Originally posted October 20, 2011.
And by that, I mean that I have definitely entered the “honeymoon” period of study abroad. The only thing I don’t like about Oxford at this point is the crowd of tourists that descends every weekend upon the city center.
For one thing, the academic portion is off to a great start. I’ve now met both of my tutors at least once. Jennifer Sykes met with me at the campus coffee shop to discuss the term. As soon as she bought me coffee, I knew we would get along well. Plus, she liked to talk a lot, which is great because I don’t know as much about World War I Literature. For her tutorial, I’m reading Goodbye to All That, memoirs of the Great War by one of the poets of the time, Robert Graves. It was a much better book than I expected, probably because Graves enjoys telling funny anecdotes more than he likes actually explaining the facts of the war. I think my essay went well, but I’ll have to wait and see what Jennie says in our first official session tomorrow.
My main tutorial has been a lot more work, but in many ways it has been a labor of love. My first assignment was to choose any Bronte sister novel, read it, and use it along with Jane Eyre to discuss the conflict between the internal and external experience of Victorian women. I loved reading the novel and the essay prompt gave me a lot to work with. I almost got overwhelmed with the possibilities and just barely finished my essay on time. I ended up almost running through the Bodleian library and asking at least three different people to help me with the printing process. If I hadn’t been so frantic about turning in my first paper, I probably would have been a bit embarrassed. By the time I left the library it was five o’clock, the time the paper was due. I ran across the Magdalen Bridge and then got turned around trying to find St. Hilda’s College—which was just down the road farther than I had been looking. So at 5:30 I arrived completely out of breath at Jenny McAuley’s office door. In the end it turns out she didn’t mind that my paper was a little late. Still, I was nervous about her reading it that night. I knew that whether she liked it, or whether she hated it, I would have to sit there in that same small office tomorrow to hear about it with no other students to soften the blow or distract her. It didn’t help me feel better knowing that some students had cried after their first tutorials. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. She loved my paper and her criticisms pretty much told me to write more about the parts that I was most passionate about instead of thinking that I needed to adhere strictly to the prompt. This gave me a huge confidence boost. And for the rest of the tutorial we discussed Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. It was amazing. At the end she asked what I wanted to read for next week. It was almost scary to decide. It’s liberating, yet overwhelming to have almost complete control over the curriculum. For this week, I picked Dickens. Not the best choice in terms of workload, but so far I’m actually enjoying it. Yeah, I guess I’m just that much of an English nerd.
But in spite of my paper and reading, I still had time to be pretty social this week. I passed my swimming test on Wednesday so I can officially and safely go out rowing on the river. I’m still getting the hang of the stroke, but it’s nice to be outside, on the Thames (called the Isis for the portion that passes through Oxford), and chatting with other Hertford students. I also went running in Christchurch Meadows. It was gorgeous. The sun was just breaking through the clouds when I started. I could see the dew and fog melting off the fields as I ran past. Plus, there are some cows chilling in the main field a lot of the time and it’s fun to think that in the middle of a city, I’m running in a field past actual farm animals.
On Saturday, it was matriculation. Unlike Rice matriculation, it’s a big formal event. All the students have to dress up in the uniform (for girls that means a white blouse, a little black ribbon/tie, black skirt, black tights, black shoes, and the commoner’s gown—I’ll post a picture of me wearing at least the gown at some point) for the ceremony. Then they spend the rest of the day celebrating, drinking, et cetera. And then that night, after everyone has had a good afternoon nap, there’s a fancy ball. Unfortunately, visiting students are not included in the matriculation activities. I went to the library to study and I could hear them partying outside. I went to a coffee shop next, and they followed me inside in a big loud group. It was annoying until some of the Hertford freshers came inside. Then I had fun listening to their drunk antics! I thought that would be the end, but one of the other visiting students got tickets to the MCR matriculation ball (graduate student body; the one great thing about being a visiting student at Hertford as that they count us in both groups) and he invited me to be his guest! We met in front of my housing and walked to The Eagle and Child to eat first. In case you didn’t know, The Eagle and Child is the pub where J.R.R. Tolkien wroteThe Hobbit and where C.S. Lewis and the rest of the Inklings used to hang out. Awesome. Plus, the food was traditional English pub food and delicious. I could have had two orders of the fried brie and not gotten tired of it.
Then we headed to the ball. Now, we like to think of Martel classy, but I must say, Martel has nothing on Oxford. Here, everyone dressed up in black tie and cocktail dresses for the ball. They served cocktails and really nice champagne for drinks. And as for music, it wasn’t the top forty remix that I’ve heard at every other party. No, they had a jazz quartet playing. We didn’t grind or jump up and down in a mosh pit; Ben and I were legit swing dancing and some of the other couples had even fancier footwork. I’m not saying that I don’t love the informal Rice shindigs; I love their feeling of relaxed fun. But this fancy feeling is unique to Oxford and I’m so glad that I got to be a part of it. I was really sad when the band stopped playing, but I did enjoy their last song, “September” by Earth Wind and Fire.
And finally, I ran into a certain Harry Potter celebrity. I know everyone joked before I left that she and I were going to be best friends, et cetera. I must admit, I didn’t think I would even see her across the street. But when I arrived at the Approaching Shakespeare lecture on Wednesday, there she was, sitting just a few rows behind me. It was surprising, but the lecture was so engaging that I didn’t completely freak out. Actually it was funny because the lecturer was Dr. Emma Smith. She’s kind of a celebrity, too, only as a Shakespeare scholar instead of as the female lead in a fantasy movie series. I thought that would be it, but I ran into her again the next day. A friend and I got to the English Faculty library just a few minutes before noon and ran around for ten minutes trying to find the right room … only to find that the lecturer was ill and it would be cancelled for the first week. Disappointed, we stood there chatting for a few minutes, trying to decide what to do with our spare time. Then Emma comes running down the stairs, her notebook open in her arms, obviously flustered. As it turns out, she was looking for the same Jane Austen lecture. I told her that it was cancelled and she left. I know that she probably won’t remember our basic little conversation, but I will. Plus this means that she’ll be in my lecture for the next four to six weeks. It’s cool to think that we have English Literature in common.
Hopefully next week will be just as exciting!