Saturday, 31 January 2009

Fun times

My stir craziness was starting to get the better of me this week, so I am very relieved that I had some outlets for which to release it.

Last night, I went with the girls from Regent's Park (Joy, Sabrina, Erin, and Robyn) to their formal hall dinner. For you Oxbridge majors, it's like high table. For everyone else, it's a fancy dinner where everyone dresses up. I was very excited about it because I haven't had much of a chance to socialize or have a lot of "fun" here so far. I guess they think school should come first at Oxford. I don't know where they got that idea, but if I don't go with it, I'll I choose conformity.

So anyway, we all got dressed up and went to formal hall. It was a masquerade theme, so most of the students had masks. I didn't, but it wasn't a big deal - all the better to eat my food with. And what delicious food it was! Salad with fig and goat cheese, followed by a lamb stew with parsnips (which taste just like potatoes), and a bowl of fruit and wonderful ice cream to end the meal. It was also Lena's birthday, and Erin picked out a terrific bottle of white wine for dinner. Lena was kind enough to share with us.

After dinner, we went to a fondue party where we all out our chocolate fixes and observed how "real" Oxford students are. I think it would be nice to be part of Regent's Park or an actual college, rather than the program I am in, but at the same time we get the Warners. They are wonderful, and I wouldn't trade them for all the fondue parties in the world. It was a great time, though. We ended the night at the Eagle and Child. It was nice to be able to wind down after a long week of reading and paper-writing and before beginning another long week of reading and paper-writing, which began again today.

Today I read Rousseau's "The Social Contract." Took me most of the day, well about four hours, but that was enough to completely drain me. I am now brain dead. I went to the grocery store to get out of the house and get some fresh air. I feel much better now. Tonight Madison and I are going to see a local student production in town called "Blind Date." It's a comedy and should be a good time. We had hoped to be able to go to London today and see "Wicked," but it didn't work out as we had planned, so we'll have to go another time. Anyway, I'll let you know how "Blind Date" turns out.

That's all for now. I miss you all and think of you often. To all of my Melrose ladies and Gams - get Skype, so we can talk! I had a great conversation with my girl Ally Hall the other day, as well as brief hellos with some of my other Melrose girls. It was great to talk to you all, and I hope to do more of it soon. It's so great to be able to see your beautiful shining faces; makes me feel like I'm with you all. Goodnight!

Saturday, 24 January 2009

"I Survived Week One at Oxford"

Today concludes week one of the Hilary Term. I am happy to report that I survived my first two tutorials. My Holocaust tutorial was Friday, and I was extremely nervous about what my tutor was going to say about my essay addressing whether or not Hitler was "an accident." He said that it was a very well-written paper, and that he couldn't really offer any suggestions on how to improve it. Whew! That made me feel much better, and the hour-long session went very smoothly.

This morning, I met with my Political Philosophy tutor, who I was even more nervous about seeing because he seemed a little intimidating when I met him last week. I woke up before my alarm and trudged the hour-plus route to his house (so as not to get lost again and miss my tutorial). It was a nice walk, and it woke me up before our meeting. He kind of quizzed me about what I had read (Hobbes' Leviathan): what the historical period was like, what he thought about the nature of man, what his political virtue was, etc. I felt pretty confident in my answers and even brought up some of my own thoughts about what Hobbes might think of our nation's Congress (He would absolutely hate it). We didn't even address my paper; I just left it for him on the way out. Once again, I thought I had a successful tutorial. AND I took the short cut on the way home and didn't get lost. Hooray for me!

Last night, some of us went to the Oxford Union for a forum on women in politics. There were women representing Pakistan, Wales, and the U.S. to share their thoughts on why and how women are marginalized in government, as well as how to overcome it. The 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling were mentioned on several occassions by our American friend, who worked for former President Clinton's administration and was probably hit on at some point (She was very pretty and started working for him when she was 20). My favorite moment of the night was when the woman from Wales ended her speech with something to the effect of, "You don't need a penis to succeed in politics, but you definitely need a lot of balls." Words to live by.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

21 Across the Pond

Today was my 21st birthday, and I have to say, I wasn't sure how happy it would be.

The past couple of days have been really hard on me. I spent them cooped up in my room writing papers and reading a lot of "Leviathan." I didn't spend much time outside and didn't do much exercising at all (which, if you know me, you know that's really bizarre). Homesickness started to set in, and I was beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into. I had come here with the intention of seeing the world. Instead I was seeing the four walls of my room and my computer screen. Last night I was in tears, wishing more than anything that I could be back at Jewell with my girls, or at home with my family and friends, so I could celebrate my birthday with them. This is the second year in a row that I've been away from home on my special day, and birthdays have always been a really big deal to me. I didn't want my 21st to come and go like the past few days had.

But I was very pleasantly surprised...

As I wallowed in self pity, Will told me that I wouldn't be spending my birthday alone. I saw the smirk on his face through the web cam, and knew he had something up his sleeve. Turns out, he had taken the day off, so we could spend the day together via MSN video chat. Things were looking up.

This morning, I was determined to have a good day. I woke up when I felt like it, didn't even think about touching a book or paper, put on my most British outfit (a sweater left by Kristen, tights, and my boots), and went to town to buy something to make a wonderful birthday dinner.
I ran into Lena Endsley on my way there, who was heading to Blackwell's (Oxford's famous bookstore), so I decided to tag along. I brought my journal with me and decided to put down some scribbles while I was there. Blackwell's is incredible. They had books on every subject, and a TON of cookbooks. My Mecca. I sat in the bookstore for a while and jotted down some thoughts about the last few days, and then headed to the covered market to get some salmon for dinner. I picked out a beautiful filet, and I felt very much like a Top Chef contestant at Whole Foods carefully choosing my protein.

Anyway, so I picked up that along with some other salmon fixings and trotted back home. I spent the rest of the day on MSN with Will trip planning...or at least getting an idea of where we're going to go when he comes to visit. It took a while. He would be happy just showing up wherever and pitching a tent in the middle of a park. We definitely do not travel the same way. It was great to be able to talk to him, watch the inauguration together, and just be in each other's presence for the day. I was very proud of my salmon dinner, and it was much better than anything I could have ordered out. And I had a nice glass of White Zin to complement my meal in honor of my legality. :D

To officially celebrate my big day, all my friends and I went out to George and Danver's - Oxford's favorite ice cream shop. I had an ENORMOUS Brownie Sundae - huge brownie, two scoops of English custard ice cream, chocolate sauce, sprinkles, and whipped cream! AMAZING!

And I have to say, what made my birthday most special was the present sitting on my shelf for the past 12 days, wrapped in lime green paper with "DO NOT OPEN UNTIL JANUARY 20th" written across it. Lindsay gave it to me before I left, saying it had to come with me no matter what. Today I found out why. She and Caitlin had collaborated to have friends from home and Jewell write me birthday messages, and she put them together in a scrap book. It was the sweetest thing I have ever been given, and I was reminded once again of how blessed I am to have such wonderful people in my life.

So that was my 21st birthday. It's 11:37 p.m. in Oxford, so my day is coming to and end...and I have to say that it was very very happy indeed. And so to bed.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Wandering the streets

I haven't written in a few days because I've been reading reading reading. But a lot has happened. Let me see if I can manage to untangle my thoughts and put some of them in writing.

Well, first of all, I met with both of my tutors this week. The first meeting was quite an adventure. My tutor was very nice and offered us a short cut back to town from his house, which was over an hour walk from my house. We were very happy to have an alternate route back, but it was getting dark as we were heading out, and none of us are familiar enough with Oxford to know where exactly to go. (I've also noticed that British people tend not to give explicit directions..."It's just down and around the corner there." "If you go in this direction you will get there." No street names, landmarks, or blocks). Anyway, so we're going home, and we realize this is far from a short cut. Then by divine intervention, one of the girls here runs into a friend from high school who is in town for the week. He informs us we're going the wrong way and need to back track about two miles to get back to Oxford city centre. Tired and frustrated, but thankful for the interception, we hop on the first bus we can and head back. The driver felt sorry for us, I think. He could tell we didn't really know what we were doing. Although I'm sure he deals with that sort of thing a lot. It was a happy ending, except that I got my first blister, and I was exceptionally cranky when I got back to the flat.

I met with my other tutor the next day, at a much more convenient location. He first took us on a tour of Oriel College, Oxford's fifth oldest. It was beautiful, although he said it was about average as colleges here go. Each time we meet, he is going to take me to a different place. I kind of hope he takes me to where Harry Potter was filmed. (I know, I'm a loser, but I'm in Oxford!)

Since my meetings, I've done nothing but read about Hitler and Hobbes. Not the most entertaining subject matter, but it has been interesting. It is kind of nice to read about what I know nothing about. Everything is fresh and new, and I actually retain what I'm reading; I guess the tutorial method works. I hope to have my papers done in the next two days, so I can take a little break before I do it all over again next week.

My birthday is on Tuesday. The big 2-1. I don't have anything terribly special planned. It's not quite the same celebrating here as it would have been back home. Oh well. I think we're going to go to Oxford's famous ice cream shop, and I'm going to have a great big Bailey's Irish Creme ice cream cone with hotfudge mixed in...or something like that. It will be delicious, I'm sure. I'll let you know. :D


Tuesday, 13 January 2009

London, Lectures, Lewis

I'm already not doing as well as I'd like to on keeping up with this blog. I guess I'll start with today and work backwards. Tonight we went to London to see "The Woman in Black." It was a ghost story, and I have to say I never thought I would scream during a theatre performance. I had to hide myself behind my coat a couple of times. Bill Coberly even let out a yelp next to me. It was a wonderful show, though, and we all really enjoyed it. I can't wait to go back and see something else! Dirty Dancing is on my list of must-sees. I'm sure it's a great production! (And I want to here a British person say, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner.")

Lectures started this week, and I meet with my tutors on Thursday and Friday. Tomorrow I get to sleep in, which I'm extremely excited about because I haven't been able to get into the swing of things with this schedule yet. I am exhausted all day long, but can't seem to fall asleep at night, so the cycle continues. I need to get some rest before the work starts...and I can already tell I've got a lot of it coming my way in the next eight weeks. Political philosophy and the Holocaust. Even Francis felt a little sorry for my decision to take on such dreary subjects, but I really can't wait learn about this stuff. I'm a nerd; it's OK.

Among my host of new experiences this week have also been my two encounters with British pubs. We went to the Turf Tavern (where Bill Clinton "did not inhale") and the Eagle and Child (a favorite spot of C.S. Lewis and the first place the Chronicles of Narnia were actually read aloud). I drank my first beer (well, cider) and shared some great conversation with my wonderful friends from Jewell and the new people I've met in the past few days. I have to say I am so lucky to be with such a great group of people from Jewell. I really don't feel so far away from home with them to keep me company. I couldn't have asked for better traveling companions (of course, I wish Kristen were still here).

So that's the last couple of days in a nutshell. More to come after my meetings with my tutors. EEK!

Friday, 9 January 2009

Greetings from Oxford!

I'm going to try my hardest to keep this blog up; think of it as a New Year's resolution of sorts. So this is my first official day in England. I arrived in London last night around 11 p.m. (I will talk in England time, which is six hours ahead of CT). I couldn't come into Oxford that late, and my parents didn't want me traveling alone at that hour anyway, so I stayed the night in the airport in a Yotel room. ( I was a little nervous about the whole thing, but I have to say I was quite thrilled when I opened the door to my little room with a bed, shower, toilet, and flat screen tv - all in about a 6x6 space (so I guess it's not the place to stay if you are claustrophobic). It was just right for me to get a few hours of shut-eye before hopping on a bus and coming to Oxford.

Everyone was very nice and helpful on my way. I met a girl who lived in DC and had been in Nigeria for a month helping with unsuccessful schools. I met a guy who goes to Cambridge and had been in New York. He didn't know where Missouri was... And the best thing was that I saw someone who looked familiar in front of me on the way to the bus station. I thought I would take a chance and yelled "D-Rab" and what do you know? Aaron Drabenstott was on his way to the bus station to go to Harlaxton! Quite serendipitous to see a familiar face in this new world. It was reassuring, if only for the brief moment we saw each other.

Once I arrived in Oxford, I was greeted by the Warners, who have to be the nicest people I have ever met. Penelope took me to my house, and Kristen Walker had left me a box full of goodies!!! (THANKS, KRISTEN! I love you!) I was especially excited about the blow dryer and the house shoes. It's really cold in our house. I'm still getting my stuff moved in, putting pictures on the walls and whatnot.

I went to town to explore and go grocery shopping this afternoon. I found my way and wandered around for a while, bought some food, and came back all by myself. I didn't even have to look like the typical American tourist and use my little pocket map! I was quite proud of myself. I stopped at a little cafe for some bacon and lentil soup and to get out of the cold and snow. I really think I am going to love going to Oxford proper. Everyone is out and about doing something. I was amazed at how many people there were on a Friday mid-afternoon just walking around, shopping, and eating. And the buildings are so beautiful. It's not like anywhere in the U.S. Everything is so old and quaint! I love it!

So that was day one. More to come, I'm sure. I love and miss you all!