Saturday, February 09, 2008

Places in Time I

So this a new experimental series I am trying to start on places of significance to me. Not sure how interesting it will be or how long it will run, but here goes.

Between graduating high school and starting college I spent a year at an English boarding school in Brighton conveniently titled Brighton College. Oddly, my going was entirely self inflicted and did not involve any action on my part that horribly embarrassed my family and required me being shipped far away to learn some discipline before I could be trusted enough to go to college. No, instead I chose myself to apply to the English Speaking Union's secondary school exchange program and ended up being selected which provided me with a free year's worth of study and room and board at an English public school (the public schools in England having been the first and oldest and hence the term reffering to elitish private schools rather than schools that are actually open to everyone as it does in the US). Anyway, this was all very funny for the English because when they take a gap year, they tend to go to warm places with plenty of beach and do things that pass as community service, where I had chosen to go somewhere damp and of limited beaches to sit their exams.

On the whole I am not sure the year was a good one. It was one of a lot of growth and I wouldn't undo it for the world, but it was certainly a challenging one and I must admit that by in large I do find people from the south-east of England a bit hard to get on with if only for all of their indirectness. During that year however, I did have a fantastic opportunity to dive in German and theater to an extend I had never been able to before and it was then that I began to travel for the first time as well (quick list of countries visited: Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, France, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Norway, Latvia, and Estonia). It was also during that year that I had my first exposure to the EU and European politics, and ironically, because of my interests and love of continental Europe I was considered a European by or at least as some sort of expert by some of my classmates.

Perhaps the hardest barrier I experienced when in England though was the drinking culture. I am not much of a drinker and never have been. Coming straight out of a Christian school that openly preached the evils of any sort of alcohol and then going to England, however, was still more than a bit of a culture shock. Still there were elements I liked, English pubs are lovely and there is certainly always something to be said of buying a good friend a pint. Binge drinking is something, however, I am none to fond of and that was a feeling augmented at the few parties I went to when intoxicated people would come up to me and tell me what exactly they thought the problems were with America's foreign policy and how I was personally responsible (bit of a theme in my travels actually).

But back to the place. Brighton is lovely. One of the warmest places in England (i.e. not that warm and still a bit chilly and windy most of the time) and an old bathing town with some beautiful architecture and some hideous projects from the 60s and 70s mixed in. The beach is mainly for show as the water as both too cold and too rough for swimming. There is a great theater scene, loads of young artsy types, lots of cool shops (good comic book shop as well), and a giant clubbing scene I never took or wanted to take advantage of (partially because I had a 10 0'clocl curfew, we actually had role in the morning and evening, I remember there being a large bingo hall next door that was all jazzed up and which I thought was a movie theater, but was not). Brighton was my first city, not a big one (about 170,000 is memory serves), but is was the first one I had lived in and the first one I was really comfortable in. I grew a tremendous amount in Brighton, it was my first real slice of independence (my parents never even having been to the UK at that point) and taught me to balance things I didn't like (being forced to take more exams and in less time than other students because for some reason they though I would bring the school average up) with things I did (traveling, theater, public speaking [I made it to a semi-final!]).

I don't have many English friends from that time, though the few I do have mean an awful lot to me, on the whole my better friends were the other international students, in particular, and I know this will come as a huge surprise, the Eastern European students. To this day, I feel a particularly strong bond of loyalty to the other boys who were in my house (yes we had Harry Potter like houses) and with a school and host parents in the England whenever I go back it does have certain element of going home whenever I go to visit. And that is why Brighton is a place with a little extra bit of significance for me.

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