Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Yank in Oxford: Day 5

I've managed to pick up a cold which is very uncomfortable and fatiguing. I want to be out every spare moment between classes exploring and writing, but with my throat a gravel road and my nose a faucet, I've had to tone it back a bit.
Last night we took a walk around University Park, which is beautiful but full of insects and in certain spots, litter. We almost trampled the cricket green, but our chaperon, Richard, stopped us in time.
As we walked through town to get to the park, Richard told us anecdotes about the various colleges we passed. Apparently Trinity and Balliol have a major rivalry. In the sixties it is reported that students from Balliol turfed the JCR of Trinity college and in turn, Trinity hoisted a "For Sale" sign over Balliol.
Keble college has a tense history with some of the other Oxford colleges as well. The red brick design was considered to be so ugly that a society was formed for the destruction of Keble. Members would pull bricks out of the building to tear it down slowly. Another student, Cate, said she went to get a closer look at Keble, and indeed, there are pocks in the building where bricks are missing. Some say that they would give you a free drink if you brought a Keble brick to The King's Arms.
Exeter, the college I'm at is one of the most central colleges in the town. We're right off the High Street, next to the covered market, and other major shopping areas. The benefits are that we walk out of our door and are immediately near something to see or do. Unfortunately, for rooms facing the street, the pubs can get quite noisy at night especially for staircase 15. Since we aren't within the college, walls, but out on the street, we hear quite a bit of shouting and singing late at night from the pubs.
However, staircase 15 was spared the hubbub of this morning. Apparently an insect flew into the smoke detector and somehow set it off around 4 am. Everyone in the first 14 staircases had to stumble out in their pajamas.
I'm having trouble with my card reader, but promise to get some photos up this weekend!
Last night seven of us hit Eagle and Child and then Lamb and Flag, I'll have to give my full view of those later  in some sort of pub master post.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Yank in Oxford: The First 36 Hours

I'm actually surprised how quickly I'm getting over my jet-lag. I forced myself to stay awake until ten o'clock last night (after arriving yesterday morning). Arriving wasn't so bad either, though I did doze off on the train, I woke up before my stop.
So far, I've already taken a few walks around the city and have seen several of the other colleges. We went on a "Pub Walk" to two pubs tonight, I tried a half of some of the local beers. This afternoon I bought books at "The Last Book Store" where all the books are two pounds-- I'm afraid that shop will make me go over my luggage weight allowance very quickly. Then another student and I went to the Bodleian and didn't have time for a tour, but went to the Divinity School and the tea shop.
I feel morally obligated to drink all the tea I possibly can while in England.
Similarly, I feel obligated to take in some Shakespeare while I'm here. There are several productions going on at the moment, so I should make at least one.
I did also try marmite at breakfast this morning. A savory yeast paste on my toast? Odd. Takes some getting used to. I might like it on something else, or in something, it's very strong on its own.
Anyway, I'm swooning over all the old buildings, taking dozens of photographs which I'll upload later this week, and just generally getting the lay of the land so far.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Countdown to Oxford: Misconceptions

One more week stateside, so I thought I'd collect the best, or rather the worst misconceptions about Oxford, England, and Europe in general I've heard over the last few months.
Now, I have plenty of really intelligent culturally aware friends, but sometimes they say things that are ridiculous or not properly thought through. They sometimes realize it shortly after they've said it. A few of these comments were made in earnest, by some less culturally aware friends and acquaintances, which does make me question American education.

"Will you have the internet in England?"

"It's not like England's in Europe."

"You're going to be so close to everything, you'll have to take a day to go to the Swiss Alps."

"Oxford, London, what's the difference?"

"I've been telling everyone about your trip to London."

"You do know that everyone in England hates Americans, right? It's a good thing you're not going to France, they really hate us all."

"You'll have to go to Paris on the weekends, it'll be like, an hour away."

"It'll be all chicks at Oxford, right? I mean it's a girls school."

"Are you going to go to the palace? Can you have tea with the Queen there?"

I'm always afraid of sounding snotty when I correct people. I've given up on trying to persuade everyone that I'm not spending a month in London as they all seem to think. It's true that on the whole, the countries in Europe are much smaller than the US. England is only about the size of my home state, Pennsylvania. It still takes eight or nine hours to get from one corner of the state to the other, so I don't know why history and geography classes haven't given us a more clear understanding of spacial relationship between the countries.
As I've said before, I consider all the people who made these statements to be sufficiently intelligent, so I blame it on the weird US-centric bubble around our education that leads to these "ugly American" misconceptions.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Countdown to Oxford

So, I'm less than two weeks away from departing for foreign shores.
I have my passport, my luggage, my required reading, my rain coat, and a heart full of hope. About a month ago I started getting nervous about my trip, started feeling very apprehensive. I think it was just because there's been so much waiting. I found out in March that I would be taking this trip. Initially there was plenty to do: arrange for course credit, apply for financial aid, get my passport, plenty to do. After all that, there was nothing to do, but wait. It was the waiting that was anxiety producing.
Now that I'm close enough to do other preparations, the anxiety has faded.
I have so many things I want to do and see while I'm in England. Three weeks is not going to be enough. Most of my time will be spent at the university, though there's plenty to see around there (Bodleian Library, Christ Church Meadow, the Eagle and Child). On the weekends I'll be able to stray from the boundaries of Oxford. I likely won't spend any time in London, except to catch a train, but with the Olympics coming to town the week after I arrive it will be crowded and covered in too much bunting anyway.
I'll have to go back to the UK at some point. I don't just want to see more of England, I want to see Scotland, Ireland. Of course, my trip might be disillusioning, I may not like the UK as much as I think, but I have a feeling I will. My professor told me I probably won't want to come home.
Maybe I'll become like Henry James or T.S. Eliot and adopt Britain as my home and muse.
Lately though, finding inspiration hasn't been a problem. I've been working constantly and steadily on a new story while jotting down the occasional note about another idea. I also have the manuscript for my mystery novel back from my Professor with some notes. She really enjoyed it and that gives me so much confidence. When I finish my next draft, she said she will proof it for me before I start sending out queries for it. Her encouragement and belief in it being publishable are such a help to me.
I do spend much of my "writer time" alone at my desk or in a coffee shop. It's nice to share and get feedback from others. I look forward to being in a group of other young writers at Oxford. Hopefully I can make some connections to find and give support. The tutors should be a big source of support as well, they are all in writing fields and the small group sessions will hopefully make for a cozy atmosphere.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Scenes from a Bookstore: Petulant Teenager

"I'm never coming back in here ever again!" I hear a girl about thirteen whine to her father as he gets in line at the local B&N. I'm in line in front of them, two novels in my hands.
"Never ever?" her father says flatly. He doesn't even look at her, probably used to her tantrums by now.
She gestures to the books in his hand, "You could just get a Nook. Then you could get those in, like, two seconds and we wouldn't have to come in here anymore."
He ignores her suggestion and patiently waits for the line to creep forward while she stalks off to the cafe inside the shop.
My brow inadvertently furrows: there are plenty of things to tempt a non-reader in a Barnes and Noble. There are movies, music, board games, Ugly Dolls. I can't help but think that this girl is being unreasonable and is not concerned so much with the fifteen minutes trapped in this purgatory, but afraid that some of her friends might see her there.
Just a few years ago, the media started telling us that smart was sexy, nerds were the new cool. It appears the pendulum is swinging back and to be caught browsing at a Barnes and Noble is somehow shameful and embarrassing to these local teens now.
Being "cool" as I understand it is being interesting. Being a person with something to bring to conversations, something new to offer to your circle of peers seems a lot cooler than bringing nothing but the latest Facebook news. Maybe I'm just old fashioned.