds. I will tell you, the 30-minute walk it took to get there, the twenty-minute wait, and the walk back while eating said fish n chips, was worth every second of my time. If you’re ever in Bournemouth, this is the place to go for a proper fish n chips!

I’m a bit tired at the moment, so I’m going to sign off – I have an early morning tomorrow to go test out a bike from a guy I found on Gumtree, the UK’s version of craigslist. Hopefully the bike works, and if it does, expect a post and a new name for the bike soon! (Yes, I prefer to name my bike = my commuter back home is named Sebastian.)

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What goes on in Iceland… gets shared in a blog!

Hello friends!

I’m writing to you from a small little Turkish café in Kensington, about a 10-minute walk from my current hostel. Just some travel updates – my lease doesn’t start until the 16th of September, so I’m basically forced to do some traveling around the UK in the meantime! It’s hard not necessarily knowing what I’m going to do each day, but the general plan is to go to Bath on Tuesday, Oxford on Wednesday, and Cambridge (or back to London) on Thursday. Saturday is when I move in.

I flew out of Chicago around 8:00 PM Friday night, and factoring in about a six-hour flight, I was able to fly in to the sun rising over Iceland. I have no pictures, so maybe a short description can do it justice. The island had this pillowy fog settling in on certain areas, where others came the steam from natural geysers. Patches of black rock contrasted the cream-like fog, and the stretches of green grass were a perfect intermediary color between the two opposite shades of the fog and the rocks. Iceland seemed so crisp and vacant, where the vacancy of humans created all the more space for nature to show itself.

Upon leaving the airport in the shuttle to get my rental car, I noticed a few sculptures that resembled the nature around them. One was a depiction of men and women in a wind-like form, giving the impression that they were together as one with the wind. (As an aside, it gets *really* windy there, and the wind chilled me more than I was expecting. Nothing a good outer jacket and scarf couldn’t solve!) This kind of embodied what I gathered from my many interactions with Icelanders – they had this great respect for the nature around them, and truly integrated the nature in with themselves. Even in the process of renting a car, the renter basically gave me the impression that some damages happen due to strong winds, random rocks, and other forces of nature… in other words, these damages were ones that I couldn’t possibly control.

This reminded me of a time when I went swimming in the Caribbean Sea off the southern coast of the Dominican Republic. We would venture out about eight feet into the ocean only to get slammed by the incoming waves. My body would be taken up and thrown against the tiny round pebbles comprising the shore. This lack of control was fairly comforting, because I was able to let all control go and succumb to the powerful force that the ocean is.

Taking a slight interlude, here’s a picture of my little sport that I rented. There were a few times when I thought I’d get stranded (funny noises, forgetting to have the clutch in when starting the car…), but Martin (see note in following paragraph) pushed through!

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This respect for the ocean was translated into a general respect for mountains and the other natural beauties I experienced in Iceland. Following this paragraph, I’m going to take you on the journey (remembered to the best by my sleep-deprived mind) that I took after leaving Keflavik with my trusty steed. (I felt like calling it Martin, for some reason.)

First up was my drive to Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland. I almost stalled my car upon leaving Keflavik, only because the “driving a manual transmission” muscle memory was buried in my “high school memories” repository. My time in Reykjavik would be used to find coffee (that for which I was in a dire state of need), and some sustenance that would last me my entire day.

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Fun fact, eating out in Iceland is incredibly expensive.

Why is this so? Quora.com says this…

  • Climate and farming regulation
    • I was wondering why this was and my first thought was that due to Iceland’s climate, they might have to import many of their goods that they use in their meals. However, a quick Google search tells me that importing many products that can be locally grown is forbidden by the Icelandic government. So wouldn’t that make things cheaper? Not quite – it seems that keeping up a farm in Iceland costs about twice as much there than it does in more temperate climates.
  • Labor comes at a high cost in Iceland
    • Apparently there are a lot of extra costs for labor, like mandatory overhead fees, a high income tax, and full paid parental leave.
  • Foods that are imported are expensive
    • Pretty self-explanatory!

I did, however, manage to spend about 800 krona (about 8 dollars) on “exercise bread” (bread full of oats and fiber), a granola bar, water bottle, and two bananas. So my guess is that when you factor in labor from someone serving you as well as the time and resources it takes to cook and prepare food, perhaps that is what contributes to the expense of eating out in Iceland.

Back to the course, though! After getting some coffee, I walked back to where I parked my car and stumbled upon this seaside park. I loved the sculpture – it reminded me of the deep connection with nature Icelanders seem to have, including with the sea!

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From Reykjavik, I began my journey along what is called the Golden Circle, a pathway in southwestern Iceland with many natural wonders unique to Iceland, like different geysers, nature reserves, lakes, and mountains. Not having done my recommended amount of Icelandic homework on the Golden Circle, I decided to basically go where I saw other people going. The route is mainly a highway with various areas were you can pull of and get out to take pictures, hike, or do what you please. So when I saw a bank of cars, I stopped! Simple as that. I told myself that I would take as much time as needed at each stop, and I would feel ready to go when it was time to go.

To spare you the extra reading, I’ll add each photo with a little caption.

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The first stop – a small little creek (or river?) with farms in the distance. An english dad almost fell into the river right before I took this photo! But he was okay…

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Second stop – this was the west side of a big lake that the Golden Circle crests.

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Similarly, on the second stop!

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Third stop – a national park of Iceland! This is presumed to be the first site of where Icelanders held their meetings discussing law and politics. It seems as though this park in general was wrought with political contention and was the site where laws were practiced and enacted (i.e. with their form of capital punishment).

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Third stop – see comment above!

 

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Also in the third stop!

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Icelandic horses!

These next banks of pictures were (in my mind) a bit excessive to add into the post one-by-one, so take the time to click through them!

 

 

 

One final picture, and it had to be an iPhone panorama…

 

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A panorama still can’t do Iceland the justice it deserves…

Lastly, while I was driving back, my path was slowed down by Icelandic lambs! I was going to upload a video, but alas, the site does not support videos. Find me in Facebook and you’ll be able to see a video of the lambs! Sorry mom, for taking the video whilst driving… I was going slow, and I just *had* to document the precious moment… Please excuse the moments when I had to shift while taking the video.

On my way back to Reykjavik, I ended up extending the path down to the south coast of the island. In a small town called Selfoss, I managed to find a very quaint coffee, books, and wifi joint. The place was absolutely adorable, and the woman who owned the place was spectacular and very relaxed. I made a new friend there, Lauren, who happened to also be from Michigan! An incredibly small world, truly. Shoutout to Lauren – she had just finished a 250 kilometer super-run with her dad in the northern part of Iceland. Incredible!

Upon ending, I’ll leave you with a selfie that I took in front of the national park’s welcome sign along with some coffee (truly amazing from this trip, and much-needed to stay awake and alive at the wheel) and a postcard that I got from the welcome center (coming at you, mom and dad!). It was hard to say goodbye to Iceland, but I feel as though I truly made the most of my 24 hours in that country. I stopped back in Reykjavik to the sculpture to give a sort of cyclical goodbye, and then returned to the airport.

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After a long night of (attempted) restless sleep in the airport, I did end up making it to London! Side note: my friends were not lying when they said that the Tube is really easy to operate. Here’s a teaser for my next post, my first meal in London!

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Meet Jeffrey!

Hello dear friends!

I am incredibly excited to be writing for all of you throughout the upcoming year as the current Roger M. Jones fellow. This post is currently being written from Chicago, my pre-departure city! Sadly, I had to leave my hometown (Midland, MI) behind yesterday with my life neatly packed away into two suitcases. I found it interesting, really, how much packing can teach about one’s personality, life, and habits.

Realizing that last sentence, I figured that this post could serve two purposes: 1. To get to know me, of course! 2. To learn a little bit about what a 22-year-old about to make a big life change and go overseas decides is important to keep in his life (at least materially). What’s even better is that through describing point 2, point 1 will undoubtedly be reached as well, because what we pack in our suitcases is so telling of who we are!

Onward, then… To keep things short and digest-able, I’ll share three items that I packed.

*First thing’s first*

– the U-M Engineering Alumni t-shirt –

Naturally, anyone who has been awarded this fellowship has an undergraduate degree in engineering, but why did I study engineering? In short, I chose biomedical engineering for multiple reasons, many having changed and many having remained the same since I started four years ago at U-M. One reasoning upon entering: I wanted to have a major that would guide me towards medicine and health but wouldn’t necessarily pigeonhole me into one field – engineering would give me options, and biomedical engineering was the most interesting to me. One reasoning upon leaving: Biomedical engineering, as an inherently interdisciplinary field, has taught me how to learn quickly and deeply about any topic I face. I have learned that the engineering approach can be applied to problems that are not founded necessarily in engineering (i.e. in public policy or public health). The bottom line regarding the t-shirt is that I couldn’t help but keep a little reminder of why I’m here to study the PPE of Health at University College London.

*Did someone hear some music off in the distance?*

– the alto saxophone and mini MIDI keyboard –

Equally important to my life as my major was my minor – music. Originally upon entering the U, I was enrolled in the School of Music and the College of Engineering as a dual-degree seeking student, in classical saxophone performance and engineering. However, I decided that I didn’t want to spend an extra year (at minimum) slaving over my degrees and not experiencing much of an extra-curricular life. Whether or not that assumption was true, I ended up switching to a music minor and focusing more on jazz and composition. I took with me two pieces of music: the Glazunov Saxophone Concerto and the Fuzzy Bird Sonata. The first piece is one of my favorite (albeit slightly cliché) pieces of classical music to play, and the second is a uniquely difficult piece of contemporary saxophone music that I still have yet to master. Despite what kind of music I decide to bring to or play in London, you will surely be hearing of where I play, what I listen to, and what I write. Usually when I experience something that truly highlights the human condition, I like to channel any feelings I experience into composing some music (usually with the MIDI keyboard). I’ve been told that the music scene (especially jazz) in London is wild, so fingers crossed for some original jazz and other musical experiences!

*Did someone say tea?*

– the coffee brewing equipment –

Anyone who has seen my Instagram profile (subtitled “barista for the masses”) knows of my fondness for coffee. (Stay tuned for my thoughts on tea as I spend more time in the UK.) I have worked as a barista in the specialty coffee industry for two years and three months, and only recently did I have to reluctantly put in my final two weeks at Black Diesel Coffee in Ann Arbor, MI.  Surely, a future blog post will be dedicated to the coffee scene in London, so I won’t bore you with too much coffee-speak. I see coffee in my life as spurring community gathering, connection between people, and communication between global stakeholders. Coffee is not just a drink for me, rather it is this beautiful, naturally-occurring enigma that has the potential to light up one’s eyes and mind with each drink that is created. Speaking outside of the drink itself, my experience working with people (customers and coworkers alike), has been nothing short of outstanding. I have met some of my closest friends over coffee, and the drink (in my mind) undoubtedly had something to do with this connection.

As I look to the bottom of the page here, it seems that I have managed to type about 800 words at this point, so I had better wrap up this intro. In five short sentences, I will give a flash of other parts of my life, and then conclude with a sort of “send off” for the rest of the blog. Here goes…

I love running and cycling, and enjoy keeping physically fit. Reading is an ultimate pleasure for me (see, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, David Foster Wallace, John Irving, Norton Juster, and T.S. Eliot). I consider myself a part of the amusingly fun group of cyclists classified under “fixie riders”. I have an amateur fascination with religion, theology, and spirituality, much of which has manifested through (but is not by any means limited to) the Jesuit order within the Catholic church. I might still want to go to medical school, but possibly go into doctoral work in the social sciences (and possibly combine the two). My time working in Haiti and the Dominican Republic with public health and policy matters has in-part spurred my reasoning behind applying for this fellowship.

In conclusion, I will leave you with some paraphrased words of what I said at the end of my interview for this fellowship. This transition in to the humanities is not a diversion, not a side-path in my life, but a necessary and logical step. It makes sense for me to go study philosophy, so I have the mental rigor to process situations in public health, similar to the healthcare inequities that I experienced in Haiti and the DR.

From Ann Arbor to London, I cannot wait to be an ambassador for U-M’s College of Engineering at University College London. Here’s to the experience of a lifetime (and being able to document this time for all of you).

Next stop, Iceland! (Cliffhanger for the next post).

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