Monday, October 9, 2017

Giang’s Adventures in the Land of Perpetual Grey

Last month, PVL MSc Student Giang left Toronto on the first International Cross-Disciplinary Internship (X-I2) of the TEPS program. In this week's installment he checks in from Oxford University, in the UK. You can find his two "postcard" images above and further down, below the cut.

by Tue Giang Nguyen

The new term has started and as I finish up my work on Mars’ northern polar cap, I head out to start something new in the UK. As a trainee of the Technology for Exo-Planetary Science (TEPS), I have been accepted to an international internship at the university of Oxford. After going through various potential projects such as looking at the ancient Martian atmosphere, it was decided that I will work on thin condensable atmospheres useful for understanding interesting exoplanets like 55 Cancri e or CoRoT-7b. I’ll be working with established Oxford Professor Raymond Pierrehumbert on the project as well as furthering my studies on the Martian polar cap.
This is the first time I’m going to Great Britain, in fact, it’s the first time I’m stepping on European soil (though British people aren’t keen on associating themselves with the rest of Europe these days). Packing for the trip wasn’t problematic as I don’t really have a lot of stuff; I don’t even have an umbrella which I’ve been told is quite necessary for survival in the UK. I was somehow smart enough to remember to buy outlet converters at the airport just before the flight as I can see how it would be quite problematic arriving in England without being able to charge my phone or laptop.

I flew from Pearson airport in Toronto at night arriving at Gatwick airport in London the following morning. I will be staying at several AirBnB locations throughout my internship. Upon arrival, the first thing I did was get a new SIM for my phone where I was surprised that Data plans in the UK are fantastic, compared to Canada at least. It was also really neat how I’m the one with the weird accent now except for the fact that people will mistake me for being American. After fumbling my way via the bus to Oxford, I had two days to adjust myself to the new time zones.

Aside from being rainy one morning, the past two weeks in Oxford have been quite nice to my surprise. I have yet to purchase an umbrella but I’m sure the time will come where my laziness will be triumphed by my need to stay dry. I was very aware that British people drive on the left but I still find myself looking the wrong way when crossing the street. A thing to note that the streets in Oxford are fairly narrow, making the crossing quick and easy. A subtler difference is that there are a lot more bikers and the bikers will signal with their right hand as opposed the left in Canada. Coins and bills are also much more different here, especially the sizes of bills vary a lot between different denominations. There are no quarters but there is a twenty pence coin which will sometime mess me up when I want exact change when buying certain things. The weirdest thing I find is that the ten pence coin is huge; it’s even bigger than the one-pound coin where as in Canada and the US, the dime is the smallest coin. The buses here are also more advanced, I would say. Gone are the days of tokens and exact change, you can actually buy bus tickets on the bus with a credit or debit card provided they have the tap feature.
The University of Oxford is not as centralized an institution as I had thought. The school is a combination of various colleges and departments which I did not know about when I arrived here. People would ask me what college I was a part of to which my reply would be a blank stare followed by a “uhm…Oxford College?”. It was a bit later that I found out I am in the Department of Physics, in the sub-department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics. When I got to work, Oxford gave me an office space where I would work every day. And once a week, there would be a group meeting where we would discuss the research we had done as well as interesting events that had happened. It’s almost funny how I managed to travel all this way to pretty much do the things I’ve always done at York University.
I’ve managed to make a few friends at the start. The people here are pretty nice but I think that people are generally pretty nice anywhere you go. I even ran into people I had met from the LPSC conference in Texas. I’ve somewhat stabilized my life here, no longer living off microwavable premade meals from the supermarket. Although I may be a bit busy, I would hope to explore the city of Oxford, perhaps travel around the British Isles and maybe, just maybe, venture into the continent.

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