You know those "In the beginning of the semester... In the end of the semester..." memes that have Barack Obama on them, on one picture beginning his time as the POTUS (all bright and shiny), on the other one in the end of those years (all gray and withered). Yes. That's me in Newbold, and it has only taken 1,5 weeks.

It's a bit of an army regime over here. 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. in the classroom, from 7 p.m. in the library. It gets harder and harder to get up every morning. If I drank coffee, I would totally do it now.

The whole process of getting accepted in Andrews was slightly frantic so the list of pre-intensive books which we should have read by now landed way too late on our desks. So everyone is desperately trying to get as much reading done every day as possible. And book reports written. Some evenings I get a double vision from all that reading and book-reporting which is something I rather didn't tell my doctor of an optometrist.

I walk about 250 steps each day. Dorm - class - caf - library - dorm. My body is not happy.

But it's not all sweat and tears, of course. There are many wonderful things about this course and - make no mistake - I am very glad to be here! First, the group. We have 20 people in our cohort, all from different parts of the world, and I really like them. Obviously, I knew some of them guys from my Newbold days (NJ, for example) and others I had never seen before. But it has taken us no time to get into this good supportive group spirit. It was sometime last week, heavens, I am not quite sure when - probably Thursday? - when we watched a movie with our group (Remember the Titans) and suddenly pop-corn and crisps appeared and for the first time I felt like these were my people. Wonderful stuff. Almost all of them will come to the European Pastors Council in Belgrade in the end of August so I am looking forward to our first post-classroom-madness reunion! :)

And then, of course, there are all those wonderful lecturers. I popped by G. R.'s office last week and got him to agree to read the chapters of my future dissertation, once I get to writing it. Because I want to do my thing on Homiletics and G. R. was the first one to introduce me to the world of preaching. Dr A. N. had a full day of lecturing last week and I loved every minute of it. I am totally biased and one-sided when it comes to her but I don't care. I love that woman so much. And T. did a brilliant job yesterday when he lectured on Postmodernism and Metamodernism. I can't help but pop by his office every day - just for 20 minutes or so - to talk about stuff. He's one of the kindest people I've ever met. And talking to him always feels like a breath of fresh air. Things like this - no, people like this - just make me so grateful and happy to be here.

Obviously, there are a million assignments to do and mountains to climb but it's all good. The emails I get from home - about usual work stuff in the conference - seem to be coming from a different planet. I'm mentally very far from my every-day work, and that's probably one of the perks of my studies.

Again I have wasted some 30 minutes of perfectly valuable library time on my blog. Blogging really isn't or shouldn't be a part of an army regime, should it? No, sir!


I'm back to Newbold campus, back to school.

It's eight years since I first set my foot on the campus, and I have been reflecting on the differences of those two comings a lot. Because they are worlds apart. And I have to admit, I like the second coming much better than the first one.

It's all about people. It sounds so obvious but I come to that same conclusion again and again - it's all about people. They make all the difference in the world. I remember the first coming and the way lecturers' name tags on the office doors made me feel. In my mind, these theologians were super men and wonder women, dwelling in unreachable hights of academia. I didn't know how to approach them. This time the first thing I needed to get done on campus was getting my Riga students' exams second marked by T. I slided the exam papers under his office door before my class started, by the time we finished for lunch, he had gotten them read and marked. And we had a wonderful conversation about Greek and Newbold and life after agreeing on the grades. I almost missed my lunch. And it's just one tiny example. For another, we are planning our annual London date with Dr A. N., having decided to take on Tate Modern this time. We were supposed to go last weekend but unfortunately I was feeling poorly (the combination of a runny nose and a flight can sometimes end in a health mess that takes a week to clean up) so we are trying to come up with another date that would fit my (endless) classroom hours and her busy schedule. Just now, after a lunch, T. and A. broke into J-C.'s office as this seems to be the only office in Murdoch Hall with a coffee machine in it. They had their afternoon coffee shot, I just enjoyed their company (and was made fun of for not drinking with them:). And then after that I ran into L., the librarian, who was so pleased to see me that she invited me to have a supper with her next week. "I'd love to catch up," she said, and I was rather surprised because we have never been friends or anything - I mean, I was just a student here, always in the library, yes, but nothing else. These tiny little encounters, people being happy to see me, some lecturers having morphed from professors to dear friends and colleagues, their warm inclusiveness and interest in my life... I still cannot believe it. I dont think I've done much to deserve it and yet here it all is. My people. My community.

And there is more. I am glad I never did much that I should regret in Newbold. There are no haunting memories. On the contrary, there are so many sweet and happy memories which I have come back to. Just a couple of days ago when I arrived on campus, I needed something from a grocery store and I walked down to that tiny shop in Binfield as I wasn't well enough to go to Bracknell. And as I walked, a memory just hit me, as clear as anything - how we walked back from the same tiny shop with U. on the day I was to fly back home for summer, eating ice-cream and discussing life. I don't know where that memory came from, and I didn't quite know what to do with it. But it made me very thankful for all that time I had spent in this place, for all my friends and Waffle Wednesdays and what not that filled this place to brim with wonderful memories.

But some things aren't changed, of course. The caf is the same. The classes and long and evenings are packed with library and books, and at moments I do wonder why I would want to go through this pain once again. Dorm life is... eh, dorm life (we're sharing the dorm with about 100 screaming Brazilian kids who don't go to sleep until midnight while my classes start at 8 a.m). So I still have to do some adapting to college life. And yet, I know it's all worth it. My work and my life and my worries back home have, within a week, faded into vagueness, if I didn't have to reply to occasional emails (I have an article to write to the conference's magazine, a BA dissertation to supervise, a training seminar to prepare etc), I'd forget home even existed.

It is time for me to stop wasting my precious library time and get back to my book.

I miss my friends terribly tonight. J. and B. and J. and A. and L. and K. and S. and all the others. All I can do is to thank God for the time we had together.