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Notes From Oxford: Part 2

Feb 22, 2017 02:15PM ● By Victoria Pipas
Greetings from the other side of the pond! I’m currently lying on my tartan-blanket-swathed bed after a day of Old English lectures, library time, jogging along the Isis River, and enjoying dinner in the hall. Michaelmas has come to an end, and Hilary term has begun. I’ll be studying Old English again, as well as Restoration Literature, which basically covers the post-British Civil War Period through the Enlightenment. Think Paradise Lost. I don’t recommend it as beach reading, although it did end up being mine over the Christmas holiday. (A side note—I realized that I just involuntarily typed “holiday” instead of “vacation.” How very British of me.)

An account from England wouldn’t be complete without a sheep selfie. And there is an abundance of opportunities for sheep selfies when walking across the countryside. There is also an abundance of mud. My expeditions with the Walking Club continue, taking me to the gravesite of Agatha Christie, Blenheim Palace (birthplace of Winston Churchill), and through many, many fields of grass or kale or just plain mud. “Wellies” are proving very useful here. But for all the de-mucking I have to do, the views and the occasional glimpse of faint British sunshine are definitely worth it.

This term and last, I have tried my best to soak up as much of Oxford as I can, both as a student and as a tourist. The architecture continues to blow my mind every day when I pass an 11th century Norman church or attend the Evensong church service in an ancient Baroque chapel. I take photos of the places I visit, but I need to train myself to take photos of the more quotidian wonders, such as the ceilings in our dining hall and library. Here are several photos of impressive buildings. Wondrous architecture is not hard to come by here—actually, it makes up the majority of the municipal buildings.

At the college, I have found several favorite nooks and crannies where I love to hang out. My room overlooks two courtyards, and I love talking to my next-door neighbor, a fellow Middlebury visiting student, through our open third-story windows. Nearby, one of my favorite places to jog is through Christ Church Meadow at Christ Church College. This floodplain runs along the Oxford extension of the Thames, the Isis. Rowers fill the river on afternoons and Saturday mornings, and cows can be seen grazing on both sides of the river. The meadow is great for rainy runs alone or sunny walks with friends.

I also love long dinners spent talking to interesting people in the hall. It’s fun to visit different colleges and attend formal meals in their dining halls. I always find myself with a diverse and highly engaging group of people, especially among the graduate students. Just this evening, I sat down for dinner without knowing anyone at the table and soon found myself deep in discussion with a master’s degree student from Bosnia-Herzegovina. It’s a good time to practice and fortify our cultural exchanges and interactions worldwide. This term, I’ve been focused on expanding my social engagements at the college. I’ve joined the Oxford University Choir, and I am playing the villain in an original, student-run play. I plan to engage in as many social activities as I possibly can.

And, of course, my favorite place to be is always the library. It’s been interesting to compare the work habits and academic systems of the US and the UK. Students at university here (at least at Oxford) treat their work like a 9-to-5 job. It’s not about getting in a few hours of homework at night before bed; rather, their work is their number-one priority; it’s what they are here to do. The intensity and compactness of the eight-week terms means that Saturday nights are usually spent among the stacks. The library is the social space, despite the complete silence and a ban on food or drinks. There’s camaraderie in sitting in the library among others from the small Lincoln College community. A friend snuck a shot of me getting comfy in my favorite building doing my favorite thing.

However, immersion in the British educational system is also giving me a greater appreciation for the integrity of the American system. I truly think that the liberal arts program is the best in the world, and Middlebury and other small liberal arts colleges in the US exemplify that. Without a doubt, studying English at Oxford for three undergraduate years gives you the best English education in the world. Yet the Literary Studies program at Middlebury allows me to not only take English classes but also ground myself in a wider foundation of knowledge, studying the classics and philosophy and geology and art history and gender theory and contemporary politics. Specialization makes a scholar, but breadth of understanding of the human experience makes a human, and I would place more value on humanity than scholarliness. Plus, good humans make better scholars.

I continue to be infinitely grateful for both of the academic experiences that I have had during my college career, and I look forward to a career in academia.

Victoria Pipas has written for our publication for many years and is currently studying abroad at Oxford University. She brings us Part 2 of her travels abroad in London. 

Click here to view Notes From Oxford: Part 1.

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