Sunday, October 25, 2015

My hands to serve, my heart to learn. [Michaelmas Week 2]

These last couple of weeks have been full of classes, lectures, social activities, epiphanies, and serendipitous meetings. It's been a ride, that's for sure. I was talking to a friend and he was saying that it was starting to feel less like he's "at Oxford," and more like he's "at school."

I agree. It is starting to feel more like school as the term progresses and readings pick up. I am starting to get a sense of how fast this term will move--I have a feeling that I will be left breathless by the end of it. But I am looking forward to the challenge.

My hands are busy, but my heart is full. And even though the grandeur of Oxford is stunning, it is not the location or the architecture which inspires me. It is the people I associate with. There are amazing people here who genuinely want to make the world a kinder, better place and who have plans to do so. And it is conversations with these kinds of people which remind me of my purpose and why I am studying here. Not to glorify myself, but to reach out and use my talents to lift others.

[Arabesque in the cloisters.]

[The "Kissing Gate" between Christ Church Meadows and Corpus Christi]

 [Eagle and Child. I had a wonderful conversation here with a visiting professor on Friday, and we were both giddy about the fact that we were having an intellectual discussion where Lewis and Tolkien had their intellectual conversations. She was especially excited about it, and humbled to be back to Oxford after many years.]

I am enjoying my program. I think it will be a perfect way for me to develop myself as a historian as I come to better understand and articulate historical debates, as well as giving me research time for my own topic. The people in my program are great, and I have been very impressed with the seminars and lectures. For example, on Friday I went to a seminar/panel about the state of higher education in the United States. It was so insightful and it left me both wanting to know more about these issues and then find solutions for them. It also inspired me to become more articulate while speaking. There were some powerful speakers up there and I want to be able to voice my opinions in a coherent manner like them. 

I've also enjoyed my associations with people here and the interesting Oxonian traditions I get to participate in. My college is fantastic. I love how small Corpus Christi is--I feel like I am getting to know people in my college, and not only students, but professors and the President, too. The President of Corpus actually hosted a play reading at his home this week. I decided to go, because WHY NOT. I'm glad I did. Not only are the President and his wife delightful hosts (and just all-around good people), but we read The Merchant of Venice. I got to play Portia during the famous trial scene. I'm not saying I did a particularly good job of it, but it still made me giddy. I was playing Portia. In Oxford. With legitimate Shakespearean actors. Dreams do come true in the city of dreaming spires. 

[My eyes say it all. I am happy to be here.]

There are a lot of good things to do here. It can be overwhelming with the amount of material I have to learn--and the number of events/activities I could be doing--but I am also learning the value of presentness. Tolstoy was right. In order to live a fulfilling life, we have to embrace and actually live in the moment. That doesn't mean we live for the moment in a "YOLO" sort of way. But we have to be mentally and emotionally present in our interactions with others. Those moments where we are truly present--both in the quotidian and profound--are what make life good to the very center. 

I like it here, but that doesn't mean that things are perfect. I think we can often have the idea (especially as Americans) that life in Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, etc. is like living in a dream. Honestly, it's life. And that means ups and downs, doubts, fears, peace, friends, loneliness, everything. I had some interesting moments this week where I felt poshlost'. It's a theme that features in many Russian novels. Nabokov described it as "not only the obviously trashy, but mainly the falsely important, the falsely beautiful, the falsely clever, the falsely attractive." I felt that this week. There was a moment this week where I felt like I had just stepped into a Gogol novel--which, if you're going to be in any Russian novel, you probably don't want to be in a Gogol novel. Or any Russian novel, really. Things usually don't turn out so well for you. 

Anyway, I felt that emptiness that comes from banality, and it surprised me. But I think recognizing that poshlost' for what it is has inspired me to do something about it and make changes to myself and reach out to others to combat it. Not that I'm perfect at doing that. But I have done a lot of soul-searching this week, and that struggle is leading to something good, meaningful, and purposeful. 

I truly believe there is growth that comes from the struggle. The key is that we keep moving forward. 

And I am finding my place and purpose here, one step at a time, for which I am grateful. 

Matriculation: A Lot of Pomp for a Bit of Circumstance

Last Saturday I participated in an important Oxford tradition: Matriculation.

Matriculation is a ceremony which officially recognizes students as members of Oxford University. Back in the day, students had to sit for an exam which was all in Latin to prove that they were ready and worthy to study at Oxford. Today, the Vice Chancellor simply reads a few lines in Latin (saying that we are now officially Oxford students), says a few cheering words, and then we are sent merrily on our way to take pictures of ourselves in our sub-fusc (which is Latin for "dark brown" . . . but we don't wear dark brown clothing for matriculation? . . . oh well).

I know some people don't like ritual. I get it. It can be boring and a bit strange. But I think there is something beautiful in ceremony. It brings together past, present, and future. There are so many students who have matriculated at Oxford and there will be thousands more who will in the future. Standing in the Sheldonian Theatre marked my time at Oxford. A bridge between the past and present, tying us all together.

Also, my fellow Corpuscles (yes, that is a term and I did not make it up) and I look pretty good in our ceremonial robes, if I do say so myself.

[The joys of sitting for pictures.]

[Fellow postgrads in the MCR.]

[I like these pictures because of the awkwardness of it all.]

[Embrace the awkwardness, people. Just embrace it.]

[One big, happy, Corpus Christi family.]

Shamless Study Selfies

. . . because this is what I do when I need a break from historiography. I snap vain pictures of myself.

Because why not.

That song really is about me. 

Tour de Oxford [Merton College]

This week my housemate Mimi took me on a tour of her college, Merton.

Merton College was founded in 1264 and claims to be the oldest college of the University of Oxford (2 other colleges also claim to be the oldest, but Merton says they have the documents to prove it, and not just legends). It has been home to some world-renowned scholars such as J.R.R. Tolkien and T.S. Eliot.

[Oh hello, you beautiful Fellows' Garden, you.]

I kind of felt like I was walking in an autumnal Garden of Eden. 

The red Virginia Creeper along the walls was especially beautiful:

The ever-classy Mimi was a wonderful tour guide. She told me about some of Merton's traditions and legends.

For example, this is called Tolkien's Table. Rumor has it that he composed part of Lord of the Rings at this table (at least, he liked writing here when the weather was nice). And the tree behind the table? People say that's what inspired the Ents. 

[Not the little, skinny tree. The bigger one in the background with the knots that look like facial features. THE ENT TREE.]

So of course I had to get a picture with the Ent Tree. 

[This is for you, Erika Jo.]

This is the Mob Quad. It is supposed to be the oldest university square in Oxford. Apparently it is called the "Mob Quad" because the fellows of the college would look down on the unwashed masses below them from their ivory towers. 

And this is the Fellows' Quad. Merton College has a special tradition every October Daylight Savings Time. The students want to make sure that the world doesn't explode when we go back an hour, so they walk backwards around this square (while drinking port) from 2 am to 3 am to ensure that balance is restored to the universe. 

So since Daylight Savings Time happened in England this weekend, obviously we can all be grateful for the members of Merton College for keeping the space-time continuum balanced. 

Thank you, Merton College, for saving the universe. 

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

. . . or in this case, the little pumpkin.

Autumn is pumpkin season in the United States. I have never been the biggest fan of pumpkin. Well, I enjoy it. I think it's yummy. I like pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, etc. But it can get a little excessive in the States. It's like a pumpkin fetish with some people and it can be a bit overwhelming. So I guess I'm saying that I am not a person who is obsessed with pumpkin.

All the same, I started craving pumpkin as soon as I got to England. I guess I was craving the smell of pumpkin bread more than anything, since the smells of nutmeg and cinnamon go hand-in-hand with the bright leaves, dropping temperatures, and Daylight Savings Time.

However, they don't sell pumpkin-flavored things in the UK. At least, they aren't sold at the local Sainsbury's or Tesco.

So imagine my joy when I went to the Farmer's Market at Gloucester Green this week and saw a local baker selling mini PUMPKIN TARTS FOR ONLY A POUND:

Me (looking like I've just found buried treasure): I would like one pumpkin tart, please. 
Baker: One pumpkin tarrrt? (imitating my American accent)
Me: Yes.
Baker: That will be one pound. 
Me: I didn't think that I would find pumpkin tarts or pumpkin bread in England. Do you often make this? 
Baker: This is our first year making pumpkin tarts. We've sold about ten of them this morning. And they have all been bought by Americans. 
Me (laughing): Well, yes. They remind us of home. 
Baker: We'll be bringing pumpkin-walnut bread next week. 
Me (looking just a bit insane with joy now): Oh, you can bet I'll be back next week. 
Baker (afraid that I am now a stalker): All right, then. Well, have a nice day. 

That's basically how the interchange went. The baker thinks I am a crazy American (he is right) and that I want to be BFFs with him because he makes pumpkin-flavored goodies (he is also right). 

Anyway. I had my pumpkin tarrrt. And it was delicious. 

Linus could not have been happier to find the Great Pumpkin than I was to find this little one. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

She's baaaaack

Just watch this. It will give you chills.

Unreal. Just absolutely incredible.

*cue fangirling. oh wait. already happened/is happening.*

Sunday, October 18, 2015

the trees are turning their own bodies into pillars of light

//reason 2348 why fall is my favorite season//


A little night music

Once upon a time I was meeting a friend at the Sheldonian. She was attending a concert there and I was going to meet her after the concert.

Around 7:30, I got to the Sheldonian and I heard music playing. It sounded like a soundtrack--it was clear and absolutely beautiful. I realized that it was the concert going on in the Sheldonian, but since the windows were open, I could hear the music (pardon the video quality): 

It was just one of those moments that you can't plan for. Almost ethereal. And I'm glad that I experienced it. 

That's all. Carry on.

*Update: I know that the video doesn't work. I'm trying to figure out how to make it work, but it might not happen. So just close your eyes and imagine a Mozart symphony playing as your personal soundtrack on your journey home. 

Things to Remember [Michaelmas Week 1]

I have so many blog posts planned. Don't worry. I will give a better idea of a day-in-the-life/how things are going. But part of "how things are going" means that things are a bit crazy. There is so much to do in just a little bit of time. I also need some time to reflect on this past week, since it flew by for me.

- Formal halls are just as opulent as I remember. But they sure are fun. Especially because it means that I can dress up and make believe that I am eating at Hogwarts.

-I am going to be living in the library this semester. Case in point:

-Hot cocoa with toasted banana bread are some of the sweetest things in life. Especially on a cloudy, misty October morning.

-The London Temple is a beautiful, beautiful place. 

-There will never be enough time to do all that I would like to do here. I just have to accept that, choose my activities pragmatically and carefully, and embrace what I can. 

-"I have found people to be invariably kind wherever I go." --Life wisdom from a very good man. 

-Matriculation is a whole lot of pomp for a little bit of circumstance. But I enjoyed it nonetheless. Especially since it gave me an excuse to take a lot of vain pictures of myself. 

-Exploring Oxford at night with friends leads to some fun discoveries: 

-My program is filled with some incredibly bright people. It makes discussions fun. 

-Walking by the Sheldonian on a weekend night during a concert is a magical experience. 

-There is nothing like running the streets of Oxford in the quiet morning. I know I've said that before. But it is true. 

Tour de Oxford {Magdalen College}

For those of you who don't know, Oxford University is made up of colleges. For example, I am a student at Oxford University, but I am also a member of Corpus Christi College. This is a bit confusing to people who are used to the American university system, where a university is made up of departments (and where we also call university college).

In the case of Oxford, the town is basically the university and the university is made up of individual colleges which have departments inside of them. The colleges are made up of students studying a variety of subjects, from French literature to neuroscience. One of the best ways I can describe it is like Hogwarts. (I know. I'm sorry for another Harry Potter reference. Actually, I'm not sorry.) Basically, Hogwarts = Oxford, and the Hogwarts Houses = colleges.

I have made it my goal whilst at Oxford to visit all 38 of the colleges which make up this university. I am calling it my Tour de Oxford.

First up, Magdalen College.

Magdalen College (Magdalen is named after Mary Magdalene, but is pronounced "modlin" as it would have been pronounced in the 15th century) was founded in 1458. It is well-known for its extensive grounds (it has a beautiful Fellows Garden as well as a deer park), its choir, and being the old stomping grounds of many famous intellectuals, politicians, and writers, such as C.S. Lewis.

[Along Addison's Walk, where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had long discussions about God.] 

One of the neat things about Oxford is the history of the place. It is neat to think about all of the people who have come here and all of the ideas they brought to the world. So it was neat to stroll down Addison's Walk and think about God, life, and the universe.

Also, I enjoy Magdalen College because it's just so darn pretty. 

Yep, definitely coming back to visit this college.