A city of dreaming spires
Cheerio from across that big pond of the world. My name is Elizabeth Pittman and I will be a junior this fall. I am a Walton Honors student majoring in Economics and also a Fulbright Honors student majoring in English Literature. Last summer, I participated in the Theatre in London program and I am now studying at the University of Oxford in England.
I have officially moved into my student flat in Oxford. I would be lying if I said the housing was ideal. It is on St. Michaels Street, (picture attached). Like all students here it seems, I am living in a run-down four story with 5 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Unfortunately, my floor doesn’t have a bathroom so it is a bit inconvenient. The mattress brings memories of my old bed in London, and a congruent amount of muscle soreness this morning. Granted, any bed is going to be uncomfortable after being spoiled for years with my plush bed back in Texas, affectionately called “The Cloud”. However, if my biggest hardship here is a shaky flat with a poor mattress, I am in no position to complain.
For those who are unfamiliar with what I am up to over here, I will outline it a bit for you. For the next few months, I will be studying English poetry of the 18th and 19th century. Think Wordsworth, Keats, the Brownings, etc. What is so unique about the University of Oxford is that there aren’t actual classes here. Most Americans or other international students who study “at Oxford” will have access to university facilities, but will learn in a classroom setting with non-British student from, likely, an American instructor. However, I have the privilege of being directly enrolled at Oxford, and as such, will be taught in the same manner as the rest of the degree candidates here. This means the arduous tutorial system: a meeting once or twice a week with a leader in my field of study for three hours at a time. I will be assigned thousands of pages of reading and a corresponding approximately ten to fifteen page paper to be completed by the next weeks tutorial. Then the next session will start with me reading over my analytical paper with my “tutor”, and then move on from there. It sounds insane…because it IS insane. But, then again, this is why Oxford is Oxford. I am just as excited as I am intimidated. Perhaps slightly more intimidated…
I got to Oxford around 10am local time yesterday and was able to explore a bit of the city. Luckily, my flat, though in shambles, is in the most WONDERFUL location: exactly in the city centre (though I learned at 6am that this also brings construction and traffic…). Cornmarket Street, Queens Street, George Street, every main street in the city…the intersect right at my doorstep. So, I am pretty stoked to have such a great location. Biggest plus? There is a Chipotle-esque restaurant quite literally on the other side of my wall. Mission Burrito. I have already eaten there. And yes. I got a punch card. I am telling you, this place is going to be a lifesaver this summer. Here is a picture (attached), as a little virtual shrine for this Texan’s God-send. My flat is that light blue building on the left!
The city looks beautiful. It IS beautiful. I will be doing more exploring today so hopefully I will be able to describe it more eloquently in future posts. But for now, picture this: Take the most lovely college town you know, and plop it in England. And now, have that university date back to 1096.
Intention, Ireland, and I really love it here.
Greetings from your favorite sleep deprived American abroad (Elizabeth Pittman).
Well. Somehow my body is still chugging along after these past few days. Alright alright…I am being annoyingly overdramatic. But honestly, this past week has been…a lot.
I had a tutorial last Wednesday. My tutor is of course brilliant. However, he is one of the most critical men I have ever met. Upon examining my 15 page paper on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, every sentence was dissected with a rough hand. By the end, my essay was bled dry. I had written about Coleridge’s intention of the poem: to demonstrate the importance of repentance and the omnipresence of the Christian God, and how he used the Wedding Guest to deliver that to the readers. However, as my tutor put it, “Oh, I didn’t know this was Coleridge’s intention. Tell me, have you talked to him as of late? Meet at a coffee shop?” Point taken. Point taken. So, basically, he undermined my entire essay, disregarding all of my analysis that supported my thesis because I didn’t qualify it as “Coleridge’s possible intention”. As mad as I was, it was unfortunately fair. I still got a mark I was somewhat satisfied with, but I took his condescension personally. Perhaps I should’t have. But I did.
So then in my essay for today’s tutorial on Byron’s Don Juan, I strayed as far away from author’s intention as possible and discussed the textual style of Canto I in an 18 page long essay. But no. I got poor marks because I didn’t discuss the author’s intention and I didn’t make any presumptions. This man seems insatiable. He basically was upset that I did not do in this essay what I was criticized for doing in the previous essay. Further, my essay that was the maximum page length was criticized because I was not thorough enough. So. Frustrating. But, the next essay is another opportunity to prove him wrong. I refuse to leave this country until my tutor acknowledges (maybe even commends…oh my gosh!) my efforts.
I spent the weekend in Ireland. That was a bit of a mess as well. Our train from London was late. So Emmy and I missed our connection to the train to the coast. We train hopped around Wales for 4 hours and somehow made it to the ferry on time (2:45am, mind you). The ferry though…I was pleasantly surprised. It was basically a cruise ship, complete with restaurants and a cinema and all that. No beds of course. And unfortunately, I couldn’t make myself fall asleep. So, arriving in Ireland with no sleep, the ferry finally docks, of course, late. Meaning Emmy and I missed our day trip to the countryside we had planned. Luckily, we were able to go on a different trip Sunday instead. But, it was just protracting our unfortunate travels. Then I got sick, from stress and lack of fatigue I am sure. It was just ridiculous. We couldn’t catch a break.
BUT. Attitude is everything. And Emmy and I stayed positive and still had a great time. We went to Trim Castle, which is where Braveheart, one of the best movies ever, was filmed. So that was cool.
We of course went to the Guiness Factory in Dublin, which was surprisingly well done and very interesting (coming from a girl who doesn’t particularly like beer). We also walked around Trinity College and went into the Long Room Library, which may just be one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It was a bibliophile’s dream. Stunning. Just stunning.
And of course we spent a good amount of time wandering under the stained glass and flying buttresses of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This picture really doesn’t do it justice. The beauty of it was almost overwhelming. (Also, thank you Emmy for being such a wonderful photographer of our adventures.)
We, thankfully, flew back to London (granted…at 6:30am). I arrived in Oxford after a 2 hour bus ride from Heathrow still sick, grimy, and exhausted. However, after one of the longest showers ever, some medicine, a 12 hour sleep, I woke the next morning feeling 1000% better.
I went to an outdoor play of Shakespeare’s As You Like It last night. It was INCREDIBLE. I am sucker for Shakespeare anyways, but this was just wonderfully done. I forgot how much I have missed the theatre. Last summer studying plays in London spoiled me. But Oxford is doing great. I am going to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream tomorrow night I believe, and then a handful more before I leave.
I really am loving it here. The academics are…painful. International travel can be both a huge blessing and a curse. And I am missing my car and Tex-Mex something fierce. But Oxford is my home for the summer. I still find myself wondering at that fact. I am 19 years old, living abroad for the second time, studying at Oxford University. Humility check. No matter how many trains and ferries are late, no matter how stressful my tutor is or how bland the food here is (which is really bland), I am beyond blessed to be here. Absolutely spoiled rotten with these opportunities I have been given. And I am flooded with gratitude for my family, the scholarships I have been awarded, and the people in Oxford who are helping me on my way.
On a closing note, my life isn’t slowing down anytime soon. I am going to Amsterdam for a couple days this weekend. I have another paper due in 6 days on the super obscure play De Monford by some Scottish poet. Plus a load of events I have already committed to and even more I want to attend. As much as I want to rest, I cannot put myself on the bench. I only have a month left in this city, on this side of the ocean. I intend to take full advantage.
Now, it is time for a power nap, and then back to the stacks. If you need me, I’ll be behind a mound of books in the Romantics section of the Bodleian.
I am Stateside.
I cannot believe my time at Oxford University is over. To say it was an amazing summer would be a massive understatement, to a similar degree as saying Harry Potter is “just okay”. But seriously. What a few months. I am not going to lie, there were points when I was ready to come home. It was hard; being thrown straight into the scholar’s lions den for a few months with no friends (initially). I missed Tex-Mex, my close-knit family, my encouraging friendships, and I especially missed baseball, beds with sheets, and air conditioning. And yet, here I am with all of that at my fingertips and I’m missing Costa Coffee, The Four Candles Pub, my crazy flatmates, the hilarious elitist “shushers” in the library (who thought they had the God given right to tell me to be quiet) and even the swarming mobs of Asian teenage tourists who took over the city mid-July. I miss Oxford. I feel like I am homesick…for England. I just love that country.
My last few weeks in Oxford wrapped up in rather comical ways. Let me pull out possibly the most ridiculous story of my trip. About two weeks before I came home, I was on a jog on the beautiful cobblestone sidewalks surrounding the Radcliffe Camera (one of the main libraries on campus). A man who I shall refer to as “Mr. Absent Minded Tourist” was riding in the bike lane on the adjacent paved road…and then clipped the curb while passing me. Mr. Absent Minded Tourist crashes. Mr. Absent Minded Tourist crashes INTO ME. So here I am, completely confused as to how and why the heck I am sprawled out on the sidewalk, while Mr. Absent Minded Tourist is happily chuckling at his miraculous safety after such an event. But the only reason Mr. Absent Minded Tourist is unhurt is because I quite literally broke his fall. THIS GUY IS LAUGHING WHILE I AM SANDWICHED BETWEEN HIM AND THE COBBLESTONES. Upon finally realizing this, Mr. Absent Minded Tourist gets off of me and says maybe two words in what I think was Mandarin, then says “Sorry! Sorry!” and casually gets back on his bike and rides away. He just leaves me, disoriented and confused about what in the world just happened in the past 15 seconds of my life. He was completely ungrateful for my award-winning performance as a human cushion for him. Upon going to the doctor right when I got back to America, I found that Mr. Absent Minded Tourist gave me a little souvenir from the experience too: a bunch of messed up ligaments and bone chips in my ankle. I have been forced to wear a walking ankle boot since I got to the U.S. and will have to start physical therapy soon. Seriously, WHO DOES THIS HAPPEN TO?! I am an accident magnet. But as guess as far as breaking an ankle goes, it could have happened in a less beautiful place. Rad Cam is just stunning. God, I miss it.
After brutal final exam timed writing (which I still haven’t received my final mark…), a handful of sad goodbyes in my flat’s basement at 3:00am and a couple more right before my flight, I was homebound. It is a bit weird being back. My second day home I had a mini panic attack because I thought I was driving on the wrong side of the road. I wasn’t, but being on the right-hand side of the road just seems strange. I finished my first week of classes at The U of A and it is so weird being in an actual class, not just one on one appointments with the professor. Also, of course no offense to Arkansas, but Oxford Uni’s campus blows ours out of the water. Walking to class seems kind of dull after being spoiled at the most beautiful campus in the world. And I do miss being only a bus ride away from my favorite city of all- London.
I grew so much this summer in many different ways. I am still my silly and goofy self, but I feel like I matured a lot these past few months. Through the combination of months away from home, the insanely intense academics, the forging of new friendships amongst all the madness, I came back to The States different than I was when I left. Dozens of my American friends have mentioned it already. But I think it is a good thing. I discovered a lot of questions I had never considered about my relationships, my goals and priorities, my beliefs. And while the vast majority still don’t have definitive answers yet, I am looking forward to finding them. My adventures in Oxford may have ended, but there are so many to come.
To England, to The University of Oxford, to my fellow Summer Scholars: Thanks for an incredible, unforgettable summer.
See you next summer (hopefully), England.