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Pardon me, does anyone speak American?

I used to believe that I spoke English, until I arrived in England. Deposited by a taxi on the doorstep of Darwin College in Cambridge, I was promptly informed by the porter that there were no lifts (elevators), my post (mail) would be deposited in my pigeonhole (mailbox), I would have to queue (line up) for a key to the gyp (?) and to give him a ring if I had any questions about the punts (flat-bottomed boat). Sheepishly, I asked for an American translation.

I know I am going to like England. It's a cross between the European continent (small cars, traffic, winding roads, massive public transport, ancient cathedrals and Victorian houses), the United States (commercialism, modern stores and English) and a touch of what could only be London (gray fog, double-decker buses, many people wearing black, extra long wide-hipped jeans and guys with sideburns).

I have yet to meet anyone who was stuffy or extra conservative as rumors could lead one to believe. Prices are high, but the weather has been excellent.

After sorting my belongings, I ventured into the university library. The foyer alone was the size of a suburban house, lit by several chandeliers and decorated with ancient paintings of King George I. The crotchety man behind the new student registration counter confirmed my suspicions. I had indeed entered Disney World's Haunted House. Assuming that I would become intimate with dusty books when classes started, I left the menacing building and meandered toward the city center.

Cambridge city center is bursting with wrought iron gates, churches 700 years old or more, narrow winding cobblestone streets, kamikaze bicyclists, cheery pubs and a multitude of tourists who are stomping on the lovely gardens and pointing their cameras at the looming spires.

This college town has a fascinating culture all its own. Thankfully, Cambridge has given up some of the traditions that Oxford still retains _ a parade of all the new students in their gowns through the city streets, complete with Latin speeches to begin the term, exams taken in proper gown attire and other little formalities. I am not weeping for the loss of tradition. We still have formal dinners several times a week in gowns, if we opt to attend them.

Darwin College, essentially my residence and the center of my social life, is one of the university's less assuming colleges. It's just out of town and set right on the river (if I run too fast out the back door I will promptly trip and fall right into it). However, it is not new enough to have showers (only baths) or an elevator. So, I hauled all four of my 70-pound suitcases to the top floor, one at a time.

Points to remember: Pack lighter next time and bring a translator along.

Mindy Miller was valedictorian at Hudson High Class of 1988. She is attending Cambridge University on a Fulbright Scholarship.

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