Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A little thing called ‘learning.’

At some point, we might recall that I actually came to Oxford for a purpose, and that was to learn. This was something that apparently slipped my mind, since it seems I've made gallivanting around pubs and going to tea my primary focus/occupation. Anyway, it was, I think, Tuesday of last week that I finally remembered I had a 2,000-word essay due on Friday, and a tutorial to attend. A tutorial basically consists of me sitting across a desk from a college fellow (read: really intimidatingly brilliant scholar who knows pretty much everything about the subject you're writing in) for one hour and defending the paper I've written. So. I starting having what might be considered a small panic attack (but this, as we know, is nothing new for me). I had met with my tutor once before (during which meeting we were reading aloud some quotations about Arthurian history, and he asked, "So how's your French?" He meant: my medieval French. The answer: Not good), and he had seemed nice. He judged what I already knew of Arthur and gave me a paper topic. I needed to synthesize three early versions of the Arthur legend, all written in about the 12th and 13th centuries. Cue choking here.

What was most complicated was convincing myself that I've done work like this before, and it's not any different now, even though I'm at one of the premier universities in the world. But that last part kept tripping me up. I know that I'm able to do things like this, but getting over the fact that it's Oxford is nearly impossible. You automatically feel inadequate, which I guess in the long run is a good thing (for ego and whatnot). But when you're trying to write a paper, it's really not.

So my plan of study went a little like this: spend as much time as possible in the library. And that was pretty much where it ended.

But this is not a bad thing, because if there is one thing Oxford knows how to do, it's libraries, folks. Like, I'm serious. We actually had a library orientation and received a map just of the University's libraries, so we could familiarize ourselves with the tremendous amount of resources available to us. Need the latest journal article on stem cell research? Not a problem. Need a manuscript from the 16th century? All in a day's freaking work, newbies. You literally can't want for anything with the Bodleian team behind you. Unfortunately, the New Bodleian library is closed for a few years because they're installing an elevator (read: lift) into the center of the building (apparently dropping an elevator shaft down the middle of a centuries-old structure isn't the easiest take in the world). So that means I'll just have to settle for studying in the Old Bodleian library (which is, if possible, older and cooler than the New Bod) or the Radcliffe Camera (literally here you should start envisioning Harry Potter). Or even my college's library. Or the English Faculty Library. Or any of the dozens of libraries across town. Such a shame that I have to settle like this. But I'm getting off track again.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is: I finished my paper and emailed it to my tutor a day early, as per his request. Then I commenced getting steadily more nervous as the next 24 hours ebbed away. The next day, I arrived at his office twenty minutes early (because in addition to throwing off my sleep schedule, traveling to Britain has robbed me of my sense of timeliness). I decided to sit in the courtyard and review my notes, despite the fact that it was a little frigid out. I couldn't bring myself to go in before it was time. As I was flipping pages, I spotted someone in the corner of my eye rushing across the quad.

It was my tutor.

I opened my mouth like a fish. Thoughts (read: lies) like, "These aren't notes, I've memorized the three Arthur legends and I was just checking the pronunciations of 'Avalon,'" rushed to mind. I suppressed them, along with queasiness.

"Hi," he said brightly. "Five minutes. Got to eat a sandwich." He held up the alleged lunch in one hand as he continued to walk sideways toward the door.

"Oh, okay," I sputtered. Shock is a surprisingly paralyzing agent. "I'm just renewing my notes."

That's right. I said "renewing." Not "reviewing." It's fine, please laugh.

He smiled and continued to dash inside.

It was at that point that I knew I'd be fine. I actually think I giggled a little, which is horrifyingly embarrassing now. My tutor is actually a really nice man, and he was very patient with me and my first essay. He said it was "an excellent start," and gave some great comments. By about halfway through the session, I found myself having an actual conversation with him about the subject, rather than just replying to his questions. We laughed, we cried, we drank tea. Okay. It wasn't so dramatic, and we didn't quite get to braiding each other's hair, but it was a very good induction into tutorial life here.

And yes, we did actually drink tea.


I'm here. I'm in England. I'm in ENGLAND. In Oxford, in my room, to be precise.

And I'm severely behind on updating my attentive readership of my activities.

But I'm actually in England. After a year and a half of waiting.

And let me tell you, IT IS FREAKING AMAZING.

The flight over, however, was awful. For, like, a week I looked like a cripple walking around with my shoulders up to my ears because of the massive travel knots in my muscles. I'm just not a good sleeper on anything but a bed, so a red-eye is not my cup of tea (ahahaha, some British humor for you there. Yes? No?). I did try to keep myself amused with a few in-flight activities, such as: eating, watching Sherlock Holmes, grinding my teeth during thirty minutes of turbulence, chair gymnastics. Trying to find a comfortable sitting position in a 3"x5" space (such as, say, an airline seat) can be stimulating if you try to pretend it's an athletic exercise.

Nevertheless, we managed to get into Heathrow without any major incidents. I flew over in a group flight of about 40+ students, and I've managed to meet some incredible folks in my program. However, I haven't asked them if I can talk about them on my blog yet (since, honestly, I'm still a little bashful about even having a blog), so their names and awesomeness must wait for another post.

My program was nice enough to arrange a 5-day orientation in London, which was a really good idea. I've never gotten to see so much of a city as I've seen in those few days. From Trafalgar Square (my favorite!) to the Tate Modern, the group of us traversed back and forth around the city center. I took some great photos, which will be up on my Flickr soon, if I can figure the thing out. Advice??

Being five hours ahead hasn't changed the fact that I can hardly work a light switch, much less a complicated technological algorithm like a blog website.

Or a washing machine. But that is for another post.

At any rate, I've thus been here two weeks or so, and it feels like it's home. (Before someone like, say, my mother voices outrage at that statement, let me say that I do miss home, but I am luckily not homesick.) Oxford is continually amazing. It's actually a joy to get lost, because you find parts of the city that feel just like they must have hundreds of years ago.

I think what's most interesting is the clash of eras all around you. ATMs on a street that still looks like it belongs in the 17th century. Britain's oldest coffee shop on the same road as a modern restaurant called Quod. Students wearing matriculation robes patterned after the original Oxford scholars over modern and trendy skirts and slacks. It's so funny, so endearing. Oxford is a collision of times, and I marvel at how the city manages to function with one foot firmly planted in its past, and the other pacing forward to meet the needs of the future with premier scholarship and innovation. I wish I could describe it in more concrete terms. Hopefully my future posts will show what I mean.

It's also been the little things that have made my transition so smooth. My room and accommodations are blessedly blissful. My bedroom simultaneously overlooks the River Thames and the English countryside, and I have the nicest housekeeper named Janet who keeps everything tidy. I feel like my room is a lovely space for rest and quiet. In the mornings, I take the paths through Christ Church Meadows (Harry Potter fans, this is the college at which the movies were filmed) to go up to college. I live in graduate student housing about a ten-minute walk from Hertford's main campus, but I don't mind. My walk includes some lovely fields, the river, a group of meandering cows and even some deer, and it's beautiful now that the leaves are changing (and let me tell you, those cows are some snarky steer. It is definitely their field, and not mine).

It's a nice way to remain contemplative as the days get hectic with work, and this is especially true walking back through the Meadows as the sun is setting over the river. I feel as though God has really blessed me in this trip; so much of this experience I don't deserve, and I realize how precious it is. So many people should experience what I'm experiencing. It changes your whole perspective. What is that e.e. cummings poem? "I thank you God for most this amazing day." I understand now what he meant.

More later, for sure!

-Roaming Lib.



Tuesday, October 5, 2010


My bag is overweight.

For once, I wish I was overweight, because the airline makes allowances for human obesity. Just not luggage obesity.

I ask you, how am I supposed to fit 2.5 mos of stuff into one bag?

I swear to you, I have pared down to the bare minimum. It barely looks like my closet is missing anything. I have packed about ¼ of my clothes and like a handful of toiletries. And I am even leaving Infinite Jest at home (which I swear pains me more than leaving behind all my underwear, but my mom wouldn't allow me to bring it).

WHY WHY WHY IS MY BAG OVERWEIGHT. I really don't want to pay the overweight charge. And I also don't want to get laughed at by my fellow group-members, who I envision to be supremely sparse packers with naught but a change of undies and a tooth brush in their slim, svelte luggage. While I lumber along with my William Howard Taft version of the carry-on.

Anyway, I can't find a solution short of buying an entire new wardrobe in England, or living in the same pair of pants (the English version of pants……..) for three weeks. Please advise.