Friday, March 30, 2018

Six Months Later: Mayward Family Update

Joel and Katie, St Andrews Cathedral, November 2017
It's been half a year since we arrived in St Andrews, and almost exactly a year since we announced we were moving to Scotland. Here's what the past 6+ months have been like for our family.
Christmas 2017

Family Life in Scotland: Our two oldest have settled wonderfully into the local primary school. While the first few weeks were a bit rough in adjusting--jet lag and a new country will do that for anyone--they've grown to love their school, and their teachers are particularly exceptional. It's a small school, with only one class/teacher per grade. Our kids are learning plenty of Scottish idioms and are picking up a slight accent with each passing day. Our youngest will start up preschool--what they call nursery--in August at the same school, so we'll be able to drop them all off together in the mornings. Katie continues to work for Food for the Hungry from home; she's been working for FH for over a decade, which has been wonderful. She attends a women's Bible study on Monday nights, which has been a rich source of spiritual enrichment and fellowship. Her days are spent exploring the town, attending play groups, and meeting up with friends at parks and the library.


Some things we love about Scotland: the natural beauty and ancient history of the land; the slower pace of life; tea and biscuits (especially shortbread!); the amazing accents; getting groceries delivered to our home via Tesco; lots of walking around town, especially Lade Braes, a path which weaves throughout St Andrews; double-decker busses; the ocean view. More than anything else, we've loved the community we've found via St Mary's, the Divinity school. Before we ever arrived, we felt like we already had friends and companions who were supporting us and willing to help in any way they could. Since settling here, we've found that communal, kingdom-of-heaven mindset just continues, ranging all through the faculty to the postgraduates and their families. People just want to help each other, and our kids have loved making new friends at both church and school. We've settled on a church home at St Andrew's Episcopal Church, St Andrews, where we've adjusting to the liturgical worship as we build friendships with the other families we worship alongside.

Braving the "Beast from the East" snowstorm, March 2018
Some things which are harder adjustments: things get moldy more easily here (I've had to clean off blackish mold from the walls of our mud room multiple times over the past few months); the winter was quite dark and dreary, especially the month of January; the Internet and cell phone services are slower than we're used to (and Netflix has a much more limited selection); our immune systems have been fighting various germs and illnesses since arriving, so it feels like, on any given day, at least one family member is sick or sniffly, and a bout with "hand, foot and mouth disease" left all of us wiped out for about a month; and the coffee is nothing like the Pacific Northwest. The UK has also been hit with a number of highly unusual storms this winter, leaving us stuck indoors watching the wind and snow howl outside. Even the Scots are complaining about the cold snowy weather, which is saying something.


My desk in the Roundel
PhD and Academic Life: So what does one do as a PhD candidate? Most days, I spend a lot of time at my desk in the Roundel, a designated study space for Divinity school postgraduates which looks like a big round castle turret. I read, write, read some more, write some more, delete what I wrote, drink coffee, and continue to read. With my chosen subject, I'm diving into the deep end of film theory, theology, and philosophy, which has been intellectually stretching in the best way. I find that my mind is like a muscle, and I'm working it out in ways I haven't done before, perhaps akin to preparing to embark on a marathon or a triathlon--you've gotta train every day!

I've spent the past 6 months working on the probationary review for the Divinity school, which includes a 10-12k word chapter of substantial research, a bibliography, and an outline of the full thesis (it's a "dissertation" in the US, but a "thesis" in the UK). I came into the PhD with a fairly clear focus: I wanted to explore the films of the Dardenne brothers through the overlapping lenses of theology and ethics, viewing their films as cinematic parables which shape the theological and moral imagination of the audience. While some of the theologians I was planning on using for my methodology have changed (namely, I'm mainly relying on Paul Ricoeur and phenomenology/hermeneutics instead of Hans Urs von Balthasar's theological aesthetics), my focus remains on the Dardennes and their films as parables. My supervisor, Dr. Gavin Hopps, is exemplary, with an encyclopedic knowledge of theology, philosophy and the arts, as well as a witty sense of humor and a keen editorial eye.


I've also had papers accepted into two academic conferences: a paper on the theology and metaphysics of the TV sitcom The Good Place for the Society for the Study of Theology conference at the University of Nottingham in April (title: "A Divine Comedy? Mortality, Morality, and Metaphysics in 'The Good Place'"), and a paper on my thesis research for the 2018 International Conference on Religion and Film at the University of Toronto in May (title: "Re-forming Film as Parable: Toward a Ricoeurian Parabolic Hermeneutic"). I've submitted one other paper to a peer-reviewed academic journal, have plans to write another on the various TheoArtistry projects hosted by the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts (ITIA), and aim to be at AAR/SBL 2018 in Denver in November with (hopefully) two more papers to present.


Even as I've been busy with all the reading and writing--which I'm loving immensely!--the pace of life in St Andrews also allows for plenty of moments of rest, walking through the small Scottish town along its ancient pathways, strolling by the castle or cathedral ruins and looking out at the North Sea. It's a peaceful, life-giving pace of life, even as I continue to be mentally and spiritually stretched in my theology and philosophy. I do hope to have more opportunities to teach in the future; PhD students are invited to teach tutorials, akin to being a T.A. in the US, only with a bit more autonomy and responsibility, and I plan on being a tutor during the next academic year.
Walking around on the Old Course
Future Travels and Plans: Our current lease in our two-bedroom attached house ends in May, and we'd been praying and searching for a new home, one which might serve us for the remainder of our time in St Andrews. Finding affordable housing for a family of five is difficult in St Andrews, and we wanted to stick within walking distance to the kids' school if at all possible. God has provided in a remarkable and unexpected way: after Katie chatted with a neighbor about our housing, the neighbor contacted us about the house adjacent to us, whose owner was debating renting the home in the near future. Long story short, we've spoken with the owner, and have made plans to move into the house in late May. It's a three-bedroom detached house with a much larger backyard garden, and it means we'll be able to stay in the same neighborhood and school. The details haven't all been finalized yet--we're meeting the landlord this weekend--but we're grateful for God's provision and unexpected grace. I've also received a scholarship award to attend a month-long French language immersion course in Paris for my studies, which means our family will be staying in Paris for the month of July.

For all those who have supported us--financially, emotionally, spiritually--thank you for being part of our adventure in Scotland and making this possible. We're so grateful for our life here, and will continue to keep y'all updated in the months and years to come.

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