Good Bye Oxford

This will be the last post in Oxford InSpires… I can hardly believe that six months are already over, and that I have been home for almost a month already.  Sometimes I still wake up in the morning and expect to see my window seat and the view overlooking the cricket pavilion, the football fields, and the canal.  I guess it is one of those times when you don’t realize how comfortable you have become somewhere until you aren’t there anymore.   It was an adjustment, but Oxford really did feel like home.  I loved so much about the city, and I feel incredibly blessed to have had such a wonderful experience there.

I choose Oxford InSpires for my blog title because it was a pun on Oxford being referred to as the City of the Dreaming Spires, but being in Oxford has truly inspired me as well.  I don’t know what I expected before I came, but in many ways being there far surpassed any expectations I could have had.  Since I have returned home, many people have asked me about my favourite, or most influential, or life changing, or most integral experience while I was abroad.  Surprisingly, I don’t really have an answer to that question.  I definitely have some favourite moments from my travels, but there really isn’t one particular memory from my time in Oxford that I find myself going back to.  Rather, it is more of the overall experience that was so incredible.  It was the process of learning how to really live the student life at Oxford, a skill that I’m not sure one can actually master in just six short months.

Studying abroad definitely helped me to broaden my horizons culturally, and attending a school like Oxford exposed me to all sorts of new things academically as well.  I don’t think anyone really questions the merit of their own education system as compared to others.  After all, the American education system is really the only one that I have ever known.  It was very interesting to be able to fully immerse myself in the British system, and the longer I was there the more I realized the advantages and disadvantages to both.  British university students really are experts in their own field by the time they reach second or third year of University, so my own meagre philosophy knowledge didn’t come close to measuring up.  However, it was also really obvious that I had studied a much wider range of academic subjects at a much higher level.  Americans don’t start to specialize at 15.  Then there is the tutorial system which is unique to Oxford and Cambridge.  Most of the learning occurs in one on one meetings with a tutor.  It can seem daunting at first, especially because there is nowhere to hide if you don’t know something.  However, as soon as I started to relax, I realized just how much I was learning from each meeting, definitely more than I have ever learned in a lecture.  I’m not sure which system is better, but I think that I have really benefited from being exposed to both.

Just living in Oxford was also an amazing experience.  I really like the British culture, and it was a lot of fun to actually live in another culture instead of just visiting it.  It does give you an entirely new appreciation and understanding.  One of the things that I really enjoyed about Oxford was how international it is.  I had friends from all parts of the UK, the States, France, Italy, German, Canada, South Africa, and many other countries, and I had tutors from the UK, Greece, and Argentina.  I will always treasure all of the friendships I made while I was there.  Each person introduced me to a new and different perspective, and I hope that I am able to keep up with as many people as possible.

Being abroad also gave me a new appreciation for enjoying all aspects of life.  Since I was abroad and it was a once in a life time chance, I tried to do everything that I could.  At home I tend to spend a lot of time in the library studying, and I often turn down something fun, especially on a week night.  The British students are much better at relaxing during their evenings.  There was something new and exciting going on almost every day of the week, and I never wanted to miss out on it. I found that my semester was far more enjoyable for all of the fun things that I did.  Work tends to expand to as much time as you give it, and sometimes the solution is simply to give it less time.  I learned that it is possible to work really hard and do your best without giving up going to dinner or the pub with friends.  Occasionally, that meant writing a ten page paper between 10 pm and 3 am (not something I would recommend, but it is possible).  I am excited to see if I can implement these new skills back at TU.

Leaving Oxford was a little bit rough.  It was hard to say good bye to all of my friends and a place that I have really grown to love.  Megan and I stayed with the Rowlands for the weekend after term finished, and it was nice to have free time to just wander through Oxford without anything to do.  I definitely don’t want to admit to myself that I will probably never live there again, and it might be quite a while before I get to go visit.  Mostly, however, I am incredibly grateful for the wonderful opportunity that I had to live here for six months.  It is wonderful to be home again, but I already miss Oxford.

P.S. If you made it reading all of this way, thank you! I hope that you enjoyed seeing a bit of my life at Oxford!

Midnight in Paris

Saturday morning we were up bright and early in order to go to the Eiffel Tower.  We arrived right as it was opening, and it was already packed!  One of the elevators to the top was broken, so we ended up deciding to climb to the second level instead of waiting in the huge line to go all the way to the top. The climb was quite steep- apparently over 600 steps, but the views were more than worth it. Actually climbing also gives you a much greater sense of accomplishment than just riding to the top.  I guess not getting to go all the way to the top is just a reason to have to go back to Paris someday.

After just a bit of climbing, we went to meet up with Mariel’s room-mates for lunch.  There was a front page New York Times article about a week before about an American food truck that sells tacos and has been quite the hit with the French.  We decided that four Americans living in/from Texas needed to actually try these tacos.  The carnitas tacos were delicious! After a very not French lunch we headed over to the Musee d’Orsay.  The whole museum was quite good, but the Impressionist collection was really amazing! I think almost every famous work of Impressionist art must be located in the Orsay.  We spent most of the afternoon in the museum, but afterwards Mariel, Abbi, her roommate, and I went back to the Luxembourg Gardens.  We ordered crepes from a little stand nearby for dinner, and they were delicious!

On Sunday morning, Mariel and I went back to Notre Dame for Mass.  I was actually really surprised by how crowded the church was, the entire main section of the church was full.  We were there a few minutes early, but we ended up having to sit quite far back.  After Mass and one last glance around Notre Dame, we found a bakery and bought some sandwiches to have an early lunch in the park next to the Church.  Then, it was time to brave the Louvre.  Thanks to some handy dandy British student id’s we got in for free.  The Louvre really is unbelievably massive.  According to popular rumour, it would literally take days to just glance at every piece of art in the museum.  Of course we saw the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Cupid and Psyche, and so much more.  I have never seen so much art in one building in my entire life.  As much as I enjoyed it, my main reaction was probably just being a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing.  We literally got lost inside the museum multiple times.  We emerged after over five hours and quickly made our way over to the Orangerie in order to see Monet’s Water Lilies.   This experience was the exact opposite of the Louvre.  Instead of artwork in every corner, there were two rooms designed specifically to house eight paintings.  It really is a far more powerful way of displaying a great work of art.  Afterwards, there was time to take one last stroll through Paris before heading back to Mariel’s apartment to get ready to leave the next morning.  Overall, it was a wonderful weekend in Paris.

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La Ville-Lumiere

One of the places that I didn’t get to visit during my Spring Break that was on my must see list was Paris.  So it was rather opportune that my friend Mariel had an internship in Paris this summer that overlapped with the end of my time at Oxford.  Not only did she get to come visit me in Oxford, but I also got to go visit her in Paris.  On my second to last week in Oxford I packed my backpack for the last time and set off on one more adventure.  I took the Eurostar train from London to Paris and arrived, after a short nap and some attempted reading, just in time for dinner.  Mariel was waiting for me at the train station.  We went back to her apartment for a yummy dinner, before heading out for my first sights of more of Paris than the train station and metro.  The weather that evening was gorgeous- sunny and clear.  We started at the Arc de Triomphe and walked all the way down the Champs Elysees to the Place de Concorde, the Tuileries, and the Louvre.   The Champs Elysees was by far my favourite of the major European shopping streets.  We stopped at one of the great macaroon houses and bought a box of macaroons in some of the most interesting flavours- rose, sea salt caramel, etc.  We took them to a bench in the Tuileries to eat, and they were absolutely delicious! The bench had a great view of the Eiffel Tower, and we were there at 11 pm when it began to sparkle.

Under the Arc de Triomphe

Sparkles!

The next day Mariel had to work, so I did some exploring on my own.  I started with daily Mass at Notre Dame. (Unintentionally, this also saved me quite a bit of time waiting in line)  The Church was absolutely beautiful, but, as is always the case with such churches, way too crowded to actually concentrate on Mass.  After Mass I wandered throughout the entire building.  I think it took well over an hour just to see everything.  They had a special exhibit on suffering in the life of St. Therese of Lisieux that was very interesting.  Only about half of it was translated into English though, so I had plenty of opportunity to realize just how much French I can actually read- unfortunately, the answer is only about half.

Inside Notre Dame

St. Joan of Arc

After leaving Notre Dame, I bought a baguette with cheese from a suitably rude French woman for lunch.  Then I wandered around the island for a bit and got caught in the rain to complete my Paris experience.  I walked past a long line to get into the Sainte Chapelle and noticed that one of the girls in the line looked a lot like a family friend, Mary Deal.  I didn’t think too much of it until I realized that the woman standing next to her looked a lot like her mother.  Apparently it really is a small world after all! After a brief visit, I went into Sainte Chapelle which was absolutely beautiful.  You wander into a rather small room first.  It was very pretty, but I have to admit that I wondered why people were willing to wait so long in line to see it at first.  However, once I walked up the little corner staircase, everything became clear.  The room upstairs had some of the most beautiful stained glass I have ever seen in my life.  All of the light in the room was coloured.  The detail, especially in the Rose window, was almost unbelievable.

The Bottom floor of Sainte Chapelle

Beautiful stained glass

By this point Mariel was off work, so I met up with her.  We walked to the Luxembourg gardens which are in front of one of the old palaces.  They are beautiful and very different from British gardens, geometrically laid out and manicured instead of more wild and natural.  We also walked through the Latin Quartier a bit and saw the Parthenon and University of Paris before walking over to the Opera House.  I think that the Opera House is actually the most ornate building I have ever seen, it almost seems overdone even by Parisian standards.  After a lot of walking we headed back to Mariel’s neighborhood for dinner.  I provided the perfect excuse for exploring, so we found a cute little side walk café for dinner and people watching late into the evening.

Pantheon

Luxembourg Gardens

God Save the Queen

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee was celebrated on the first weekend of June while I was still in Oxford.  Throughout the spring we could see the preparations as the concentration of British and royalty themed displays increased in all of the windows.  I have to admit that all of the red, white, and blue reminded me a lot of the Fourth of July, and sometimes I had to remind myself that it had a very different significance.  I didn’t go down to London for the celebrations, though I was very tempted.  After all, I don’t think I will ever be in England for another diamond jubilee.  Instead, I ended up celebrating the jubilee in what I thought was a more authentic and less touristy way.  That Sunday I went to Mass as usual, and I heard probably the most resounding monarchist homily I have ever heard from a pulpit. I suppose monarchist isn’t a completely fair characterization as it was full of jibes at some of the former British monarchs who were a bit less favourably disposed towards Catholics, but it was definitely fully in favour of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  Afterwards, we went to the Church Hall for a bring and share party complete with 1950s outfits, Union Jack cake, and a resounding singing of God Save the Queen.  Impressively, I think that I actually knew all the words… though the similarity to My Country ‘Tis of Thee You could feel the excitement everywhere even in Oxford, which was definitely easier than battling the crowds in London. Though it was exciting to see the coverage of all of the events in London afterwards

British/German/Dutch Settlers of Catan

One of my friend’s and my favourite things to do in the States is play games, and one of our favourite games is Settlers of Catan.  Needless to say I was very excited when I was over at the Rowlands one day and someone suggested a game of Catan.  The most interesting part of the game was that they had the Dutch/German version, so development cards were a bit hard to understand in a language that I don’t read, and I wasn’t as familiar with them as I thought… I guess I will just have to brush up on my Catan skills.  Also, I was probably a little bit too excited, as my competitive nature came out full force.  But as happens in Catan, I got stalled at 9 points with everyone out to get me and Theresa won.  Oh well, c’est la vie.  It definitely was an afternoon that felt like home.

What can you do in a 24 hour layover?

The day after Caitlin when back to Scotland, my friend Mariel came to visit me.  Mariel and I were best friends in High School.  She is currently a student at Rice, but she studied abroad at Royal Holloway right outside London last term.  This summer she has an internship in Paris, but she decided that an overnight layover at Heathrow so that she could visit England was a good idea.  I was a fan of this plan as well.  I picked her up at the train station and whisked her over to the finals for Summer Eights without actually giving her anytime to catch her breath.  The river was absolutely packed with people and the atmosphere was a lot more exciting than when I went earlier in the week.  There was lots of food and delicious Pimm’s- a summertime drink that is very popular here.  After watching some of the races, Mariel and I began to make our way slowly back through town.  Mariel had visited Oxford when she was in England in the fall, so I attempted to show her some of the more off the beaten path colleges.  It was mostly just nice to catch up.  After dinner we went with Tori to the Turf Tavern to enjoy the beautiful, clear evening.  For having just arrived in England and being very jet lagged, Mariel was really awake.  We had a little more time for wandering the next morning, but all to soon it was time to say goodbye.

London in a Whirlwind

That Thursday morning I had another tutorial, but immediately after that we set off for London.  This was my first attempt at playing tour-guide, and we had exactly a day and a half for Caitlin to see London.  After over two weeks there, I still think there are a lot of things that I haven’t seen, but we were going to do our best.  It was a valiant and actually rather successful effort.  We stayed at a hostel fairly near St. Paul’s Cathedral, so our first stop was lunch in the church yard.  If the weather is good, I think that all of the business people in London must show up there for lunch, but that just adds to the atmosphere.  After a short tube ride to Leicester square and the successful purchase of theatre tickets for this evening, we walked down to Trafalgar square.  We made a quick tour of the National Gallery to see some of the more famous pieces; however, quick and famous are definitely relative words here.  We then walked down the Mall towards Buckingham Palace, but, unfortunately, preparations were well under way for the Jubilee festivities, so it was hard to see a lot of it.  On our way through St. James Park, we were distracted by a man selling Magnum Bars.  Sometimes in life you just have to know when it is worth it to spend a few pounds and take a bit of a break.  Rejuvenated and refreshed we continued on our way to Westminster Abbey and Parliament.  It was fun to actually be able to play the tour guide in London and to be able to find my way around the city without a map.  That evening we splurged a little bit and went to see the Phantom of the Opera.  The production was excellent- especially the music, costume, and sets.

The next morning we met up with Caitlin’s friend from home and her mother for breakfast.  It was one of those small world moments when you see your next door neighbour half way around the world.  We also went to the Tower of London that morning.  Despite the fact that I have now spent quite a bit of time in London, I still had not ever actually been into the Tower.  A lot of people said that it was rather pricey and a bit too touristy.  At the student rate (without the “voluntary” donation that you have to ask not to give) it wasn’t too bad, and I actually really enjoyed all of the exhibits.  The crown jewels were probably my favourite, but what can I say? I am a girl after all.

That afternoon we walked back through London City proper and then headed over to the Hyde Park and Kennsington area.  We got off the tube at Harrod’s and did the typical tourist thing- wandering through the department store with our backpacks.  Afterwards we walked over to Brompton Oratory.  After a few minutes of confusion, we figured out that what we thought was Mass was actually adoration.  After a few more minutes of confusion as to why the Church was packed on a Friday, we realized that it was the eve of the feast of St. Phillip Neri- the founder of the Oratorians and Tulsa’s Newman Centre’s Patron Saint.  We spent most of the rest of the evening wandering past all of the museums and through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.  The weather was beautiful, and it was so nice to be outside.  Entirely too soon it was time to go to the bus station so that I could head back to Oxford and Caitlin could head back up to Scotland.  It had been a great week!

P.S. Sorry for the lack of colorful pictures- they would all be pretty similar to earlier ones.