Author Archives: saltwaterain1

Oxford Study Abroad Chapter 3

On our third day, in preparation for classes, we went to the Bodleian Library, which was a nice 7 or so walk from Magdalen and is one of the most famous libraries in the world (there was also more Harry Potter-related filming here). I didn’t really need to use the libraries for my Shakespeare class, but I did end up coming here one more time; camera use was restricted in most rooms. The one where we got our library cards, which was modeled after Parliament’s interior, was one of the places where pictures were allowed.

This little table is where the officials, who took their roles very, very seriously, signed us up and handed us our cards after we took a spoken oath. There was also a game of attempting to fit into that chair on the far left; there was a little trick to lowering the piece in front of it before it was possible to squeeze in and sit.

Afterwards,  we took a tour of another library and found where the research material for our respected classes could be found. This library was at St. Peter’s, the college that sponsored our program but that we were not housed at (apparently, Magdalen is much nicer in terms of rooms and the exterior is as well, so I think we had a good exchange).

Around  5 that day, we had our first official formal dinner. These always were on Monday nights (except for the week following the 4-day excursion; then we had it on Tuesday) and consisted of reception, a lecture, and a sit-down dinner. The lectures were kind of like symposiums: a speaker, usually a professor, would come and talk for about an hour and fifteen minutes on a particular subject. This week’s was on ‘The Macbeths at Home’, a look on Shakespearean works as portrayed in film. The same professor would be a guest lecturer at our first lecture tomorrow morning, and he showed us clips from Kurosawa’s adaptation of Macbeth, a variation of the play with mobsters instead of kings, and an interesting independent movie featuring Christopher Walken as Macduff and the Macbeths as conquerers of a restaurant.
The dinner itself lasted for over an hour and a half and had randomly-selected individuals sitting at the ‘high table’ and the others in one of maybe four long tables farther down the hall (rather Potter-esque again). We started with grace and then sat down to conversations and a five-course menu consisting of bread, an appetizer, dinner, dessert, and coffee/chocolates, which was served to us by staff, along with wines.
I unfortunately never had my camera on me at these times, and so I can’t hope to render the same effect as being present had on me. It was a wonderful experience, though, and gave the feel of olden days where folks enjoyed performances and very social dinners followed afterwards. The opening night of Harry Potter, we had a wonderfully good time with a random professor who asked to join our group conversation at the pub, also a part of Magdalen, which is right next to the dining hall. It may not be as elaborate as the woodwork inside, but it has a lovely view of the water.

Day 3: Looking Back

Wow, it’s been terribly long since my first post! I actually am back in the States now, but because I had camera problems and couldn’t upload pictures on my phone until I returned back home, I figured that it would be difficult to do updates without having the pictures available when I post. I’m thinking to finish the blog in hindsight, which does shave off some of the initial emotions and anticipation, but it will allow it to be more like a story and prevent me from ranting for 2 paragraphs on such unimportant issues such as my hair straightener.

So the next day was rather hectic because there were items I needed to purchase and events I should have gone to. I desperately needed to buy a hair straightener because, well, girls would understand, so I went to this pharmacy called Boots and got one there. It’s a really nice pharmacy; they have many things there that were useful, like contact cases, bandages, and this energy drink my friend recommended, although they strangely didn’t have laundry detergent.

This is Cornmarket Street, where Boots and many other shops are located; it’s always a busy walk! The movie theater is not far from here either.

The thing with the straightener is is that I’m not going to be able to use it at home and will most likely leave it here, so I didn’t want to spend much on it. A normal-sized straightener was 60 pounds, so about 90-100 dollars, and if I’m only going to leave it here there was no sense in buying it. There were ones for 15-20 pounds of a smaller size and obviously not as good, but I got that instead.

 

Sorry, ‘cheap’ product, but you’re kind of a piece of junk. Barely gets the job done, but I got what I paid for, I suppose.

Anyway, after the straightener episode, I realized that I didn’t have a contact case and my knee, which had been hurting me for the past week or so, was hurting again, so I went back to buy the case and one of those long bandages you use for sprains. Unfortunately, I missed the ‘Getting to Know You’ event because I came too late to meet with the group and then didn’t know where it was—and apparently didn’t know that it said so right on the schedule I had; whatever—and this early in the program it would have been a good idea to have gone, since the pressure is kind of on for getting acquainted. However, I did make the tour of the city.

Here is the New Building, basically our dorms. It’s in front of the deer park that I can see from my room, where, of course, we have grazing deer.

Well, more like lounging around than grazing at the moment. They were nice to look at but they got moved to a nearby park in the gardens because some students  jumped inside the fence to chase them. My pretty view is gone : (

Here are the Cloisters, which are directly across from The New Building. Some people dorm in here but not that many, and our dining hall and recreation room are located here as well. There’s the Oscar Wilde room there too, which is where he lived when he was a student here; there’s a lovely poster/wall hanging in there of him lounging on a chair.

This picture includes most of the main buildings of Magdalen; my lecture room is on the central right (more on those in the next part). We later took a picture here before formal dinner and the guy moved me to the back because I wasn’t smiling enough while we stood there waiting. I’m sorry; I was cold!

Here is the Cloister’s lawn, which is where we hold reception before Monday night formal dinners. The little table is where they serve us beverages, mostly champagne and water.

We then went into Magdalen’s chapel; this is a really hard-to-see replica of The Last Supper that was hanging in the wall. Below it, we got these oddities that looked like folded wooden chairs but I think were used for prayer instead…unfortunately, I forgot the names—and more detailed background—but this happens a lot with me. Unless it’s quantum physics or theology; I can retain that information all too well.

Here’s another shot of the chapel; this stained glass window was lovely, and I wish the details could show more. It’s a speculation, but I think it’s a scene of Armageddon; you have St. Michael preparing to stab a/the devil in there on the bottom. I really like St. Michael; more on that another time.

So the guide was talking about the choir here and the services, and my mom called as he was doing so; I usually have my phone on silence, and I forgot to check; I was a bit embarrassed, but he took it well; heck, he told me to tell her how much of a wonderful time I was having. He also danced to my standard T-Mobile ringtone, and for a man of like 60-70, that was a sight.

Next, we walked down High Street and went towards Christ Church (another college, but it also has a chapel inside), which they used in making the model of the dining hall for Harry Potter. It was Sunday, and therefore, there were flocks of tourists (no seagulls, though), but the line outside for the viewing of the church was ridiculous; it costed four pounds to get in and you probably couldn’t even move when inside.

Still, it would have been wonderful to see; if you come here early enough,it’s definitely an ‘attraction’ to check out.

This building wasn’t mentioned to be anything of praised importance, but it was in the field by the church, and I think it’s a great setting for a story. I like to muse on what the ‘story’ behind random architecture is haha.

 

This is the garden where Lewis Carroll set what I believe was the croquet match in Alice in Wonderland. Unfortunately I didn’t get too great of a shot; my tour group liked to crowd haha.

 

Mass here is often held at about 6 PM, and this fellow guards the gates when it’s not time to enter. He was rather friendly, actually.

Our tour then took us by the museums, which I’ll have a separate post for. Nothing really happened there, except that I wasn’t hungry for lunch and wandered off on my own to get back but I got a little lost…thankfully, I had handy Magdalen maps on me and managed to find my way back without a problem. I bought some dark chocolate from a candy shop; it was with blackberries and ginger and had this nice aftertaste. It was akin to some rich teas. How very English.

Later in the day, we had an introduction and a nice welcome dinner with a reception in the lawn. They served us pimms, which is a gin-based drink that I believe has lemonade and tea in it. There were bits of fruits in it, and there was so little alcohol that you could barely taste it, which made it tolerable for me.

Afterwards, some other students and I explored the college a bit; we wanted to go on the top of the tower and take pictures, but apparently there’s an application that you need to fill out, get approved, and then get an escort in order to go, so we didn’t. The option became available later, but I unfortunately had paper-writing consuming my week at that time.

My Ethernet port didn’t work, so I had to wait a day and use the free wi-fi in the pub. It was quite the cozy place.

And the next entry will include my class schedule and breakdown, so I hope to have it posted by tomorrow! The first few days had, understandably, much detail but when classes started kicking in, I suppose I can expand most entries to a few days. And the four-day epic environmental field trip…THAT was quite the adventure!

Oxford Summer Chronicles Day 1&2

Day 1/Day 2, Friday July 8th/Saturday July 9th: Chicken with a Side of

So I’ve never had a blog before and would indeed like to create an atmospheric introduction, but like with books, where it’s better to describe the main character as you go along by showing, rather than telling, so maybe with some close reading you can interpret my character, if you so wish.

The first day would not be particularly interesting to you, really; I left the Detroit airport with another girl from U of M and we met another student who was traveling with us, as well as a lot of MSU students who were at art programs in London. I was admittedly quite worried because the attendant at the ‘podium’, as they called the desk, was asking whether six people would volunteer to relinquish their tickets, so I had thought that perhaps my seat had been booked twice and I would be kicked out and have to wait until the next evening for the next plane. Thankfully, everything turned out well (I think the worst that happened was that I don’t particularly savor apple muffins and that was their breakfast), and we arrived at Heathrow (at around 7 AM the second day), which is terribly big and quite confusing to get around in. We had to claim our baggage –not exactly a place filled with the smell of roses— and get on a bus to take us from our terminal to Terminal 5, where we could find the Oxford bus.  As luck would have it, we were a few hundred feet behind the one that had just arrived at the stop, so we had to wait for another one. Typically, the buses come past every twenty minutes or so, but luckily another came in about five. These buses were ‘kempt’, I suppose you could say, because they were the sort you would get if you took field trips to far-away places back in elementary school and minus the televisions, they were basically the same design.

I have to say that I didn’t know that England doesn’t use the Euro in a lot of places; I had some from home and brought them here before I’d need to exchange money in the city, but whatever rates the driver was using to calculate my ticket price was at least five pounds more expensive than it should have been. So, if you go abroad, you mystery reader, it’d be advisable to convert at least a hundred dollars into your foreign currency, although it’s safest to calculate a smaller or larger amount if the dollar varies more or less than it does with the pound (roughly, a pound is about 1.6 dollars).

If you come to England and don’t have an appreciation for the countryside, then tsk tsk. It’s definitely one of the most notable and beautiful things about the UK, and who can picture Ireland or Scotland without thinking of rolling, verdant fields? Even if it’s not an appeal to you initially, when you see it in person it’s something special. That’s what I like about Nature: it feels one-on-one in a certain way, even though others can see it right when you are. It’s that whole concept of the individual and community merged into one, like the sorts that books and religions share. If you’d walk in the pastures alone and contemplate your surroundings rather than your tasks or your interactions with people for the day, I think you’d understand it without me needing to say a word. For a long time, I saw the sky without ever really seeing it.

So riding on the bus I looked out of the window and saw fields and many flocks of sheep; it’s strange, because in the Michigan-Illinois areas I’m used to driving through you see plenty of farmland but never any animals, and if you do it’s basically a horse or two, but here there’re many herds of cows and flocks of sheep! It reminded me of my family in Poland, because the drive there is somewhat similar.

When we got off in Oxford, we stopped a bit away from my college at The Queen’s College, but the walk to Magdalen College is only about two minutes away, which is nice when you have bulky suitcases and luggage to carry.

So I suppose I should talk a little bit about the colleges as in, how they’re relevant to my studying here. I actually applied through St. Peter’s and my program is ran through that college, but we’re housed by Magdalen, which I think is quite a plus and you will agree once I show you both of them.

From far away, Magdalen projects the feeling of a castle or an abbey; it’s such a big difference from the architecture of U of M, and to think we’ll actually be living there! Comparing Oxford to Poland, which is where I lived until I was three (I’ve gone back and visited quite a bit in the past), is intriguing, because they both have an older feel that I think goes for most of Europe, but the architecture distinctly varies. If you’re interested in that subject area or art history, I think it’d be a fascinating comparison study to make!

At signing in, we received an envelope with information, keys, and signed up for a group dinner out in the city to better get acquainted. The two RA’s were very helpful and friendly; they treated us appropriately for being college students but at the same time they seemed mature enough to trust with any possible personal problems. There was still some time before dinner, so I took my luggage to my room and went to sleep for a few hours, because no one gets anywhere near enough sleep on airplanes.

The dorms here are interesting because each room varies. Luckily, mine was one of the best arrangements, because I received a huge living space with couches, chairs, a desk, a fireplace, fridge, and a piano, which is excellent because I’ve just recently started playing again and now I can fit in practice (which mostly consists of learning a few notes of new songs and playing Lavender’s Blue and Ode to Joy, which are the only songs I –mostly- know from memory).

The desk area is a little messy; I apologize on your eyes…and the other room is a small bedroom with a sink and dresser.

Wow; it looks like I just leave everything laying around; don’t judge me too poorly! L I was tired after all. From what I’ve gathered, a lot of other students just have one room here and often don’t have a piano. How sad! The only downside –other than having an Ethernet port that doesn’t work, as I’ll later get to— is that this is spoiling me and is going to make me very unsatisfied with my single at South Quad next year.

After the nice nap, I got ready for dinner and met with the large group of students going. Unfortunately, I did not take my camera, but I can tell you that there was this great guide for this ghost tour that we passed; he was dressed in a top hat and Inverness cape and was speaking very dramatically to the tourists; it looked like a character from a Victorian film.

The restaurant we went to had rather good food –I had chicken with goat cheese and some red sauce, along with fries and greens— and I think it was a fair price for English pubs, but my order was misinterpreted and led to some problems. We had pre-ordered, and I didn’t remember the name of my dish because it had some Italian-sounding word in it, but I remembered the description so I described it to the bartender and she seemed to understand what I wanted. However, I did not get my meal at all, and after I spoke to the waitress about it she said what I ordered had never been received; ah! I waited quite a while and they gave me the aforementioned dish that also had bacon on it, but because I knew that what I had ordered didn’t have bacon in it, it wasn’t the correct order, but I didn’t want to cause any more trouble (and they didn’t charge me as high of a price as my original dish cost) so I ate it; it was actually pretty tasty. If you’re wondering about beers in pubs, there’s quite a variety; I actually really detest/dislike alcohol so I can’t narrate much on this topic, but the Coca Cola seems to taste better in Europe, probably because it’s from a glass bottle. The college did give us a cultural drink though that was rather interesting, but that’s for Day 3.

This was mostly it for my first actual day at Magdalen; I was still tired from the trip so I went to sleep after wandering down the streets with some of the other people in my program. The next day includes explorations of Oxford, deer, and fancy cuisine, so pique your interest and watch for the next entry!