Happy New Year
Jan. 13, 2010
I write from 30,000 feet in the air on my flight back to Eton after a delightful stay in the States for the New Year. There is an explanation for the severe posting drought on this page, dealing primarily with the discovery that my entries had been a source of amusement for my students for several months. I had always anticipated that at some point folks around school would encounter my journal, so ever since my first article I made sure to express opinions and ideas that wouldn't compromise my position or alienate any groups. Interestingly, a group of boys I look after had kept the secret very well that they were following my entries. They agreed with one another to avoid informing me that my journal had been discovered, which they had encountered even before I arrived at Eton when Googling my name. After a few glasses of wine at one of the Christmas suppers, one of the boys spilled the beans. This realization, coupled with the melee of exams, Christmas, report writing, and otherwise wrapping up the Michaelmas half, resulted in a temporary moratorium at the advice of a few friends. I have since decided that I will continue with the journal, but hold off on some topics until the completion of my fellowship in June.
The Christmas season provided the chance to witness British culture during a most cherished time of year in England. From what I experienced, the British celebration of Christmas focuses less on magnificent displays of lights and decorations, and more on Carols, food & drink, and cheery dress. As "American Ambassador" to Eton, I felt an obligation to do my best Clark Griswold impression and blow away Common Lane with a radioactive glow of red, white, and blue Christmas lights. For over a month, those who walked past my "colony" winced at the grotesque showing of lights and Christmas decorations that would shame both energy conservationists and interior decorators alike. Despite my ostentatious display, I managed to avoid scaring away my community and was warmly welcomed to a handful of Christmas parties and "Soc Suppers." (More on Soc Suppers in a bit) I enjoyed the hallmark traditions of the British Christmas season including crackers (shiny toys that dinner guests rip apart revealing silly hats, small toys, and jokes), mulled wine (a sweet, fruity, warm drink made from port, red wine, fruit, and loads of sugar, requiring over a day of preparation), minced pies, turkey, and Quality Street (an array of chocolates in a big purple tin that has become a contemporary fixture in British homes during the holidays). But perhaps my favorite part of the Christmas season at Eton was the awe-inspiring Carol services held in the 600 year-old College Chapel. Entirely candle-lit, the Chapel was filled with boys in their school dress (17th century garb unlike anything ever seen in the States), and the Carols were sung in tandem between the Eton boys Choir which is one of the most widely acclaimed school singing groups in the world, and the rest of the congregation. Words do no justice to how amazing these services were.
The end of term at Eton is also marked by "Soc Suppers" which are black tie affairs held by the boys boarding houses. These celebrate the season, the traditions of the house, the Founder (King Henry XI), and the senior boys in the house. Per the normal customs of a sit-down dinner in England, the events began with champaign in the gorgeous "drawing rooms" of the housemasters, who live in beautiful homes attached to the dormitory style rooms of the boys, followed by 4 or 5 course meals in the dining halls. These events drip with both Eton and British Christmas tradition, and also serve as one of the more light-hearted events as boys and housemasters make speeches that roast the house and its members. The evening typically concludes with light entertainment such as comedy sketches and musical performances, followed by beer in the housemasters home shortly thereafter. Traditions vary greatly between each of the 25 boarding houses, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to experience a few.
My Entrepreneurship & America class ended on a high note as a business venture the class undertook was hugely successful. About midway through the term, I lectured on "recognizing business opportunities," and we engaged in several activities that help entrepreneurs conceive business ideas or identify needs within markets. The discussion was so fruitful that we decided there was no reason why we shouldn't undertake a venture, for charity, within our own class with the time remaining during term. After much deliberation, we identified a specific product in the States that had become ubiquitous around schools, yet did not exist in the UK- Nalgene water bottles. We simulated starting a business as best as possible within our constraints. The class gained funding by pitching the idea to Masters and business societies around Eton, taking all the required steps such as price models, projected costs, marketing plans, graphics, gaining permission for use of logos from Eton and our se and so on. I found it extremely helpful to center my remaining lectures around our little business which provided great context. In the end, we sold our entire inventory, grossing over £800 (almost $1300), almost all of which will go to WaterAid, an NGO that procures means to clean water and sanitation to the world's poorest countries. I am teaching the same class this upcoming term to both B and C block (seniors and juniors) but changing the course around a bit to suit the shorter term and also what I have learned from teaching the first time.
Over the coming weeks I will discuss sports around Eton and England, differences in universities and the application processes, and a variety of other topics. Thanks for reading.
Johns Hopkins Blanks McDaniel, 9-0