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Month: February 2017

Kohei Joshi | Oxford, England | Post 3

Kohei Joshi | Oxford, England | Post 3

This week, I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired, so I decided to try something new—write down everything that pops into mind with no particular structure. I begin with updates on the four Catz Football teams, followed by my rather humiliating experiences trying out ballroom dancing, a very short description of the Japan Society, and to top it all off, some inspirational quotes from my roommate Clark! Be warned, if you’re reading the this in class, Clark may make you “laugh out loud.” Of course, there were actually several interesting things I did in the periods between this post and my last post, but I’ll save those for items to use in future posts.

The path I take to class, though I don’t get to cross the bridge

 

Updates on Football

The St. Catz Firsts team is leading the top division by a comfortable six points. If we win the next two games, we officially win the title as the strongest team in Oxford for the first time in St. Catz history as far as the recorded stats show. LET’S DO THIS, LADS!

The St. Catz Seconds team is in the Cuppers semi-finals. I still don’t really know what the Cuppers is, but apparently it’s a big deal. LET’S GO, MATES!

In perhaps the most impressive feat of them all however, the St. Catz Thirds team has (drum roll please)—escaped relegations in a mighty 1-1 draw against the invincible Worcester College!! LET’S NOT GET RELEGATED, FRIENDS!

Finally, the St. Catz MCR Team is still leading the pack in the MCR division, AND we are still in the Cuppers tournament. LET’S CARRY ON, umm…PARTNERS! 

The old uniform I use for St. Catz Football

 

A Ballroom Mishap
Yes, you heard that right: I am in the Ballroom dancing class! So far, I can tell you that football skills and dancing skills are not transferrable. Apparently, you’re NOT supposed to run around like a chicken and kick things as hard as you can.

In what was perhaps one of the most embarrassing moments of our Oxford experience so far, Clark and I had both mistaken an Intermediate Ballroom lesson as a Beginners Salsa lesson. We got a strange feeling the moment we entered the room because people were slow-dancing in leather shoes.

I asked Clark, “Is this salsa dancing?”, to which he replied,

“I think it’s a waltz.” And I just said,

“Oh, ok, makes sense…”

…oblivious to the fact that Waltzing is actually a move in Ballroom dancing.

To make a long story short, we made fools of ourselves in front of the entire class just ten minutes into the lesson when we were kindly led out the door. Though we were properly embarrassed, Clark and I laughed our way back to our rooms.

The following week, I went by myself as Clark wasn’t feeling the jibes. This time, I double-checked that I got the room correct so I wouldn’t accidentally waltz into an advanced Zumba class or something. I made it to the right lesson and the music started, but at a certain point I realized that I was moving like a robot. Soccer is all about breaking the rhythm of the defender, so I just found it incredibly difficult to move at the same beat for prolonged periods.

I would get the order of my footsteps all wrong, so the lesson basically turned out to be me saying to my poor partner, “oh my, wrong foot,” “sorry about tha—sorry, my fault,” “left, left, le-right, le—wait, give me a second.”

If you were a spectator, you would see one guy moving robotically to classical music muttering the word “sorry” every three beats, and his partner being polite and laughing nervously.

The Blavatnik School of Government, known for its modern architecture

Japan Society
There is a Oxford Japan Society, but they put on relatively few events throughout the term. They do, however, organize a nice trip to a Japanese restaurant called Edamame once every three weeks. The food was very expensive but it tasted like authentic Japanese food, so that was really exciting! Other than this, the society set-up a “Bar Crawl” event, which was the first bar crawl I went to in my life. Every Oxford College has its own bar, so we were scheduled to go around to Baliol and Hartford College. I ended up only going to Hartford as I was pretty exhausted already, but I got to meet some incredible Japanese scholars whom I consider friends now!

 

Great Quotes From Clark

For those of you who know him, my Vassar and Oxford roommate Clark has a very witty sense of humor that cracks me up at the most unexpected of times. With his permission, I thought I’d share some with you every week. Here are a few of them so far:

  • I asked Clark as a joke, “Permission to take a shower?”, and he replied very seriously, “yeah but keep the doors closed.” I’ve never showered with them open before.
  • It was a rainy day and we were jogging to the bookstore as it was twenty minutes before closing time. Perhaps a bit agitated with the running, he suddenly mutters to me, “how nerdy do you have to be to jog to the bookstore?” Well, apparently nerdy enough to read Plato’s Politics for fun (yes, he does that).
  • In the St. Catz library, there is an area where the lamps are hanging a good ten feet from the ceiling rather than being propped up on a table like regular lamps. I admit it, I thought it was impractical too, but the librarian was kindly explaining to us how to use the computer system so I paid no mind. Then, Clark looks me dead in the eye as if he’s just had an epiphany and says, “I feel like that’s a little excessive for some lamps.” For some reason, I thought the timing of the comment was absolutely genius.
Clark lost in a maze ten minutes after I finished
Jackson Ingram | Madrid, Spain | Post 1

Jackson Ingram | Madrid, Spain | Post 1

Ironically, I’m writing my first blog post about Spain while on my way back to the United States. The plane is almost empty—I guess not many people have to make a day-trip to Chicago—and it’s the perfect time to finally force myself to write this because I’m so sure nothing else exciting can happen before my deadline. Please God let me be right.

My creative writing professors told me not to start any piece of writing with a flashback, but in Spain all bets are off. Cue the harpist and start the wavy-screen, 90s-style flashback transition.

A few days into January, I found myself sitting in the St. Louis International Airport, staring at a vending machine. This was not just any vending machine, but the exact same one from which I had bought dinner the last time I was in the St. Louis International Airport, when an ice storm stranded me there for seven hours. There’s really no better way to de-stress from finals than spending your last $1.75 on a snack-sized bag of Sun Chips (Harvest Cheddar, obviously) and a cup of instant coffee. By the time my ride could make it there, I was pretty much over the St. Louis International Airport. But come January, I would have given anything to spend another seven hours in those horrible blue chairs if it meant not having to leave the country. I did not want to go to Spain.

Hello Darkness, my old friend.

While many of the students in my program either grew up with Spanish or took like 80 AP courses in it, I started learning when I got to college. While they held full conversations with cashiers and waiters, I was mangling even the most basic colloquial phrases into flaming piles of linguistic garbage. Last semester, as I compulsively joked about probably dying while abroad, people would ask me, “If you’re so bad at Spanish, why are you going to Spain?” I will get back to you on that, as soon as I’m sure I’ve figured it out for myself.

For better or worse, I made it to Granada (after spending another seven hours in JFK because I can’t get enough of airports), not at all ready for 10 days of orientation, but accepting the fact that it was going to happen to me whether I wanted it to or not. As I powered through my first Never-ending Lunch in Granada, I realized that if social anxiety was an obstacle for me in English, it’d literally kill me in Spanish. Three hours later, I wasn’t dead, though if they brought out one more course, I might’ve been. For Spaniards, food and socializing go mano a mano. Okay, yes, I realize that’s kind of a thing everywhere, but it’s really a thing here. At Vassar, I try not to spend more than 30 minutes in the Deece (long enough to get an omelet and get out before I become one with the yellow walls). Here, meals last indefinitely.

Here we are, begging our waiter for the check.

Luckily, everyone in my program has been really patient with me as I articulate complex and though-provoking phrases such as “¿Dónde están los aseos?” and “qué guay.” But really, the other students are great, even if they think my self-deprecation is a cry for help. In that sense, nothing has changed since Vassar. I’m still surrounded by incredibly smart, sometimes intimidating, but genuinely wonderful groups of peers wherever I go. There is no escape.

Not that I [usually] wanted one. Granada is gorgeous. While I only caught like, 50 percent of what was said on the guided tours, the places we visited would be indescribable in any language. Granada is old. Like, really old. And you can really feel yourself moving through layers of history in each cobblestone street. The Alhambra was, of course, the highlight. It’s a fortress held by the Nasrid dynasty, the last Arab-Muslim one of Spain. After centuries of religious warfare, the Alhambra bears the weight of each transition of power. Now, the intricate Islamic art and sprawling gardens have been restored, but as I trailed after our guide (a vibrant professor named Mary Carmen), I felt the pull between Granada’s rich history and the tourism that dominates the Spanish economy. As an American student, a visitor, and, of course, a tourist myself, I tried not to take in these spaces at face value and even did some research in English after each tour to make sure I better understood their significances.

Alhambra, as seen from the streets.

We also spent our mornings taking crash courses in language and history in the Centro de Lenguas Modernas, a branch of the Universidad de Granada, but our orientation wasn’t all academic. Los monitores, a group of older students paid to hang out with us, provided a quick rundown of the Spanish nightlife and formally introduced us to tapas, the most beautiful combination of wine and appetizers that you can imagine. The food has been amazing, but unfortunately, Spaniards are obsessed with two things (besides fútbol and walking really slowly): ham and fried food (although there’s surprisingly little bacon here). As someone in remission from Chron’s disease, there are two things that I absolutely cannot eat: ham and fried food. Ordering anything at a restaurant is a game of intestinal Russian roulette, but my friends have helped me double-check ingredients before I order. Plus I think I’ve learned all the different words for pork now, so we should be good.

Speaking of which, if you’re reading this and you’re a student with a chronic health condition preparing to study abroad, please for the love of Jesus, get your medicine in advance and bring it all with you on the plane. All of it. Apparently international customs isn’t super down with large quantities of auto-inject needles entering the country unsupervised and, if you have my luck, your insurance won’t cover your prescription outside the U.S.

This is what landed me on this plane to Chicago in the first place. If I want my intestines to keep working for the next four months, I have to fly back for a hot second, grab my medication in bulk and then drag my butt back across the Atlantic to Spain. It’s a huge pain, not to mention a financial burden, so learn from my mistakes, [email protected] Don’t worry. There are plenty more to come.

Rachel Ludwig | Paris, France | Post 1

Rachel Ludwig | Paris, France | Post 1

In between finding out that I had been accepted into the Vassar Wesleyan Program in Paris and actually arriving in France, there was about a year’s worth of build up. A year of telling family, friends, old high school teachers, priests, or basically anyone that my mom’s ever talked to for more than 45 seconds that I would be studying in Paris. It’s funny because when you have that much time to anticipate a whole chunk of your life that has been carefully set aside for your intellectual and cultural cultivation, the expectations start to pile up. By the end of it, I’m pretty sure my family—and myself to some extent—envisioned me traveling off to the city of lights with a steamer trunk, a feathered hat and a parasol—the true “Vassar Girl Abroad.”

Jardin de Luxembourg

Fast forward to this January. We’ve touched down in Paris and a fun combination of exhaustion and self-doubt has replaced the excitement that’s supposed to accompany the announcement, Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Paris. I’m also avoiding eye contact with the poor passenger next to me whose arm I may or may not have grabbed mid-flight in a turbulence-induced panic. Shuffling off the plane and through the bowels on Charles de Gaulle Airport, I don’t feel as though I’ve really “arrived.”

That feeling of displacement cements itself as I slough through my first few days, facing the unexpectedly biting Paris cold (weather.com lies) and the complete disappearance of the familiar yellow orb that normally floats in the sky. All parasol related imagery vanishes completely when on the last day of orientation—coincidentally the day that we’re going to move into our host stays—I find a thriving colony of ants in my suitcase, volcanically spewing from a box of chocolates I had brought for my new host family, milling about extent of my worldly possessions.

But now I’m a month in, the ants are gone (to my knowledge) and finally, I think Paris and I have come to an understanding. For me, the biggest learning curve was actually figuring out how to live in a city. On some primordial level, I believe my small-town, Midwestern instincts have been actively fighting against this change. Take for instance the seemingly simple process of “figuring out the metro.” For the average person, this means looking at a Paris metro map and understanding that there are multiple lines and that each line goes in two different directions. On my first attempt at taking the metro, I got stuck in between the turnstile and the push barrier and had to be forcibly extracted by an exasperated Parisian. From that point on, it took me essentially the entirety of January to become accustomed to the subtle art of getting on and off the metro (preferably at the right stop), as well as the glassy-eyed death stare of the Parisian commuter.

The icy Parisian stare, also known as “froncer les sourcils”

As a people, Parisians collectively have this air of “I know exactly where I’m going and exactly what I am going to do once I get there.” Even Parisian children seem to have this excess of purpose as they fly past you at alarmingly fast speeds on their possibly government mandated scooters (I have yet to see a Parisian child without one). There’s also a sort of Parisian uniform that includes a dark formal coat, a carefully draped scarf and a handbag/briefcase. Thus far I have managed the coat and scarf aspects, although my draping leaves something to be desired.

But that is a depiction of Parisians from afar. Up close, underneath the coat/scarf/bag ensemble, all the Parisians I’ve met have been exceptionally warm, funny individuals. This has especially been the case for my two hosts, Catherine and Thierry. The couple has been hosting students for the past ten years and they are exceptionally good at it. They handled my plague of insects like a couple of pros and have been amusedly guiding me through my Parisian trials ever since. Just last week they nursed me through a particularly bad cold, over the course of which I was brought salmon and toast points in bed and put through a rigorous set of thyme-infused steam inhalations. It was to date the fanciest period of ailment I have ever experienced and perhaps restored a bit of my Vassar Girl Abroad fantasy.

In a way, that’s been the theme of my past week or two here, that is the “restoration” of my faith in Paris. Slowly but surely, I’ve been re-inflating the balloon inside me labeled “Rachel’s Super High Expectations/Longstanding Paris Dreams.” Finally, it’s warm enough for me to wear my J.Crew Factory Warehouse Outlet pea coat (the height of true elegance) and stroll about the city with some concept of where exactly I’m going. For all of my griping about Paris being mean to me and my asthmatic bird lungs, I’m incredibly lucky to be here and every day my resolve to go out and just be in Paris grows stronger. The other day, I decided on a whim to track down this illustrious falafel place that I had read about and after a delicious, but somewhat regrettable lunch of 14 falafels, I just walked around the Marais and then over to the Notre Dame. No pictures, no map reading, just enjoying the view from across the river, trying my very best to not look like a tourist.

Notre Dame de Paris

Settling in somewhere new is never easy, but gradually I’m filling up my little bulletin board with opera and museum tickets, my notebooks with frantically scribbled notes in Frenglish, and my coin purse with little five centime coins that I seem to be incapable of spending. I’ve had art class at the Centre Pompidou, theatre class at the Comedie Français, and have accidentally followed my Nouvelle Sorbonne literature professor into the bathroom. If anything, at this point I’ve graduated to at least “entry-level Parisian” status and as long as I keep working on my scarf draping, I think I’ll be ok.

Stairs at Montmartre
Kohei Joshi | Oxford, England | Post 2

Kohei Joshi | Oxford, England | Post 2

How I ended up playing for four football teams at Oxford

As an offering to the soccer gods, it is my pleasure to announce that I have successfully managed to join all four male football (soccer) teams at St. Catherine’s College. The undergraduate team has three teams that each have incredibly unique names: The Firsts, The Seconds, and The Thirds. I’m still getting used to this new naming system, but apparently the First team is the most competitive, the Second team is the second most competitive and the Third team is the third most competitive. I know right, I get it mixed up too sometimes, so I secretly categorize them in my own head as; The Jackrabbits, The Flying Squirrels and The Terminator, respectively.

The fourth team I am on is the Graduate students team who call themselves the “St. Catherine’s Football Club.” When I first got a notification on FB from the “St. Catherine’s Football Club,” I had no idea which of the four teams the practice was for. I emailed the captain of The Seconds and he told me it wasn’t for them, “it’s probably for The Thirds.” But I knew The Thirds only practice on Saturdays, so I went to practice thinking it was for The Firsts. I turned up to practice as one of the few players without a beard. As it turns out, it was for the Graduate team, which I guess one can technically call The Firsts, as there is only one Graduate team.

I never intended to play in four teams at St. Catz, but the mates in the MCR team (MCR=terminology for graduate program) were so tight-knit and friendly that I decided I would stay on this team no matter what. But I am used to three hours of practice every day back at Vassar, so the one practice/game per week schedule didn’t allow me to burn off all the calories I was eating. Thus, I went to The Thirds practice and the mates were so tight-knit and friendly that I decided I would stay on this team no matter what. But if I was going to play football, I wanted to play for the best team we had. So I played in The Firsts game and…It was really fun.

At this point, I didn’t see the point of trying to decide which teams to join as I was already in three of the four except for The Seconds. I mean, imagine having to tell someone, “Yeah, I play on the MCR team, along with The Firsts and Thirds for the JCR.. No, not The Seconds, just Firsts and Thirds—I—I don’t know, no, they seemed nice it’s just—”. And here I am now, playing for four teams at Oxford! To be fair though, the fields have a tendency to freeze over due to the chill, so about half of our games end up getting cancelled. So I haven’t really been hit by the full force of four games/week yet, though I shall report back to you all how successfully this goes for me.

I guess they thought I was the manager.

 

You did well Kenichi…

I’m also in the Oxford University Travel Society, which hosts around three trips per trimester. On January 29th, we had a trip to Winchester where we got to see Winchester College—apparently the oldest operating public school in Europe having been built in 1382 (the world…?). My friend and I were joking about the sudden loss of prestige it would get if it were named “Winchester High School” instead of “Winchester College.”

Anyways, the high school itself did indeed have an incredible air of time, tradition and excellence. The school was home to some brilliant display of Victorian and Medieval architecture that one couldn’t help but be mesmerized by. A particularly memorable moment was when we were walking down an alleyway and in the stone bricks were engravings made by past students. One of them had the date “1919” and it struck me that there could have been engravings on here that I missed that could have been over 500 years old or something. There was a memorial for past students who passed away on campus and one of them had a Japanese name. He ran in a school race and came first, but he suffered a heart attack immediately afterwards and never recovered. Our tour guide said the Japanese carvings in his plate said “You got first Kenichi,” but it actually said “You did well Kenichi.” I later told our tour guide this, and she told me “Bless you, I can finally get it right.”

They apparently call the 70 students on Financial Aid as “The Scholars” and the remaining students “The Commoners,” which I couldn’t help but let out a smile during the tour. The tuition is a staggering 36,000 pounds, but the school is a feeder school for elite institutions such as OxBridge, Harvard, Yale etc. so for many this is money well spent. There were so many other fascinating aspects to the school, but I’ll leave that up to your imagination. Our next trip is to Leeds Castle and Canterbury, which I am looking forward to!

Winchester Cathedral, the longest Cathedral in Europe
Wow this was just amazing. I wondered how long it took the architects to make all this…

Ballroom dancing

Yes, you heard that right, I am in the Ballroom dancing class! So far, I can tell you that football skills and dancing skills are not transferrable. I won’t go into much other detail than that, but just keep that in mind if you want to try new things. I haven’t had enough lessons yet to see if I’m genetically incompatible with dancing, but I will have to wait and see.

Japan Society

The Oxford Japan Society has very few events, but they do organize a nice trip to a Japanese restaurant called Edamame once every three weeks. Other than this, the society set up a “Bar Crawl” event, which was the first bar crawl I went to in my life. Every Oxford College has its own bar, so we were scheduled to go around to Baliol and Hartford. I ended up only going to Hartford as I was pretty exhausted by the day before the event, but I got to meet some incredible Japanese scholars studying here for a Graduate program. I hope to be able to seen them again soon!

Next week I’ll talk about what Clark and I do for food and some other random things! 😛

Zander Bashaw | Bologna, Italy | Post 1

Zander Bashaw | Bologna, Italy | Post 1

Just to preface this, I have not composed anything in English outside of messaging apps or Snapchat captions in almost a month, so if my phrasing seems a little out of whack, it’s not my fault that I’m worldly. It is my fault that I seem to only have the capacity to master prepositions in one language total. I noticed this because along with my now moderate capacity at getting Italian prepositions right, I also have said things to the fellow Americans in my program such as “you aren’t going to the right direction.” Just to be clear that would be utterly wrong translated in Italian as well.

The first experience that the other 16 American students on my program shared upon was that we had almost no idea what our life would be like these next five months. And I don’t mean that in a cliché way as in “I had no idea what to expect wow!” But actually we had received next to no information apart from our travel plans and that we would be picked up by the program leaders and transported to our respective “Studentati” (dorms). We had no idea who/ how many other students we would be living with, where these dorms were, if we would have roommates, or where and when school would start, etc. Interestingly, Italians don’t seem to see this as a problem. My best friend from home is so organized that he probably knows how many drawers there are in the desk at the job he has already secured for his three years out of college. I can only imagine how he would respond to “You’ll find out about your schedule and living arrangements several hours after you deplane.”

Italians it seems don’t understand this plight, and things tend to go day by day here. For example, I bought a panino (we americans say a panini, which is unfortunately the plural)  from a hole in the wall place the other day, and the lady that works there didn’t have enough change for me, but she and I just decided that I could come back next time and pay less to make up the difference.

Actually, I think that starting off with a bunch of unknowns was actually an ideal way to go into this abroad experience. On my first free day, I wandered around the city in a jetlagged haze; I tagged along into a mass just so that I could see the inside of a church. I grabbed a piece of pizza and had a fun conversation with an adorable four-year-old who had the same slice as I did, and I think I was able to successfully hide from her and her parents my resentment that she was more adept than I at knowing the genders of nouns.

Walking around the center of the city represents such a collision of modern and older cultures. I saw a tiny kid pushing a mini plastic shopping cart and not listening to his mother under the looming gothic basilica San Petronio, that first began construction in 1390. McDonalds (pronounced here as “MacDonald’s”) are perched on the corners of streets where scholars from the University of Bologna have walked since 1088. I myself was guilty of taking a selfie with one of the lions that guard a church in nearby city Modena, which was consecrated in 1184.

Basilica di San Petronio

Perhaps it’s because I’m one of the few people that doesn’t live here all the time, but I find it so funny to see people going about their daily business without a second glance at these unfathomably ancient and important monuments. I saw a lady angry with her dog “raggu” telling him to sit (in Italian which of course he understood perfectly) under an stunning Roman arcade. I suppose that’s what happens when you live somewhere for long enough; God forbid I ever have to look at the fucking Liberty Bell again.

The community theatre in Bologna

While it would be excessively dull to go over how many things I have said “che bello” at, I must reference my moment of Joycean “aesthetic arrest.” It happened at the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, a city characterized by its mosaics. I extensively studied, or rather lazily reclined as the art history professors in Art 105 tried to stress the importance and beauty of these works. I did not really understand until I was there, staring up at each vibrant, expertly placed piece, not caring that my neck was sore or that my tour group was leaving. My high school once tried to champion the phrase “be here now” to encourage us focus on each moment and experience. While that did not go so well at the time, I can assure you that in San Vitale in Ravenna, I was only there, arrested, as I can only imagine hundreds of thousands of visitors have been since 547 when the church was completed.

Despite this incredible beauty I have gotten to witness, every excellent wine buzz, the fact that I cut through a dog park to walk to class, I look at the news from home with trepidation every morning. As surreal as it must feel to be in the states in a time like this, it’s almost weirder being here. This isn’t to say that the Italians don’t care. Almost every Italian I meet wants to ask me about Trump, and I can honestly say that I didn’t expect to say “odio” as much as I have during my time here. 

The news pieces coming in have strangely coincided with learning about Italian fascism in my intensive Italian course. Other, better heads have analyzed the similarities better than I could. However, one thing that I can say is that during our latest unit we also studied “I partigiani,” the Italians who bravely resisted the fascists, often resulting in their own brutal deaths. We visited a monument on sheer cliffs outside Bologna where 100 Italians in the Resistance were killed and pushed off the cliffs by German soldiers, many of them between the ages of 18 and 25. I’m not going to say that the Trump administration will go as far as fascist Italy, but if it happens, maybe we can draw lessons from these stories, this history in order to effectively combat a corrupt regime.

The monument outside of Bologna where the rebels were executed
Kohei Joshi | Oxford, England | Post 1

Kohei Joshi | Oxford, England | Post 1

Introduction

“I can feel it, we’re in New York.”

I remember this quote from the movie “The Beatles” because John Lennon said this on a plane en route to America for the first time in his life, and I was watching this scene on a plane heading to Europe for the first time in my life (England via France). Unfortunately, I didn’t have the observational prowess that John had, and it wasn’t until the plane jolted to a stop on the runway at France’s CDG airport that I realized I’ve arrived in Europe. I later found out in my research that “CDG” stood for the French general and statesmen “Charles De Gaulle” who vetoed Britain’s entry into the European Community (what is now the European Union) not once but TWICE. I knew that France and Britain never really got along historically, but TWICE!? You know what they say—old habits die hard.

Christ Church College – The college where Hogwarts’s Grand Hall scene was shot

 

 

Once I got to the city of Oxford, I thanked myself for knowing better than to go in a t-shirt and shorts. I knew England was a country of style—the people, the accent, the fashion, everything was very…“posh.” Apparently, using the word cool here makes you uncool, so you have to use a word that’s not “cool” to say something is #cool in a cooler way. ANYWAYS, people were extremely kind here nonetheless, and every person I asked gave me directions for how to get to St. Catherine’s College, some even pulling out their iPhones to look it up for me (Thanks Perry!).

When I arrived at St. Catherine’s College itself, I was guiltily happy that it was actually very modern. Vassar has given me my fair share of relic buildings. The college itself had white walls and lots of long horizontal glass windows (kind of like Noyes). There were large geese waltzing the lawn and one of them challenged me to a staring contest, which I lost.

Front view of St. Catherine’s College on a sunny but chilly Monday morning
The goose that challenged me to a staring contest

The highlight of my first day at Oxford had to be when I went to the registration office to sign in. I opened the door, and out walked my roommate from Vassar, Clark. We had both applied to St. Catz coincidentally, and had both gotten accepted coincidentally. Turns out we were to become roommates for the second time in another country!

And here I am writing this post next to my buddy! Actually, our rooms are like a divided double with a shower and bathroom between us both, so it’s a perfect balance of privacy and company. I was quite anxious about my roommate situation, but I felt relieved that I would be sharing this experience with a friend.

My roommate Clark enjoying dessert, which he later came to regret.

 

Academic life  

At Oxford, the program for visiting students center around something called “tutorials” which is basically a one-hour meeting with a professor in groups of anywhere between one to four people. You have 1.5 tutorials per week; one for each of your primary topics and one every other week for your secondary topics. Most tutorials have an associated lecture session each week, so you end up having an average of three hours of tutorial/lecture time per week. Since I’m studying here for two trimesters, I will have four different topics to study so I won’t get bored! Bear in mind, I’m going off of my own experience and word of mouth from other students.

Now, you may be wondering, “FOUR HOURS!? I spend more time clipping my toenails per week than four hours,” and I’m sure you do!

But, I should also mention that for me, I have to write a 2,000 word essay for each of my tutorials. Given that I have 12 tutorials per trimester, that is equivalent to writing a 2,000 word essay every four days.

My desk when a 2,000 word essay is due in two days—I gave up on the books on the right

Now, you may be wondering, “2,000 WORDS EVERY FOUR DAYS?! Good thing I applied to study abroad in Japan,” but the tutorial system is actually extremely fun!

Have you ever gotten truly interested in a topic for an essay at Vassar, but you just didn’t have the time to delve deeper? Well, this program is your answer. I get to choose from a variety of sub-topics within my topic, scour my own books and articles to read for research and write my essay with very few restrictions.

In the actual tutorial, I read aloud my essay to my professor (he doesn’t require me to turn it in beforehand), and he interjects every now and then to fill in the details or to challenge a claim. Each interjection usually turns into a short discussion, and before you know it, 60 minutes are up!

If you’re wondering, my two topics are “British Foreign Policy” and “Britain in 1900s”, so I’ve covered topics such as “Why did Britain not decide to join the European Community until 1967?”, “To what extent were Reagan and Thatcher’s governance based on similar ideologies?” and “When did the decline of the British empire begin?”. Next week, I plan on writing about the success of Anthony Eden as prime minister, and about the Suez Crisis which was seen as one of the most humiliating disasters in British foreign policy.

Anyways, each college has its own library, and there are separate libraries for each department. The Social Science Library happens to be right next to my college, so I essentially have two libraries within a three-minute walk from my room (hehe). There is also a central Oxford library called the Bodleian Library which is apparently the poshest of them all. I studied there once just so I can say I studied there once. So yeah, I studied there once.

Next post, I’ll talk more about my actual experience here studying abroad and what I actually do on my free time!