Oxford ≠ Nerdville

•February 28, 2012 • 1 Comment

This is an article I wrote a couple weeks ago for the study abroad column at Jewell.


Karen Rice made up a game, once upon a time. It’s a conversation game, and we play it a lot.

I’m sure you are all familiar with the difficulty of recapping a major life experience in everyday conversation. “So how was your summer in Peru?” “Uhhh….” It’s a shame, really. There are a million ups and downs to summers and semesters and junior years abroad, but with questions like that, they tend to all get lumped into a meaningless generalization like “good.” Even if your interrogator didn’t mean for you to give a one-word answer, sometimes a paragraph summary is just too difficult to compose on the spot. Obviously, this doesn’t make for very productive conversations.

Karen’s game spares us that fate. And it’s easy to play: you just ask, “What were two highlights and one lowlight of _____?” And in return, you get a pleasant amount of detail. It works quite well.

This, I believe, is an occasion for the game. If you ask me, “How’s Oxford?” I’ll be at a loss, and the most detail you’ll get is, “Good.” But one highlight– I can do that justice.

I imagined that Oxford would be the nerd center of the universe, and a pretentious one at that. That turns out to not be the case at all. The city is full of academics, it’s true, but they are the sort of academics who go out to the pub five nights in a row. Sometimes it seems like a contest to see who can do the most extracurricular activities and still keep up with their degree. Tutors go by their first names. I’ve yet to hear a single word about the proper formatting of an essay. In the entirety of Fresher’s Week (a rather alcohol-saturated version of orientation), not once did a faculty member sit everyone down and proceed to wax eloquent about what a fine institution this is and how privileged we are to be here and then exhort everyone to carry on the tradition with excellence.
Continue reading ‘Oxford ≠ Nerdville’



•February 7, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I just got back today from spending a long weekend in Taunton, a town over in the direction of Cornwall but not quite so far. It was my first time venturing outside Oxford during term time, and I rather liked the feeling. It was a lovely weekend. But thus far I’d taken for granted that fact that I live in a town full of academics (but not nerds. important distinction) and the kind of protected environment that creates.

At Oxford, no matter how much a person parties or how many committees they’re on, there’s always a very clear “I must work now” line that gets crossed at least a couple times a week. Everyone lives under the perpetual threat of deadlines, and you just get used to having that in common. But out there in the real world, there are a whole lot of people who don’t believe in the “must work now” line, and I must admit that my work ethic didn’t stand the test of faith very well. Nevertheless, I managed to stay up until 5-6am for two nights in a row as if I were actually a dedicated student, and came home feeling like I’d just finished out a double essay week when in fact the worst is yet to come.

So now, as I’m sitting here trying to piece together Michael Walzer’s understanding of sovereignty and self-determination, my brain is mush and I know I’m not going to be able to finish my first essay tonight like I was planning. That means I’ll write it tomorrow and finish the other one at who-knows-when o’clock tomorrow night, and basically I will be tired forever.

I used to be baffled when Mike would be teaching on fasting or something and make statements like, “I’m okay with living tired. It’s really okay.” Every time without fail I would think to myself, no it’s not you weirdo. I was doing 6ams, which can be a draining schedule if your bedtimes are off (which mine almost always were), so I knew what tired felt like. And I pretty much despised the feeling. But two and a half years of uni and many all-nighters later, it’s starting to make sense. It’s true: the fear of being tired is actually worse than being tired. The fear of fasting is worse than fasting, and the fear of boredom is worse than your driest prayer time. A whole lot of discomforts are more uncomfortable in your head than in real life. And some things are just worth it.

So this weekend I swapped Walzer for heart-to-hearts and games of cards and a long devo in an empty prayer room, and I just swapped him again for a blog post, and I will pay for it all dearly in sleep. And you know what? It’s okay. This swapping business turns out all right.

a belated merry christmas from cornwall

•December 27, 2011 • Leave a Comment

As is hopefully obvious to everyone by now, I made it back to London safe and sound about a week ago. The plane landed at Gatwick at 12:15am or so, my friend Kirsty (kindly) met me at the train station at 1:30, and we finally hit the sack a little before 3am. I spent three days with Kirsty and her family and it was great. Maybe it’s proof that I’m not ready to be a grown-up yet, but I always feel so relieved when I get to stay with families, and especially ones as welcoming and generous as the Borthwicks and Farnhams. Sure, I could manage on my own, but there’s nothing like having a real live mommy take you in, cook you dinner, do your laundry, and send you adventuring for the day with her Oyster card. I was (and am) immensely grateful.

For two of those three days I barely made it out of my PJs, but on one of them– the only sunny one this week, in fact– Kirsty and I went into central London to explore. Mostly that meant a lot of walking around, which seems to be my default travel activity. I thoroughly enjoyed it. On Christmas Eve I made my way to Heathrow to rendezvous with the Farnhams, who were there to pick up Kezia after her flight back from Kansas City. A few hours’ drive and a grocery store stop later, we made it home to Polzeath, and I haven’t budged since. We’ve been celebrating Christmas (of course), playing games, watching movies, and eating loads of chocolate. They’ve basically adopted me as one of their own for the week, and it’s been wonderful!

Most everyone is out shopping this afternoon, so I’m attempting to catch up on life and maybe write a post or two about Israel (but not making any promises! we’ll see what happens).

the beginning of travels

•December 9, 2011 • 7 Comments

The posts on Michaelmas are coming, but it didn’t seem to right to skip over the fun things I’m doing at the moment– namely, wandering around the Old City in Jerusalem to my heart’s content. I’ve only been here for six hours, give or take a little, but most of it has been spent meandering, and it’s been awesome. I’m realizing, though, that I know remarkably little about what’s actually in the Old City or how it came to be there (apart from the Haram, thank you Dr. Armstrong). I stumbled into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre just as evening prayers were starting, and if I’m not mistaken, there were three or maybe four different groups all doing different liturgies at roughly the same time. Didn’t exactly know what to make of that, but I think I’d rather experience first and read later. So that’s the plan for this evening: retrace my steps on a map, read up on the places I’ve been, blog, work on photos, plan more, Skype with the fam, all that good stuff.

The journey from England was relatively painless, with the exception of screaming children on the airplane, long waits, and dehydration. I left my flat in Oxford at ten till 4am, and by 10:15 had made my (cold, sleepy) way through London to Gatwick Airport. Nice place, but the English don’t seem to believe in public water fountains or electric outlets, so it was an unproductive and thirsty wait. The EasyJet check-in line was enormously long, which is no big deal, but it gave me ample time to eye the luggage sizing bins and watch as person after person ended up having to check their carry-on bags. It was a bit disconcerting, and by the time it was my turn I was almost positive I would be doing the same; I had forgotten to check the dimensions of my pack. Thankfully, it slid right in with plenty of room to spare. Continue reading ‘the beginning of travels’

first term down, two to go!

•December 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

My first term at Oxford ended on a rather weak note.

I cycled into college four minutes before the tutorial was supposed to begin, frazzled and stressed about leaving town that afternoon, and not at all caught up on sleep. I curled up on the staircase to speed-read my essay, but promptly discovered that, for various reasons, I couldn’t access it. After a whole lot of frowning and attempted thinking, I remembered the topic. But unfortunately, my tutor found me there before I had managed to remember the actual prompt. Our meetings usually begin with me giving a two-minute recap of my argument, but as I had no earthly idea at this point what my argument actually was, that obviously didn’t happen. There followed an hour of me incoherently making numerous attempts to salvage a bad argument, based on an essay whose contents I barely remembered. I could give quotes, but that might be taking the embarrassment a bit too far.

It wasn’t my finest moment, to be sure, but– I’m done.

I’m pleased to report, however, that my first break in Europe has gotten off to a great start. I hopped on a bus to London, wandered around for a while trying to find the next bus, and rode it for seven hours to Newquay, a town on the north coast of Cornwall. It sounds like an unappealing thing to do first thing after the end of term, but in reality, sitting for hours doing nothing and saying nothing was just what I needed. Esther and I stayed up until 3am, chatting by candlelight and eating chocolate, and late this morning I woke up to sunshine and ocean! Esther had described the scenery to me plenty of times, but I still kind of freaked out when I pulled back the curtains. Think rolling headlands, beautiful blue sea, rocky islands, a little village of white houses, and a beach just below. Lovely family, lovely view, lovely weekend.

So I’ve been a rather dismal failure at keeping people updated on my life, with perhaps the exception of the photo blog. Rather than promising reform, I’m settling for a series of posts recapping Michaelmas Term. Check back for more over the next week or so!

all-nighters [oxford edition]

•October 13, 2011 • 1 Comment

I don’t actually have much to say about all-nighters in Oxford, because this is my first one and the night is still young. But it’s the first paper of the school year, and I will inevitably blog about it, because blogging is a wonderful form of procrastination. Two things are apparent, however. 1) I am a little bit obsessed with printing drafts of my work as I go along and editing in stages. But if I work at the flat, the printer is over a mile away, and it’s not free either. 2) So far, America wins on energy drink selection. I’m currently drinking this, and it’s only mildly better than Red Bull (ie, still kind of gross).

That’s all for now. I only get 64 mg of caffeine out of this guy, and I need to make it worthwhile.

first post from Oxford!

•October 4, 2011 • 1 Comment

I didn’t buy an adapter before I came, and have somehow managed to forget it every day since I got here. My ever-dying battery has been the excuse for not writing, but really, it’s time.

There isn’t much to be said about the traveling. It was easy and uneventful, and on the flight over I found myself seated next to a fellow Oxford-bound American student. That was nice. The exhaustion hit all at once on the bus from London, and despite my best efforts I slept for two hours in the afternoon. I don’t remember the name of anyone I met that day; I received my Bod card (library card/all-things-university card) and promptly left it in the IT office in college. Embarrassing. But I made it through that day without epically failing at anything else, and had virtually no jet lag afterward, so it all worked out.

The days since then have been full of wandering all about the city, meeting up with friends and making new ones, and sorting out all the logistics of Oxford– there are many. Oxford is beautiful. You walk and walk and walk and expect the architecture to revert to normal at some point, but it doesn’t (not that I’ve seen). And the weather has been gorgeous, so I’m sure that’s helped with the general impression. Everyone is eager to tell us that this has been the nicest stretch of sunshine and warmth since March, and that it will soon become wet and cold and nasty, and that the sun will set at 4:30.

Oh well, it will be easier to write papers that way anyway.

In other news, there are pictures on the photo blog! Not anything spectacular, just bits and pieces of everyday life here. I’m expecting to update that one more frequently and this one less so. It’s so much easier for me to take a decent picture and write a paragraph photo caption than to be an entertaining blogger. Plus it’s always more fun with something visual.

Check it out here.