LANS Trip to Kiss Me Kate, by Lizzie Slattery

The Welsh National Opera’s production of Kiss Me Kate which LANS attended earlier this month was one of the most fun and unexpected shows I have seen. Having never watched the show before, and knowing very little about it, I went into the performance not knowing what to expect. For the first quarter of an hour or so I didn’t really know what to make of it and found the acting over the top and the pace a little slow. However, once I settled into the show it was fantastic. The mix of hilariously crude humour, fantastic ensemble dance scenes and some surprisingly touching moments between the lead cast members, made it a thoroughly enjoyable show- not to mention the extensive and lavish, operatic solos which punctuated the performance.

The feature of the show which I enjoyed the most was, without a doubt, the tap solo from Alan Burkitt (playing Bill, the drunkard boyfriend of young starlet, Louis Lane). The pace and skill of the dance was breath taking and utterly captured the audience.

The play within a play element of Kiss Me Kate is also part of the fun (and confustion!) of the production and the relationship between Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and Kiss Me Kate’s retelling of it is very interesting. Discussing the play afterwards with other LANS students, we noted how difficult it is for someone with our modern values of gender equality to accept the ‘moral’ of the tale told in the Taming of the Shrew- which is essentially that a women should change herself into a quiet, submissive and obedient in order to be acceptable to a man. I felt that the production left it slightly ambiguous where they came down on the issue; however Kate’s dominant attitude towards Fred (or Petruchio- his character in The Taming of the Shrew) in the final scene and during the cast’s bows, made me think that the show condemned the outdated attitude towards women which it had shown.

As Cassidy put it,

“Although the ending of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew felt a bit out of place with the modern setting of Kiss Me Kate, and doesn’t sit that well with contemporary attitudes, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the production.”

All in all it was an excellent production of Cole Porter’s classic musical, with a fantastic leading cast and extremely strong chorus!

“It was great, it wasn’t what I expected at all. It was very funny, the two gangsters made it. I’d never been to an opera before so I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a very modern play and wasn’t traditionally operatic. Very enjoyable, 10/10 would recommend to a friend”

Miriam, second year LANS student.

”I loved Kiss Me Kate. It was very different to the Marriage of Figaro that we went to last year – more of a musical/opera cross. It was properly laugh out loud funny, from the moment a pigeon got shot out of the sky to the lyrics of Brush up your Shakespeare.”

Cassidy, second year LANS student

LANS trip to the Colour and Vision exhibition, October 2016

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A number of Liberal Arts and Sciences students attended the Colour and Vision exhibition at the Natural History Museum, as part of our cultural programme during October 2016.  A few of them gave their review of the exhibition below.

‘Visually spectacular and informative with interesting interactive activities, would have liked it to be longer’ — Emily

‘I really enjoyed the whole thing, especially the model of evolution of the eye and seeing how on the way some organisms got themselves freakiest sets of those light sensors. And the colour symbolism wall was really interesting as well – I myself was surprised by my answers. ‘–Ada

‘I thought that there were some amazing parts- the eyeballs of different animals and the bit when you could see what colours other animals see. It was visually so stunning and there was lots to look at. For me it was a little short – I felt like I was just getting into it and all of a sudden it was over which was a shame, but there were some unique parts to the exhibition, like at the end when you were asked to associate certain colours to certain concepts like Femininity, Power and Danger.’ —Cassidy

‘I was slightly intimidated by the large collection of animal specimens. Nevertheless I enjoyed looking at things that were very strange to me— spiny shapes and beautiful burgundy shells. The exhibition tried but did not succeed in linking more to humanity, which I would have enjoyed more than biology. There was an interactive wall of colour cards that you could correspond to different humanity concepts, such as deceit and attraction. But instead of expanding on that, it cut short and ended with a beautifully-shot and colourful video.’ —Jennifer Z

Life as a Swedish Dog Trainer, by Alexandra Klein

As a Biology major I always found myself drifting towards the seemingly more ‘academic’ Molecular Biology modules… It was only when I began my year abroad at Lund University in Sweden that I realised it was finally time to be more adventurous with my choices.  It perfectly fit this goal when I heard there was an option to do a research project instead of a university module and still gain the same number of credits.  I wrote to a huge number of companies in Molecular Biology, Biotechnology and a bunch of other potential future career options… but I also found myself writing to academics in Animal Behaviour modules and begging them to take me on, despite my limited experience.  I was so excited to get a reply back almost straight away, asking me if I’d be interested in training dogs…(“dogs weighing up to 50kg” as he put it, instantly conjuring confused thoughts of me attempting to carry heavy dogs around).
I grew up with no pets, and with no friends with dogs, so the thought of working with them was really quite random, however after months of seeing cute puppy videos and memes on my Facebook news feed I was hopeful that I’d get along with dogs well.  So, it was with some apprehension that I arrived on my first day, only to be greeted by a professor and a massive golden retriever.  After some awkward head pats I was entrusted with Kevin, the golden retriever, and we went off for our first walk.
My first day was “getting to know the dogs” which basically involved taking three different dogs for walks, playing games with them and picking up their poop (and as I was happy to find out I definitely wouldn’t be carrying the dogs…) It was probably the best first day of work anyone could hope for, well, minus the poop.

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Lots of walks around campus with the dogs

The aim of my project was to see if dogs can be trained to detect infrared (heat) radiation. Dogs have a wet and cold nose-tip, which isn’t necessary for any known function, so it seems logical that a possible function could be to use this coldness to detect radiating heat. This could have been useful in the past for activities such as hunting predators, however the function could have been lost as domestic dogs no longer need it. To encourage the use of this sense in dogs, a period of “re-training” would be necessary. This was where my job began, I was using positive reinforcement to help the dog realise it should always pick the warm side, when presented with a choice between a warm and
cold panel. I rewarded the dog with food every time it picked the warm side on its own, with the hope being that the dog would start to go to the warm side independently. This would demonstrate that the dog could detect which side was radiating heat.

It really was an amazing experience taking nine weeks off lectures to play with dogs, and by the end of the project I felt like I’d made real progress with the project aims.
So, after a fun, and at times stressful experience, here are my top take home messages:

1) Picking up sloppy dog poop seems daunting at first, but after the sixth time doing it that day you really get used to it.
2) Dogs will go completely crazy for meatballs. Seriously, do not bring hot meatballs into a room unless you’re ready to reward the dog.
3) Coming into work every day to be greeted by happy, jumpy dogs is probably the most uplifting feeling possible.
4) This is especially helped by 2). In the dogs’ eyes I was The Lady Who Gives The Meatballs
which caused some VERY excited dogs.
5) Even your dream job is pretty hard work. Working with dogs sounds easy, but actually
maintaining the motivation and attention of dogs throughout the day is exhausting, and
involves a huge amount of energy (and treats).

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I also really saw the importance of studying different areas of Biology in order to become a well-rounded researcher. I think the skills I learned in improvisation, dedication and patience will be really useful when I go back to my usual lab work. Overall, it was probably the best nine weeks of my university life, and I would jump at the opportunity to work with dogs again!

On top of all that, I had the opportunity to go to the zoo a few times to look at the nose
skin of various animals. So, my childhood dream of playing with monkeys and
lemurs even came true!

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First year trip to Coniston, June 2016 by Martha Hutchinson

The Trip

Two weeks ago, the first year students of LANS went on a four day residential trip to the Raymond Priestly Centre on the shore of Lake Coniston. From hiking to high ropes, we took part in various activities designed to help us improve our teamwork and leadership skills – and were also very enjoyable!

 

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The good weather held for the majority of the week, meaning that evenings could be spent outside on the field and by the lake, or going to the local pub in the village of Coniston.

Monday, 6th June

After a 7am start in the North Gate Carpark, we set off to the Lake District on what looked to be a lovely day. Five and a half hours later, this proved to be correct as we arrived at the centre to blue skies. After lunch, it was outside to do some ‘ice-breaking activities’. These contests ranged from passing all members of the team through a hoop in 4 seconds, to racing a ball up and down the hill in sections of gutter; and by the end of the afternoon, all of the teams seemed to be really enjoying themselves.

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One activity involved passing a bean bag between two people stood on either side of an increasingly wide gap – this was attempted with varying amounts of success.

Tuesday, 7th June

On the second day, the teams split up to complete a circuit of activities individually. My group (Team 4), were on land for the morning. We had a rotation of activities: crate stacking, high ropes and low ropes, all of which were very entertaining! I think my favourite would have to be the high ropes, as it was a brilliant way for us all to work together and help each other through. Then, there was a fantastic lunch (quiche) before we set off for an afternoon of canoeing. While many canoes were off to a slightly rocky start, by the time we stopped for ice cream at the Bluebird café it was generally going swimmingly (not literally).

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Our first task was to build a tower of crates for two team members to stand on to reach a whistle in the trees – thank you Jeeves for coming up with the brickwork pattern

Wednesday, 8th June

Our third day was marked on the schedule as ‘activity day’, and so we had only a small idea of what to expect – other than we would need a packed lunch. Over the course of the day, we completed an orienteering trail, a logic puzzle, a hike and a canoe journey, gaining points for various correct answers during the day. While we were all exhausted by the end, the day was a success – I had a great time, and the views were amazing (even if we had to walk up a rather steep hill to get to them)! Plus, we succeeded in winning the prize at the end – ice cream!

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While canoeing on both days was enjoyable, it was a bit more difficult on the Wednesday as the Lake became rather choppy in the afternoon! (Picture from Tuesday)

Thursday, 9th June

 

On our final day, we were able to choose our morning activity (mountain biking, sailing, gorge scrambling or kayaking). Having chosen sailing, my group spent the morning back out on the lake, which was great fun, and a perfect way to end the trip – especially the water fight with the group in kayaks! After a final lunch and a clean of the centre, it was back on the coach for the drive back to Birmingham. The trip was a resounding success, with everyone enjoying themselves, and it was awesome to be able to get to know everyone on the course. I hope that next year’s group will have as fantastic a time.

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On the final evening, we made a fire in the centre’s fire pit, around which we drank hot chocolate and attempted to roast a doughnut.

Thank you

 

Finally, on behalf of LAS Year 1, I would like to say a big thank you to everyone whose hard work made this trip a success. In Birmingham, I would like to say a special thank you to Ruth German, Ben Kotzee and Stewart Brown for organising the trip. I would also like to thank Ben and Stewart for accompanying us. Finally, I would like to say a massive thank you to all the staff at the Raymond Priestly Centre, who worked tirelessly to make sure we had a great time – everything was amazing, from the food, to the activities, and even to the atmosphere of the centre! The trip could not have gone ahead without any of you – thank you very much!

 

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Also, a personal thank you from me to Ben, Miriam and Lorna for allowing me to use their photos for this post!

 

 

 

LANS Rome trip, 2016 by Professor Diana Spencer

Here is an overview of our inaugural trip to Rome (27 June-2 July 2016), the inspiration for which lies in the core values and objectives that underpin Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences at Birmingham. Learning to learn in all kinds of unexpected environments, and from unfamiliar experiences, is crucial to the academic and personal development of our students and there is no better place to learn than Rome!

Day 1

Once the twelve students, from a mixture of year groups, had settled into their apartments and done some independent exploring, we all reconvened at Palazzo Taverna in the grand Salon, for a welcome from Professor Davide Vitali (Director of our host institution, the University of Arkansas Rome Center, and Architect).

This was followed by a 20-minute romp through Rome’s early and legendary foundation and republican history, touching on the political and ethical qualities that classical Romans believed to have been baked into citizen identity by the Founding Fathers. Photo 2

Next, we were treated to a whistle-stop lecture by University of Arkansas faculty-member Dr. Ryan Calabretta-Sajder tackling Rome’s identity as a cinematic city, starting with Roman Holiday but ending up with some contemporary visions from Turkish-born director Ferzan Ozpetek.

With that, we retired to a nearby restaurant for food, wine, and conversation about the days ahead.

 

 

Day 2

We met with our guide, Agnes Crawford, at the Arch of Constantine. Students were introduced to the powerful ideological and visual connotations of the arch form.  The important interplay between monumental form, political ideology, and military might, took a different but complementary shape as we moved to the Flavian Amphitheatre, aka the Colosseum.

This site also helped students to get a sense of the hidden layers which urban markup conceals and reveals. The popular name ‘Colosseum’ was first associated with a gigantic statue of the last Julio-Claudian Emperor, Nero.

What remained of the morning was spent moving up and down the Palatine Hill, discussing how it transformed in the last years of the first century BCE from a pleasant residential zone to the bureaucratic and autocratic heart of a transformed governmental system.

 

Students saw how one space, the traditional Forum Romanum, transformed from a focus for Rome’s civic self, increasingly became a venue for grandiose monuments and contestations of power which often escalated into street violence and gang warfare, with electoral disruption happening year after year.

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The afternoon took us through Rome’s medieval story, moving through the picturesque narrow streets that characterised the city as it re-found its power as a Christian capital and — with the Pilgrim trade developing — began to manifest new kinds of commercial and spiritual authority.

Ship-shaped Tiber Island offered a welcome break for gelato, and some quick facts about the island’s history as a ‘hospital’ zone, such as its ancient dedication to the imported Greek god Aesculapius, a healer.

 

Trastevere (the place ‘across the Tiber’) was where our students’ apartments were located, close to the charming Piazza San Cosimato, so en route we took in two iconic churches linking the earliest post-classical Christian era with the developing power of the papacy.

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We all had some free time then, before reconvening back at Palazzo Taverna for a stand-out lecture by Professor Vitali explaining and exemplifying Rome as a ‘palimpsest’. I was also especially happy to hear Professor Vitali’s assessment of our students: one of the most inquiring, alert, and thoughtful groups he has worked with.

Day 3

We met at the caffe at the Porta San Paolo light rail station before boarding the train for Ostia Antica. Once Rome’s port town, as the Tiber silted up, the town was abandoned and gradually fell into a mysterious quasi-burial. Not as dramatic as Pompeii but with surprisingly similar results in terms of excavated and visible ruins.

 

We saw dramatic mosaic pavements in some of the town’s public bath-houses and in the so-called Piazza of the Corporations where trading companies had booths and offices decorated with mosaics representing their origins or business.

Photo 17We strolled through some luxury townhouses (marvelling at one with its own private toilet!) and played at barmaid-and-customer in a remarkably intact bar, before beginning to make our way back to the sleepy medieval town close to the site, and lunch at L’Alimentari.

Photo 18Heading home, we got off the train at EUR to recuperate from Ostia and to think further about what one does with ideologically compromised spaces and structures. EUR was framed as a way for the new regime to build the Rome of the future – a Third Rome.

The ‘Square Colosseum’ characterises the Italians as ‘a people of poets, of artists, of heroes, of saints, of thinkers, of scientists, of navigators, of boundary-crossers’ (Mussolini, 1935).

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That Italian fascist vision of history as a triumphant advance from the foundation of Rome to the rule of Mussolini gains narrative expression in a massive sculptural relief by Publio Morbiducci which drew our brief visit to EUR to a close.

We met up at Palazzo Taverna for our final evening lecture, which introduced the gardens and water-features of the sixteenth-century theme park that is the Villa d’Este, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

 

 

Day 4

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We met at the Pantheon, a great spot to firm up the city’s palimpsestic quality, looming over the Renaissance Piazza della Rotonda. The Pantheon, so called because it was a temple to ‘all’ the gods, survived relatively intact because it was reused as a church – Santa Maria dei Martiri.

Now, the Pantheon houses tomb-monuments to unify Italy’s first rulers – Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I – forming an interesting echo to one of the few ‘new’ builds in the historic centre of Rome.

From the Pantheon we took a walking tour, stopping at Bernini’s elephant, and viewing the luminous Filippino Lippi frescoes in the Carafa Chapel of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.

We thought more about the papal city this morning, and used visits to Sant’Ignazio, with its trip ‘fake’ dome, to discuss counter-reformation politics and the ways in which art and architecture were leveraged to create a sense of perfect union between man and God.

Moving on, we saw the Piazza di Pietra, in which a temple to the posthumously deified emperor Hadrian has been incorporated into what was once the Stock Exchange. We had a gelato stop next, before working our way through the narrow twisting streets that eventually give onto the spectacular Piazza Navona.

The baroque splendours of Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers gave us a glimpse of the territorial ambitions of the post-Renaissance world, encompassing the greatest known rivers in a water-feature.

After lunch, we let the students explore, then met again at the Altar of Augustan Peace, a monument excavated on Mussolini’s orders and relocated to a piazza. It was dedicated by the Senate in 13 BCE, in honour of Augustus’ pacification of Spain and Gaul, and the Empire.

The museum, a (fairly) new building designed by starchitect Richard Meier offered an airy, cool space ideally suited to contemplating this masterpiece and also has helpful displays explaining the complex family tree of the Julio-Claudian imperial dynasty.

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At the end of the day, we walked across the Tiber, past another classical mausoleum of the emperor Hadrian, to the great street — Via della Concilazione — created by Mussolini to mark the new rapprochement between Vatican and secular authorities.

 

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We had the privilege of entering St. Peter’s through the Holy Door — open for the 2016 Jubilee year.  I find myself newly moved by Michelangelo’s Pieta every time, but seeing our students respond to art as a medium of faith and humanity, confronted by the sculpture, was hugely rewarding.

 

 

Day 5

We headed for the Villa Adriana and Tivoli, with Francesca Riccardo (expert on architectural design, and UARC faculty member). The lush countryside was a lovely respite from the marble and bustle of Rome.

 

The Villa is a hot, unshaded place on a late June day, and we ended up lingering at the iconic ‘Canopus’ pool, which gave me an opportunity to talk to students about the traditional ascription of names to parts of the estate. A late imperial biography of Hadrian suggested that he named parts of the villa for sites that particularly thrilled or pleased him, based on his travels around the empire. Canopus, in Egypt, might have recalled the tragic death of his lover Antinous, who drowned in the Nile.

Our minibus took us to Tivoli, where we had a brisk lunch break, meeting up in an hour to start our tour of the Villa d’Este.

The Villa took shape in response to a failed political dream – Cardinal Ippolito d’Este’s unsuccessful attempt to become pope – and in its design he hoped to demonstrate, like Hadrian, that power could reside outside Rome.

Ippolito’s theme for the villa and its elaborately themed gardens was steeped in classical myth. It evoked Hercules’ legendary quest for the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, the dragon he fought to seize them, and the hero’s role as a powerful civiliser.

Visitors are challenged to see in Ippolito’s Tivoli a better-than-life vision of what power looks like, mediated through myth, geopolitics, cutting edge engineering, and the latest in archaeological discovery.

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Originally, plantings used scent and sensory nudges to create and give atmosphere to particular routes through the gardens. We were lucky to hear the Fountain of the Organ play for us just before we left, adding melody to what had already been an extraordinary day.

Back in Rome, it was time for a farewell dinner at Ai Spaghettari to discuss the new insights and approaches our visits had enabled.

Day 6

Check-out day was a valuable day to think through what we had gained from the week. Rome is a city of great dissonances as well as enormous beauty, and in these frictions, I think much of the most powerful learning resided.

For our first years, fresh from their core interdisciplinary module on ‘modernity’, the lessons of history manifest in Rome were an excellent postscript to that semester 2 programme of study. We definitely hope to do a similar trip next summer!

 

 

A day in the life of the LANS Operations Manager

I’m a newbie in the Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences team – I started as LANS Operations Manager in November 2015.  So far so good … it’s a great team to work with and a really interesting concept as an undergraduate degree.  It’s the sort of degree I would have loved myself!  And, despite the work in progress of the new library, the view is a vast improvement on the brick wall and pigeon mess I looked out at in my old job!

 

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View from the ERI

My days are very variable but at the moment because it’s a new role there is a big backlog of paperwork to catch up on – for example programme specification documents for the Natural Sciences exit degree, module specification documents for a new and exciting 4th year Entrepreneurship module, a collaboration agreement with UpRising (who will provide campaigning training for the 2nd year core module later this semester), a job description for a Birmingham Undergraduate Internship to join the LANS team …etc.  I’m nearly there with all that and hopefully we will be able to share more information with the student body soon. I’m also getting to grips with the budget and doing lots of financial planning to make sure that the day-to-day stuff, the improvements, and the extra-curricular trips and events are all covered.

I’ve also spent the last few months having lots of meetings with the other departments and services across the university to understand their processes (for example, timetabling, study abroad, planning, finance) and to talk about the unique and usually chal
lenging requirements of the Liberal Arts and Sciences programme.  Some of my focus over the next few months will be to work with these departments to improve our interaction with them and therefore the outcomes for our students.  For example, if we can put together a new Birmingham Liberal Arts package and marketing to attract overseas students to come and spend a year or semester abroad within Liberal Arts and Sciences at UoB, then  we can open up more spaces for UoB students to go abroad which will help with the placements for LAS students.

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Dr Anna Brown, LANS Operations Manager

This is the first role I’ve had in the university dealing directly with undergraduate students and it’s great to be reminded why we all work here – Chamberlain’s radical vision of a place of learning for students from all backgrounds.  Ruth (LANS Programme Manager) and I have been hosting a series of ‘feedback lunches’– for me this has been the first chance to get to know our students (they’re a lovely bunch!) as well as seeking feedback on the experiences of Liberal Arts and Sciences students.  Feedback is important to us, and we will listen and, wherever we can, act on it.

Following student suggestions last term we have reconfigured the LANS hub area to give individual study carrels with PCs as well as a smaller group meeting area in the ‘glass box’.  A further five PCs are on order and we are working with IT to get printer access.  More recent suggestions for pinboards and maybe artwork for the pink wall will hopefully complete the new look and feel of the space.  But we’d like students to keep the suggestions coming!

I’m really glad I took on this role – steep learning curve and challenges not withstanding – and I look forward to meeting more students and to feeling like I’m really making a difference to the experience of a Liberal Arts and Sciences degree at Birmingham.

Dr Anna Brown, LANS Operations Manager

 

LAS Abroad: Impressions of Vancouver

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We watch the lunar eclipse from Stanley Park. Tonight, the moon is the moon of Nick Drake and Neil Young: pink and harvest and super, in all senses. She appears gradually, first as smoke, then as something more. A growing murmur spreads through the crowd. I move to get a better view, weave through crowds of stargazers and stoners and other Vancouver sky searchers.

I point my camera at the sky. The blood supermoon over the city. Downtown’s high-rise lights reflected in the bay.

At UBC, I walk 15 minutes from my on-campus residence flat, through the Pacific Sprit National Park and onto a beach. “Clothing optional” warns the battered wooden sign.

At Birmingham, I walk 15 minutes from my gradually subsiding terraced house, through the remains of last night’s chicken massacre and onto a building site.

I’m not passing judgment on either walk but the experience is very different.

I take courses in Theatre, Creative Writing, Film Studies, Philosophy, Art History and Visual Art. I am Mr Employable.

However, the more time I spend around people for whom Liberal Arts is university, the more I am convinced that it is absolutely the best way to do things.

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Downtown is surrounded by water on three sides and as a result is mostly vertical. The architects of the centre have built upwards rather than outwards. Therefore, there is a feeling of compactness; I can explore the city and, even in eight months, make it my own.

In 30 minutes, I can walk through the West End’s luxury residential tower blocks; down Davie Street with its gay bars and bright pink bus stops; past the smug restaurants and galleries of Yaletown; into Chinatown which seems alive with construction and food; avoid the temptation of West Pender’s ramshackle bookshops; down the Granville strip illuminated with commercialism and seediness; into gentrified Gastown which fashionably sits in absolute denial of its past and present; up one block to Hastings – the original Skid Row – and east through drug markets and homelessness. Pieces of a contradictory jigsaw, tightly fitting and flowing with life.

And out of all of this, Brewery Creek quickly becomes a favourite area of mine. Lets just say that it is very aptly named.

I realise why four years at university is a good idea.

I have to submit an original piece of conceptual digital art. This, for me, is new and exciting.

So, naturally, I walk for 3 hours along the 99 express bus route from the University bus loop, all the way down to Broadway at Commercial. It is the busiest bus route in North America. Every time a 99 bus passes me I turn to my right and take a photograph.

I like to think that this is a comment about displacement and discovery, about the observation of the everyday in the face of commercial mass transit.

And because it’s supposed to be conceptual art, I believe it. Just.

Tomorrow, I have a lecture on Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. I have to read Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. I find Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness interesting, in theory. In practise, I hate Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and I hate his Nothingness as well.

The mountains loom constantly like a well-worded threat. Or a memory. It is winter now and they are dusted with just the right amount of snow to be optimally photogenic.

I don’t ski.

I have skied before but that was on a small hill covered in wet rope on the outskirts of Gloucester. I imagine this is a different experience to doing it on snow down a Canadian mountain. In fact, I suspect this means that I have negative experience of skiing. I have friends who have gone up to Whistler, however, and they say that the views are beautiful. I believe them, completely.

Down below, on the sidewalk (never pavement), the resorts emerge from the forest with a strange elegance. In the evening, their lights hover over the city like alien constellations.

Occasionally, we go to a place where we float in sensory deprivation tanks for 90 minutes. It is pitch black, silent and motionless. After a while I tend to forget where my arms are. It’s an experience I can heartily recommend.

Afterwards we go to the pub.

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I now know and am friends with people from Canada, the USA, France, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Chile and South Korea, as well as meeting someone that lived a ten second walk away from me in Birmingham last year, whom I had neither met nor seen before.

It is a massive small world.

University work is assigned constantly throughout the year. This means that you have to work more but also that you have to think more. This takes some getting used to. It feels beneficial in the end though.

I secure a paid Dramaturgy internship at The Arts Club, one of the foremost theatres for Canadian new writing development. Dramaturgy is a strange professional area that means different things depending on where you are in the world and who you work for. In North America, it means working with writers on new plays, as well as more “traditional” dramaturgical work – compiling resource books on productions and so on. It’s the kind of thing I’d like to do back in the UK and any experience will be worth it. I’ve had enough practice explaining my degree to be ok with explaining a job as well.

I play David Bowie all day. His last album is perfection.

I turn 21 on the second day of the second semester (never term). There is a party on Friday and it isn’t shut down at 1am like on-campus parties normally are. I think this must be a sign of something but I‘m not sure what.

We turn away from the moon and leave her hanging in the midnight air. Instantly she grows bigger, fills our mind’s eyes with her rose blood.

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We merge back into the smear of city traffic. On the first of our three buses home, a man with a bulging combat coat and impressively unkempt beard tells us, “The end is coming!” He is talking about the incoming Liberal Prime Minister and he stinks of medicinally legal weed.

We, however, hear his prophecy and cannot shake the moon from our minds.

And when, in three months time and it is time for me to leave, Vancouver will be similarly unshakeable. I will miss its staggering natural and urban beauty and the way the buses always run on time. I will miss its bars and cafés, its hipster hangouts and microbreweries. I will miss its unmistakeable feel and the way that everywhere doesn’t so much close at night, as it comes to an elegant pause. And I will miss the moments when the sun finally falls below the horizon, when all that is left of its deep setting amber are lilac clouds and distant ocean warmth, when the mist rolls down the mountains and welcomes in the evening.

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Words and pictures by Sam Forbes, 3rd year Drama Major and Liberal Arts and Sciences student; currently studying at the University of British Colombia on Year Abroad.