Amelia Freeman: Adapts to Life in London
Getting here has not been easy, and I am not just talking about the almost eight-hour flight from Chicago to London. I recall how all the way back in September of 2012 I began working on applying for the program, and working on scholarships including this one. I remember the many meetings, the requests for letters of recommendation, and the late nights writing essays. I remember loads of work to apply and get all my documents, including a passport and visa together. If you think getting a passport can be challenging, it has nothing on getting a visa. Getting a visa requires tons of documentation, a very specifically sized picture, and either lots of time or an extra $150 to expedite the service, on top of the roughly $500 needed to get the visa and the money to ship everything to the consulate and back. I recall being sad as my friends returned to school without me. Finally, I remember all too well the difficulty of packing for nine months away from home.
Some things about this transition have been relatively easy. I have been to New York City and from the way the underground works, to the bustle of the people at all times of the day and night, to the extreme recklessness of pedestrians and cars, and finally feeling that this city is literally teeming with people, culture, and endless possibilities; I can see the similarities all around me between London and New York. Maybe that is why to some extent I feel that London is simply a busier and more diverse New York. The main language spoken is English, which has also made this transition easier. Also, despite what I was told, the food here is not horrible, and it is not so crazily different, there is quite a bit of variety, just like in the States. I have had many excellent salads since I arrived here, and I have eaten at some places unique to England as well such as Wagamama and Pizza Express. I have not been daring enough to try the fish and chips yet, as I do not particularly like fish, but I am sure I will try it at some point. I have also had some truly amazing tea since arriving in London, including some amazing peach tea in Oxford.
One of the best stories I have so far is when I asked a man how many pence are in a pound and he replied, “Ummm…100? I’ve never been asked that before.” We laughed it off, and I was slightly embarrassed. I was unable to use the Internet on my phone, which I rely so much on in the US, so I had been unable to look it up and was afraid to give anyone pence until I knew for sure.
The hardest part of this transition so far has been trying to put aside my pride and my desire to look like I know what I am doing, and ask for help when I need it. I have always hated asking for help, especially with directions, which has led to me wandering around the University of Arkansas campus more than once. Luckily, since everyone here speaks English, once I do suck up my pride it is easy enough to get help. In terms of transitions, the extreme lack of public bathrooms has also been difficult. Also, although I was warned, I still cannot believe that you have to pay between thirty and fifty pence for some public restrooms. It just seems crazy and very foreign to me.
As I sit writing this in a hotel, I am unsure how my study abroad experience will go. Since I have arrived there have been times where everything seemed exciting and wonderful, like when I felt confident getting around areas I knew, when I got on and off the tube successfully, and when I found an amazing margarita (cheese with basil) pizza. However, there have been other times when I really just wanted to go home, like when I was dragging my suitcases all around London, when my mom left, and when I realized I would be without certain food items I love for nine months. I have never been a person who liked change, but I chose this change. I want this change to be a good experience, which makes it at least a bit easier. I want to really work to meet new people and do things I do not have to the chance to do in the U.S., like rowing and joining the Oxford Union. I also have the goal to see lots of different places both in Britain and around Europe, such as Manchester, Bath, Brighton, Whales, Greece, France, Germany, and Italy. Hopefully this experience will allow me to see that I can in fact adapt to new environments and accept change. I believe that I am ready to give this experience my all, and do everything I can to make this a great experience. I am nervous for what is yet to come, but I plan to meet the future with an open mind.
As I enter my second month of study abroad experience, I cannot help but look back on how much has already happened. After orientation in London, I headed off to Oxford. My first week in Oxford was the week before term started, and was called “naught week” or “zero week.” That week was a blur of never ending presentations on everything from rules for students with Visas, to library privileges and what to do in case of a fire. The whole thing was quite overwhelming at times. Perhaps it is simply because it had been so long since my Arkansas orientation, but the process seemed much more intense.
Following that week classes began, I had my first tutorial. Oxford’s system of teaching is very different. Instead of going to class a few times a week and listening to a lecture, you only meet with your Primary Tutor once a week. Every other week, you have both your Primary Tutorial as well as a Secondary Tutorial. You speak with your tutor one on one, and discuss what you read as well as sometimes reading what you wrote. For each tutorial you write a paper, generally between 2,000 and 3,000 words, although each tutor has the freedom to assign you whatever word length they chose.
You also may have a few lectures teachers ask you to go to each week, but they are only an hour long and generally only meet twice a work. Overall, this means you can spend as little as two hours a week in actual class. Sounds easy, right? Well, unfortunately it is not. Outside of your tutorials and lectures, it is your responsibility to read the books and other materials your teacher assigns to you and then write your paper. The number of books the tutors ask you to read is often more than can be accomplished in a week’s time. This means that even when you are not in class, there is always something more you could be doing. Luckily, most tutors understand you do not have time to read everything, but there are some that will expect you to know everything.
The key thing to remember at Oxford is that you have to take breaks and set limits. This means you cannot work twenty hours a day and only sleep four. However, this also means you cannot spend all your free time with friends or watching TV. Therein lies the essential difficultly of Oxford. You have to be your own time manager. No 8 a.m. class will force you to wake up early. No teacher will set a rule about the number of classes you are allowed to miss. No one cares if you spend a day in bed doing nothing. But in order to succeed, you have to have the self-discipline to get yourself out of bed and to the library. You have to be the one to make sure the work gets done, because no one else will be pressuring you to do so. This of course, is easier said then done. Some days, I am excellent at managing my time and getting stuff done, while other days I accomplish nothing.
In my experience tutorials have at times been easy and fun. Sometimes, when I am discussing something with a tutor, and we are on the same page, the conversation just flows excellently. I love sharing ideas and discussing my thoughts on topics I find interesting, so tutorials overall have been very interesting and often quite fun. That being said, there are times when a tutor asks you a difficult question or makes a point that tears the thought process behind your paper to shreds. I am not going to lie, that is difficult, and occasionally even embarrassing or painful. In these tutorials you really put your thoughts out there, and argue your points. This makes you extremely vulnerable, which can be difficult at times.
I have found that while tutorials have been challenging, they have really helped me to become a better student. I have always enjoyed having someone to talk to about my ideas, and so the tutorial system has been excellent in that respect. Talking with the tutors about what I have learned and asking questions when I am confused has allowed me to learn much more. While the whole tutorial system does still make me nervous at times, the more tutorials I attend, the more confident I feel about my ability to not just make it through an hour talking to a tutor, but also to do well. My advice to students at Arkansas is to seek out your professors, to go to office hours. Professors have so much knowledge about the subject you are learning, so if you are really interested in something then talk to them, they can tell you more about the subject you are studying. On the other hand, if you are struggling they can work to explain things to you. Talking to professors one-on-one can be scary, but ultimately they want you to learn and succeed, so try to keep that in mind when reaching out to them. Remembering that ultimately tutors and professors want you to succeed has probably been the most important thing I have learned so far. In the end, I just try to remember that everything the tutors do, they are doing to try and make me a more knowledge person, a stronger writer, and a better student.
While I have spent a lot of time doing schoolwork over the last five weeks, I have managed to do quite a bit of fun and exciting things as well. One of the most exciting things I did was go on a trip to Wales with other people from my study abroad program. We went kayaking on a lake, hiking along the coast for nearly three hours, and coasteering, which consists of swimming in the sea, rock climbing, and then jumping back into the sea. It was wonderful, and really reminded me why I wanted to study abroad in the first place, which was to have awesome experiences and do things I would never otherwise do. The trip was called an “adventure weekend”, and by that I thought it would be just exploring local sites. I was not at all prepared for the amount of adventure that would occur, and if I had known, I probably would not have gone. However, I ended up having an excellent time, and I am so very glad that I went. I truly made memories and friendships I will cherish forever on that trip.
I also joined the Oxford Union, which is club only for Oxford Students and Alumni. Each term they have many guests who are famous for everything from politics to entertainment. The two people I have most enjoyed seeing so far are Billy Joel and John Mayer. Billy Joel was very funny and played some of his best songs. John Mayer answered questions from the interviewer and the audience, and I was surprised by how smart and intriguing he was. Finally, I also traveled to Greenwich and got to see the line for Greenwich Mean Time.
I still get homesick at times, and the schoolwork here is far from easy. However, overall I am having a ton of fun and learning a lot about England and myself. I have made some excellent friends and I am excited for the rest of my year!
So much has happened during this month of my study abroad experience. I have continued work on my studies, finished my first Oxford term, made new friends, and done a ton of traveling. In terms of my experience at Oxford I feel that as I have gotten more settled in as I have developed a routine. As a result, my study abroad experience has become easier and more enjoyable. There are still times when I feel unsure and miss home, but overall I feel that in the past three months I have really adjusted to life in Oxford.
I have done my best to accept that certain things will be different here, and that no matter what I do I cannot change that. For example, in my apartment we do not have a dryer. This can be annoying at times, because it means the clothes cleaning process can take a few days, instead of a few hours. This means if I want to wear something to a specific event, I have to know at least two days in advance, so I have time to wash and dry it. Another thing I have had to accept is that occasionally I will want a certain kind of food from a particular food chain that does not exist here, so I just have to accept that while I am in England I cannot get that food. Both of these situations are inevitable consequences of living somewhere far away from my home. However, I have learned that I have to take the inconveniences and understand they are part of the experience. No place will be exactly like my home. Some places are similar and some are different, but wherever I go it will be different and I just have to live with that, and appreciate the differences when I can. Working on accepting and appreciating the differences between living in the US and living in England has allowed me to have a better and more fulfilling study abroad experience.
During this last month I have also greatly enjoyed all of the travel I have been able to do. Just a few days after school ended I headed off to Europe with some friends. I was only with them for a few days, during which time we went to Maastricht in the Netherlands, as well as Aachen and Cologne in Germany. Both Aachen and Cologne have amazingly beautiful Cathedrals. The one in Aachen was especially beautiful and had amazing mosaics and marble works. In Cologne we went to a few Christmas markets that were awesome, but overwhelming. They were filled with food, clothes, Christmas trinkets, and much more. There were tons of people all around at all times, and simply walking was an intense challenge because of the crowd. One even had a Ferris wheel, while another had an ice skating rink. Also in Cologne, on a bridge over the Rhine River there were thousands of locks inscribed with the names of couples that had locked their locks to the bridge over the years. It was interesting to see all the people who had been to the bridge over the years to do this.
I had to leave those friends after just a few days to return to London because my grandparents were coming to London to take me to Paris. I was in Paris for a week with them and I had a wonderful time. We saw the Eiffel Tower, went to Versailles, visited the Louvre and Norte Dome, and much more. I loved the Eiffel Tower because it was amazing to see Paris from a different perspective than the one I would usually see it from. The buildings, which are so beautiful from the ground looked even grander from the top of the tower.
The Louvre was wonderful, and I enjoyed all the masterpieces I saw there, including of course the Mona Lisa. I think I especially loved the Louvre just because it was so different than I imagined. All of my life I had been warned about the pick pocketing in the Louvre, about how small the Mona Lisa was, and about how crowded it was. So I was expecting an old creaky house that was small and narrowed to a point around the Mona Lisa. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a beautiful marble building with a bright and beautiful inside. I was glad that people warned me that the Mona Lisa can be underwhelming though. I did not find it so, but if I had not been warned I probably would have found in underwhelming. Overall, the Louvre was nothing like I expected, but instead much better.
I also really enjoyed Versailles, both because of its ostentatious beauty, and because it was interesting to learn about how the building and its purposes have changed over the years. I especially loved the hall of mirrors, and all of the artwork on the ceilings, especially in the bedrooms. The gardens were also amazing, and I spent quite a bit of time in them despite the cold.
I really enjoyed Paris although I found in difficult at times because I do not speak any French. Luckily for me, many people there spoke English, but with those who did not I had to simply try my best to communicate with hand gestures and context clues. The whole experience made me want to learn French and other European languages so that I will be better able to communicate with the locals the next time I am in a country that does not speak English.
After Paris, I returned to London to see my family, who has come to visit me for Christmas. I had originally wanted to go home, but visiting in December was much easier for my family so they came now. I certainly miss Christmas in my hometown, but Christmas in London has been an excellent experience as well. We have done many exciting things; including taking a Christmas Day tour to Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath, which was beautiful and exciting. We also have visiting Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards, the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, the British Library, and many other places we have found along the way. The touring of these wonderful sights has been a lot of fun, but the best part has been spending time with my family who I have missed greatly while I have been in Oxford.
As the New Year approaches I am grateful for all the excellent adventures I have participated in so far during my study abroad time and particularly this month. I am also beyond grateful that I chose to study abroad for a year rather than for a semester, because there are still so many things I want to do, so many places I want to see, and so many people I hope to meet. I cannot wait for the next six months of studying abroad and I hope and believe they will be just as exciting and life changing as the first three have been.
The first month of the New Year has been an exciting and busy one. My family and I spent New Year’s Eve in Trafalgar Square, which was amazing. There was no ball drop or performances like in New York City, but there were still tons of people and screens up to show the fireworks. It was the first time I have ever spent my New Year’s Eve in a large crowd of people, and it was really awesome to get to ring in the New Year surrounded by so many people. Afterwards, it was a huge crush, with the crowd literary pushing you forward. It was a good thing that the tube was free, so the gates were open. Otherwise someone might have been trampled while trying to get through.
After New Years I only had a few days left with my family, which made me sad. I was so insanely glad that they had come to see me, gotten to see Oxford, and that we did so many fun things. Luckily, before they left we had a few more exciting places to see. One of those was the Houses of Parliament, which I especially enjoyed because I am very interested in history and politics. It was amazing to see the place where so much history has occurred over so many centuries. It was also very exciting to learn about all the traditions that surround Parliament. Some of them might sound a tad odd today, such as the House of Commons coming over to the House of Lords and crowding around to hear the Queen’s Speech at the Opening of Parliament. However, when one considers how long such traditions have existed, and realizes how many other Parliaments have done the exact same thing, the tradition seems more enthralling than odd. Also, being a lover of history I got a feeling that is difficult to describe, but would be best explained as a type of awe, just thinking about all the history that occurred there over years.
Another wonderful thing we got to do was see the Churchill War Rooms. I have always been very interested in Churchill and England during the Second World War. In fact, I even wrote a paper on the Battle of Britain last year. So to get to see the place where so many important decisions were made, where so many people worked day and night for years trying to win the war, was fascinating. In the same building there was also a museum to Winston Churchill, which was huge and largely interactive, which was terrific. I learned a lot about Churchill just from the hour or so I was able to spend there. The part of the Churchill museum that interested me the most was simply a collection of his witty characterizations of people and comebacks whenever people insulted him. I was astonished at his quick wit, something that I had not previous known about him.
On my family’s last day in England we went to the Harry Potter studios, which was amazing, as I am a huge fan. We finished up the day by having dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant in London. The next day it was incredibly difficult to say goodbye to my family, as I knew I would not see them for three months. In fact, saying goodbye to them this time was harder than saying goodbye the first time, probably because the first time I was so excited to be going to Oxford that I did not think to look back. This time all I could think about was them leaving without me and getting on with their lives. Luckily, it did not take me more than a few minutes to remember how much I loved Oxford and England, and remind myself that this was an amazing experience, and I was lucky it was not over yet. I suppose the point of that anecdote is that watching people leave is never easy, and that even after three months I still occasionally get homesick, but it is important to remember that while experiences like this are not always easy, ultimately they are very worth it.
After my family left, I had two weeks before school started again. During that time I rested, worked some on planning my senior thesis for Arkansas, and did quite a bit of preparatory reading. My roommates came and went, and before I knew it was time to meet with my tutors and prepare for my first tutorials. I realized how much I had missed Oxford over my break and how glad I was to be back. It was great to reconnect with people and to prepare for the new term.
Term has now been going on for almost two weeks and I have been working to stay on top of things, which is something I struggled a bit with last term, as Oxford is so self-disciplined. I know that I will need to be especially focused this term as in addition to my two Oxford tutorials, which will surely take up a good portion of my time, I also have to write my thesis proposal for Arkansas. In addition to that, I plan to stay involved with the Oxford Union Debate Society, as well as joining some new clubs. Overall it is going to be a very busy next six weeks, but I am very eager to see what the time holds.
Despite its shortness, February has been crazy. Hilary Term at Oxford started in January, but it really became intense in February. My tutorials this term are challenging, but have also been very interesting. This term I am taking British History from 1500-1700 and a tutorial on the Victorian Era. I have both of my tutorials with another study abroad student, which is a new experience for me, as during my last term I had both of my tutorials individually. I have actually quite enjoyed having my tutorials with another person because it allows for a unique discussion, where I get to discuss my essay both with the tutor and another student. In addition, sometimes the other student and I write different essays on different topics allowing us to discuss the differences and similarities, which is an interesting way to get a better idea about different pieces of the history we are studying. Also, in both of my tutorials, the other visiting student is a girl who I share a flat with, meaning we get to talk about the readings and our plans for the essays, which has been very helpful.
Hillary Term has been very stressful, because in addition to my tutorials I have also been working on my senior thesis proposal as well. Working on my proposal has been difficult because with one or two essays to write a week and many books to read as well it has been difficult find time to work on it. As a result, I merely squeeze in time to work on it whenever I have a bit of down time.
On top of my classes and work on my senior thesis, and I have been spending time travelling with a friend of mine from high school. Seeing my friend and travelling with her has been tons of fun, but stressful as well because anytime I take time away from Oxford, I know I will have that much more work to do when I get back. However, it has been great to see an old friend and to spend time with her. We have had a great many adventures together, some of which I will relay here.
My friend is studying at a University a bit outside of London, so two times we have simply both gone into London to spend time there. The first time we had little idea of where to go or what to do, so we simply wandered around before deciding to go to a movie. We were feeling good about this plan until we realized it was £15.95! With the current exchange rate that means it was $26.60. Now, as anyone in the US can attest, movie tickets are not cheap. If you live in certain areas the prices can be quite awful, but still $27 is a bit much. Shocked and dismayed we decided to go to another theatre just a block over to check their prices. However, we found out that tickets there cost £18! Eventually, we decided to go back to the first movie theatre to see the movie, but only after much dallying and trying to decide if we were really willing to spend that much money. The worst part about this particular theatre was that it was not particularly nice inside, the way you would expect a pricey movie theatre to be. Luckily, the movie was quite great or else the entire thing might have felt like a total waste.
The next time we went into London, we went to see a play called Mojo. Honestly, we mainly went to see it because it was a chance to see some famous faces we recognized such as Rupert Grint, from the Harry Potter movies, Colin Morgan, from the television show Merlin, and Brendon Coyle from Downton Abbey. Also, because of the amazing student ticket prices we were able to sit in the tenth row, which was excellent. The play was quite good as well; although there were times the characters were talking so fast I could not understand them, because of their accents. In addition, occasionally their jokes and references to cultural events did not make sense to me. In that way, it was a harsh wake-up call that while I have now been in Britain for five months, I still do not always understand all the cultural mannerisms here. Overall, it was a fun adventure.
Finally, last Thursday and Friday, my friend and I went to Cardiff, Wales. It was beautiful and we had a great time the first day walking through the parks. We also happened to catch the finals of the Olympic women’s figure skating, which was excellent luck as that has always been my favorite part of the Olympics. We also spent some time wandering around Cardiff and checking out the nightlife. On our second day we went to the Doctor Who Experience, which was amazing. We also spent time walking around Cardiff Bay, which was very fun, despite the fact that it was raining on and off. Finally, that night there was a rugby match, and even though we did not stay for the game we wandered around in the hours leading up to it, and had lots of fun seeing the people all out and getting prepared. There were tons of people in fun costumes, vendors selling stuff everywhere, and sporadic singing of cheers. The only bad thing was it was impossible to find somewhere to eat! Luckily we found a stand that sold some amazing hamburgers and chips.
All of the travelling has been fun, but being in Oxford has been excellent as well. I’ve been busy so I haven’t been able to be as involved this term as I was in Michaelmas Term. However, I have still had some fun with friends, including attending champagne and chocolates at our college, and seeing Jerry Springer when he came to the Oxford Union. By far however my favorite part of this month was Halfway Hall, which is a celebration for all the second year students who are halfway through getting their Oxford degrees. This year visiting students were invited as well, as we are halfway through our time at Oxford. It was great fun, and getting to spend time with all of the people I have met so far was particularly excellent.
Despite the difficulties this month, February has still been very rewarding and full of great experiences. At Halfway Hall, I could not believe that I am halfway through my time at Oxford, and I am still finding it difficult to accept. Still, if the second half is as amazing as the first half I know there are still many great times ahead of me.
Despite being crazy, or perhaps because of it, March consisted of lots of work and not as much fun. In terms of work, I was finishing my senior thesis proposal, working on plans for break, as well as still having my two tutorials. As a result, from the beginning of March until our Easter Break began on March 15th, I did not have much in the way of free time.
However, I did still manage to do a few exciting things. The first of these was that I went to see Jerry Springer speak at the Oxford Union. His talk was very interesting, because I feel like his show is a big running joke to many people. I was very interested going in, because I figured that surely he must know what people say about his show, but I was unsure if and how he would address that topic. What he ended up saying about that was that yes his show is trash, but it is not the kind of trash that will ruin Western Society. Mr. Springer advocated that we as people with the way we act and live would ruin society long before his show would. Furthermore, he argued that his show represents people of low income that would not otherwise be represented on TV. He also pointed out that gossip has been around since the beginning of time, and recently gossip has become increasingly global. Mr. Springer suggested that what his show does is simply fulfill people’s need for that gossip and connection between people. Mr. Springer argued his points strongly and relatively convincingly. In addition to this, he was able to defend his arguments when the discussion was taken to the floor and some people rejected what he had said.
I found the whole event interesting, because while I had never watched the Jerry Springer show I had always considered it not to be high quality TV, so it was interesting to see how in some ways Mr. Springer defended the ridiculousness of his show, while still acknowledging it was not high quality television. Personally, I think the truth is somewhere between the people who say the show is trashy and ruining society and Jerry Springer’s arguments about the validity and importance of his show. As a result, I found it very worthwhile to hear him speak, because while I was not convinced of everything he said it did allow me to see his show in a different light.
Another wonderful thing I got to do was have a dinner with some friends. My friend had won a Japanese style dinner, cooked by another visiting student, at a charity action we had in the previous term. So we all got together one Friday night, and the visiting student cooked us dinner, and we all sat around and talked. It was great to catch up with friends, as we had all been very busy during the term. The food was amazing as well! That night I also went to a rugby game with friends, which was very interesting. It was the first rugby game I had been too, so I found it a bit confusing. It was not simply “football with less pads,” something that I have often heard from people before. Luckily, my friend Lucy, who lived in Australia for a few years and whose dad is Australian, was there to help me attempt to understand the rules. By the end of the game I was cheering along with the crowd and was proud when England defeated Wales, despite not having any real loyalty to either country.
Unfortunately, that same night a friend of mine, who was also a visiting student, suffered a terrible fall, which was difficult for our whole college, as Mansfield is one of Oxford’s smaller colleges with only around four hundred students. It made the last week of term difficult for all of us, as we were all still desperately attempting to complete our schoolwork, while still being concerned about our friend and her recovery. In an attempt to comfort people, and especially other visiting students, a few friends and I prepared a meal. Admittedly, I was not much help, since I am not a good cook, but I was able to help some with preparation, organization, and with clean up. It was good for all of us to be together. I feel the picture of all us sitting around after the dinner seems to solidify that while it was a difficult time, we were able to draw strength from each other. Luckily, our friend has since begun her long recovery, but she will not be able to finish her year abroad with us, which is very sad.
After that difficult week, term ended and the visiting students once again scattered around the globe. Some of my friends were off to Europe, while others returned to the United States like me. I have gotten to spend the last two weeks in the US, but I am excited to be heading back to Europe in a few days. A friend of mine from high school and I will be traveling once I return. We will be spending a week in Belgium, Germany, and Poland. After that, my dad is going to take me to Greece and Rome for a week. Finally, I will return to Oxford to start my third and final term. With all of that ahead, I am expecting April will be a fun and exciting month.