Tag Archives: Oxford

Settled

Early observations from my first few days in Oxford:

  1. I’m honestly not sure if it’s cheap or expensive to be here. I have this feeling that so far it’s been surprisingly inexpensive, but I also think that I might be totally wrong. I’m thinking that if I were to actually check my bank account, I would have clarity about this, but I’d rather continue to live in this limbo state. I’ve been to the grocery store twice, and both times my total bill was under 10pounds. I’ve had a few meals in cafes and small restaurants that cost under 5pounds. And every pint I’ve had so far was at most 4pounds. These are all examples of life so far being inexpensive. But, I’m afraid that this is all actually evidence of it being expensive, and that I’m simply deluding myself. I guess I’ll really know in a month.
  2. We are spoiled in America in regards to personal space. The bathrooms here are tiny, and the process of getting in and out of the shower–or on and off the toilet–takes a certain amount of strategizing. This is undoubtedly something I’m not used to, as room and space seem to be common luxuries in the States.
  3. The British are spoiled in regards to scenery and architecture. Everywhere you go in Oxford, you are surrounded by beauty. The buildings, the parks, the sky–it is all quite wonderful. I can’t stress this enough. The best part is that being surrounded by this on a daily basis inherently carries over into your attitude and demeanor. Don’t get me wrong: I have no doubt that people get just as miserable and unhappy here as we do in the States. But for someone that is simply here for a month, the surroundings push towards a more peaceful and optimistic approach to the day. Even when it’s raining–which it does often–it’s beautiful. I walked all the way to the city center in the rain and never once found myself frustrated or annoyed by it. If it rains for 15 seconds in Abilene, you can guarantee that the sidewalks are empty and no one is outside.
  4. I am spoiled to be here. I have my own apartment within the house, with a private bathroom, kitchen, office, and bedroom. My workspace where I am currently writing this–although it’s not huge–is as pleasant a spot as I’ve ever had the chance to plug in my computer. The fact that I am getting paid for this is, to be frank, ridiculous. I have eight students, all of whom so far have been energetic and interested in the course material, and I get to teach them in a room with large windows looking out on this beautiful city. Once class is over, we all grab lunch and then plan our afternoon adventures. Today we will be heading to see Christ Church and then to George and Danver’s for ice cream. It’s a rough gig, to be sure.

I’m not one to take pictures, but I’ve been told adamantly to make sure I do so on this trip. Below are a few I’ve taken so far:

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^A view of the backside of our house on Canterbury Lane in Oxford. I took this from a picnic table where I was reading last evening around 8:30pm.

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^A view of Oxford’s city center. It has a sort of Diagon Alley feel too it. Apparently during the summer, many students (high school and college) travel to Oxford for language school and other programs. Every time I’ve gone to town so far, the streets have been packed with people, most of whom do not seem to be Oxford residents.

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^The Norrington Room at Blackwell’s, a large bookstore in the middle of town. I will spend many, many hours here over the next month.

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^Awesome British versions of some of my favorite books. Apparently, British versions of books have different covers, which is a problem considering I now find myself wanting to buy the British version of all of my favorites.

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^The Oxford Museum of Natural History, and an example of the type of building I see the entire length of my walks throughout the city. Buildings like this are the norm here.

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^This was my first-night pint at the pub that is less than 5 minutes from our house, The Rose and Crown. Apparently this is Thom Yorke’s favorite pub in town. I hope to see him and have a conversation about In Rainbows.

I’ll post more pictures as I take them. Coming up in the near future:

  1. This weekend: Open travel around Britain. Not exactly sure yet where I’ll go.
  2. A day trip to London next week with my class to see the Tate Modern and Tate Britain.
  3. Next weekend is my trip to Liverpool for the Open Championship. I have tickets for Saturday’s round.
  4. Paris the following week.

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Across the Pond

In nine days, I board a plane to London. Once I wake up, get off the plane, go to the bathroom, and make it through customs, I catch a train to Oxford. After getting off at the last stop (Gloucester Green), I take a quick 5-minute taxi ride and end up at the ACU Study Abroad houses, my home for the following 31 nights. While there, I will walk everywhere, eat amazing breads, make a fool of myself, and get rained on a lot. I haven’t actually experienced any of these things; this is just what people have been telling me to expect.

Saying I’m excited isn’t really accurate. Excitement is undoubtedly a large part of what I’m feeling. I’m excited about the group of students with whom I’m going. I’m excited about the books we are reading for the class. About the 3-day trip to Paris to visit the cafes and museums. About the breadth of opportunity I will have at my fingertips. And about the similar opportunities my students are going to have.

But I’m not only excited. I’m also anxious. A bit unsure of myself. Maybe even a tad bit scared. What if we get to Paris and I lead my class down a wrong street? What if one of my students loses his or her passport? What if Diet Coke tastes different in Europe? I repeat: WHAT IF DIET COKE TASTES DIFFERENT IN EUROPE? I get it: these types of “problems” are what study abroad is all about. Being put in new situations in different contexts is at the heart of fruitful experiences, and I’m totally onboard with that. I look forward to the inevitable hiccups and roadblocks during the month I’m there. Sign me up. But to say I’m not a tad bit anxious would be a lie. I assume that anyone approaching a long trip abroad has that same mix of emotions, and I guess that this is part of what’s so great about it.

I mentioned the Paris trip. I also have a ticket to Saturday’s round of the Open while I’m there, which is at Royal Birkdale in Liverpool. If you watch the coverage, look for the large American rooting on Phil. Once the class ends, I’ve got six days of open travel. Not sure exactly where I will go, but I know that I will be alone, I will be open-minded, and I will definitely spend more money than I have budgeted. Top of my list right now is a week in Amsterdam and Brussels, but Spain also beckons.

Beyond the excitement and the butterflies, though, is an overwhelming feeling of luck and blessing. I honestly cannot believe that I have the opportunity to travel to Europe for a month to teach an American literature class. I get to hang out every morning with a talented, diverse, and challenging group of students, talk about Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Baldwin, continue the conversations over lunch, and then say, “Okay–go explore! Seeya again tomorrow morning.” How is this real? How do I get paid for this? I guess this is just another moment where those eleven years of higher education feels so much more than worth it.

I’m happy to get any suggestions any of you might have about Oxford, about England, or about European travel in general. My main goals are to eat well, teach better, visit pubs (for their historical value, of course), and help my students have the time of their lives.

I plan on being a duke or earl by August 1. That’s what happens when you marry British royalty, correct?

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Things to Read, Watch, and Listen:

Read: All the Pretty HorsesĀ by Cormac McCarthy. A classic, but a goody. If that’s not your thing, then read a short story by Jhumpa Lahiri or Lorrie Moore.

Watch: The Keepers (Netflix); Paradise Lost trilogy (HBO); Amanda Knox (Netflix); I recently went on a bigtime true crime documentary bender. I love that stuff.

Listen: Sylvan Esso’s most recent album, What Now, and any Pearl Jam album from the 90s. I recently revisited all of them; I don’t want to say I had forgotten, but I was seriously reminded how good those albums are.

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