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Oxmas!

Time January 3rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Term is over, December is finally here, and tomorrow (Saturday) everyone is going to begin returning to their homes.  So what better way to celebrate not only the end of another grueling term and the coming Christmas season than by celebrating Oxmas—or Oxford Christmas.  A couple of friends and I took to the streets, where we marveled at the rides, the stalls set up for a street side market, listened to the sounds of bands playing, fought our way through the crowds waiting for the parade to start and the Christmas lights to be lit, and headed to a nice restaurant to treat ourselves to a nice meal as our celebration of our final night in Oxford together.  Of course, two of us were returning in January to continue our year abroad, but the others were not.  So, after our delicious meal, we headed out to peruse the stalls, and ventured into a pub to sample their mulled cider, but unfortunately were forced to try the mulled wine instead since they were out of cider.  We then walked up the oldest tower in Oxford to enjoy the view of the Christmas festivities from the top.  We laughed, we hugged, and we celebrated not only the past eight weeks in Oxford, but also the friendships that had begun and would continue long past the time we would no longer be in the same city.  I am blessed to have met several amazing people, some fellow Butler students, others on different programs, and still others who are full-time Oxford students.  I will miss the ones who will not return in the spring, and I look forward to seeing the others upon my return, but each and every one of them has a special place in my heart.  We survived our first term at Oxford together, and that is a very strong bond.  So, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, a Happy Oxmas, a wonderful New Year, and I will see you all in January for Hilary term!

Oxmas
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Thanksgiving Across the Sea

Time January 3rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Possibly one of the hardest days to cope with while away from home during fall term is Thanksgiving.  It is not a holiday in Britain, but yet every American student knows it and is used to spending it at home with family and friends.  For that reason, St. Catherine’s tries to make it special for all their Visiting Students as well as the American grad students and fellows.  We started off the evening with drinks in the Senior Common Room, then entered hall from the door where the Master and dean normally enter from and were greeted with a couple tables specially set just for us with special napkins, place settings, and table decorations.  Already feeling special, this made it even better.  We sat down, marveling at the decorations, and many a person commenting on the cornbread platter that was positioned every so often down the table—there is nothing like authentic Thanksgiving food to make it even more like Thanksgiving.

The food was excellent.  It seemed like the cooks really outdid themselves for this special event.  All students who ate in hall that night were treated to the American Thanksgiving food, but you could tell that the tables housing the Americans were the ones having the most fun.  We were laughing, talking, savoring, and enjoying ourselves as we would have if we were home with our family, for the truth is that we had become somewhat of a family, a home away from home family, and we were going to celebrate this night in style, whether the British recognized it as a holiday or not.  Granted, it is less like a holiday when you have work looming over your head (for I did have an essay due the next morning that I still needed to finish), but the ability to forget about it over the course of a couple of hours while we enjoyed good food and company was the best thing I could have asked for.

What did we eat? Well, the chiefs had an excellent menu containing all the traditional food (even if slightly different than what you would find in the states) prepared for us.  We started off with Pupkin and Sweetcorn Soup with the corn bread, then continues on to the main course, which consisted of Roast Turkey with Pear and Chesnut Stuffing, Bacon, Chipolata and Sherry Gravy.  Finally, dessert was a scrumptious Pecan and Cranberry Tart, with Coffee or Tea and Mint Chocolates for afters.  Overall, it was amazing.  In fact, you could see every American student savoring the food, for we were still on our main course when most of the British students were beginning to depart after finishing their dessert.  It was truly a Thanksgiving to remember, with special friends in Oxford.  I don’t think I’ll ever have another one like it, for the English manage to do Thanksgiving quite well, even if they don’t celebrate the holiday themselves.

Thanksgiving the Catz Way
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Lake District

Time January 3rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

After the first week of term was over and we had all made it through at least one, if not two tutorials and the assorted lectures that went along with them, it was time for all the Butler Visiting Students in Oxford to board a bus and head up to the Lake District where we would meet up with other Visiting Students from across England and Wales for the fall term Adventure Weekend.  We were set up to enjoy a couple days of fun and merriment in the Lake District, but first we had to get there, and that meant several hours on a bus!

To be honest, this is probably one of the best ways to meet other students from your area.  Trap a bunch of people on a bus and you will either make friends or be miserable.  I am quite thankful for this long bus ride because it allowed me to meet and get to know a couple other students in Oxford that I hadn’t met during our orientation in London, and I think it was the start of some life long friendships.

Upon arrival, we unpacked at the Youth Hostel we were staying at (all the Butler students in attendance were split across three sleeping facilities).  I was housed at Derwent Water Youth Hostel, which was absolutely beautiful since it had been a manor house prior to its conversion to a hostel and had an amazing view over Derwent Water—one of the many Lakes in the Lake District—and a waterfall behind it.  We ate dinner then headed over to the Glaramara activity center (who was the organizers of all the adventures of adventure weekend) for a pub quiz with all the other Butler students.

Lake District Fun

Saturday morning saw us back at Glaramara so that we could set out for our assorted adventures (which we had signed up for prior to our arrival).  There were people setting out on an all day hike, a tour of the Lake District, tours of Dove Cottage and Hilltop Farm (home of William Wordsworh and Beatrix Potter, respectively), half day hike, canoeing, coracle building and archery, dragon boating and raft building, climbing, gorge scrambling, mountain biking, via feratta, and tour of the Honister Slate Mine.  Most of the activities were half day, meaning that you were able to do two different ones, while a couple were full day activities.  I opted for the Morning half-day hike, which afforded me some lovely views of the lake district, then after lunch I suited up and prepared to get soaked as I went gorge scrambling.  That was probably the most fun activity of the day.  It involved following a guide as you climbed up rapids, slid down waterfalls, swam through water, jumped off of rocks into deep water, and crawled through tunnels.  You were soaked to the skin despite the extra layers the guides had you put on (which consisted of a wool one piece and waterproof pants and jacket), but it was so much fun and I would do it again in a heartbeat.  I was sad that I couldn’t take my camera with me, but it wouldn’t have survived the adventure.

Ready for Ghyll Scrambling

That evening was a disco for all those who wanted to participate at the Glaramara activity center.  There was dancing, and socializing and drinking for those who wanted to, and overall it was an enjoyable event, though I know I was a bit tuckered out after all the adventures of the day.

Sunday morning saw time for one more activity before heading back to our respective universities.  You could either go on a hike, do some team building activities, or head into Keswick, a nearby town.  I opted to stroll through Keswick, and did a bit of souvenir shopping and had some delicious English tea (complete with scones and clotted cream) with a friend.  We then boarded a bus and headed back to Oxford.  The bus ride was much more subdued than the one headed to the Lake District, probably because we were all tuckered out from all the adventuring and partying that we had participated in.  I highly recommend attendance to all future Adventure Weekends, and look forward to going to the one in the spring, this time held in Wales!

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Fresher’s Week

Time January 3rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

There is nothing like orientation.  Everyone has gone through it at least once, and Visiting Students at oxford are included in the new student orientation at every college, known as Fresher’s Week.  It is crazy, a chance to meet not only other Visiting Students from around the world but also the full-time oxford students, both those returning and those just beginning like yourself.  It is orientation the Oxford way, and every college does it differently.

My Fresher’s Week started off with a Welcome Tea for Visiting Students beginning shortly after our arrival on Tuesday of naught week.  From there, we gathered with all the other first year (‘freshers’) in the JCR where we met our College parents for the first time.  College parents are Oxford’s way of setting up new (and visiting) students with older students within their subject and a couple other new students to provide a support network that they can utilize when they have need of it.  One parent is always in the student’s subject, the other may be in the same or maybe in a different subject and they usually have two fresher kids and maybe one or two visiting student kids.  Unfortunately there was a mix up with my parents, so I was adopted by two other parents, neither of which were in my subject, but they were great anyway.  We went out for drinks at a pub in town where we all got to know each other (with another college family) then headed back to Catz for our first college dinner.  It was the perfect beginning to my time at Oxford.

The rest of the week was spent in sessions (though visiting students had less than the freshers themselves had), fun events hosted by the JCR, and then club nights out on the town.  There was always a gathering in the JCR in the evenings so that people could mingle, hang out, drink, and relax before the chaos of term actually started.  There were staircase parties so people could meet the people living around them, and on Friday there was the first Entz of the term: the Name Game Entz.  Everyone dressed up as something that matched the first letter of their first or preferred name.  There was a multitude of different outfits, of varying creativity and effort.  I opted to reuse a skittle shirt I had made for a Candy Land themed party at Rice, but overall it was a lot of fun to people watch and try to guess what people were dressed up as.  Some of them were easier to others, but it was definitely a great way to meet new people (and remember their names!) and celebrate the beginning of term at a new University.

Name Game Entz
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Guy Fawkes Day

Time January 3rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Bonfire, fireworks, carnival rides, food, and friends: what better way is there to celebrate the 5th of November than the British way?  It was a great way to take a break from the rather busy term week and just celebrate a holiday that doesn’t exist in the states.  With friends, I walked out to the park where the festivities were being held, then enjoyed the wonderful evening air socializing and making new friends until it was time.  Then, after the sun had set, the effigy was lit, turning into a rather spectacular bonfire as the background was lit by fireworks.  After the fun and games were done, a couple of us walked back into town to a pub where we enjoyed warming up with some delicious mulled cider and more excellent conversation.  It was a nice, laid back evening, and I could not have asked for anything better.  After all, there is not really a better way to remember the 5th of November, is there?

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Classes

Time January 3rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Classes at Oxford: the thing everyone wants to know about, but the hardest to explain.  It isn’t that the system itself is hard to explain.  Even though it is different from the US system, it is easy enough to comprehend.  The hard part comes in the fact that it is different for everyone, from whatever your tutorials are in to who your tutors are effects what your experience is like.  Some people have lectures that their tutors ask them to attend, others have optional lectures, and still others have no lectures at all because there are not any lectures related to their topics.  Some people have loads of work, others have loads of free time.  Every person’s term at Oxford is as unique as the individual themselves, which means that nothing is easily explained or expected.

For me, I was one of the people who had a lot of work.  My tutorials were in Arthurian Legend and Dante’s Divine Comedy, and as such I had a lot of reading that I had to do for every paper I wrote.  Top it off, both my tutorials were back to back every other week, meaning that I had a paper due on Thursday and on Friday every other week.  That ends up being a lot of work and a lot of pressure each week, so I had to budget my time carefully and work hard on not falling behind.  My tutors suggested some lectures I could attend as they were related to my topics, but I opted to not attend after I determined that they were not going to advance my knowledge in the direction that was beneficial to the specific topics I was studying.  This, I believe, is what makes an Oxford education unique, but also the hardest to understand what is expected of you, for it is as unique as the tutors and the students themselves, ever varied and changing.  I can almost guarantee that my next two terms at Oxford will only be vaguely similar to this term, and that makes it exciting and nerve wracking at the same time.  So, while I can’t tell you really what to expect, I can give you the idea of the variety that can be expected.  It is an amazing and unique experience, just as unique as the opportunity to design your own courses and tailor them to your interests.  This is what makes the Oxford experience all that and more.

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Bath

Time January 3rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The first day trip that the London IFSA-Butler staff organized fo us was a trip to Bath.  The one requirement was that you had to get to the London office on your own and after that everything was taken care of.  So after a long bus ride (though definitely not as long as the one to the Lake District), we disembarked and headed into the city center where we then received our audio guides and headed into the Baths, exploring them at our own pace and listening to the information that we felt was most interesting to us.  It was the perfect way to explore the ancient baths, moving at your own pace and being able to soak up the history as much or as little as you wanted.

Whenever you finished at the Baths, you had the rest of the time to explore the city as you desired, whether it was checking out the various museums and sites or simply relaxing at a shop.  It was great to be able to meander and just experience a city that was different and try to figure out all that it had to offer.  Then it was back on the buses at the appointed time for the trip back into London and then from there back out to Oxford.  It made for a very long day, but it was definitely worth it.

Bath Cathedral Roman Baths
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Blenheim Palace

Time January 3rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

One of the best things to do is simply take a short day trip with friends.  It gets you out of your room, and allows you to spend some quality time with those you have come to know well.  Even better is when you stay close to where you live, for it is far cheaper than any other travel you could do.  This is why Christy, Krystal, Julia and I headed out to Blenheim Palace, roughly twenty miles from the heart of Oxford and accessible by bus.  It is the ancestral home of Winston Churchill, and is absolutely gorgeous.  We were able to convert our day passes into year long passes for free, meaning that we could come back in the future for no cost.  Inside the house, there were displays of Winston Churchill memorabilia, tours of the rooms, and a multimedia tour of the house and its inhabitants from creation to the present day Duke and his wife.  We then ate our sack lunches in the gardens then explored the grounds, from the rose garden to the hedge maze to the secret garden.  It was an amazing way to spend the day and explore a bit of history that was only a stone’s throw from Oxford, not to mention the prime photo opportunities (we had a lot of fun with them).  In fact, Julia had been talking with several other full time students who had never even ventured out of Oxford to explore what was close to them.  It is truly a hidden gem that should be explored.  One of the best pieces of advice the Butler staff has given us is to live in your city.  There is no need to travel far and wide to see items of great merit, there are many in your own backyard, wherever that may be.

Blenheim Palace Mimic the Statues Blenheim Palace Grounds
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London Orientation

Time October 18th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment by

So, I finally arrived.  I landed in London Heathrow Airport the morning of Thursday, September 29th, where I was met by several smiling IFSA-Butler staff members who shuffled all of us who arrived on the group flight onto a bus and swept us away to the center of London where our orientation was being held.

And center of London it was!  Right off Tottenham Court Road, we were within walking distance or short tube rides of many of the sites to see in London, and you can bet we were all ready to go explore.  But first things first, everyone jumped through the shower (trust me, you too will feel gross after traveling all night on a plane), then a few of us headed across the street from the hotel to the nearest Carphone Warehouse to purchase our new mobile phones that would get us through our term abroad.  I highly recommend this store to all because it offers probably the widest range of phone and pay-as-you-go carriers than others.  You can truly find the one that is best for you.

Unfortunately, shopping and comparing carriers took awhile, and add that to all of our complete and utter exhaustion, by the time we were all through at the store, it was time to head back to the hotel where we could rest for a few minutes before meeting up with the entire group and heading out to dinner.

Dinner was delicious-a selection of typical British fare, we were told-as was the opportunity to meet several of the other students we had not met yet.  By the time it was done, most of us were dead on our feet, so we simply headed back to the hotel and called it an early night.

On Friday, our IFSA-Butler orientation took off in full swing.  We meet in the conference rooms of the hotel where we had a cultural orinetation meeting with Lynne and Andrew, the two directors of the Butler London office.  It was quite entertaining and a lot of fun.  Following that we had university-specific academic talks with suggestions on what to expect academically at each of our host universities.  Next, Lord Taverne was a guest speaker from the House of Lords who updated us on the current political, social, and economic concerns in Britain, which is actually quite useful so that you know what some of the hot topics are and can seem somewhat knowledgeable when they come up in discussions!

After lunch, our meetings continued with a safety talk from a former London police officer, who was quite helpful in giving tips and tricks to keep ourselves safe and avoiding being targets of petty crime while abroad.  While somewhat frightening, it was actually refreashing to know that Butler cares enough to ensure that we are at least aware of some of the dangers facing us while we live here, since we as Americans are apparently a lot more trusting than the rest of the world.

Finally, that evening, the truly fun part of orientation began.  We were met outside the hotel by several tour guides who split us up into small groups and took us on a grand walking tour of London, helping us get oriented to where we were locally (though most of us ended up terribly turned around) and pointing out a lot of destinations and culture of the surrounding area.  The tour ended at the Fortune Theatre where we had the privelege of seeing “The Woman in Black,” a thrilling ghost story.  It was amazingly well done-essentially a two person play, that definitely had me jumping at times.

Afterwards, we walked back to the hotel, and Megan, Krystal, and I then ventured back out to explore London again.  We headed back to Trafalgar Square, then walked up to Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey.  It was positively breathtaking, so much so that I was mad that I had left my camera back at the hotel.  We ventured out a little bit on Westminster Bridge over the Thames, and as I looked out over the water, at the Eye of London and Big Ben all lit up, it finally hit me: I was in London.  I was, for the first time in my life, in England, in London, the place I had always dreamed of going.  I couldn’t believe it.

Saturday brought the last of the orientation meetings and the first departures of students out to their individual universities.  Megan, Krystal, Lauren, Clark, and I spent the afternoon wandering around London, exploring, taking in the sites, and taking lots of pictures.  It was a very long day, and by the end of it I was exhausted and footsore, but I would not have traded it for the world!

Sunday, for those of us still left in London (another wave of students departed for their hosts), an outing to Greenwich was planned.  We met up with one of the tour guides from Friday night, and headed down to the Thames where we caught a clipper that took us down the Thames and deposited us at Greenwich.  It was a lot of fun seeing London from the river, and a lot of things look so much more striking from that point.

After a quick orientation tour, we were turned loose for two to three hours to get lunch an explore where we wanted to.  Krystal and I grabbed lunch, wandered through the market, then ventured up to the Queen’s House.  While we didn’t spend much time inside, and the outside was surrounded by scaffolding, the parts that we did see were beautiful.  The Tulip Staircase is also just as amazing as it could possibly be.  Afterwards, we headed back to the Royal Naval Academy grounds where we went into the Painted Hall and marveled at just how ornate it was.  When we were finally done with that, we headed back to the group randezvous spot.

From there, we hoped on a train back across the river and got off at Stratford. Stratford is the location of the 2012 Summer Olympic games being held in London, so we walked up to the lookout point so we could see what they had built so far.  Our guide told us about how the Olympics were changing the face of the area they were being held in.  Stratford used to be home to a lot of soap factories, which left the soil unusable, and not much used to be there.  Thanks to the Olympics, all of the soil has been washed, all sorts of new developments are going in, and the area is now being considered the new up-and-coming area of London.  It is amazing how the Olympics can change an are for the better, and I can’t wait to go back when everything is completed!

Monday saw the rest of the students venturing out to their host universities with the exception of those of us attending St. Catherine’s College, Oxford.  Instead, we were given the day free to continue our explorations of London and the surrounding area.  Jon and I set off and visited Buckingham Palace, and were even privileged enough to see the Royal Horse Guard go by.  I think my favorite part of that was the little cleaning vehicle that followed the horses to ensure that any manure was cleaned up.  Coming from Texas, this seemed a bit ridiculous, but the English are a very different breed than us Texans.

After we had had our fill of the Palace, we caught the underground to Tower Hill, where we bought our tickets and spent the afternoon exploring the Tower of London.  We opted into taking a short tour with one of the Beefeaters, and I have to say that we had the best one.  He was funny and knowledgeable, and you could tell he loved his job, loved telling stories and history, and most of all loved cracking jokes with the tourists.  After the tour, we went and saw the crown jewels, toured the White Castle where they had armor on display, walked through the Bloody Tower, and then wandered through the mideival castle.  It was amazing to be surrounded by so much history.  Finally, though, we called it a day and headed back to the hotel, where we met up with all the other St. Catz students and went out to dinner.

Tuesday morning was our last bit of time in London, so a small group of us headed over to the British Museum.  An important note: almost all museums in Britain are free, so I highly recommend making the most of them!  The British Museum is home to so many wonders, including the Rosetta Stone.  We spent an hour or so wandering through different parts, though I think my favorite was the clock rooms.  Finally, though, it was time to head back to the hotel to meet up with Andrew and the coach that was going to take us out to Oxford and to St. Catherine’s.  We were finally headed to Oxford!

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16 Days…

Time September 12th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

…and I’m remembering what it is like to be a new student headed off to college.  The joys of getting your log in set up, receiving your new university email, being contacted by people at your new school, and finding out what courses you will be taking.  It is amazing how fast the excitement and novelty comes back as you begin to get ready to head off on your new adventure.

After spending a week working with the new students at Rice University’s orientation, I am reminded of my own orientation and matriculation into Rice, and of my upcoming orientation to St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University.  I can’t wait.  At times, it seems like the excitement will simply spew forth, bubbling over, unable to be contained.  It often hits at some of the most random times: while I’m eating lunch, before I fall asleep, while I’m driving.  But the truth is, in 26 days, I will be studying at Oxford, one of the best colleges in the world, and I can’t wait.

So, I leave you for now with this quote from Mark Twain:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Right now, I am at home spending time with my family and friends.  But in 16 days, I will be taking Twain’s advice and will sail off into new, uncharted waters for the adventure of a lifetime!

TTYL 😀

Steph

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