Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Oxford from Above, Packing, and Leaving

Time December 19th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

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  1. The Radcliffe Camera in all its glory

 

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2. High St as seen from the University Church. Make sure to ask for a student discount (only for Oxford) when climbing the tower

 

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3. The central part of Oxford. The sidewalks are often too narrow to accommodate all pedestrians

 

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4. The lawn and iron railings are protecting the library from hundreds of tourists

 

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5. The final international get-together of Michaelmas in Freud, the bar located inside an old church in Jerico

 

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6. Oxford loves subtle colors and classic fits. (Packing neatly is often the key to fitting more clothes into your suitcase)

 

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7. The Queen is saying “Good Bye” in London Luton Airport

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5 Stunning Photos of Oxford at Night

Time November 16th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

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  1. Bicycles in front of Hertford College

 

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2. The Bridge of Sighs (Hertford Bridge)

 

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3. All Souls College, home to 6 (!) graduate students

 

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4. Broad St with the very first Oxfam shop

 

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5. Red telephone box

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How to Choose Your Oxford College

Time November 15th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

When I was considering to study abroad at Oxford University, I was surprised to learn that I had to choose and apply to a single college within the university. Although Oxford consists of over forty different colleges, applying through IFSA-Butler does help narrow down the options to seven colleges: Hertford, Lady Margaret Hall, Mansfield, St. Anne’s, St. Catherine’s, St. Edmund, and Worcester. A large portion of my decision was influenced by the information on the IFSA-Butler page describing each college. As a student who double majors in public health and philosophy with a minor in entrepreneurship & management, I recognized that I was not the typical Oxford student. A typical student studies one subject or two closely related subjects, and they have been studying these topics for years even prior to attending Oxford. A key defining feature of St. Catherine’s is that it is a very new Oxford college and also one of the most flexible with regards to tutorials and available subjects. As a student who wanted to take tutorials in philosophy and management (and despite my convincing argument that the two are in fact very related), I figured that such an accommodating atmosphere would be a good fit for me.

 

Now that I have been at Catz for about five weeks, I am completely happy with my decision and I have no regrets. However, once I arrived I realized there are some factors to consider that I completely did not think of during the application process.

  1. Location: I had no idea where Catz was located within Oxford until I arrived. During the application process, I completely did not consider how the location of a college could affect my study abroad experience. St. Catz is located in the very eastern part of Oxford, so my walks to my tutorial, the grocery store, food, city center, pubs, and other colleges are all decently far. On the minimum my walks are about 10-15 minutes while going across the city can near 30 minutes. St. Catz, St. Annes, and especially Lady Margaret Hall are all farther from the central Oxford hub, whereas St. Edmund Hall, Worcester, and Hertford are all much more central. A college’s location is largely influential of the time you need to allot to transportation, the potential need for a bike, your diet, and the accessibility of certain resources. For example, I utilize books in the library much more than I do back in the U.S. (where I usually buy my books for the term), so being closer to the library is actually very important. I know some St. Catz students actually chose Catz because we are very close to the Social Sciences Library and as someone who is studying a social science, it was extremely valuable to be near this resource. I am not saying location should be the most important factor; however, I do recommend looking up the college you’re considering on a map. Doing so will help you conceptualize where you will be located within the Oxford community and establish realistic expectations for how much walking you will be doing over the term.
  2. Physical Buildings: Oxford is a large tourist attraction and people love the beautiful architecture. It is no secret that many scenes of Harry Potter were filmed in Oxford. With that being said, some study abroad students want the “Hogwarts” experience and if that is a priority, then it is important to google the college your considering to see what it looks like. St. Catz was built in 1962 and it has a very modern appearance. It is not important for me to live in a Hogwarts castle; however, I do know that some students were slightly disappointed. It seems like such a simple, intuitive thing to do, but it is important to be honest and reflective about what you want to see when you look out your dorm window.
  3. Size: Colleges vary in size and it really influences the culture and environment of the college. Although the range of undergraduate students at the college does not vary as much as they do in the U.S., it is still something to consider. There is not really any college that is massive; the largest college is Catz with almost 500 undergrad students. The smallest college in terms of undergraduate population (that you can apply to via IFSA-Butler) is Mansfield with just over 200 undergraduates. One of my friends comes from a very large university back in the U.S. and she specifically wanted to experience the small college feel. On the reverse, I liked the fact that Catz is the largest college because I figured that I could continue to meet new people up until my time was up.

Choosing which college to apply to can seem daunting; however, I do not think there is a bad choice. Do your research, try to find people who have studied there and ask them about their experiences, and then make the most of your time once you arrive! On that note, if any of you are considering St. Catz and want to ask me questions about my experience, don’t hesitate to e-mail me: zaya.amgaa@gmail.com

 

Cheers,

Zaya

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4 Things to Do on an Oxford’s Saturday

Time November 4th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

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  1. Wake up and take a walk along the Oxford Canal, taking a cup of hot tea and a sandwich with you.

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Freshman Year (Pt. 2)

Time October 28th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

At the start of each school year I often find myself telling the incoming freshmen “Ah, what I wouldn’t give to be a freshman again.” The truth is, I don’t mean it. I am perfectly happy to have my friends, know where all my classes are, and not be at the bottom of the totem pole. But I have come to appreciate as much flak as freshmen get for being clueless to the ways of the world (or at least within the microcosm of a college campus) there is also something to be said for the fleeting virginal pleasure of being immersed into so many new experiences all at once. Arriving at Oxford, I have certainly felt like a freshman again. And while I have been quickly reminded why I am so glad to no longer be a freshman, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t also nice to do it all again. I have even found myself eating in the dining hall again (though when your dining hall is straight out of Harry Potter it has slightly more appeal than the buffet style cafeterias that defined freshman year).

Here all new students are called “Freshers” and they are grouped together based on the unifying characteristic that they are new to Oxford. Regardless of age, nationality, or area of study, we are all Fresher’s. The approach is quite a welcoming one, and while I have often felt inundated with orientations, safety briefings, and inductions, they are all admittedly quite useful. Knowing how everything worked at my home institution may have been old hat, but crucial information like library hours and best places for a late night snack have all had to be relearned. For this reason, it is exceedingly helpful to be treated like a freshman.

It also gives you a unique opportunity to reinvent yourself. Every year when New Year’s Day rolls around, people embrace the opportunity to make positive changes in their lives. Gym memberships soar, healthy eating abounds, and bad habits are kicked to the curb… for about a month. Occasionally New Year’s resolutions lead to lasting changes for a better lifestyle, but ultimately the same habits creep back in. The numbers may have changed on the calendar, but not much else has. If you are in the same environment with the same routine and same temptations, trying to make significant changes, no matter how well-intentioned they may be, will be supremely difficult to maintain. However, when you’re entire surroundings are new, no one knows you, and you haven’t even adjusted your sleep pattern (much less a daily routine) you have a golden opportunity to build your new lifestyle however you like. You have enough independence to sleep all day every day, or not sleep at all. It’s like freshman year all over, but hopefully this time with some added wisdom. We will have to see how long it lasts, but I have welcomed this opportunity with open arms. I am trying to force myself to eat healthy by only buying (somewhat) healthy groceries. I have joined the crew team, which practices at the ungodly hour of 6 in the morning (serving the dual function of getting me out of bed to start my day and getting some exercise). And in class I have taken the initiative of being responsible about my work. I realize that I chose to come here, I am here to learn, to take advantage of the academic prowess of this esteemed institution. If I wanted to skate by and follow along, I should’ve stayed home. Surrounded by some of the most historic and beautiful architecture in England, walking in the footsteps of some of our world’s greatest minds, I would like to be the best version of myself that I can be. I aim to leave Oxford having made my time here worthwhile, taken advantage of every opportunity available. After all the planning, hoping, working, packing, travelling, stressing, wondering, and everything else, I am finally here. I didn’t just come to visit, to pass through. I came to grow, and I intend to do so.

 

 

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A Typical Week at Oxford: Monday – Thursday

Time October 27th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

Hi all,

So I’m finally getting into some sort of a schedule here even though each of my weeks has looked drastically different. When I was considering studying abroad, I wondered how my semester would look different than my typical semester at Hopkins. Below is a breakdown of what I would consider a “normal” week:

Monday

10:15 – 11:15 AM – Management Tutorial: I meet with my tutor for my tutorial on Strategic Management. Even though I’m a student at St. Catz, tutors can be based in any college. Even though sometimes that means I have a long walk, getting to see other colleges is really fun. We meet at Mansfield College to discuss the differences between a resource-based view and an industry-analysis. We also go over my essay (which I e-mailed yesterday) and he highlights my strengths as well as places I can improve.

11:30 – 12:30 PM – Lunch at Home: I go home and make a quick lunch. I’m lucky to have a mini-fridge in my room so I am able to keep some groceries on hand. My room is conveniently located right next door to my floor’s kitchen.

1:00 PM – 4:30 PM – Studying: There are so many libraries at Oxford. I’m pretty certain that if I visited a new one every time, I still wouldn’t see all of them. That being said I’ve had a lot of fun exploring the city by exploring various study spots. Normally back at Hopkins I do most of my work during the evenings, but here it seems most people work during the day and I’m beginning to understand why. The assumption is that everyone is free in the evenings so people get together for dinner, drinks, and all sorts of other events. I usually have large chunks of unstructured time, so I use it to read, write, and prepare for my tutorials.

7:00 – 8:00 PM – Hall Dinner: At St. Catz we’re lucky to have formal hall every night which means I can get a three-course meal for 4 pounds. You have to book your place before 1 PM that day and I usually meet up with some of my friends beforehand. You sit down at long tables, get served by waiters, and share sides family-style.

8:00 – ??? PM –  Drinks at the JCR: After dinner it’s pretty common to grab a drink at the JCR (stands for junior common room which is essentially the name for the student lounge including the college bar) where drinks are school subsidized (my parents thought this was absolutely absurd). It’s a great place to hangout with friends as well as meet new people.

Tuesday

8:00 – 9:00 AM – Breakfast at St. Catz: Our dining hall has a breakfast deal with 8 items for a little over 2 pounds. It’s much earlier than I like to wake up but it’s such a great deal that I force myself out of bed.

10:00 AM – 12:00PM – Staying Up to Date: Even though I’m abroad, it’s really important to stay up to date with things back home. I still consistently check my Hopkins e-mail because I have responsibilities. For example, I am a chair for JHUMUNC (basically I moderate a room full of high school delegates as they simulate a UN conference and pretend to solve world problems…it’s fun) and part of being a chair means overseeing two dais members (assistant chairs) as they write a background guide. I wrote my portion over the summer, but my committee got an additional member in the fall so I’m responsible for allocating work and reviewing what they write. Additionally, I make sure to stay up to date with logistical things such as course registration and trying to figure out my housing for when I return.

3:30 – 4:30 PM – Philosophy Tutorial: I meet with my primary tutor for my tutorial in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. This woman is so inspiring, so intelligent, and so unbelievably kind – every time I leave a tutorial I realize my cheeks hurt from smiling the entire hour. Compared to the U.S. system in which I attend 2-3 lectures a week where and the learning is spread out, here all the learning is condensed into one weekly meeting for an hour. Because it is one-on-one, the entire session is dedicated to your personal needs and you are expected to have completed a substantial amount of work prior to each meeting. You are assigned a substantial amount of reading and required to submit an 8-9 page essay the day prior. Unlike in the U.S. where sometimes it is possible to get away with not reading, here that is not the case. My tutor will ask me what I thought about each assigned text and since I’m the only one there, it’s not like I can hope someone else answers. Luckily for me, my tutor is amazing and she makes our meetings totally comfortable and relaxed.

Wednesday

10:00 – 11:00 AM – Recommended Lecture: As a third-year humanities student, I don’t have any required lectures. In fact the thing that is mandatory for me is attendance at tutorials and since they’re one-on-one meetings with my tutor, it would be very clear if I didn’t attend. However, my philosophy tutor recommended that I attend a specific lecture that correlates well to our text. Since I only have 2 hours of required learning a week, I had no hesitation to attending this lecture. In addition I’ve regularly been attending two other lectures simply out of interest (which is entirely recommended and common). I really like going to lectures because it helps provide structure to my otherwise largely unstructured weeks.

12:00 – 1:00 PM – Out for Lunch: There are TONS of restaurants in Oxford, so even though the dining hall can be really convenient, it is important to get out and explore the city – specifically the city’s food. I recently went to Thai House and ate some great thai food. Additionally, there are great small sandwich stops and the food trucks are almost always a good decision.

3:00 – 5:30 PM – Consulting Career Fair: Something that I didn’t even think about until I got here was utilizing Oxford’s career services. There are so many events happening from the very first day of classes. Because Oxford encompasses such a wide range of colleges, the resources are equally as broad. There are events every day ranging from resume critiques, networking events, career fairs (for every industry), and more. Furthermore, since Oxford is a prestigious university it attracts so many different companies and (at least at the consulting fair I went to) a majority of them have a strong U.S. presence or at least have U.S. offices.

Thursday

9:30 – 10:30 AM – For Fun Lecture: Something really cool about the learning culture here is the strong belief that if you want to learn, you will. This is evident in the fact that many lectures aren’t required, but also in the fact that most lectures are open to anyone who is interested in them. I have looked into lectures in fields of study that I have never even considered before. Additionally, since it is not required you can go some weeks, skip other weeks, add new ones, drop other ones and there are minimal rules except for one: if you decide to sit in on a lecture, you can’t leave half way through. It’s considered exceptionally rude. Just sit through the rest of it and don’t go next week!

12: 30 PM – Weekly Lunch with Jilliann: Jilliann also goes to Johns Hopkins and she is at Oxford (St. Anne’s). Even though we have a lot of mutual friends back at JHU, we’ve only really spent time together after we flew across the Atlantic. Now we have weekly lunch dates to reminisce about our absurdly long nights in the library and how huge Oxford is compared to Hopkins. It’s such a great way to feel connected to home when I’m so far away. She definitely helps the inevitable homesickness :)

2:00 -3:00 PM – Housekeeping: I was completely dumbfounded when I learned that our accommodation (dorms) comes with housekeeping. Once a week a very nice lady vacuums my room, cleans my bathroom, takes out my trash, and changes my bed linens (for my staircase it’s on Thursdays). I was so surprised that the very first time she knocked on my door and said “Housekeeping!”, I responded “…what?” Since then we’ve become friends, and I love not having to wash my sheets because laundry is expensive here! When I return back to my freshly clean room, I can’t help but feel guilted into doing my part. I tidy up my desk, go do my laundry, and wash the many empty cups of water that accumulated over the week.

6:30 – 8:00 PM – Dinner & Networking: As someone who is considering going to law school, I joined the Oxford Law Society. A large component of the organization is being able to attend all kinds of events held by law firms. Many of these events have dinner or drinks as a component of the evening (again the casual drinking culture is still so strange to me). It’s a great way to meet other students with similar interests, meet potential employers, and get a free meal. Win-Win-Win.

Obviously this isn’t a schedule in a strict sense because many of the things I did this week are one time events; however, I will likely attend similar events next week. In some ways the weeks are very stable. I don’t have midterms/exams, so my studying hours are relatively stable compared to back at Hopkins. On the other hand, everything else I do is completely flexible. Since this post is extremely long, I will make a separate post about a typical weekend: Friday – Sunday.

Until next time,

xx

Zaya

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Top 5 Study Spaces in Oxford

Time October 24th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

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5. The first floor of The Radcliffe Camera is very spacious and atmospheric. Read More »

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A Morning Walk in Cloudy Oxford

Time October 10th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

The view of St. Aldate's The view of St. Aldate’s

 

Colorful buildings on Broad St. Colorful buildings on Broad St.

 

Cyclists next to the University Church entrance Cyclists next to the University Church entrance

 

Radcliffe Camera, the most iconic library in Oxford Radcliffe Camera, the most iconic library in Oxford

 

The Bridge of Sighs connects two parts of Hertford College The Bridge of Sighs connects two parts of Hertford College

 

Blackwell, one of the many bookstores in Oxford Blackwell, one of the many bookstores in Oxford

 

The towers of All Souls College – the richest of all colleges in Oxford The towers of All Souls College – the richest of all colleges in Oxford

 

The end of New College Lane. In 2012 it was named the 4th most picturesque street in Britain The end of New College Lane. In 2012 it was named the 4th most picturesque street in Britain
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Five Ways To Pack A Semester’s Worth of Stuff into One Suitecase

Time September 29th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

As someone who actually enjoys packing and overpacking, I could not even begin to fathom how I would pack for an entire term at Oxford with a single suitcase. I can pack that much for a week vacation; however, as I’m currently sitting at the airport having already checked my single piece of luggage (coming to 49.5 lbs), I am proof that what seems impossible can be done. Here are 5 tips for how I made it happen:

  1. Plan and Place: When I overpack it’s usually because I bring an article of clothing or a pair of shoes that I really like but never end up wearing because it didn’t coordinate with the rest of what I brought. To make sure that I made the most of my suitcase, I planned each one of my outfits and placed them on the ground. If a pair of shoes was only really fit for two outfits, I decided to leave them and go with a different option of footwear. Additionally, by folding them and placing them on the ground I created an estimate of how much space everything would need. This allowed me to make reductions earlier rather than later as it was much easier to take things from my floor back to my closet than from the bottom of my suitcase back to my closet.
  2. Mix and Match: Now this applies to clothes, but what I mean is to mix and match packing styles. There are a couple different packing styles: folding into neat squares, laying flat with minimal folding, rolling, etc (maybe you’re none of these and prefer to toss things into your suitcase and however they land is how it travels). I found to make the most of my suitcase, I had to do a little bit of everything. If you only use one method,  you have a lot of unused space. I rolled thing t-shirts to put inbetween and around larger sweaters that I folded. Doing this allowed me to fill every inch of the suitcase.
  3. Pack Weird Shapes First: For me this meant my shoes. Then follow tip 2 and add materials to fill in the gaps. It was much easier to pack around my shoes then to try and fit them in on top of everything else.
  4. Rule of 1: I have a lot of clothes and I have a lot of clothes that look alike but are slightly different enough that I will try justify why I need both. Having only one suitcase really knocked this habit out from me. My rule was that I could only bring one of something. One vest, one pair of gym shoes, one navy blouse, etc. However, I did make one exception to this rule. If I could see myself needing the item a couple times a week, I allowed myself two, so a few things that made this cut: leggings, plaid shirts, and jeans.
  5. Avoid Memorable Patterns/Pieces: Some of my favorite pieces of clothing are super unique and as a result pretty memorable. If you’re like me and you’re going to have to a Lizzie McGuire outfit repeater, you might have to leave some of your favorite pieces behind. A plain t-shirt can look entirely different if you throw on a scarf or a necklace; however, there is not much you can do to a brightly patterned shirt with distinct cutouts. I invested in some high-quality basic pieces. It was much easier to fit more necklaces than to fit more cardigans.

So with those five rules and some time spent sitting on my suitcase to flatten everything out, I managed to pack a semester’s worth of clothing into one suitcase. Stay tuned to hear about my adventures when I actually get to London.

 

Till then, happy packing!

 

xx

Zaya

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Oxford and Alleyway Pubs, Birthday Celebrations, and Lots of Sheep

Time March 16th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hello again!

If you recall from my last (vlog!) post, I mentioned that March was already shaping up to be quite an exciting month. Two weeks into it, I’m already having the time of my life.

When I last left you, I recently completed three essays and was looking forward to a nice easy week before diving into the next set due March 30. Well, after my cozy week, I ventured out to Oxford on a Saturday day trip with IFSA. Unfortunately, in my ‘taking it easy’ week, I forgot to charge my camera batteries. So apologies for the lack of Oxford pictures. We had a wonderful tour from a student at one of the many colleges and his anecdotes about the university’s traditions and rituals really emphasized my love for local knowledge about these cities surrounding London. For lunch, we followed his suggestion of a pub down a few alleyways and had, again, fantastic food. Apparently, an alleyway is a key feature in the local pubs with fantastic food I’ve visited outside of London. (Remember Winchester?) Anyway, after a satisfied appetite and a pint of a local bitter beer that was phenomenal, we visited Blenheim Palace, the residence of the Duke of Marlborough and his family about eight miles from Oxford. The palace, also the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, was magnificent on the inside. There were many French touches and the state rooms were all matters of extravagant. Personally, however, I fell in love with the gardens and grounds outside the palace. With the lack of pictures, you’ll have to take my word for it, but the gardens (against the sunny backdrop we were lucky to have) were breathtaking. I wish I had the day to wander around the grounds, with the flowers beginning to bloom in the first tastes of spring and the sculptures decorating the grass. It was truly amazing.

Upon return to London, I geared up for my 21st birthday. That week was the most homesick I’ve been since first arriving, knowing that 21 is rather important in the U.S. and my closest friends would not be here with me. However, with the never-ending enthusiasm from my flatmates in London, the slight homesickness quickly subsided and they organized a spectacular birthday party for me, complete with tons of sweets, candles, and a wonderful card. It’s fantastic how quickly they’ve become good friends in the short time I’ve been here. Sweets and Friends Flatmates

I additionally lucked out because the IFSA Adventure Weekend coincided directly with my birthday! I adored spending the weekend in North Wales, where we kicked things off correctly by winning Oran’s Friday night pub quiz. (My team gave me the trophy for my birthday and it sits next to my computer in celebration.) Pub Quiz!

Saturday I hiked into the old slate quarries and had a tremendous view of the Welsh countryside, complete with the vast amount of sheep commonly found in Wales. I also visited Caernarfon Castle, which was designed as a palace by Edward I after conquering Wales and offers a fantastic view of coast and town from atop the towers. To get up the towers, there are about four flights of steep, narrow, winding steps that are equally hard to navigate in both directions but completely worth the view. Slate Quarry Miners Countryside Caernarfon Castle Tower View

Before returning to London, Sunday morning featured a trip to the coastal town of Llandudno, along the Irish Sea. This town had the perfect coastal feeling that reminded me of Cape May, NJ (for those of you from that area) and the fish and chips surpassed anything I’ve ever imagined! The beach itself was actually rocky- no sand at all. (Not that I minded the lack of sand everywhere for the bus ride home!) There was even a pier reminiscent of the boardwalks down the shore and against the backdrop of the mountains, I would make this my summer home in an instant! Llandudno Llandudno Pier

After the excitement of Adventure Weekend, I settled back into the study part of study abroad. Though, with two great friends from the U.S. coming for their spring break and participating in King’s Musical Theatre Society’s production of Hot Mikado at the end of the month, this brilliant month is just getting started. See you in two weeks before I head to the continent for my spring break! Happy St. Patrick’s Day and Happy British Mothers’ Day (March 18) to my wonderful mom, my fantastic Nana and Mom-mom, and my amazing aunts, cousins and family friends who are mothers!

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St. David, Ghosts, and Hogwarts…(sorta)

Time March 15th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Happy St. David’s Day!!

What, you don’t know what St. David’s Day is?  Seriously, it’s a more famous day than Ireland’s St. Patrick’s Day!  Um…not really, but I think the Welsh like to believe in the next 50 years it will become a largely well-known day outside of Wales.  Disneyland Paris even had a St. David’s Day parade with fireworks.

So what is St. David’s Day?  St. David is the national saint of Wales, just like how Patrick is the saint of Ireland, George for England, and Andrew for Scotland.  David went on several religious pilgrimages throughout Wales and west England and founded many religious centres.  He settled in southwest Wales where he preached and performed “miracles.”  St. David’s Day is celebrated on March 1, and it is custom to wear either a leek or a daffodil, along with the national costume.  This year was a beautiful day for Welsh festivities, and this was the first time I actually heard the native Welsh language.

Boy Welsh Costume

Boy in traditional Welsh costume.  The yellow cross with black background is St. David’s flag.

welsh flags

Welsh Flags at the parade

Welsh costume

Traditional Welsh costumes

Women in Costume

A women with a large daffodil in traditional costume

In order to celebrate St. David’s Day, two friends and I went to Llandaff Cathedral for a dose of Cardiff history by going on a ghost walk!  Llandaff is an area of Cardiff that was its own city until Cardiff swallowed it up.  It includes ancient castle ruins, its own cathedral, and medieval architecture.  For the ghost tour, we met up at an ancient preaching cross that immediately set the mood for the rest of the night: spooky!

We walked north of the cathedral a few hundred feet to an open field where the tour guide talked about some of the spooky and mysterious tales of Llandaff.  If you owned a pub or were a landlord, you were doomed at Llandaff.  We walked along the River Taff on the Taff Trail slightly west until we came upon “the Walk of the Dead” and listened to more ghost stories.  The Welsh have their own mix of the Grim Reaper and a Banshee.  She’s the Gwrach y Rhibyn, the Hag of the Mist.  She has a green and white face with long fangs and flapping wings.  She likes to appear and shriek at the people’s windows, and then shortly after she takes him/her back to hell with her.  Whether or not you want to believe these stories, this also gives a little bit of history of the Welsh culture.  Before weirs controlled the River Taff, it was a very violent river that had strong tides and quick floods.  The open field next to the cathedral was a part of the river until the course was controlled, and it flooded a lot.  Many of the ghost stories dealt with accidents or disasters surrounding the Taff.  We also walked through an abandoned graveyard next to the cathedral which is a site for many ghost children.  Sound like a great way to spend a Friday night??  Well, it actually was.  My flatmate was the most noticeably freaked out person in the group of about 25 people (and she wasn’t the youngest).

  Llandaff Cathedral

Llandaff Cathedral in the dark

ghosts?

In the graveyard.  See any ghosts?

The following weekend I went to London because it was time for IFSA-Butler’s second excursion to Blenheim Palace and Oxford.  On Friday, I managed to do a bit more sightseeing.  After I arrived to Victoria Station, I made my way up to Baker Street, the home of Sherlock Holmes.  Unfortunately, 221B Baker St is completely made up, but 221B Baker St is actually a Sherlock Holmes museum.  I didn’t tour the museum itself, but I spent some lovely time in the gift shop and bought a souvenir.  The people working in the museum had lavish costumes from Sherlock Holmes’ 19th century era.  After hanging out at 221B Baker St, right next door at 231 Baker St was the London Beatles Store.  I was in heaven.  I wanted it all, but I just settled for a mug which included all the albums.  A few days after I bought it, I noticed the mug had a typo: “Meet the Beagles” instead of “Meet the Beatles.”  Someone had dogs on the mind when they were making the mugs.  I needed my own personalized mug for tea time in the flat.  I then made my way up to Trafalgar Square to go into the National Gallery.  This is just like Chicago’s Art Institute.  The building was gorgeous, and it’s free for the public.  There was a free concert going on and being filmed featuring a cello and acoustic guitar.  That added to the atmosphere as I was looking at various works of art.  Though, one thing that museum is lacking is some modern art.  There wasn’t much after the 1900s, but their art collection went as far back at the 1400s.

  Sherlock Holmes Museum

Sherlock Holmes Museum

Beatles Store

The London Beatles Store

Baker St Tube

Baker Street tube station

National Gallery

The National Gallery

On Saturday, I went to Oxford first.  It was a beautiful city, and I haven’t seen anything like it before.  This is what I thought England looks like outside of London: old and beautiful buildings.  I took a tour of the city where we went to many of University of Oxford’s individual colleges.  The University of Oxford is the second-oldest surviving university in the world, dating as far back as 1096.  There are thirty-eight individual colleges at the university.  The day I arrived happened to be graduation day.  I got to see a lot of students and faculty in robes around Oxford.  Oxford was also a site for many religious public executions, and there were small memorials throughout the city to mark the death-place for many bishops, etc.  Emma Watson is supposedly studying abroad at Oxford through the Butler program, but I was unable to catch a glimpse of her.  However, I was able to see different parts of Hogwarts because much of the Harry Potter films were filmed all over Oxford.  I was unable to see the Great Hall though (I ran out of time).

Randolph Hotel

The Randolph Hotel

Oxford stores

Oxford shops

Religious cross

Crosses throughout Oxford that mark religious executions

Sheldonian Theater

Sheldonian Theatre.  Where you graduate among other ceremonies.

Oxford bridge

Bridge resembles those in Venice

Oxford Library

The Bodleian Library.  Has every single publication stored in the library.

More oxford streets

More Oxford shops

Christ church

An Oxford church

graduation robes

Students and professors in graduation robes

more buildings

A university building

more grass with great hall on left

Christ Church College on left that holds Hogwarts’ Great Hall

After Oxford, I made my way up Blenheim Palace, which is the home of the Dukes of Marlborough, and it is the birthplace of Winston Churchill.  It was a beautiful palace, and we had a tour that unfortunately took up my entire time, and I wasn’t able to roam the grounds.  During World War II, it was used by MI6.  The filming of Harry Potter also took place on the grounds of Blenheim Palace.

gate into palace

Gate that leads to the Palace

grounds looking to Column of Victory

The grounds that lead to the Column of Victory

Palace headon

Looking at the palace straight on

Palace to the left

Palace to the left

me at the signs

At the signs

gardens

more gardens

The gardens

me with garden

My favorite place was at the Italian gardens

side of palace

The back end of the palace

British Word of the Entry: Squash.  Not the vegetable or the sport.  This is a concentrated fruit juice that needs to be mixed with at least water.  My flatmates drink this and it’s all new to me.

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Silver Linings, Staplers, and Learning How to Think

Time February 6th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

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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Predeparture Blog Number One, or The Anxious Homebody’s Travel Jitters

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

Greetings and salutations! I’ve never really blogged for anyone other than myself before, so I shall try to make this as unawkwardly written as possible. For starters I should probably introduce myself: I’m Kelsey, 22 years young, English major, born and raised in sunny California. I’m a thoroughly dependent person in that I’ve never been away from home for more than two weeks and never outside the states. So, this experience is as new to me as it is to anyone (I know everyone says that… but seriously, I mean it). I’m also pretty terrified of change, so it’s probably a good thing I was asked to blog for IFSA-Butler. Any issues that could possibly come up (i.e. severe homesickness, general travel insecurity, magnificently dumb mistakes, etc.) will surely come up with me. In which case, perhaps someone somewhere out there can learn from what I have to say or at the very least feel comforted by the fact that they probably aren’t quite as dysfunctional a traveler as I am.

As I am entirely too paranoid for my own good, I did quite a bit of researching before applying. I had the same questions I’m sure a lot of people had, but had a bit of trouble finding answers to all of them, such as a description of what to expect in the application, financial aid process, etc. As for the application itself– it is long, and it is threefold. At least it was for me, and I’m assuming it’s similar for others. But it all depends on your home university and abroad university.

Something else I’m sure many or most people who study abroad encounter at some point is financial aid. In terms of financial aid, my particular experience has been, in all honesty, an absolute nightmare. I say this not to terrify anyone or discourage you in any way, but to help (really, I swear!). I could write a separate blog entry entirely on my financial aid experience alone, and might do so in case it could prevent anyone else from going through any stresses. But all I’ll really say right now about it is that 1) yes, it is a lengthy, trying process, but 2) if you are as prepared and diligent about it as you can be, that 3) it will work out in the end, and most importantly, 4) will absolutely be worth it. I promise.

As for me, I leave in exactly five days (assuming I get on my stand-by flight). As I said before, I have never been away from home for more than two weeks, and have never been out of the country, save for a three-day trip just south of the border into a questionable part of Mexico. Basically, I am a homebody. I love the idea of adventure, but until now have been rather petrified of big changes. I’m still surprised at how deeply this is all hitting me. A very good friend of mine, who is also studying abroad this Spring (in Wales and luckily only an hour away from me) and who is equally attached to home, agrees with me when I say that it takes a lot out of you in many ways, even before you leave. I’ve never anticipated anything more than this, ever, in my entire twenty-two years of life. That alone is saying quite a lot! Then there’s the anxiety– the sort of half-excitement/half-worry about traveling, getting acclimated to a new city and way of life, and keeping up with an entirely new school, study habits, vocabulary. And then there is downright sadness about leaving your home, family, comfort zone. But everyone reacts differently, and I think the key is to tell yourself it’ll feel very new, very strange, and at times very wrong. You just have to be okay with being a little out of control, and trust in yourself to adjust and appreciate something new.

But all of the worry aside, I am absolutely convinced this is the best thing I could possibly do for myself. As everyone says, this is your chance to run off to a foreign country for six months of your life, meet people, learn things, and adopt a new lifestyle. I know it will be challenging in many ways. I know that within two or three weeks of my stay, I will run head-on into the inevitable wall that is acute homesickness and call my mommy, pleading to come home. But I will have to deal with it, and I will. And then I’ll come to my senses and create a balance that allows me to function through the remaining five months with some semblance of sanity. After all, there is always Skype.

And when it all seems too overwhelming to be true, I just remember the fact that I will be welcomed with open arms into a city with knowledge and curiosity and adventure seeping from every cobblestone. Chances are, if you’re looking into studying abroad, school means a lot to you in some way. The point of studying abroad is, after all, the studying. So when you can’t seem to see past the scary parts, remember that school is always there for you, just as it always has been. A wonderful place of learning for you to get to know. And I cannot wait to introduce myself to my new school. So, Hertford College, how do you do? I’m Kelsey.

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Goodnight, Oxford

Time November 29th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Good morning! GOOD MORNING! Look alive! You don’t know how lucky you are. You, who has two more years to sit in the Magdalene deer park with a steaming mug of coffee and idly reflect on whether you should eat dinner from the silver platters of Hall or the damp wooden slabs of the Turf; you who has two more years to wonder if you should take your work to the ostentatious green dome of the Radcliffe Camera or the cozy leather armchairs in the Foreign Languages Library beside the Ashmolean. You. You! I wouldn’t kill for those years, it’s not in my style, but I’d give a lot for them; I’d give up television, perhaps, or soda. I actually don’t drink soda, so that’s not too much of a sacrifice, but I would give it up, damn you, I’d give it up forever in exchange for a little more time. I know it won’t work. That’s not the way the world works. Instead we walk until we start to jog, and jog until we start to run, cause we’re late! We’re late! For a very important date! But there’s only one important date—ask Lewis Carroll, he’ll tell you—and I got to say, brother man, I’m not sure you can ever be too late for that one. But you’re right, in a way. We are too late, too late to slow down, too late to stop the motion; come here, William, faster! Come on, faster! Wait, what? Oh, I… my God, you had it right. You had it right all along! Slow down! Slow do… ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

h!

h!

h!

h!

h!

h!

h!

h!

h!

Splat! and before we know it we’ve gone past the point of no return and we’ve fallen out of the rabbit hole. If there’s one thing I don’t understand, it’s why everyone is so eager to be born. Hang out a little bit; you’ll look younger in fifty years. We weren’t born to run; otherwise, running wouldn’t make us tired. Which reminds me of a joke: why couldn’t the bicycle stand up? Because it was two tired! Ha! Now that’s what I’m talking about. Contra Mundum, Ryder? No way, the mundum had your back all along. It’s big ol’ Time that’s got your number, baby; he’s the one you should be worried about. Because when he catches up to you, there won’t be any revisits. What? What did you say? What do you expect? Brrring! Brrring! They’re calling for you. Wee woop, wee woop, wee woop. Pneumatic hissssss. Welcome back! How was the journey? And you think they’re going to follow orders when you say, “put me back, I like space?” Unlikely. Once you’re here, you’re here for good. So you better enjoy your time out there while you have the chance. I tried. I tried so hard. But I’m no golden bird, no dark tower, so the light’s gonna hit me in three days no matter what I do. I have three days in which to take my final pictures and condense my best memories, three days to crystallize my thoughts and emotions and feelings through words and images so that they don’t slip through the cracks of time like leaves down a gutter. It’s a daunting task. I won’t be able to do it. There are some things that will be lost, and it’s for the lost things I despair. Good thing I realized time was linear in one day instead of wasting the week looking for evidence that it’s not. That’s some consolation. And it’s not over yet. That’s another. WAKE UP! I set your alarm early because there’s so much to do. Even now my body is looking more like a shade. Why did I insist on getting nine and a quarter hours of sleep each night? Surely I could have gotten by on eight, and used the extra hour to walk around, to look at stuff, to touch things, to record another track of JWA’s Oxford Sessions. Did I say goodbye to the deer? Yes, that was yesterday, but I should like to do it again. Will there be time tomorrow? I’m not sure. I have to pack, and buy another bottle of Ben Riach, because I can’t get that at home, and I still haven’t been to the top of St. Mary the Virgin, which I’m pretty keen to do; I’ve heard the view is beautiful up there, even better than it is from the Sheldonian, and even though it’s more expensive I think it might be worth the price. I’ll have to compare it to the view I got from the Tower of the Five Orders—oh man, remember that? I thought that spiral staircase would never stop. I’d like to go back there, but I can’t, because it’s illegal, and I can’t go punting again, because they pulled the boats up for the winter, but that’s alright, because it will leave me time to do other things, like eat one more meal at Georgina’s or Pie Minister or Ben’s Cookies, that would be nice, an entire meal of cookies, one of every flavor, I’d eat one of every flavor that I haven’t yet tried. I want to try every flavor. I want to get it all in. I want to… ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

h!

h!

h!

h!

h!

h!

h!

h!

h!

See? My fall is just as long as yours. But you! Yours hasn’t come yet. That’s why I’m jealous. It’s petty, I know. You have all the hearts, stars, and clovers, don’t you, because you don’t need to despair just yet. You’re still deep in the dream. Bleh. It’s hard to be upset with you, because you’re so cute when you sleep. Enjoy the dreams. Enjoy them by waking up. WAKE UP! Wait, sorry, that doesn’t make much sense. No, sorry again (those are British manners), it does. Lucid dream. And learn to do it now, because there’s no use finding the fountain of youth when you’re one hundred and ten. Learn how to do it now, because one day you’ll wake up for real, and when that happens nothing can help you, nothing can help you, NOTHING, not unless you can make like T.S. Eliot and try to hold still in the flux. You know, stop time. But even he failed, and although I’m sure you’re smart, you’re probably not on the same level as T.S. Eliot—who was? Yeats maybe—but you’re not Yeats, either, probably not, at least; I mean, you might be, I’m not saying that you’re definitely not, but you’re most likely not, so what hope do you really have? Even if you are, what hope do you really have? Oh. I’ll offer you hope. Realize that you’re running, you fiery chariot, and slow your ass down. Goodnight, Oxford. Well, not goodnight. I’m waking up. Waking up for good. So goodbye. Oh! But to dream once again in a city of dreams!

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Simple Pleasures

Time November 22nd, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’ve often found that my best days are the ones that are filled with simple pleasures, and today was no exception. I started my morning with a trip to the gym, got in a good chest workout, and then made myself a protein shake. It’s not a trip to the gym unless I take down at least a liter and a half of water, so by the time I was actually ready to start my day I was well hydrated and feeling good. This was simple pleasure number one.

On the way out of the gym I saw my friend Derek and his girlfriend Kaylee, who had just come back from looking at the deer in the Magdalene deer park. They invited me to join them for lunch in the Covered Market. I love the Covered Market. There is a cake store there where they make the cakes right in the window, and a butcher where they skin the animals right in the window as well. The whole place exudes a distinct sense of British freshness. I agreed, of course, and Derek’s roommate Spencer came with us as well. Thus, I got to spend some time with several of my best friends. This was simple pleasure number two.

We had only been walking for a little bit when Spencer decided that today was the day he was going to pull the trigger on a poster he had seen at Blackwell’s Art and Poster shop, a Mario Testino original photograph that featured a scantily clad woman staring lustily past the camera. God, she was beautiful. If I ever find that girl, I’m going to ask her to marry me. But the woman’s beauty had nothing to do with simple pleasure number three, which was my own decision to pull the trigger on a poster by Edmund Welf entitled “Sii Furbo.” The hand drawn poster features a red fox in the snow, and I love foxes, so it had captured my attention from the moment I laid eyes on it. I gave Spencer money to buy the poster for me and ran across the street to relieve myself of the liter and a half of water I had consumed in the gym, which was simple pleasure number four.

Our next stop was the Covered Market, and to my great pleasure we were able to find a table at Georgina’s. It was, of course, simple pleasure number five. Georgina’s is a restaurant for those in the know, meaning that many people are surprised when I tell them it exists; it is the only store on the second floor of the Covered Market, and is only accessible by a small, inconspicuous door that leads to a brightly painted set of stairs. Other than Pie Minister, Ben’s Cookies, The Cake Shop, the milkshake store, Brown’s Café, the barber shop, the watch store, Hot Chocology, and the weird little stand out front that sells Brazilian donuts, Georgina’s is my favorite place in the market. I got a coffee, and although it was terrible it was simple pleasure number six, because ever since I went to Italy I love coffee, and although I love it I try to drink it as sparingly as possible because of the negative health risks associated with caffeine.

I then put the finishing touches on a three thousand word essay about James Joyce’s Dubliners, which was simple pleasure number seven, because I never want to spend any more time than I have to writing essays. Finishing at a reasonable hour allowed me to join my friend Jack down at Mansfield College for a little game of poker, which was my eighth simple pleasure of the day, because through a combination of conservative play and luck I managed to end the evening up two pounds; this led to simple pleasure number nine, which was the fruit bag I bought from McDonald’s in exchange for one of my two pounds. I walked back to St. Catherine’s, up a pound and having spent a simple day enjoying the both the sights of Oxford and the company of my friends, and fell into clean sheets.

That, my friends, makes an even ten.

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The Pub Experience

Time November 7th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Last night I went to a pub I found recommended online called “The Turf Tavern.” The Google map said I walked by it every day, which was odd, because I had never seen it before. But the online reviews were current, so I knew it existed. With my beer money jangling cheerfully in my pocket, I made my way down to the far end of New College, where the pub was supposed to be located. Sure enough, I saw something I had never seen before: there was a small alley between New College and the building beside it, just big enough for one person to walk through comfortably. I went through the alley, which opened into a raised beer garden. Raucous Brits were putting back golden pints and steak and ale pie, their cheeks ruddy from the cold. Taking off my scarf, I made my way towards the hobbit hole of a bar towards the back of the garden. This wasn’t too hard: I wasn’t drunk yet, so the metal kegs that littered the path were fairly easy to avoid.

I had to duck as I entered the cozy and quintessential little pub, my head almost brushing the exposed wooden beams. I’m not tall, either: 5’7 on a good day. But the bar was low enough, and showcased a wide variety of regional specials. To avoid sounding like a snob, I won’t tell you that I brew my own beer, or that I run Duke’s underground Beer of the Week club; I’ll also leave out the fact that the best beer I had last year was Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, a tar black, creamy, well-roasted beer with a great flavor that hits after the swallow and the worst beer I had was a Robust Porter by the Smuttynose Brewing Company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, that tasted like cold, dark coffee. Instead, I’ll just tell you that I know a thing or two about beers. So when the bartender told me that she had just opened a keg of beer with hints of both chocolate and vanilla, I was naturally skeptical.

“Impossible,” I said, and she raised her eyebrows, and I realized that there were about seven people behind me so I handed her three pounds and she gave me the beer. I walked through another series of small alleyways out back, where there was another beer garden, so I could examine my prize.

It was dark, that much was obvious, and smelled of caramel. A small rub between the fingers revealed a low viscosity; disappointing, as I like my dark beers to be a little bit thicker, but not unredeemable. Another sniff- caramel on the nose, but wait, there’s the vanilla this time, faint but present. Perhaps…? No, it was too much. No one has ever successfully pulled off the chocolate/vanilla combination.

Sadly, this beer didn’t either. It was good, certainly, but below expectation. Although the scent held promise, the taste didn’t live up to the hype: the chocolatey head quickly gave way to a cold, limp, watery tang. I felt like crying. I didn’t, of course, because you’re not supposed to do that when you’re sitting by yourself in public, but I felt like it. And then, as if to apologize for its mediocrity, the beer told me to look up. Not literally, I don’t think, but the message was as clear as if it had been. I was pretty sure I wasn’t drunk after only a few sips, but there is no other explanation for it other than divine intervention, and that’s just ridiculous.

“Look up,” said the beer, and I did. Above me was a poster, with a picture of… Bill Clinton? I read the caption: “according to local legend, this is where a young Rhodes scholar by the name of Bill Clinton had supposedly ‘not inhaled.'” And that’s where I was sitting. Right there where Bill Clinton had his first puff. I felt… powerful. I felt like ordering another beer.

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Drinks with the Master

Time October 24th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Part of the Oxford experience is visiting the old haunts of Tolkein and Lewis; drinking warm beer in cold pubs that smell of wet leather and wood, and taking long walks through damp gardens full of bees and butterflies. Another part is doing work. That’s it. There are no fancy adjectives I can tack onto that, and certainly no butterflies. There’s just me, the books that I’ve scoured every one of Oxford’s accessible libraries to find, and that never-ending white page with the blinking cursor.

I say all of this not to entertain, but to remind myself of the hard parts so I’ll think twice lest I want to repeat the experience for graduate school. I know from experience that the long hours spent staring at a computer screen have a nasty habit of fading out of memory, while all night parties and busty British woman seem to do the opposite. Oxford is hard, difficult work, and… ah, who am I kidding? I love it here. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

The trick, I think, is figuring out how to balance the two 3,000 word essays I have each week with fun. I’ll take time to do the essays, to write about Yeats and the occult and the gyres and the significance of the metal bird in the poem, “Sailing to Byzantium,” but then I’ll go out and enjoy the country and the culture. If I lived to read, living would be called reading. It’s not. It’s called living.

Tonight I went to an invite-only event called “Drinks with the Master,” a sort of welcome ceremony for visiting students and incoming Freshmen. They had forgotten to make me one so I drew my own: “Kenneth Gould” it said under an artfully redesigned St. Catherine’s logo. Under that I wrote my major, “English.” It occurred to me after that people might think I was English, which I’m not, instead of thinking that I study English, which I do. However, I thought it was silly to ask for another nametag to replace the one that I had gotten as a replacement for another so I stopped overanalyzing the situation and just went inside.

At the door, a smartly dressed gentleman offered me a choice of white wine, red wine, or apple juice. I asked him which wine was better, to which he responded that he didn’t know, to which I responded why not, to which he responded that just because he had a British accent he was not an expert in the luxuries of high society. That was news to me. I took a white. Then a smartly dressed woman thrust a silver platter under my nose.

“Beef and ale or chicken and tarragon pie?” she asked, referring to the two varieties of mini puff pastry on the tray. I was going to ask her which was better, but then just took a beef and ale. I barely had time to look at it before the master showed up at the front of the room and commanded my undivided attention. This was the man in robes I had seen shouting Latin in the dining hall. Surely he had something interesting to say.

“Hello all,” he said. “Thank you for coming. As I was saying yesterday, this year’s Freshman class seems like the best in a long time. Thank you for coming. Goodnight.” Then he left, and his aides took my wine glass and ushered me outside. They seemed to consider taking my puff pastry as well, but in the end they let me keep it. I ate it thoughtfully. It is one thing to advocate that one take full advantage of life, but sometimes life has other plans.

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Rugby

Time October 18th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Last night, Monday night, I got drunk and screamed at people I didn’t know. Unless you’re at a rugby match, this generally isn’t acceptable. Conveniently, I was at a rugby match. I’ve never felt so British in my entire life. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.

On Friday morning I hopped on a bus headed to the north of England, a place called The Lake District, for an event that my study abroad program called “Adventure Weekend.” The seven hours I spent on a bus were worth it: I saw the high peaks and red mossy bluffs of Wordsworth’s youth, climbed through the trickling streams that brought water to the fluffy sheep down in the valley; I lodged in an old manor house beside the Derwent, the same lake referenced in Lyrical Ballads, and tried to brave black mold and not get eaten by ghosts. I succeeded on both fronts, and even got to go climbing, an activity I haven’t participated in since I joined a local climbing gym in the fifth grade. My Bar-Mitzvah party was “extreme-sports” themed, and this weekend was all that and more. Nothing says “local” like eating a Cumberland sausage in Cumberland.

Although I didn’t know it when I got on the bus, Adventure Weekend wasn’t just for the IFSA-Butler Oxford students: it was for IFSA-Butler students from all over England. This was why several of my friends from Duke were also there. It was great catching up with them, sharing the natural beauty of the Lake District with them, and drinking with them on Saturday night. I actually didn’t partake in the drinking, as I caught the “freshers flu” the previous week, but the party atmosphere was contagious. We danced and sang and laughed when a girl nearby fell flat on her face (after making sure she was alright, of course). Later in the night, the same clumsy girl asked me for a lighter.

“Doyouavea lighter,” she said.

“Smoking will literally kill you,” I replied. She wasn’t pleased with my answer.

“Whatd’youjustsaytme?”

“I said I don’t have a lighter,” I said. “Sorry.”

On the bus ride home the next day, after we figured out the spirit animal of everyone on the bus but before I tried to begin working on a 15 page paper about the occult influences in W B Yeats’s The Tower, my friend Josh casually mentioned that he was going to a rugby game on Monday. Josh was a rugby player and Physics major from Baltimore. Sometimes, because of his fascination with the subject, we called him Neutrino Boy.

“What did you just say?” I asked.

“I’m going to a rugby game,” he said.

“How do I get tickets?” Like punting, drinking at a pub, and sneaking into forbidden parts of the Bodleian library, no trip to Oxford was complete without seeing a rugby match.

“You can have my extra,” he said. I was ecstatic. All that night, even as I broke into the Christ Church meadows to watch the fog rise over the grass, all I could think about was rugby. The next night couldn’t come fast enough. Then it did. I sipped a glass of whisky, put on two coats, and met Josh in an underground pub that smelled of age, oil, and damp wood. Together, we conquered beers and talked about physics, and then made our way to the rugby pitch.

“What is it like?” I asked Josh as we walked. He pulled me back onto the sidewalk.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “Just non-stop action. You know the point, right? You have to move the ball from one end of the field to the other.”

“Like football!” I yelled, and he pulled me back onto the sidewalk again.

“Yeah, and each position has a number. That’s what the numbers on the back of the jerseys mean.”

“Like billiards!”

“Exactly. Touchdowns are called trys, and each one is worth 5 points. The equivalent of a field goal is worth 3, and a conversion is worth 2.”

“Like hockey!”

“No. Not at all like hockey. Get back on the sidewalk, you’re going to get hit by a car.”

When we arrived at the pitch, the game had already started. To my great pleasure, the Oxford Blues were ahead of the London Wasps three to nil. I yelled in giddy excitement as a caveman in a blue jersey destroyed the scoring hopes of a smaller, agile player in white, and sighed in sadness as the ball somehow ended up in the hands of another player in white. He too was taken to the ground, but again another white player mysteriously got the ball and the Wasps continued to move their way up field. Then the whistle blew.

“Oh look, a throw-in,” said Josh. I watched with a detective’s curiosity as a white player threw the ball in from out of bounds and multiple players from both sides were launched into the air.

“Like cheerleading,” I whispered, and it was.

In the end, the home team heroes beat the adversarial visitors 30 to nil, a score I was happy to chant as the losers trudged their way off the field. I peed in a bush and reflected on the experience. In a way, I decided, rugby is like football, billiards, and cheerleading, but rugby is also like art: I can look at it, stare at it for hours, scratch my head and scream and stomp my feet, not understand a single thing that’s going on, but love it all the same. It was beautiful.

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The Top of Magdalen Tower

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

I have been struck, of late, by a curious desire to move my legs. I believe the act is called walking. It’s something that’s alien to me, but the British seem very fond of it; that and cycling, and drinking tea, which are activities in which I have yet partake.

Oxford is great place to go walking. Behind the he ivy walls that keep out tourists are gardens, and meadows, and fields that stretch off into cool dark forests. Yesterday my legs brought me to Magdalen College, pronounced “Maudlin”; it’s home to Magdalen Tower, the highest point in Oxford at 144 feet. I was surprised to find that, beyond its boxy courtyards and across a small stone bridge, it’s also home to the water meadow. This is where my legs led me.

The water meadow is a large meadow. It’s surrounded by a great loop of gravel path, perhaps a mile or two around, and a stream, which circles the outside of the path. Deer play in the meadow (I counted around 60 of them), and I heard that when a new fellow of Magdalen College is inducted he gets to shoot one and eat it for dinner. I want to be a fellow of Magdalen College. Not to shoot a deer, of course, but because it’s so beautiful. Alright, fine. I kind of want to shoot a deer.

At strategic points around the meadow are small benches. Some of these benches are dedicated to long departed souls; others are not. Because the dead creep me out, I picked a stone bench without name or bearing and sat down. I took out my notebook and tried to write some poetry, but I couldn’t bear to stare down at its plain white pages when Oxford’s natural beauty frolicked all around me. There were deer, and squirrels eating fallen chestnuts, and the quiet sound of the bubbling stream as it whisked fallen leaves out to sea. The grass, yellowed with fear from the sense of impending winter, was crunchy underfoot; the sky was grey and the wind was cold and there was the smell of snow in the air, but the experience was perfect, the stuff poems are written about, if I could only bring myself to write one. I couldn’t. I couldn’t look away. And as I stared at this beauty, I had an interesting thought. From my vantage point, I could see anyone coming around the meadow in two directions. No one came. I was the only one there.

Where is everyone? I thought. I found them all later that day, in the library, staring at books and computer screens. They were like zombies, those solemn, quiet geniuses, like men of stone. They did not react to the squeak of my sneakers on the hardwood floor. There was not much to see in the library, so I left and got a haircut.

The man who cut my hair was from Poland, and he spent roughly equal amounts of time cutting my hair and staring at me in the mirror. I stared at the hair on the cape and pretended not to notice.

“You have very nice hair,” he said, running his fingers through it under the guise of testing its length.

“Thank you,” I said, and he smiled and continued to cut it.

“Very, very nice hair,” he said after a while, licking his lips.

“I appreciate that,” I said, more than a little scared for my life.

“My friends and I have a saying,” he said. “Nice boys go to heaven, but the bad boys have more fun.”

“Great,” I said, getting up from the chair and leaving a wad of cash in my place. Coins scattered on the floor. My cut was only half done. It looked very European. “Great saying.” I didn’t look back.

As I ran out, I had an image of the odd Polish man sliding a barber’s razor under my neck and letting my blood out onto the floor. That fateful haircut would have been my last. In heaven, when all my ghost buddies and I were shooting the breeze, what would I tell them about my last day on earth? Would I tell them that it had been fulfilling? Was it enough to appreciate the most beautiful place I had ever been? Was it enough to explore the dark nooks and passages of a lonely city, to go on a mission for the best cookie in town, or make foreign friends over the delights of a 16-year-old single malt Scotch whisky? Was it enough, or would I rather have spent my time in the library?

I think I know the answer, and it lies in the curious desire to move my legs.

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The Tower of the Five Orders

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

I would tell you that Oxford means “door” in Latin, but it doesn’t, so I won’t. Instead, I’ll tell you that Oxford has a lot of doors, most of which were built to keep out prying eyes. When I visited two years ago, for instance, I got a beautiful tour of Oxford’s facades; the inner workings of the University were closed to tourists. Yesterday, however, I got a golden ticket in the form of a student ID card. I’ve since used it to see behind the large stone walls my own college, about ten other colleges, and the sacred Bodleian library. As a student, very little at this hallowed University is closed to me. It’s awesome. It’s amazing. And then… oh wait. What’s this? A door without a card swipe? You mean to tell me I can’t get in there? That’s just… that’s just elitist!

It was a small metal door in the Bodleian library, an unassuming door, but nonetheless a door I wasn’t allowed behind. I had heard tales of dark passages and darker societies at Oxford, all mentioned in a whisper and with a sideways glance. My thought was that perhaps one of these societies took up residence behind the door. If that were the case, I wouldn’t want to miss seeing it. So when the librarian turned her head, I ducked in.

I found myself on a stone spiral staircase. To my right, the stairs disappeared down into the dark. To my left, they continued upwards towards light. I made a left, clutching tightly to the rusted handrail that ran along the wall. I was dizzy. Stained glass windows the size of dinner plates dotted the walls at odd intervals, and looking through them I could see the entire city of Oxford. I was dizzier. Still, I kept climbing. Up and up, up, up, and up! Then the stairs stopped, and I found myself in front of a wooden door.  It had a keyhole, so I bent down to look through it and took a blast of cold air to the eye. I backed away quickly, but had seen enough: I was at the top of the Tower of the Five Orders, one of the tallest buildings in Oxford.

After I had taken my fill of the view, I walked down the stairs past where I originally entered and continued down into the Tower’s depths. It ended in a locked oak door, and I could hear voices coming from the other side.

“A secret society,” I said.

“I just stepped in some gum,” said a voice from the other side. Needless to say, I had not found any secrets but merely a door leading outside. Turning back, I headed halfway up the Tower and went through the only door I had not yet tried. In front of me was a reception desk, and three librarians turned to look at me as I entered.

“Are you staff?” one of them asked.

“No,” I said.

“What were you doing back there?”

“I went through a door.”

“Well, don’t go through any more doors.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I’m just looking for the exit.” Hearing my American accent, the librarian softened.

“You can head that way with impunity,” she said, and I didn’t know which way she meant, and I didn’t know what impunity meant, but I ducked my head and pressed onwards.

It didn’t take long to find a dictionary in one of the world’s best libraries: impunity means “exemption from punishment or loss or escape from fines.” I suggest that if you come to Oxford and want impunity, you get yourself a student ID card. And don’t go through any metal doors. Or do, but be sneakier than I was. The view is unbeatable.

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