Obama approves Ohio corn

Original image source: reuters.com

INTERVIEW: Ohioan in Bristol

Interview: Lindsay Mickles

Bristol, UK, 2011

Written by Richard Kemp

In 2010, MA International Communications student Lindsey Mickles decided to up sticks and leave rural Cincinnati and continue her studies in the land of tea, biscuits, politeness, punctuality and the stiff upper lip: England.

Mickles started a Masters course at the University of Cincinnati, but soon realised that she was looking for something more specific. Her previous job experience had ignited a fascination with internal communications and diversity activities while also making her hungry to see more of the world. With this in mind, she enrolled at the University of the West of England in Bristol (UWE).

But why England? Why Bristol? The city certainly has its cultural pulls: located in the heart of the English south west, it is the birthplace of Hollywood star Cary Grant, Wallace & Gromit and many of the 20th Century’s most ground-breaking music artists (Portishead, Roni Size, Tricky and Massive Attack to name but a few) – not to mention being Britain’s Smiliest Place (there are t-shirts to prove it). However, Mickles’ reasons for choosing Bristol were far more straightforward. “I have a friend of mine from Oxford,” says Mickles. “He told me he’d done his undergrad at UWE and recommended Bristol, so everything just fell into place.”

Mickles stands next to the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol

One of the first differences Mickles had to contend with after moving to Bristol, apart from the Bristolian accent, which many confuse with a farmer on a caffeine high, was grocery shopping. “That was the first big difference: walking into a grocery store and not recognising any of the brands. You have a recipe, you think you know what you need and you go to the store, but it’s just not there or it’s called something else.”

The UK National Health Service (NHS) was something else for Mickles to get used to. While Tea Party members scream from the rooftops about the fallacies in Obamacare, Mickles has gained firsthand experience of the positive effects a health service can bring when it’s available to all. “I definitely support healthcare for everyone,” she explains. “I’ve only had minor illnesses while over here, but it’s been very easy to get in to see the doctor. It’s efficient service. I know, back in the States, sometimes I would have to wait 45 minutes to an hour after my set appointment time to see a doctor.”

The state of television in Britain was another new phenomenon for Mickles. Brits pay an annual TV license fee of £145.50 ($228.95), which keeps commercial-free programming, such as the BBC, alive. More intriguing though was the television “watershed”. Called the “safe harbor” in the States, the watershed is the time in British programming (between 9pm and 5:30am) when things of a more adult nature can be shown. This doesn’t mean an erotic free-for-all, more simply that parents are advised to send their children to bed at this point in the evening – or, at least cover their eyes and ears.  Mickles compares this to the US: “[In the States] they’re just starting to let a few [swear] words in. However, after nine o’clock, unless you’re watching HBO or Showtime, you would never hear certain words used. You would never see a certain degree of nudity,” she explains. “Although, violence is fine,” she adds laughing.

Mickles spends some quality time with good friends.

In addition to a surprisingly open view of what makes acceptable television programming, the British don’t seem to be as punctual as Mickles was expecting either. “I really haven’t noticed the strict adherence to punctuality. There seems to be a bit of give, which is surprising,” she comments. “It seems – at least in the company I worked with and in my family circle – that you show up exactly on time. If you need a service done, something fixed, you know, they give you a set time period and they show up. Here, it seems a bit more relaxed. If you show up five or ten minutes late, it’s not that big of a deal. Same with getting things fixed. It doesn’t bother me, it’s just different. I’m usually the person who has to be on time or five minutes early.”

Above all, the biggest difference Mickles has noticed while living in Bristol is the US and UK’s contrasting attitudes to university education. The learning style in the UK, Mickles feels, is far more student-led than that of the US. In UK universities, the teacher will give a foundation in class, but it will often be up to the students to do the necessary research on how to pass their exams. This style differs greatly from the US, Mickles says, who uses the direct comparison of having taken “Research Methods” in both Cincinnati and UWE. She found that passing requirements were much more spoon-fed to her in Cincinnati.

Apart from visiting family, friends and other important people, Mickles doesn’t plan on returning to Ohio any time soon. In fact, she has until May 2012 to hand in her Masters thesis at UWE. A self-confessed geek, Mickles is already considering another Masters in the UK after this one, eventually leading her to starting a PhD. Sticking around in the UK would also mean she gets to witness the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London.

Even with so much excitement yet to come, Mickles still misses certain things about home. If she could bring anything back from the US, it would be buffalo wings and ranch dressing – not forgetting, of course, family, friends and cat. For now, however, she is content just visiting every once in a while and further exploring the rich culture and history of the UK.

Article originally written in 2011 for the UWeekly.

El Viento Libre

The following is a tarea (piece of homework) I did for Spanish class while staying at San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala. Inspired by Jack Black’s perfomance as Nacho Libre, this piece uses the past subjunctive and conditional as its grammar focal point.


Había una vez, hace muchos años atrás, cuando los luchadores caminaban por todo el mundo. Andaban por todos los países haciendo luchas en las arenas, no por dinero ni por la fama pero por orgullo y su amor para luchar.

Un luchador en particular, el Viento Libre, había luchado en muchos partidos pero sin ganar.

“¿Por qué no puedo ganar solamente un partido? ¡Siempre pierdo! ¡Quiero conocer la gloria!”

El Viento Libre fue a su casa para acostarse después de otra perdida y, cuando se acostó, casi inmediatamente empezó a soñar. Soñaba en muchas cosas pero, cuando se despertó, se recordaba solo de un sueño.

– ¡Pues claro! – exclamó el Viento Libre – Si hubiera luchado así en el principio nadie me habría podido ganar.

Repentinamente, él salió de su cama, corrió a la arena más cerca de su casa y se inscribió en el próximo partido. Después de solo tres minutos, él ganó su primer partido.

– ¿Cómo es posible? – preguntó un miembro de la audiencia – Siempre pierde el Viento Libre. ¿Qué pasó con él?

Otro miembro de la audiencia dijo lo mismo. – ¿Qué? Si no hubiese traído mis lentes hoy habría pensado que ese fuera otro hombre. El Viento Libre no es fuerte, ni rápido tampoco. ¿Qué pasó?

Nadie sabía. Y el Viento Libre no lo iba a decir.

De repente, unos segundos después de la confusión, la gente empezó a gritar el nombre del Viento Libre – ¡Viento Libre! Viento Libre! ¡Ya no es pésimo. Es el máximo!

En su cama adormecido, esperando la noche y todavía llevando su traje de lucha de colores brillantes, el Viento Libre pensaba.

“Si yo no fuera tan fuerte habría llorado esta noche. Buenas noches, mundo…y gracias.”

TRAVEL BLOG: The Road to Cusco

Originally written on 11th February 2010:

I made it! After worries of stupidly forgetting my Yellow Fever documents and leaving them at home like a plum, I was a little nervous to be fair. However, short story even shorter (regardless of how horrendously long travelling by bus, collective taxi and bus again ended up being), I got here. I´m now sat in A Mi Manera; a restaurant well recommended by Footprint – a book which, after all the praising the BBC´s Michael Palin gave it (bearing in mind that the BBC own Lonely Planet), I now trust it more than any other guide.

In the restaurant was great peruvian(?) food and a soothing, yet powerful, pan pipe/spanish guitar/wooden bass box band. I now wonder how much the CD they tried to palm off afterwards would´ve cost. I ended up handing over four soles as a donation for their unexpected (and, to be honest, a little unwanted) performance. But, what if their CD only cost five? Laughing at this gringo all the way to the bank is what they would be doing. Well, at least someone won. I have a feeling it wasn´t me though.

Enough. Good food. Decent price. And, once the band arrived, an atmosphere emerged. However, it was only me and an old Brit couple to begin with, so I´m not sure how much atmosphere there was to muster up.

Either way, I´m in Cusco. Yay! So very close to Machu Picchu, but no closer to touching it than some lad up a tree in Churchdown. They do that sort of thing there. Probably…

Left the hostal early this morning – after a 10-hour sleep session and the hottest shower on this trip to date – to meet up with Jana and Zach in the centre and go to the Sacred Valley´s Urubamba (Jana´s village, where she works at an orphanage) with them for the weekend, joining in with the carnival activities by hitting 5-year-old children in the face with water bombs. I love the smell of children´s tears in the morning…

Make a quick change

Originally written on 22nd June 2010

I vacated the flat at around 1:07pm, leaving behind both a cute-but-ever-so-poorly princess led up in bed and, at least I thought, all the raucous noise from today’s celebrations for Chile’s win against Switzerland. I reached Universidad Católica underground station and stopped to drink in the happy mayhem brought by throngs of beflagged pedestrians taking over the main Alameda avenue just before giving a grateful cheerio to it all and hopping a train to Peñalolen. I stopped staring smugly at the fracas and skipped to the metro station but, alas, the bugger was closed.

For some reason fancying my chances more walking up the Alameda to the next station than simply crossing the swarming road and going to the open station there, I joined the army of Chileans by marching up the Alameda which seemed, by the fact that everyone’s heads were pointed towards me, to be completely the wrong direction. It was the direction I wanted, all right, but no one else was going that way. Subsequently, I fought and danced my way past sounding horns, bellowing packs of fans and the occasional street vendor.

It really is extraordinary how quickly these vendors change their stock focus to fit the moment. Only this morning, the same men and women who were palming off flags and hats at midday were selling thermal undies for the cold, harsh mornings. A week or so ago, on a another bitter cold morning, I had gone to work in my recently purchased anti-itch long johns and been met with an expected downpour. As I surfaced, along with the rest of the rat-runners, from the underground station, a street vendor – who I could have sworn had been selling thermal undies earlier that very morning – awaited us; one brolly covering his dry head and another in his free hand ready to sell. It was as if Jesus Christ had turned up and performed the miracle himself, swiftly transforming the fellow’s entire stock to suit the change in clime. I was suitably impressed. I didn’t buy one though; don’t trust those miracle umbrellas – fall apart in seconds.

As a side note to brollies and street vendors: I don’t think I had ever been witness to so many Chileans in one place like today (not even when I caught Piñera giving a public speech one Sunday night outside La Moneda). Football (or sport in general, but football especially) has an uncanny way of bringing people together. I don’t think I saw a single sad face in that crowd flooding Plaza Italia. They even started singing chants like “He who doesn’t jump isn’t Chilean!” so I, of course, jumped, not wanting to look to obvious and yet making myself even more of an obvious spectacle. So much so was I something to behold, in fact – a tall, German-looking bloke jumping around pretending to be South American – that I had one cheeky geezer try his luck and ask for change. I may look like a gringo, mate, but I am certainly no weon.