Cambridge, Day 2

The next day, my friend had to go to class for a few hours in the morning, so I explored Cambridge by myself, wandering around and stopping at anything that looked interesting. I wandered through countless narrow streets and broad thoroughfares, admiring the architecture and wondering at the history that surrounded me.

Once my friend finished class, we met up for lunch and then headed to the Fitzwilliam Museum, the main art and antiquities museum in Cambridge.

The Fitzwilliam Museum

Traveling across Britain and Cambridge, Day 1

On Monday morning, we all took the train back to Oxford. We had opted for the faster, comfier way to return, even though it was more expensive, since we all needed to work on our essays and didn’t want to be exhausted from an overnight bus ride. I think I’ve decided that riding the train is my favorite way to travel. I enjoy being able to see the countryside, which makes it preferable to planes, and I find trains to be much smoother and comfier than buses or cars. On this train ride, I reveled in seeing so much of the Scottish and English countryside: the rolling hills, the craggy coast, the sea that spread for miles to the horizon, the quaint farmhouses, and the adorable sheep that dotted the pastures.

The rest of the day after the train ride, I mainly worked on my essay, trying to finish as much of it as I could. I planned to leave around lunchtime on Tuesday to head to Cambridge, returning Wednesday evening, and my essay was due Thursday morning. Thankfully, the ideas flowed more quickly than usual, and I was able to finish almost my entire essay by midday on Tuesday. Around noon, I packed a day’s worth of clothes and belongings into my backpack and headed off to the Oxford bus station to catch my coach to Cambridge. I planned to visit a friend who was living and studying in Cambridge and had offered to host me for the night and show me around the city.

Tuesday was one of the few hot days that England had this summer, with temperatures that reached the mid nineties. The second bus I rode had no air conditioning, so the journey was sweltering. However, I got a seat at the front of the second level of the double-decker bus–what an experience! I felt as though I was on top of the world. Seeing it from the driver’s perspective, I was even more amazed at his skill in navigating the narrow, winding streets and busy traffic in that gargantuan vehicle. Having the opportunity to ride in that position made up for the heat.

When I arrived in Cambridge, my friend greeted me at the bus station, and we headed to a park to relax while waiting for her friend to join us. After her friend came, the three of us walked to downtown Cambridge to do a bit of touring before dinner.

Cambridge, as my professor later said, seemed in many ways like Oxford’s fraternal twin. Much of the architecture of the colleges and cathedrals seemed similar, and both towns have a similar atmosphere of cozy college town plus tourist destination.

We stopped for dinner at a classic English pub along the river Cam. The food was delicious and refreshing; it was a perfect end to a first day in Cambridge.

Exploring Edinburgh

On Sunday, my friends and I spent a full day wandering around Edinburgh and enjoying the city. In the morning, several of us went to church at Greyfriars Kirk, a historic church in downtown Edinburgh. The service was beautiful and reverent. I enjoyed experiencing a more liturgical service than I normally attend, and I found the hymns and shared readings to be edifying and beautiful.

Greyfriars Kirk (photo credits: https://binged.it/2Zl7wJn)

After church, I spent the rest of the day wandering around Edinburgh, visiting tourist shops, bookstores, and museums. I fell in love with a bookstore called “Armchair Books” and barely escaped with fewer than five books. The store’s shelves are stuffed from floor to ceiling with countless books, some modern and some as old as 1840. The description online captures the spirit of the store well: “Armchair Books is staffed by Edinburgh’s finest book people who brave the shop’s untraceable noises and unique microclimate to help you find ‘that blue book with the gold writing on the spine, possibly a drawing of an elephant or a tornado on the cover’.” All of the books are pre-owned, so all are relatively inexpensive. I found four books, including a beautiful hardback edition of all of John Milton’s poetry, for less than ten pounds.

Later in the afternoon, I visited the National Museum of Scotland. Before this summer, I had never found museums to be that interesting. My only memories of them were from school field trips in elementary and middle school, and I remember being terribly bored as I was dragged through exhibit after exhibit. However, the museums I visited this summer changed my mind. The National Museum of Scotland in particular was fascinating. It contains exhibits on Scottish history and culture, science and technology, natural history, and world cultures. It’s the kind of museum that you could spend a week exploring and still have more to see when you’re finished. I only had an hour or so to explore before it closed at 5pm, and I wished I had had twenty more.

While walking the streets of Edinburgh later, I came upon a truck that cracked me up because it looked like it had jumped straight out of Texas. It was hilarious how out of place it looked on the narrow streets of Edinburgh.

In the evening, my friends and I ate dinner at a classic Scottish pub, enjoying the last moments of our time together in Scotland. It rained lightly as we made our way back to our Air Bnb, which fit our gloomy mood of knowing we had to leave Scotland in the morning.

Loch Lomond

Our second day in Scotland, a group of us took an early train out of Edinburgh to Loch Lomond National Park. Loch Lomond is a gorgeous freshwater lake north of Glasgow. It’s also the subject of a popular Scottish song, “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond”, which we had been listening to repeatedly since before coming to England. (Peter Hollens and David Archuleta do an incredible version of the song if you want to listen to it.) Our train arrived in Balloch, the town at the southernmost point of the lake, in the mid-morning. Balloch felt small and charming, and the women in the Tourist Information Center gave us helpful advice about how best to get to Drymen, where we wanted to begin our hike. Before heading to Drymen, we walked along the southern shore of Loch Lomond.

The view from the bonnie southern bank o’ Loch Lomond

We took a couple of taxis from Balloch to Drymen. My taxi driver was a friendly native of Balloch, and his accent was wonderfully strong. I enjoyed listening to him talk so much that it was momentarily disappointing when we arrived in Drymen.

Once in Drymen, we set off on our planned hike, a seven mile portion of the West Highland Way that took us through the national park to Loch Lomond, ending in Balmaha. The lady in the Tourist Office in Balloch had told us that the views were incredible along the whole hike, and she wasn’t exaggerating.

The weather for the hike was perfect, and the views were breathtaking. At the summit overlooking the lake, we listened to “Loch Lomond” the song, with the wind whistling around us and the lake spread out in all its glory below us. The whole experience was unforgettable.

First Day in Scotland

Like I mentioned in the last post, my classmates and I took an overnight coach on Thursday night from London to Edinburgh, Scotland. We chose an overnight coach to save both time and money, since coaches are the cheapest travel option and we planned to sleep on the way. I can’t say sleeping on a bus is a restful, refreshing experience, but it was worth it. We arrived in Edinburgh at 6:30am, an hour an a half earlier than we expected. All of us were groggy and rumpled but thrilled to be in Scotland. We met up with a classmate who had opted to take the train and then set off in search of coffee and breakfast. It felt surreal to be wandering the cobblestone streets of Edinburgh at 7am. The city had not yet fully awoken, so an atmosphere of quiet sleepiness pervaded everything. In the distance, we could catch glimpses of the sea, shimmering in the morning light.

We realized that most coffee shops and breakfast places opened at 8am, so we wandered around the streets for a bit before settling down at some tables outside a coffee shop to wait till 8. Around 8, a group of us headed up the street to search for food while the others got their coffee. We found Southern Cross Café and had a delicious Scottish breakfast. I tried a friend’s haggis and black pudding, neither of which was terrible but neither of which was delicious, either. (And I have purposely avoided looking up what they’re made of.)

We couldn’t check into our Air BnB until around 3 in the afternoon, so after breakfast, we set off to explore the city. All of us were tired and carrying all of our luggage, so the walk wasn’t as enjoyable as it could have been had we been rested and luggage-less. However, we still enjoyed ourselves walking the Royal Mile (the main thoroughfare through Old Town in Edinburgh), appreciating the beautiful Scottish architecture, and poking our heads into the countless shops.

Our walk took us to Holyrood Palace, the official residence of Queen Elizabeth in Scotland. We didn’t tour the inside of the Palace, but we admired it from the outside.

We relaxed in a park outside of the palace for a while, giving our shoulders a break from our backpacks and waiting for Ashley, the last member of our group who also had opted to travel by train, to arrive. When she arrived, we decided to hike to Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park. Holyrood Park is a 650-acre public park right next to Holyrood Palace. It has an array of trails that ascend its hills and cliffs, and it gives hikers incredible views of the city of Edinburgh. Arthur’s Seat is the highest point in the park and in all of Edinburgh. I was thrilled to do the hike because, though I like cities, I prefer the countryside, and hiking Holyrood Park felt as though I had entered the Scottish Highlands.

The incredible view of Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat

After finishing the hike, we ate a late lunch at a classic Scottish pub and headed to our Air BnB. All of us were exhausted, so we relaxed for most of the afternoon in our Air BnB, resting for the adventures coming the next day.

ESL Presentation Rubric (3)

Many general English classes, especially ones that teach students academic English, require students to give an oral presentation at some point, meaning the English teacher would then need to have a rubric to assess said presentation.  One presentation rubric can be found by following the link here.  This rubric has nine categories for assessing a presentation and a four point scale for each category, with 4 being the highest number of points a student can achieve and one being the lowest.  The first category in the rubric is “understanding of audience”, and in order to get four points the student must know who their target audience is and use the appropriate vocabulary, tone, and language, as well as anticipate questions that may come up during the presentation and address them appropriately.  The second category is body language and requires students to utilize appropriate body language, including eye contact and gestures, in order to achieve full points.  Next is a pronunciation category, which asks that students use the correct stress and intonation with very few errors, followed by a content category, which requires students to have clear and purposeful content along with a variety of supporting details in order to get four points.  The visual props category grades students on the effectiveness of their photos and slides, and the fluency category requires the student to be in control of the presentation and be able to speak clearly without too much reading directly from prepared notes.  The grammar and structure category requires good grammar and sentence structure with a few small mistakes allowed, and the linking language category requires “varied and generous” use of linking language throughout the presentation.  The last category is the interaction with audience category, which requires the student to solicit questions from the audience and respond appropriately.

One thing that I like about this rubric is that it does have a lot of individual categories that really break down the different aspects of giving a presentation.  With nine total categories, the student can see exactly how they are doing with regards to specific aspects of giving a presentation, which is better than simply receiving a set number grade as their only response.  As stated in the chapter “Assessment in Second Language Classrooms” by Anne Katz (2014), analytic rubrics such as this one are useful tools because they allow students to see where their strengths lie as well as where they need work, and in this way they can serve as very useful feedback that will help the student to improve.  I also like this rubric because the categories cover a wide variety of the micro- and macro-skills that Brown discusses in the “Assessing Speaking” chapter of the textbook Language Assessment: Principles and Classroom Practices.  Giving an extended presentation is a very complex task, and so it can be useful to help students practice a wide variety of skills, all of which are represented by the rubric.  These include the macro-skill “convey facial features, kinesics, body language, and other nonverbal cues along with verbal language”, which is represented in the body language category of the rubric, and the micro-skill “produce English stress patterns, words in stressed and unstressed positions, rhythmic structure, and intonation contours”, which is represented in the pronunciation category of the rubric.

I would use this rubric in an intermediate or advanced classroom for students who are learning either academic or business English.  The rubric is specific towards assessing presentations, but is also able to be adapted easily for different content, audiences, and grammar structures being taught, and so could easily be used to judge either academic-styled presentation or business-styled presentations.  As with all rubrics, I would need to explain the rubric in detail to the class before implementing it, as that is necessary for it to be the most clear and helpful to the students (De Silva).  The only part of the rubric that I would adapt would be to remove the language “anticipates probable questions and addresses these during the course of the presentation” from the understanding of audience category, as I feel that that is already being tested for in the interaction with audience category.  That way, those two categories are clearer and more distinct.

Works Cited:

Brown, H. Douglas, and Priyanvada Abeywickrama. Language Assessment: Principles and Classroom Practices. Pearson Education, Inc., 2019.

De Silva, Radhika. “Rubrics for Assessment: Their Effects on ESL Students’ Authentic Task Performance”.  Open University of Sri Lanka, 136-14

Katz, Anne. “Assessment in Second Language Classrooms.” Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language, by Marianne Celce-Murcia et al., National Geographic Learning, Heinle Cengage Learning, 2014, pp. 320–321.

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Thursday in London

It has been a long time since I last posted! Exciting travels and the last few days of my time in Oxford have kept me busy recently, but now I’m excited to share some of those travels here. I’ll start from where I left off, namely last Thursday, when my class headed to London for the day. We took a morning coach to London, and, after a short walk and a couple mishaps navigating the subway system, we arrived at the Charles Dickens Museum. The museum is Dickens’ former home, located at 48 Doughty Street.

The home is decorated and arranged how Dickens would have kept it when he lived there. I found it interesting to wander through his dining room, living room, bedroom, kitchen, and more and imagine the memories and experiences he had in those same rooms.

Visiting the museum helped me see Dickens as a real, more relatable and understandable person instead of a legendary literary giant. I also found it interesting to tour a Victorian home and see the space that shaped their everyday life. One humorous fact that we learned is that Victorian housekeepers sometimes kept hedgehogs in kitchens to eat beetles and other insects. Who needs a vacuum when you have a hedgehog?

After visiting the museum, my classmates and I set off to explore London. This was my first time to visit London (excluding the airport and bus station), and it felt surreal to be wandering the streets where, as one classmate put it, “half of history happened.” She was obviously exaggerating, but the sentiment rang true. In the Anglophone world, London has been the central hub of history and activity for centuries; so much of what I’ve studied in history and literature has been centered in or somehow related to London. The weather was surprisingly nice — surprising at least to me, who always imagined London as a cold, rainy, dreary city. Apparently even London has beautiful days.

The pictures above show the main sites we visited: we walked along the Thames and saw the London Eye (the giant Ferris wheel); passed by Big Ben, which was completely covered in scaffolding; walked around Westminster Abbey, which was magnificent; visited Trafalgar Square and took pictures with the lions; and walked to Buckingham Palace, where we saw the famous guards in their bright red uniforms. We also spent a good amount of time relaxing in St. James’ Park, since all of us were carrying heavy backpacks full of all the belongings we needed for our upcoming four day trip to Edinburgh. At the end of the day, we stopped for dinner near Victoria Coach Station, where we then caught our overnight bus to Edinburgh. And thus the Edinburgh adventure began, but that’s a story for future posts…

Trip to ARoS Art Museum

During the first term of the summer university there was a trip to the art museum of Aarhus. This museum has a mix of modern and traditional danish art. It also has art from all over the world. My favorite part of the museum was the bottom level with the Far from Home exhibition as well as the top rainbow room.

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Class in Aarhus

This summer I studied in Aarhus, Denmark for six weeks. I took a class on Understanding European Union Politics which was very beneficial since I have never studied the European Union. This class helped me understand the 2015 migration crisis and the current hot topic,  Brexit. It was an amazing experience to attend class at a beautiful university with great people.  

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Meet Crete: The Amazing Greek Island

I began my summer study abroad adventures with a short vacation on the island of Crete, where I stayed in the home of a friend for five days. The house belongs to her family and is nestled in the small coastal town of Kondomari. Every night I fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing on the shore, only to be awoken very early in the morning by a chorus of roosters crowing on cue as daylight broke. The entire island was extremely charming – beautiful beaches lined the coast, and anywhere we went we were never more than a short drive away from the sea. I learned quickly that the Mediterranean sun is not to be trifled with; several days of lounging on the beach and walking around during the daytime left me with burns suitable for an unsuspecting foreigner. I managed to pick up a few Greek words and phrases during my time there, and toward the end of the trip my friend wrote out the full the Greek alphabet for me to study. I was eager to apply my new knowledge to reading the street signs and store names that we passed.

After hiking the longest gorge in Europe (the Samaria), swimming in the Libyan sea, experiencing the pink sand of Falasarna beach, and eating my weight in delicious Greek delicacies, I am off to the next part of my journey. Thanks for the most incredible vacation, Greece. Israel, here I come!

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