“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.
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.
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.
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.
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!