Life After Oxford
Well, it’s been about a month since I left Oxford and the United Kingdom for the States. Between Brexit and the national conventions in the US, there has been no shortage of news-making activity in either my new home or my old one in those few weeks. And while it’s certainly not news-making, there’s been plenty of activity going on my own life as well!
I came home to the customary heat of California (which has always been overwhelming to me, but was even more so after six months in such a cold, rainy climate). Catching up with friends and family was both familiar and new–when I saw my mom and the close friends I hadn’t seen for so long, it really did feel like no time had passed, though there was so much to talk about (I know, I know…it sounds cheesy, but it’s true). Plenty of time was devoted to hanging out with my pets and with the lovely animals that I grew up with at the vet hospital where my mom works. And, of course, I indulged in some delicious Mexican food. There is so much tasty food in California (well, much less now, since I ate quite a bit of it), but I had especially been craving good Mexican food ever since our dining hall in Oxford served “burritos” made with wild rice pilaf and stewed kidney beans (it’s just not right!!!).
But my time at home ended quickly, as I needed to get back to Walla Walla to start a research/paper-writing project that I am currently working on with my wonderful advisor at Whitman. Now that I’m in Washington, reunions with my friends are gradual, but extremely gratifying. The majority of my friends at Whitman were also abroad in the spring, which makes catching up twice as exciting. With each friend I speak to, I realize more and more the broad, broad range of differences between my experience and theirs. This past weekend I went hiking with two friends. One spent last semester in Ecuador, the other in Thailand. I stayed quiet as they shared horror stories of disastrous food poisoning, parasites, and constant discomfort. No matter how hard the academics were at Oxford, I now count myself very lucky that I simply had nothing to add to that conversation. But at the same time, as I hear so many stories so unlike my own, I can’t help feeling a twinge of regret that I didn’t spend my time living in a place without so many similarities to the US.
While my time abroad was beautiful and exciting, I worry that I did not push myself enough, or really challenge the boundaries of my comfort zone by trying out a new language or enrolling in a program which better encourages cultural immersion. These thoughts are not overwhelming, and I would never think of trading my experience for someone else’s. And honestly, I know I would not have been ready for many of the programs that my friends went on. Oxford was the best fit for me at the time. But I also know that my travels outside of the UK during spring break, combined with these lingering thoughts, will inspire me to travel more in the future (when I have the means, of course). Not for pleasure–though yes, I do find it fun and exciting–but to better understand the world I’m living in. This will undoubtedly require me to push beyond the familiar and put myself into increasingly uncomfortable, yet thought-provoking places.
But back to the present. It really is incredible to me how applicable the lessons I’ve learned in Oxford have already been! The work I am doing this summer requires just the kind of independent motivation that I became accustomed to at Oxford. Coming straight from classes at Whitman, I just don’t think I would have been able to handle the pressure of working one-on-one with a professor on a serious and sustained project. But the confidence I gained while abroad has really kicked in and helped. I have also brought back some important lessons in self-care, and have been trying not to get too caught up in my work. Swimming, hiking, cooking, movie-watching, and talking with friends have all become customary in my daily routine, making the summer not just an extension of my education, but also a truly fun break from full-time academics.
In between busy-ness and back-at-home-adventures, I must admit that I do miss my walks to college in Oxford, lazy punts down the river with friends, and the crowded, tourist-y streets (which were just a pain at the time, but now seem like some sort of luxury compared to the often barren sidewalks of small-town Washington). America still feels strangely new and novel, so excitement at re-discovering my home often gets in the way of reminiscence. But I have a feeling that the longer I’m away, the more I will miss Oxford and all the memories (good and bad) that I made there.
Since this post will be my last, I’ll just leave a few quick notes about what I’ll be up to next! When the summer closes and the draft I am working on with my advisor comes nearer to completion, I will be entering my last year at Whitman. I’ll finally be taking a class in Eastern philosophy (Western usually dominates the curriculum); I’ll be starting work on my thesis, which I know at this point will be exploring the link between moral theories that rely on limited notions of ‘human nature’ and systems of oppression which affect underprivileged groups…though further narrowing is necessary as I learn how not to take on the entire world in one paper; I’ll be starting my applications for graduate school; and I’ll hopefully have plenty of memorable times celebrating four great years. And then…who knows? Only time will tell!
Alright, well, I guess that’s all I have to say! Thanks so much to IFSA-Butler for giving me the opportunity to write this blog and for providing all kinds of support during my time abroad. I had an amazing adventure, and I am so grateful to have it documented!
(Photo of me loving life in Washington, taken by a friend just back from Ecuador!)