Oxford will make you smarter. Really, truly. Despite the upbeat nature of the university, the genuine happiness around the local pubs, and the lighthearted outdoor activity around New College Campus in this great weather; academia has a real, honest presence in this city. For example, every time I visit the library, it’s a noble struggle to find an available seat. Then, once I finally settle into a creaky wooden chair in the dusty, populated Classics room, my next thought is always, HOLY NUGGETS, every student in this room is surrounded by open books. Such scholarship. But seriously, how can people here
READ. SO. MUCH?
When I recall my pre-college education, I fondly reflect on the easiness of it all. When my high school teachers assigned readings from a textbook for homework, for me, that almost always meant, “Hooray! No homework!”
Here at Oxford? Practically every ounce of spare time I have is devoted to reading something. Shakespeare. Academic papers. Even the orientation packets come with articles that the program director insists we read. It’s utterly exhausting… yet undeniably motivating. That’s right; Oxford has lit a fire under my slacker-derrière. My brain is getting a serious workout.
One thing I expect when we’re all done with this program: we’re all going to have higher IQ’s when we leave.
So! Final thoughts on this week: If intelligence is at all contagious, and you’re looking to catch a smart-person-disease, come on over to Oxford.
***In other news, I went to Edinburgh this weekend. Pretty snazzy. Yes, sir. (Also, is it obvious I’m a fan of Panoramas?)
If I had to pick the sentence I’ve most frequently heard since arriving in Oxford, it would have to be “so, what are you studying?”. So, what am I studying? Well, in addition to the course on Shakespeare, I am studying mobile robotics, with a focus on localization – namely, how can robots figure out where they are given imperfect sensor readings. It may seem like an odd choice, but hidden among the spires and centuries old buildings of Oxford is one of the world’s foremost programs on mobile robotics, and over the last two weeks I have had an opportunity to begin a course with a member of the group.
Centuries old buildings, and an awesome robotics program!
Where’t the robot? Estimation in action
Due to the nature of my topic, the structure of my tutorial differs from what is typically laid out when one describes the system. Instead of writing essays, I write code and complete problem sheets. Then, instead of discussing the essays – as I didn’t write them – the tutorial meetings are spent covering new material and following up on sections of the problem sheets and code that caused me trouble. While the structure differs from what I might have expected, I have been pleased with how well the tutorials and discussions have gone so far, and I look forward to continuing them for the rest of my time here in Oxford.
Being an associate student at New College, I expected that class would take place at New College. The Shakespeare in Oxford class has given us the opportunity to study in the historic classrooms of New College, but my tutorial surprised me! My tutor did not meet me in New College nor any of the other colleges. We met at the building for the Department of Zoology. This building was not made of layers of stone like many of the other buildings you will see in Oxford, but its modern design made it comfortable (and less cold).
Zoology is one of many buildings in the science section of the Oxford campus. A good portion of these buildings appear to be brand new by Oxford standards (built within the past few decades). And again, most buildings at Oxford University have gates; even the Zoology building has a gate located up front at the reception desk, and you are not to pass through unless you had an appropriate Oxford members card (This gate is inside, though, so you do not have to wait outside like you would for the colleges). For our tutorial sessions, my tutor meets me at the gate to allow me through, and we go to one of the study tables.
A note on the tutorial: So far, it has been fun! I enjoy talking with my tutor about the subject, and I have been finding that I get a lot out of the research I do for my essays!
The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin is a sight to behold. Tall and elegant, it towers over the city of Oxford. It seems to be the heart of the city, and the element that unifies the university. Though each individual college has its own chapel, none are quite like the University Church. It is as rich in history as it is in beauty. When we visited, a guide named Christopher gave us a wealth of information on the church.
The church was established as early as the 11th century AD. It was the original building of the university. In the early 14th century, the Hundred Years’ War began between Britain and France. British scholars studying in France were recalled to Britain. Wanting to continue their studies, they congregated in Oxford, where they were taught in the Old Library inside the church. There had already been students studying there, but this influx of scholars caused Oxford to grow exponentially. Individual colleges sprung up all over Oxford, but the University Church unifies them together.
One of our classes was held in the Old Library of the University
The Old Library.
Church this week. We were able to study in the room where so many had studied before us. After class, we climbed the high tower and were able to see over the entire city. The viewing rail goes all the way around the church, so we could see in every direction. This city is full of history, and from the top of the tower, we could see it all.
Creating the kind of magic that happens on a stage is very different than what your imagination can create when you read a book, or read a play. While both forms of art can transport you to another world, I had no idea how great the power of theater could be until we visited Shakespeare’s Globe.
London is an incredible place to be, so full of history and culture. It is also a bustling city, with big, red double-decker buses, millions of people, and constant noise. But the moment we entered the Globe from the banks of the river Thames, everything seemed calmer. Packed into the open air, Elizabethan theater we waited for the music to begin.
We first saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream and while it was a modern (and somewhat raunchy) retelling it still took us out of the damp, cold London theater and into a world of magic and comedy. After a quick dinner and a stroll along the Thames, we took in another play at the Globe, this time The Taming of the Shrew. When we took our seats, the mood was different, darker. The actors took us to a world of pain and sorrow, but also filled with great beauty. Whether it be a tragedy, a comedy or a farce, Shakespeare’s Globe has the power to take us to worlds vastly different than our own, even if just for a few hours.
I assumed Oxford might appeal to my inner Romantic. But now, after only a few days, I know that there is no more appropriate place in the whole world for a Romantic to live than right here in Oxford. We go to school in a castle. How crazy is that? Maybe to another European person, this is old news. But my American self is thoroughly in awe of these ancient stone towers, the wildly ornate churches, and every other magnificent detail to be seen around each street corner. Seriously, if you’re not impressed by this stuff, something is wrong with you.
I’ve determined that the theme of Oxford is “centuries-old.” Modernity is overrated here, ladies and gentlemen. You can barely walk five steps without passing some great landmark that has been maintained and carefully refurbished over hundreds of years. Look to your right: you’ll probably see a few centuries-old school buildings. On your left, don’t forget to admire the exquisite architecture of that centuries-old cathedral. Walk across that ancient bridge to visit the restored museum, which contains centuries-old treasure that was famously used by a distinguished historical character centuries ago. Right this very moment, I’m sitting in a centuries-old library. Every wall is lined, floor-to-ceiling, with some seriously OLD books – the kinds of books we can picture Hermione reading furiously in the Hogwarts library. And yet, despite all the oldness in Oxford, it is (miraculously!) a lively and intellectual place, ideal for any 21st-century student. Safe. Diverse. Amazing weather (another miracle, I think). Hearty food. Accessible amenities. Upbeat nightlife. Lacking in the expected pretentiousness and elitist vibes. So far, I’m in love. And I’m sure I can only look forward to more awesomeness. 🙂
The first thing I noticed about Oxford was its abundance of bridges. While walking its streets – jetlagged, slap-happy, and utterly without a sense of direction – it seemed like I was met around every corner with another arched crossing. Overlapping the city’s various passageways, each bridge is unique to the last. They showcase the city’s impressive age with their vast range of architectural styles. Yet each seems so built into the fabric of its environment that they but disappear into the landscape. Whether it be over a sun-kissed stream rolling across Oxford’s wide meadows or over the cobble-stone alleyways cross-hatching the city’s center, each was designed to complement the character of its surroundings.
Processed with Rookie Cam
Processed with Rookie Cam
Processed with Rookie Cam
This prevalence of bridges isn’t just physical in Oxford. The notion of bridges – of connections, of crossing over, of moving beyond – can represent the spirit of the city and its university. In such a prominent place of international academia, gaps between cultures, individuals, and ways of thinking are bridged on a daily basis. The city itself, with its long legacy and centuries of tradition, introduces modern students to the lessons of the past, forging links between contemporary thought and historical understanding. For the students, this university and its town offer the chance to move beyond one’s own realm of experience. It is a city wherein those with ambition and enthusiasm can overcome their limitations and arrive at new levels of understanding, insight and opportunity.
Windsor Castle and Gardens
Overlooking the city
St. George’s Chapel
St. George’s Chapel
Fish & Chips
On Saturday May 28 we took a brave outing to Windsor Castle. The bus ride might have been long and warm, but the monument itself was a sight to behold. A modern city may surround this still-occupied château, but lush green gardens within and spanning forests outside the walls set this castle in a world of its own. Some of the most impressive and beautiful sights within the stony ramparts are the Queen Mary’s Doll House (a highly-detailed miniature house with working lights, lifts, and vacuums), the 80ft Round Tower (where the Queen flies her flag if she is in residence), and the stunning St. George’s Chapel (with its many unique grotesques and dazzling walls of stained glass). The 14th century St. George’s Chapel is truly a testament to the dedication and perfection of the artist – sitting surrounded by multiple stories of exquisite stained glass, carved stone buttresses, and marble burial sculptures, it’s not hard to imagine the awe of a time much simpler than our own.
After we exited the castle gates, we moved into the juxtaposed modern city of Windsor where we ordered our first Fish & Chips, a glorious loaf of battered cod and crispy fries smothered in vinegar and ketchup. It is safe to say that we will sample this fine delicacy again in our travels here. We also sampled and purchased some tea in the surrounding shops and brought home flavors like Arctic Fire and Girly Grey. As they say, “when in Rome…”, and we most certainly can get behind a good “cuppa” tea.
There many words to describe Oxford but “boring” is not one of them. The first thing to strike me about Oxford is the mass amount of events to attend every night. Each chapel, college, and pub has their own bulletin board for posting flyers so the information flying at you can be really overwhelming. I’ve put together some tips and tricks to help keep stress levels down and fun levels up.
The Museum of the History of Science has free events frequently
First off, grab the programs offered and take pictures of posters for events that look appealing to you. Be shameless. Events range from lectures and choir boys in church to concerts on the lawn and rowing, so there really is something for everyone.
Secondly, decide what your budget is and toss the flyers that don’t fit. There are so many incredible options that are FREE so take advantage of them! You can go with only free events or you can mix it up so that you can get into events that may be more appealing to you. Overall, most options are fairly inexpensive. My favorite experience so far was a free concert in German with free trade tea in St. Michael at the North Gate.
It’s ok to wander into most places. Step out of your comfort zone!
Finally, pull out that calendar. I use a small planner but most smartphones have calendars with notifications. Put in the dates and times of what you are interested in attending. Try to pick a variety of events and toss in a few free ones that you’re unsure of. Broaden your horizons! Take advantage of your time here!
We have been in Oxford since the beginning of the week. The students have: settled into their flats, had orientation, met or set up a meeting with their Oxford tutors, had their first Shakespeare class, visited Windsor Castle, been inducted into their colleges (New College or Christ Church), received library cards at the Bodleian, explored the city and its environs, met other students from U.S. universities, and have basically taken Oxford by storm. Except, the’ve brought the sunshine instead. Stay tuned….the students will be blogging about the experience starting tomorrow.
Still smiling after a three-hour class on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo outside our classroom at New College