Archive for October, 2009

Of Tutorials and Mountains of Books

Friday, October 16th, 2009

Before I left for England, my friend, Kelsey, who studied at Oxford last year, gave me the best piece of advice. She told me, “You’re not going to know what to do for your first couple of weeks.” You know what? She was correct! At Holy Cross, I have such a structured life (as any of my friends will tell you). I have classes Monday through Friday from about ten to 3:00. I then stay in the library until about midnight (sometimes, I do eat and sleep). Professors give structured syllabi and reading lists. Oxford is completely different. I meet with my primary tutor once a week, and my secondary tutor once every other week. Every meeting is just a demolition of a paper. For instance, my first tutorial this past Tuesday involved my tutor telling me, “You’re completely wrong here” about five times. Granted, it was not the best paper that I have ever written in my life, and a professor at Holy Cross would’ve told me the same exact thing. But I absorbed her criticism because it was delivered verbally. I’m writing my second paper for her right now, and after every sentence that I write, I’ll stop and think, “What is Charlotte going to say to this?” Even if it’s something as minute as “The sky is blue,” I still ask myself that question. I’ve only been in classes for two weeks, and I already think that I’m becoming a much more structured writer.

Even though that’s fantastic, I still have no idea how to structure my time. I’m trying to find my routine, but it’s rather difficult. I mean, I have two papers due within the week and they both have to be brilliant. When do I stop writing one, and when do I start writing the other? When do I factor in a social life (hah!)? I can’t believe that I’m saying this, but I don’t like having all this free time. It’s frightening! Ah, Professor Manoussakis would be proud because he’d see this as an analogy to free will. But that’s another story for another day.

In other news, my History of the English Language course has somewhat directed my future. As much as I love Old English, Latin, Sanskrit, and various other dead languages, I’ve come to the conclusion that I could never be a linguist. Again, I’m enjoying this tutorial – I truly am. But there’s nothing to really analyze. Instead of writing about a text, I’m writing how the text came to be written in English. It’s fascinating, but I do miss analyzation. I also am not liking the obvious barrier to the study of Old English (and all other dead languages, for that matter)- “no one speaks it anymore, so we can’t be sure.” Then again, it’s kind of a nice contrast to my Age of Bede essay prompt, which is “Did Bede unreservedly select “good” models for Christianity in The Ecclesiastical History of the English People?” (My tutor stated it much more intelligently than that.) Sounds easy, right? It would be easy enough to just write a paper laden with examples about how Bede did compliment virtuous people unreservedly and be done with it. However, I know that this tutor knows that the answer is yes, and he wants me to find out why Bede did it. I know that it sounds like I’m complaining, but, honestly, this is so much fun! I do like the standard to which the tutors hold you. Professors at Holy Cross do the same, but, then again, I’m not writing an essay a week for them.

P.S. I have officially maxed out my Oxford University Library card. Every faculty library permits borrowing (you did read my last entry, right?) up to a certain amount. Well, out of all the libraries for which I’m registered (six or seven), I think that I can check out only one more book from each. That’s a problem. See, my library card is like a credit card for some people. Except, I do have an excuse – I don’t have to buy any books for my classes; I just have to rent them. Yes, yes, that’s it! It’s all for my classes…that happen to be exactly what I want to study so I end up getting way too into them. It’s only a problem when the libraries send out collection officers after your hoard. Which they haven’t…yet.

P.P.S. I received my camera charger and card reader in the mail (THANK YOU, PARENTALS!), so expect to see some photos up here!

We’re Not in Dinand Anymore, Toto!

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

If you have read this blog for a while, you know the affinity that I have for Dinand Library. Dinand is readily easy to navigate (when you spend as much time in there as I do, you know it better than your dorm room) and one building houses all of the volumes. Spill-proof mugs of tea are allowed (to any prospective freshmen – this is a must!); the library stays open until 1 o’clock (not that I’ve ever procrastinated that much. Um. Well, there was this one time…), and you can claim a carrel for a day (even though it’s kind of bad form and will annoy other students).

Well, as much as I adore Oxford, I’m beginning to think that the libraries are a bit out of control. Don’t misunderstand me; I love books and I think that a well-stocked library is the most beautiful place in the world. However, when you have to go halfway across the city just to find one book only to find out that this one library is closed for the day, it can be kind of annoying. Let me explain with an example that might have happened to me.

Firstly, let me explain the library situation at Oxford. Oxford University has many libraries dispersed throughout the campus. The most recognizable ones are the Bodleian and Radcliffe Camera. Borrowing is not allowed from those two institutions (why, you ask? Tradition.). Then there are faculty libraries that are divided by sections. There’s the English Faculty Library, the History Faculty Library, etc. Borrowing is allowed from these. Then you have the specialized libraries, like the Rothermere (American Studies), Taylorian (Linguistics and Languages), and the Sackler (Classics). Again, borrowing is allowed from the specialized ones. Then you have the individual college libraries. The plus side to having all of these libraries is that your book is most certainly somewhere in the city. The problem is just finding exactly where that is.

So here’s my story: I suppose that I could’ve gone to the Bodleian and just read my books there, but I wanted to borrow them because I’m going to use them for the rest of the term. One of my books was only available in the Taylorian. All right – that’s not a big deal. So I found out where the Taylorian is located, and I walked there this morning. Well, there are several Taylorian libraries. There’s the Linguistics one, the Modern Languages one, the one with Modern Languages and Linguistics, and then there’s the main Taylorian. Are you with me? I registered my library card, and then I asked the librarian where this particular book would be. She replied, “Up the stairs.” So I went up the stairs. And up the stairs. And up some more stairs. Guess what I found? A locked door. I went back to the librarian and said, “The door is locked.” “Oh! You’re an undergraduate?” “Erm. Yes?” “I thought you were a graduate student. Okay, then you can’t access that floor; I’ll have to go get the books for you.” Pros: 1) Delivery to your desk. 2) Apparently, I look like I’m 25 and can pass for a graduate student. Cons: I’ve been waiting a while for my book. Hmmmm..

On the other hand, I did find the Taylorian, which is a beautiful library. I think that I’m going to make this my study library. It’s along the lines of the library in “Beauty and the Beast.” And, best of all, I’m surrounded by Anglo-Saxon texts!

In other news, I can charge my camera battery and download my pictures now. YAY! I’ll be posting lots of photos soon. And, I will soon be riding my bike around Oxford; it’s almost ready. YAY!

A Million Books to Read + 2 Papers to Write = a Very Happy Colleen

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

You know, it’s incredibly difficult to come up with catchy titles, but now that I’ve started to do so, I feel indebted to continue. Anyway, that is not the point of this post.

On Wednesday, we had our Freshers’ and Visiting Students’ Induction Dinner at Mansfield College. It was held in the chapel, so all of the people from Holy Cross were a tad confused. The chapel is gorgeous (not as pretty as St. Joseph’s, though), and the food was excellent. I was seated next to an Oxford third year student, and we were comparing American universities and colleges to Oxford for the night. Oxford has a different approach to academics. While I personally feel in America that a majority of people use education only to advance for jobs and the like, I think that Oxford has more of a “learning for the sake of learning” feel. It definitely reminds me of the Holy Cross state of mind. However, Oxford really differs from Holy Cross in that once you’re accepted at Oxford, you study one subject for your three years. I don’t know if I could possibly do that. As much as I love English, I couldn’t give up Classics, History, Theology, or Philosophy (now Math I could very easily give up. That would not be a problem. I think that my title shows the extent of my aptitude for math.). The other point that we both deduced was that JYAs (that’s what those who spend their junior year abroad are called at Oxford) tend to work much harder than Oxford students while they’re here. Jack (the student with whom I was talking) asked me why. I told him that at Holy Cross, we push ourselves beyond our extremes, and if we’re not doing something related to academics, we’re probably at a club meeting or at a team practice. He was shocked that we do so many extracurricular activities; here, students tend to find one club or one team, and they dedicate themselves completely to it. It was just a very interesting conversation.

Enough of that, though. On Thursday, I went to the Oxford Oratory to see the relics of St. Therese of Liseux. No, I did not plan to come to Oxford the year that both St. Therese’s relics and the Pope are scheduled to come; it just happened that way! It was an incredibly moving experience. I really can’t even describe it.

Then, Friday was the big day. I had my first tutorial. Okay, so I really didn’t have my first tutorial. It was more of a meeting in which my tutor told me what he expected of me and where the class was going to go. Although it was kind of nerve wracking for a bit, there were some funny moments. For instance, Dr. Doherty asked me what college I attend in the States. I replied “Holy Cross,” and he said, “Oh, yes. That’s a very rigorous school, isn’t it?” You have no idea.Well, maybe he does. I mean, he did just obtain his Ph.D from Oxford. Yes, yes, I’m pretty sure he has an idea, then.

Until next time! Of r

One Week Down

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

I left the United States a week ago, and yet I already feel at home in Oxford. I’ve been attending various “Freshers’ Week” information sessions (and I thought Holy Cross’ orientation threw far too much information at me!), setting up my room, meeting other JYA’s (Junior Year Abroad), and exploring this magnificent city. What I truly love about this program is that I’m really living by myself in a foreign city. Yes, my primary focus here is studying, but I also have to make my own meals (there’s no handy-dandy Kimball here), factor errands into my day (okay, so this isn’t that big of a deal. My errands right now include going to the Post Office and the like), and find some time to make friends as well. Even though I’ve only been here for a week, the experience has been truly amazing. If anything, my cooking skills will improve ten-fold!

With regards to academics, classes haven’t begun yet. I have a meeting with my Age of Bede tutor on Friday, and I have my first History of the English language class next Tuesday. I already have an essay due for that class, actually. My tutor e-mailed me and said to e-mail my paper to her and also bring a hard copy to class. That was it. There were no prompts. Welcome to Oxford! I’m so excited for the tutorial program. I’ve heard nothing but fantastic things from all the other students who have completed the program. The entire situation is going to be very different from my Holy Cross education. While Holy Cross classes meet for a certain number of hours a week, I will only meet with my primary tutorial (History of the English Language) once a week, and I’ll only have my secondary tutorial once every other week. That means that I only have 8 sessions for my primary tutorial and 4 session for my secondary tutorial. Hm. This is going to be extremely interesting!

Now for something completely different: This past Sunday, I attended Mass at the Oxford Oratory. This is the same church in which Cardinal Newman preached and J.R.R. Tolkien attended. Yes, I do realize that the former is more theologically important than the latter. But being in the same pew at Tolkien is kind of cool, you have to admit. Anyway, this Mass happened to be the Solemn Mass. Everything except the Liturgy of the Word was in Latin. Everything. As obsessed as I am with Latin, I thought it was cool. The homily didn’t hold a candle to the Jesuits’ at Holy Cross, though (3,000 miles away and an ocean in between me won’t stop my love for Holy Cross!). Regardless, the Mass was gorgeous. This Church is also hosting the relics of St. Therese of Liseux starting tomorrow, and Pope Benedict is going to be visiting this Church sometime in the Spring. No, I had no idea that any of these events were going to happen while I was here. I’m actually thinking about writing my ICIP (International Culutral Immersion Project. Every HoCro student who studies abroad has to complete a project that required them to immerse themselves in their host country.) about Catholicism in England  and how it becomes different when you’re not in the majority, as we are at Holy Cross. It’s still in the working stages in my mind, but I promise that it makes sense.

Well, I’m going to sign off for now. When I get my card reader running, expect to see this page full of pictures!

Please Mind the Gap

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

Well, I have officially arrived! Let my Junior Year Abroad begin!

Tuesday was one of the most hectic days of my life. Well, that’s not entirely true. Freshman year move-in day takes the cake for that one. However, Tuesday was somewhat stressful. I had to pack everything that I need for a year into two suitcases. It was difficult, to say the least. But, after unpacking everything, I am proud to say that I only forgot my card reader and my mini booklight, both of which can be easily replaced or shipped. But let’s not get ahead; there’s an entire saga to relay.

I left Atlanta on Tuesday night. When I separated from my parents at security, yes, I was a little sad because I’ll be away from them until Christmas, and then once again for six to eight months. But that’s not the point of this entry. Even though I was somewhat sad, I was more ecstatic (sorry, Mom and Dad) because I knew what was ahead of me. The plane ride went very smoothly. I met a couple of American students who are also studying in England; one of the guys that I met actually goes to Williams and he’s studying at Exeter College for the year. I went through Customs without a glitch. But here was where the fun began. Remember how I had packed two suitcases? In addition to those checked bags, I still had my backpack and a rolling carry-on. Both of my checked bags were rather heavy (one was 50 lbs, and the other was 57 lbs), and I still had more weight to carry because of my carry-ons. Here’s some advice to any students traveling to England next year – the luggage carts (or trolleys, as the Brits call them) are free to use in Heathrow; it isn’t like American airports, and I wish that I would’ve known that. Anyway, I was meeting Carrie and Terminal 5, so I dragged my luggage to the train. Last year, I just took a train to Terminal 5 and hopped on the Oxford bus. Well, there is no train to Terminal 5 anymore. Then 5 different people told me how to get to Terminal 5 in five different ways. Finally, I found the bus to Terminal 5, hopped on it and dragged all of my luggage behind me. I found Carrie, and we were off to Oxford. You know, typing this traveling experience out does not do it justice. I think I’ll have to request the security video from Heathrow to show you all what an ordeal it was!

Anyway, we arrived in Oxford, grabbed our keys to our residences, and moved in. The first night, I just unpacked and I was unconscious by 10:30 p.m. Since then, I’ve been unpacking bit by bit, and I’ve set up my room quite nicely. I even bought a rubber ducky hamper (I believe that this is the highlight of my year abroad, so far!). I’m living in a single, and it’s about half the size of a typical dorm at Holy Cross. I have the typical desk, wardrobe, bed, computer chair, and easy chair. The room also has a sink and cabinet, and it’s wonderful to be able to brush my teeth in my room. The kitchen and bathroom area are shared between the seven other people who live on my hall. All in all, it’s a great living situation.

As for Oxford, it feels like I never left. Everything has been fantastic so far. The only part that I’m still rather nervous (well, that’s not the right word) about is getting my own food. I’m so used to Kimball that this is going to be quite the switch for me. It’ll all work out; don’t worry! But the actual city of Oxford is fantastic. The people here have been so helpful, and I feel perfectly situated. I won’t say acclimated just yet because I haven’t started classes. My first class is on October 9th, and then my next one is October 13th. Yes, I already have essays assigned. I’m just so excited for this year to really begin! Until then, though, I have to attend various Orientation (or, as they call it, Induction) meetings, but life will soon begin here in Oxford. How exciting!