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Silver Linings, Staplers, and Learning How to Think

Well. I worried things would be busier here than expected and that I would struggle to keep up with a blog. Lo and behold! I was right! But silver lining number one is I have been here for a month, and have therefore accumulated much wisdom, or something.

I shall begin with a list of things that I didn’t bring to England but should have.

1. A sufficiently large bag/backpack/carrying device. In an effort to avoid overstuffing my luggage, and with the knowledge that unlike university in the states, Oxford doesn’t require purchasing a lot of textbooks, I brought a medium-sized bag assuming that would be plenty. I conveniently overlooked the fact that just because one is not purchasing books does not mean one is not carrying books. Lots of them. Always. Bring a decently-sized, reliable bag. The £5 one you run out to buy from Primark WILL break within 48 hours. The strap’ll just snap right off. Likely right as you step off a bus with a horde of people. You know, hypothetically.
(Silver lining number two is a nice anecdote to tell.)

2. A tiny stapler. Staplers are things you probably don’t think about in everyday life. But staplers are also things you will absolutely need here. You can print papers from any university computer room, but I have yet to come across such a place supplied with a stapler. And for a miniature, plastic, completely unreliable stapler from the grocery store, I believe I paid about £3. And that’s cheap compared to most staplers. I’m wondering if staplers are just valuable here. Silver lining three? It comes with staples. Also, pens are expensive.

3. An umbrella. Umbrellas are strangely overpriced here. As in, concerningly so. I’m lucky to have remembered one at the last minute, but a lot of people get stuck without one. And nobody wants to pay £30/$50 for one of those.

4. A bottle opener. Because you never know. A lot of things seem to come in bottles here, and none of them that I can tell are of the twist-off variety. You can avoid the bottles if you choose to, but chances are at some point you’ll need one.

5. Sunglasses. I didn’t bring those. But believe it or not, sun exists here.

All of that aside, I’ve been here for a month now, which simultaneously feels like 2 weeks and 2 years. I feel that I’ve been away from home for an unbelievably long time. I’m starting to use words like “quite” and “lovely” and “takeaway” and even let a “cheers” slip once or twice. It’s very strange how quickly you become accustomed to things here, considering they really are so very different from America. The accents*, the words, the weather, the food, the operating hours of the stores and the city itself. But it also feels so fulfilling to become a part of that.

As for school itself, it is definitely every bit as challenging as I expected. The hours are opposite of what I’m accustomed to, and it makes focusing on the same assignment for 8 hours per day a bit daunting. But that is another thing you eventually get used to. I myself am not “used to,” but somewhere around “getting there.” The tutorials are also unusual in that you make up about 50% of the people present. Coming from a Southern California public university where the average class size is somewhere near 40, feeling less then perfectly comfortable with the transition is, I think, reasonable. It’s startling to be expected to have many opinions and often. But it is also the entire point of this program, and it’s strangely satisfying even if it is at times unnatural, which is a great big beautiful silver lining number four.

I read an excerpt a couple weeks ago from a book called The Oxford Tutorial with the subtitle, “Thanks, You Taught Me How to Think,” (http://oxcheps.new.ox.ac.uk/Publications/Resources/OxCHEPS_OP1_08.pdf Here’s the book. I recommend number 8– it’s encouraging and exciting and lovely.) which is exactly how it feels. Which is wonderful, because you instantly know you’re learning so much. But it can also be a bit uncomfortable sometimes, because you realize you may not know how to think as well as you thought you did. But that’s okay. We’ll get there, as with most things here, in time. And most everyone here is wonderfully encouraging every step of the way.

I have just finished up my third week, which puts me somewhere near halfway done with Hilary term. The whole 8-week term thing is still unfathomable to me, being used to double that. I remember seeing a lot of comments before I applied which advised to come for at least two terms. Being here has absolutely made me concur. At least two terms. I can’t imagine only having a few more weeks here. There is so unbelievably much to see here, to experience, and to learn. One month in and I still don’t have my… land-legs? England-legs? (Seriously. I’m constantly tripping on things here.) Being here for 6 months is such a beautiful thing, and I’m so thankful I have this chance. It’s a delightfully scary, unusual, thrilling experience, and every day is different and unquestionably worth it.

So, if you’re unsure about it, do it. If you’re scared, do it. If you’re stuck between coming for one or two terms, do it and do two or three or as many as you can. The longer you’re here, the more home you’ll feel. And considering this has only been my “home” for 31 days, that’s really saying a great deal. But I can just tell already! Oxford and I have so much more to learn about each other. And so far, we’ve hit it off quite nicely.

 

*Particularly noticeable when your tutor asks what your home school is called, and you’re met with a blank stare when you enthusiastically answer “yes!” thinking he’s asked you if you’re cold.

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