An adventure across the pond, and back into time to explore how culture and environment affect health

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A Walkaround Durham in Pictures

Hallo Hallo!

It has been an extra week because, in efforts to fend off a bit of homesickness, I flew the coop, up and over the channel to visit a few Froggy friends (shh don’t tell the Brits). I was lucky enough to have old family friends in Paris for Thanksgiving, and we had a fabulous home cooked American meal, complete with a two large turkeys and slightly burnt pumpkin pie … that might have been my fault. Needless to say in my list of things that I am thankful for, after friends and family, came skype, and RyanAir. To any who decide to follow my example on this adventure, I’m sure that you will come to feel the same way.

However, I realized that one picture a week might not give a complete perspective of Durham, and so I have put together some of those pictures that had yet to fit into posts. Side note: these are all while it was still fall. The calendar turned to December and the weather realized that it had been remiss in welcoming in the winter; today it remedied that matter quite quickly. No snow yet but definitely frost this morning!

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Enjoy the brief virtual walk!

Signing off from Durham,

Neva

P.S. In efforts to keep up with the weather, I bought wellies today! Next step to Brit-ification completed!

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Where… in the world.. is…

“Durham in the UK” **

Last days of Fall

** Title to be sung to tune of Carmen SanDiego theme song

Well, it might not work exactly right musically, but I’d argue that the metaphor is quite apt for those hailing from the US of A. Much to our chagrin, it’s probably a good guess that most Americans could not pick out Durham on a map. To be fair, they might also struggle with the precise locations of Oxford and Cambridge…but at least they will have heard of them! So for everyone’s edification, here is a map pinpointing exactly Where in the World Neva Nicole Lundy is…

See the little dot WAY up in the North?

Something that I didn’t realize about what it means to be latitudinally equivalent with Northern Canada and lots of Russia was that the sun sets really early… like 3:45 early. People told me about the weather, but somehow the truncated daylight time didn’t make it into the conversation. However, the upside of this wacky diurnal schedule is that in the summertime, the sun doesn’t set till 11 or 12 and I have heard talk of Northern Lights not to far from there. Something definitely to look forward to!

Speaking of lights and Durham, this weekend is known as Lumiere and is put on by the town every two years. This fabulous festival of lights is put on by famous artists from all around the UK as they create light shows on the sides of all the old buildings. Here is the link to the main website. http://www.lumieredurham.co.uk/

The things they can do with lights will electrify your mind and light up your imagination. (Sorry it was necessary) Below is a picture of Lulu and I, complete with our location/homing devices. Note their technical design located on the superior aspects of our crania. Completely necessary kit on a night where the moon and stars had both taken the day off.

Never underestimate the power of light-up ears in a crowd...

This next picture is not mine, but I am posting it just so that you all know the incredible beauty of this festival (and click on the above link!). I will post more of mine after the end of the festival on Sunday.

The Cathedral, awash with color

Next week will have more pictures as well as more about the actual school of Durham!

Off to the lights,

Neva


Remember remember the 5th of November…

Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot…

Fireworks on the 5th of November

It was explained to me that the Fifth of November is known as Bonfire Day, a holiday where Brits  celebrate someone’s (Guy Fawkes) failure to blow up parliament. Bonfires rage, effigies smolder, fireworks explode and its all around quite a good time.

It also, much to my dismay, marks the British entrance to the Christmas season, seeing as Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, is a particular sticking point with those who may still refer to the US, as “Those uppity colonists”.

I must say though that Grey College put on a wonderful fireworks display that had hundreds in the streets, necks craning upwards, mouths fluctuating between the OOoo and Ahhh shapes. This brings me to some information about Durham itself, which I realized that I have neglected to describe very well. Like Notre Dame, Durham does not have fraternities and sororities; they do however have what is tantamount to ND’s dorm system, though not single-sexed. All students are part of a “college” through which they live, play sports and all around identify with. Different colleges have different personalities. One of the most desirable happens to be the one situated in the ACTUAL Durham Castle.

My friend Ana and I at the gate to the Castle

However, sadly… I cannot say that I live in a castle. While I spend a significant amount of time in its library (pictures to come later), I actually live in Ustinov College, which was created specifically for post-graduates. While all the colleges have post-graduates within them, so far I have enjoyed Ustinov immensely because of its intense international culture. Here is a picture of my dorm… while not as classically striking as the castle, it is home sweet home.

Box Tree at Ustinov College.... Home Sweet Home

Thats all for this one! More about Durham in the next post…. including other masters offered besides Evolutionary Medicine!!

Signing off from Durham,

Neva


A Bucolic Adventure

Over the hill and through the woods...

Hello again!

Its hard to believe another week has gone by. A week or so ago, I happened upon a beautiful day and realized that I needed to take advantage of the last gasps of fall. I laced up my running shoes, blissfully unaware of the local wildlife about to be introduced in my life and with my ponytail bouncing, set off down the road paved with golden leaves and lined with trees gently guiding me on. However, my intrepid nature decided it was time to bud, even though I tried unsuccessfully to explain that it had its seasons wrong. This was autumn, not spring…

But adventure won out and I took the road less traveled by; on a trail that led over the hill and through the woods… but, unfortunately, to my grandmother’s house I did not go. She must have had something to do with this though because I know of absolutely no one else with such an unfailing and, lets be honest, unrequited love of cows. This road less traveled by wound around and through the little gate shown in the picture above, at which point I looked up and realized I was in the middle of a cow pasture, complete with cow pies and adorable baby calf’s suckling on their mothers. Of course, channeling my mother (generational influences here??), I had to pull out my camera, which for some inexplicable reason I had thought imperative to bring on my run.

One of the cute calves became interested in me and came closer to investigate this strange person with an odd contraption in her hands. I obligingly moved closer to this little one as well to say hello. Just as I was getting closer to take a better picture, the mother decided that she had had quite enough of my presence. Sidling up next to me, she bumped my back, a little nudge and the look in her eyes blatantly saying, “No more pictures, woman”. As I started to back away, she started to follow me, increasing speed as I increased speed, racing me toward the end of the pasture. Luckily, she felt I had been sufficiently scared me off after about 30 ft, and let me run unassisted to the gate and over and out of the field. Definitely the first of many such bucolic adventures that I believe are in store for me this next year!!!

The Cow Pasture....and my running trail, see it?

The little one who was to prove my undoing

I must say that I thought this story hilarious and subsequently repeated it to all my English (and non-English friends) until one of them looked at me and said,  ” You know, we had three people die last year because of cows… I myself had a dangerous run in with some sheep the other day. You should probably be a bit more careful.” I have yet to go back to the cow pasture, but I did spot some sheep….I might try them out!

My next adventure?

Signing off for now. However I will be posting again tomorrow (or later today) because I need to make sure you all, REMEMBER, REMEMBER the 5th of NOVEMBER!!!

Neva


Well, what is Evolutionary Medicine?

Starting at a new school inevitably involves two things:  (1) the obligatory get lost, miss the bus and be late to your first class adventure and (2) awkward, scripted small talk till you finally make friends who can pronounce your name. The later is a bit more difficult for some; for example, my Chinese flat-mates promptly realized the futility of teaching me to actually say their names right and chose American names (Alex and Stella…), but I digress. The get lost story.

Well, just like any self-respecting student at a new school, I wanted to make a good impression on the first day. I picked out my outfit (not really, but just go with it), packed my backpack (definitely not), and looked up the bus schedule to get to school (actually did this one). However, just as any self-respecting student also knows, there are always confounding variables; in this case they came in the form of construction and a little bit of fine print on the bus schedule called “only on Saturday”. I skipped down to the bus stop blissfully unaware that 200 yards from the stop, I was to watch my good first impression chug off down the road a full 15 minutes earlier than I had expected. The fleeting idea of sprinting after it did flit through my mind but the construction site between me and it promptly put that one to rest. As I waited the extra 30 min for the next bus, I contemplated whether all was lost and I should just give up now. This unhappy thought was, however, happily discarded when I saw a friend waving to me from the window of the subsequent bus (and yes, she could pronounce my name).

This leads us to the next ubiquitous aspect of new schools and the point of this entire post. Small Talk. It’s difficult, it’s dreaded, it’s decried and yet part of every new experience in life. Luckily as students, its almost completely scripted for us. “Hi, I’m Neva, what’s your name?”

“Hi! I’m ___(insert name). What______ (insert one of three questions from below)?”

1. … country are you from?

2. … college are you in?

3. … program are you doing?

I don’t know if its because people usually guess the answers to the first two, but its always the third that I get, to which I respond, “I’m doing my masters in Evolutionary Medicine!” Exactly on script, I get one of two responses:

1. blank look with a half confused smile, “oh how lovely, that must be interesting”

2. raised eyebrows, “what in the world is that?”  (though said in a proper British accent)

Well what is evolutionary medicine? People seem to know what the two words mean on their own, but put them together and its another thing entirely. In its very simplest idea, evolutionary medicine is an attempt to see our bodies as products of both our history (including heredity) and our current environments. As Peter Gluckman, one of the major researchers in the field says in his book, The Fetal Matrix, evolutionary medicine recognizes that there is an

“increasing gap between evolutionary thought and human medicine with neither field sufficiently informing the other. Evolutionary biology books largely [avoid] human and disease theory. Conversely human biology has become dominated by genomic thinking and the new paradigms of gene-environment interactions have been little considered”

Evolutionary medicine is an integrative and holistic approach to looking at our bodies. It is a way to come up with alternative explanations and approaches to various diseases and conditions that have at times stymied modern medicine because of their adherence to a disease based model.

Below is a link to a great article on an example of evolutionary medicine at work. The article was published in Time Magazine last year and is called “Fetal Origins: How the First Nine Months Shape Your Life”

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2021065,00.html

If you are interested in reading more about topics like this, there is a great book by Wenda Trevathan called Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives. It is readable and fascinating for anyone interested. And with that I believe that I will say goodbye and save my story about my escape from the mad cow till next time!

Signing off from Durham,

Neva

Ps. The picture above is of the wonderful other five people in my flat. They are some of the first friends that I made here and as you will learn, provide some FASCINATING discussions. The anthropologist in me loves it.


Welcome to Evolutionary Medicine at Durham!

Durham Castle and Cathedral

After a three hour train from London and a fight with a few heavy bags, I finally managed to take a deep breath and survey the city that was to become my home for the next year. I liked what I saw. The day was unseasonably warm (as I was told over and over by locals) and in the river, a soft light reflected an image I only knew from fairytales. My spasming back muscles relaxed as I realized that this was worth the constant explanation of why I had jumped across the pond to study a subject no one had ever heard of before.

My name is Neva Lundy and in May  of 2011, on a humid Mid-Western morning, I threw my hat in the air to the sounds of the Notre Dame victory march, without a clue as to what this next year was going to be like. I knew that the professors seemed lovely (note, I’m already becoming Britishized), the pictures looked beautiful and I reckoned Northeast English weather couldn’t possibly be any worse than that of Notre Dame. The jury is still out on that one, but the other two have definitely proven true. For the next year, in words and pictures, I am going to attempt to show what life here is like and possibly convince a few more students to join this wonderful program! If you want to know more before I post, check out the website at   http://www.dur.ac.uk/ev.med

Blog updates will be centered around the picture of the week so check back on Fridays to see what it is and what adventure surrounds it. Hope you enjoy the stories and please send me your comments and feedback!

Signing off from Durham,

Neva

P.S. wait till next week to find out what evolutionary medicine ACTUALLY is