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.

No comments:

Post a Comment