Sunday, January 25, 2009

I can't believe it's been so long since my last post. Then again, I can. As enjoyable as Oxford is, by the end of term life becomes very routine and less interesting to write about. However, with a long break, a few trips, and a new term, it's time for me to get back into the swing of things.

To start, the trips: First, I went for a weekend in Gloucester with my friend Phill (it's where he's from). Most excitingly for me, it's very close to Wales so I got to spend some time in the country. One day we 'climbed a mountain' (really, we walked up a rather large, steep hill, but it's Wales, so it's a mountain). The next we went to Tintern Abbey, where I immediately geeked out about the whole experience. The only downside of the trip was when I tried Christmas Pudding. That's an English tradition that can stay in England.

I also spent nearly a month at home. It was great to be back in the states and spend some quality time with my family and my friends. Plus, there's nothing better than a life where my biggest decision was what to bake for dessert that night.

And to cap off the whole break experience, I took a mini-break to Amsterdam. I'm glad I went and had a very good time. I mean, any city that's known for art, diamonds, and cheese is a place I want to be. Plus, it's just a nice, clean, walkable city with lots of water. My favorite type of place. The only downside is that I had to leave for Amsterdam basically 4 hours after I arrived from Chicago. Not good planning on my part. Nor was the 7 hour ferry ride. It's just as borring (or more so) as it sounds.

But now, I'm back in Oxford for good and slowly starting to get back into the swing of things. It's nice to be back in class and have a little more structure and schedule to things. The highlight thus far has been Burns Night at Green. Although we celebrated it a little early (it's actually today), it was one of the cooler experiences I've had since I've been here. The night is in honor of Robert Burns, the Scottish poet. But basically, it's an excuse to just celebrate everything that's awesome about Scotland. The night started with a fiddler and a bagpiper walking us into the dining room, dinner started with a poem by Burns, the main course was haggis presented on a silver platter and heralded by a bagpiper, and all of this was followed by singing, more bagpipe, and Scottish dancing. It was fantastic.

And, amazing, I actually liked the haggis. I just told myself it was like a sausage, gave it a go, and found it surprisingly tasty.

I think England is getting to me...

Monday, November 24, 2008

On Free Speech

Last Tuesday, I got to see the President of Israel speak. I say see, not hear, on purpose. You see, between the protesters outside, those inside, and the fact that Peres is a very soft speaker with a fairly heavy accent, I only caught about 1 out of every 6 words. Still, it was an unforgettable experience, partially because all of those factors.

I don't know much about the situation in Israel and Palestine. I know the basics, and I know that a two-state solution seems to be the most logical argument. I even took a class where we looked at the ideologies behind terrorists in places like Israel and Palestine. But I am far from an expert on the subject, and I definitely don't feel strongly enough either way to feel compelled to protest a speech. Instead, I spent the time thinking on free speech, protests, and what they can do.

Now, I love free speech. I love it when people protest. I think it's a fantastic example of democracy in action. But I also wonder what good an angry protest does. The most successful protests I can think of are sit-ins, marches, and the like, all of which were ... quiet in a very powerful way. The protest of Peres was anything but. Lots of chanting and shouting and trying to aggressively convince people of their position. It made me wonder how well it worked, in the end. I 100% support their ability to protest, but I wonder: What can be learned from shouting?

Similarly, during the speech, about 6 people stood up and said various facts about what Israel has done to Palestine. Now, this was much calmer and more fact-driven. But the people were using their right to free speech to take away someone elses, and to take away my right to listen. That seems rather unfair. I might not agree with everything Peres says, but I still have the right to listen to him say it.

It all kind of makes me wonder why some people thing that converstaion, dialogue, and speeches are so dangerous. Of course, there are numerous ovious examples of when it can be. But this was a speech on globalism and peace given at an international university and there was a question/answer time. Why was it necessary to interrupt that? Why were people so mad that he came to speak that they shouted at people who went to listen? It's quite likely that I simply don't get the whole situation, and that there are complexities and atrocities that should make me that angry. But still, I just wonder...

Any thoughts?

Monday, November 10, 2008


Perhaps it's not surprising, but every day that goes by my life gets a little more Englishy.

Mostly, my life has been taken over by rowing. What started out as a laugh, something to do on a random Saturday afternoon, has quickly turned into something much more serious. First, I would go out 2-3 times a week. Then, I was expected to go to the "tank," a giant indoor, concrete boat-type-thing. Finally, they inflicted circuit training and ergs on me (ergs being rowing machines, or the devil, as I affectionately nicknamed them). Starting this week, I'll be out on the water 4 times, all in preparation for the Christ Church Regatta, in 7th week. The regatta is only for novice teams, which Green Templeton definitely is at the moment. But I honestly don't care if we win or lose. I just enjoy being in the boat. It's like going canoeing in the summer with my dad, only faster and colder. There's simply nothing more enjoyable than watching the sun rise over Oxford, while you're on the river. How English.

In addition to rowing, I have managed to find time for other things, including my studies. I'm in the process of finding a research topic. Social science research is so different in so many ways than what I'm used to, that it's taking a while for me to get in the groove. It hasn't helped matters that my dissertation supervisor was in New Zealand until Tuesday. And, just like Megan, I'm beginning to learn to write in English. Although I'm less proficient--and probably care less--than she does.

Perhaps one of the most Englishy things I've been up to recently has been Guy Fawkes day. As a holiday, it just amazes me. What other country would celebrate a failed terrorist attack with such pomp? On Wednesday, the actual holiday, Green had fireworks in the garden and mulled wine in the bar. But the real show was on Saturday. That's when a group of us treked out to the South Parks, enjoyed a 1/2 hour fireworks extravaganza, and watch Guy Fawkes burn in effigy. For some inexplicable reason, Guy Fawkes was dressed as a Roman soldier. But I'm prepared to overlook it.

The only non-Englishy thing about my life recently has been having my brother John and his girlfriend Lisa come to visit. And the only reason that wasn't Englishy is because they, themselves, are not. They were here for 9 days and, despite lots of rain, it was a wonderful time. While in Oxford, we walked around the city, visited a few colleges, went to a few pubs, and even took a 45 minute trek to the Trout Pub. And, of course, John ate as much kebab van food as he could. I also got to visit them in London, where we went out to a fanatastic Brizillian place near Covant Garden on night, and then spent a Saturday walking around Notting Hill, the market there, and Covant Garden again. It was so nice and refreshing to have family in town, and to get out of the city a bit. It also was fantastic that I don't think I paid for a single meal while they were around (thanks guys!).

All-in-all, life is good. But it will be significantly better once it stops raining. Next on my Englishy check list: buy rainboots. Now.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Matriculation, or How I Became Hermonie Granger For A Day...

Yesterday was one of the most unusual, definitely unique days of my life: Oxford Matriculation. At its core, it was just a simple ceremony consisting of a few sentences in Latin and a short speech in English. But nothing here stays simple for long.

What it actually was started at 9:30 in the morning (a cold morning, in fact) where 200 Green Templeton freshers were wandering around the college wearing their robes, hats, ties and "sub-fusc" (that is white shirt, black skirt/pants, and black shoes for the girls and white shirt, dark suit, black shoes and white tie for the boys).

Then, after milling around and taking photos for 2 hours, we walked en masse to the Examination Schools, where the ceremony actually took place. And it wasn't just Green Templeton students who were doing this; it was every fresher in the city. Oxford was over-flowing with people in gowns and sub-fusc. The tourests sure had a sight yesterday.

After the ceremony, the day was filled with English-y things, including Pimms and croquette, the Eagle and Child, and the Turf pubs. All while looking a sight in sub-fusc. But that's the good thing about Oxford: no matter how ridiculous I look, somebody looks even stranger.

Oh, and yes, I did also have my first week of classes. It's taking a bit to adjust to the ways that social scientists think and research, but the work is interesting. My supervisor for my dissertation (not a thesis, at least not in this country) is the former head of the Oxford teacher training programme, so that's going to be very exciting. And, lastly, I'm trying out rowing. Who knows, maybe I'll be back in London in 2012 for the Olympics...

Probably not.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

It's Not Spam, I Swear

0th (or Naughth-I think) week is coming to an end and Monday will be the official start of term. It's been a surprisingly hectic week, yet sometimes simply filled with busy nothings. I've spent a lot of time over at the Education Department, which is very conveniently located 10 minutes from my flat. It's a largeish area, with lecture rooms and seminar rooms, a common room, a library, a few computer labs, and a garden. It's in a lovely red brick building. It's going to be a good place to spend a year.

I've also met with the other students doing my strand, and my tutors for the course. There are 12 people studying Higher Education, 5 of whom are from China, 4 from the states, and 1 each from Canada, Turjikistan, and Austria. We have two tutors, on of whom is English and the other German. It's a rather eclectic mix. But they all seem to be good people and some of the research questions proposed are fasinating (Things like: who applies to elite schools and why? Do Oxford tutorials teach critical thinking? What is the value of higher education?)

When not at the department, or not reading (always there will be reading), I've been caught up in "Freshers Week," or in the case of Green, "Freshers Fortnight." Basically, it's a series of events for new students, or Freshers, to help you get to know you college, the university, each other and join clubs. With all of the reading/classes/errands during the day and Freshers Week events at night, 0th week has been an exercise in burning the candle at both ends. Thankfully, it ends soon, but so far it's been a fantastic expierence and a good way to meet people.

Lastly, I've been getting to know Green College--where things are, who the people are, etc. Some cool features include fantastic gardens, tennis courts, a common room with fantastic views and free coffee/tea, and finally our own private former observatory, where we can get great views of the city. It's not quite the same as having a lake, like Megan has, but it's pretty good.

And yes, apparently Blogger thought this was all spam. But its not. I swear.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Learning to Drink Whiskey and Other Important Tasks

Yesterday, I learned how to drink whiskey. It was a big night for me. I'm so close to Scotland, and Lauren-a fellow Green student-loves it. I thought it was the right time. I've never had whiskey in any form before, let alone strait up, in a tumbler, and without ice or water (I did have a glass of water on hand in case it was necessary. It was).

Turns out, I actually kind of enjoyed it. I've always wanted to drink something that was old enough to order itself, and whiskey definitely fits the bill.

Guess my education began a few days early after all...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Settling In

I've been in Oxford for a grand total of 3 days, and am finally feeling pretty settled. My flight from O'Hare to Heathrow was 1/2 full, and arrived over an hour early. This is apparently typical of the flight, so remember: Virgin flight 40 from O'Hare. Plus, the service was excellent. To wit: free wine with dinner!

It was a long first day, mostly because I had two very heavy bags and two heavy carry-ons that I lugged around the city, and had to walk 30 minutes north to get the key to my room. Thankfully, the incredibly wonderful Megan (a friend from IWU) helped me every step of the way (in some cases literally)--even though she had Latin class! In case I don't say it enough, I have fantastic friends.

Tuesday through today have been a flurry of shopping, orientating, and making friends. Green is a beautiful college and everyone in it is incredibly friendly. The bar opened last night, so I got to meet a lot of freshers, or new students, who are currently in town.

The best thing at the moment is my location. I don't think I could've picked a better one if I tried. I'm living in University housing on Wellington Square. The building was clearly built in the 60s and the room is not so great, but the location is to die for. I'm literally a 5 minute walk from Megan and Annie (Megan's friend, who is now mine). I'm also a 5 minute walk from Green, and about a 7 minute walk to the city center. What's better is that within a few meters of my apartment are some of the best restaurants, bars, and ice cream in Oxford. This could get dangerous...

I have 3 more days until I officially begin my course on Monday. I'll post more then...