A lot can happen in a week to change your perspective on things. Last week was exceptionally tough and I seemed to suffer one disappointment after another. The walking to and from my digs had become an unmitigated horror and it wasn’t improved at the beginning of this week. I had told myself that I would take the bus for the week in order to save my legs a bit. This, however, did not entirely work out as the busses were rerouted on Monday, so I ended up walking halfway to lectures and I missed the bus on Tuesday requiring me to run to my lecture at Palace Green. I can only imagine how I must have looked to passing cars and pedestrians, as an out of breath crazy woman with my black coat flying out behind me like a cape.
But things got better. I attended my first meeting with the education group where we were presented with our project in more detail. We visited the Palace Green Library and met with the woman in charge of the education team. We toured the second floor exhibition space which would be housing artifacts from the University’s archaeological collection. It was a warm space, with a hard wood floor and high vaulted wooden ceiling. There were large windows covered with screens to prevent the sun’s damaging effects of delicate museum objects. Glass cases lined the outer walls and in the center were all manner of interactive displays and centers. The most eye catching thing was the story telling chair. It was designed by children to reflect the story of the Lindesfarne monks who carried St. Cuthbert’s body to Durham. It vaguely reminded me of something out of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. I liked it immediately.
After we perused the gallery, we all retired to a nearby conference room where we discussed our contribution to the project. There would be a section of Ancient Greek artifacts as part of the wider exhibition of the archaeological collection as a whole. We were to develop activities and interactives which would align with the National Curriculum for key stage 2 (children from 7 to 11 years old). We would develop activities and a teacher’s guide. As I sat there listening to the project scope, I couldn’t help but think this is what I used to do every day for four years. Now, perhaps it’s a bit of an exaggeration. I certainly wasn’t teaching my students about Ancient Greece, but I did need to develop activities that were engaging and fun but above all that were educational. I wrote lesson plans and did research for those plans. This wasn’t so different from that. Though I wouldn’t be adding to my marketability as a museum curator by being involved in this project, I certainly would be in my element.
As the discussion turned to the National Curriculum, I couldn’t help but laugh. It seems that even here in the UK, the schools are far from free of government interference. In fact, one of the main issues I had as an educator was interference from officials or administrators who had limited or no classroom experience whatsoever. These people would create mandates and dictate standards that had little to do with what was good for the students. It seems in the UK similar things are happening. In a way I almost felt a bit better knowing that American educators aren’t alone.
The day further improved when I had my second lecture. We were introduced to a new professor who was fresh out of the British Museum, was young and energetic, and very approachable. I had gotten to the room a little early with Sophie and some others and we passed the time by talking with him about our career goals. He was the first professor who seemed genuinely enthusiastic about my interest in modern collections and the exhibition of events and objects still within living memory. It was a boost of encouragement I desperately needed. Once the rest of the class arrived, he asked us to get in touch with him if we wanted some career advice. Later in the week I took a chance and emailed him about my fears of being pigeon holed as a museum educator. I asked where I might get exhibition experience and named two museums where I was interested in doing my placement. I got a response that same day. He said I was right to be concerned about being pegged as an educator but that I should look at my experience as an asset. He suggested we meet after next week’s lecture to talk about what I can do to get back on the career path I want. It’s difficult to explain how good it felt to have someone who confirmed how I was feeling and who was prepared to offer real help and real solutions. Suddenly, my panic from last week seemed so distant. It was irrelevant now. I would be able to find my way back.
Thursday morning, I awoke and grabbed my computer. I had gotten into the routine of checking my student email first thing. I groggily rubbed my eyes and put on my glasses. Then I saw it. It was an email from Sam who runs student accommodation for Ustinov College. I was nervous. It could be great news in that she had found me a room at the other location or it could be bad news that I would be banished to the hinterlands forevermore. I tentatively clicked on the email and to my continued nervousness it was cryptic. She asked if I could meet her sometime in the next few days. I replied that I could meet her after my lecture that same day.
All through my class I couldn’t really concentrate. I kept thinking about what kind of news I was going to get. It had been truly miserable walking again to class all week. I managed to leave myself plenty of time to get to lectures but that often resulted in me arriving thirty minutes early. I looked at this as a better alternative to being thirty minutes late. Finally, the two hours were up. I walked with Sophie back to Fisher House where the administrative offices are.
I knocked on Sam’s door and she smiled and waved me in. It was good news. No. It was the best news imaginable! Not only had she found me a room, she had found me another en suite so I wouldn’t have to worry about sharing a bathroom. It got better. I could move in immediately. I was ecstatic. I wouldn’t have to do that walk anymore. I wouldn’t have to pay £2 for the bus. My lectures would be twenty minutes away instead of forty or fifty and it wouldn’t be uphill both ways! (No I’m serious. I was walking two miles, in the bitter morning cold to get to class and it was uphill both ways! I will no longer hear that cliché story and laugh for I, my friends, have lived it.) But I wouldn’t be living it anymore. Sam had come through big time and I owed her big time.
I met Sophie in the café afterwards and showed her my new keys. I was grinning like an idiot. She was surprised and as elated as I was. We made plans to move things the next day.
I awoke Friday morning full of anticipation. I had begun packing a bit the night before. Packing was the bane of my existence, but I had to do it if I were to get anywhere. I began stacking my bags along the wall as I filled them up. Somehow, I must have accrued more things in the three weeks I had been in Durham than I realized. What had fit nicely into three large suitcases and two carry-ons no longer seemed to fit. It would take a few trips, even with Sophie helping to move everything.
I decided to take out my trash and on the way out I ran into Sam from the archaeology department who lived in the building across from me. She was returning from a run and she looked a bit winded. We spoke for a bit and she graciously offered to drive me down to Howlands with my first load of things. I was so grateful. If only I could move it all down in her car, but alas there wasn’t room and I hadn’t been able to pack everything yet. Instead I arrived with two suitcases and my laptop bag.
I unpacked the first wave of things and began sorting my items, desk things on the desk, clothes on the bed. Soon the cases were empty and I was ready for the next trip. I texted Sophie and we met at the café for a quick breakfast. Then we bought our all day ride passes for the bus and boarded with the empty suitcases in tow. Sophie had never been to my room and she was amazed by how far it was from everything. It seemed bleak and desolate to her. I agreed.
We packed another two suitcases full and each of us took a couple bags for good measure. We were back on the bus within half an hour riding back south. We got out to change buses in town and continued our journey. We repeated the trip another time. In total we took eight buses to move everything. The bus rides weren’t bad until the last one. We had been using the space normally reserved for wheelchairs since it was one of the only places that could fit the large bags were using. Two stops before we were to be done, a woman with a huge stroller and at least three children boarded the bus. We managed to cram ourselves into seats without annoying too many of the other passengers. I was glad we had made it in one piece.
Once the last of my belongings were safe in my new room, I began unpacking. Everything just seemed to fit better here. Even though it was smaller, the room was just…right. Things I hadn’t been able to find spaces for in my other room, easily fit here. And I had a much better view out of my window. Instead of looking out onto another building with a car park and playground in between, I look out on grass and landscaping. It’s a much calmer, more serene scene.
In the span of a week, my fortunes had changed dramatically. The education project which I thought had condemned me to a life of continued probing into curriculums was going to be something familiar that I knew I could handle and my new lecturer was going to help me find the type of placement and experience that would get me on the right career path. I had gone from living immeasurably far from my lectures and my friends to being right around the corner. I was finally beginning to feel at home. I could now turn my attention to the business of grad school and of actually living in the UK. I was home.