Term One: Term Done

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Me and two visiting student friends at the Merton Ball!

The last few weeks of Michaelmas term were like a whirlwind–the days go slow, but the weeks go fast. In the interest of pure honesty, I have had plenty of time in the last few weeks to write a post. Besides reading and writing, I’ve also done a lot of TV-watching. But again, there’s that trap of “I’m doing something more interesting this weekend, I’ll hold off on a post.” Yet now that the term is over and I’m sitting on a train from Oslo to Bergen for four more hours, there are no excuses. Thus, my last post of my first term in Oxford commences!

Since I’ve Been Gone…

I’ve done the following things:

1. Attended a Stephen Hawking lecture

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Yes, that Stephen Hawking. It was an amazing experience, even if he lost me when he started talking about time and space. The slideshow had charming, early 2000s-esque illustrations and some humorous personal pictures he added in there. Sprinkled in between all the physics and such, there were some really funny and inspiring moments. On a bleaker note, he predicted that we humans have about 1000 years left on Earth. Hmph. Anyhow, it was incredible to be at the lecture. Definitely worth camping out for four hours in the cold.

2. Auditioned for a musical

I didn’t get a part, but the audition was fun! It also made me realize that getting involved in a show is a great way to get out and meet new people without seeming like you’re trying too hard. So even though I missed out on this particular show, I think I’ll try to help out on the crew-side for a show in Hilary or Trinity term. It’s never too late to start doing more stuff.

3. Had a British Thanksgiving dinner and an Oxford Christmas Gaudy

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Personal pumpkin pie!

The Visiting Student Administrator very kindly planned a Thanksgiving dinner for the visiting students and our tutors. The biggest difference from American Thanksgiving was that it was a formal dinner–no sweatpants for us. The next biggest difference was the food itself. There was still turkey, stuffing (albeit weird-looking stuffing shaped into a ball), and cranberry sauce, but nothing was really the same. As a vegetarian, I got a goat cheese and leek tart, vegetables, and no potatoes. In fact, my meal was a pretty far cry from Thanksgiving, but I didn’t mind. It was a really nice meal, and infinitely less sad than spending the day doing nothing festive at all. Plus, the personal pumpkin pies we got were a lot better than normal old pumpkin pie, in my humble opinion.

img_9016The Christmas Gaudy was for all LMHers, though mostly older members of the JCR (undergraduate student body) and grad students, as the tickets were limited. However, some of us visiting students managed to score seats! Beforehand, we went to listen to carols in the chapel, which was followed by a mulled wine and mince pie reception (oh, so British!). The Gaudy was a pretty typical formal meal, but the hall was nice and decorated, and we got Christmas crackers. The presidents of the JCR and MCR gave speeches peppered with anecdotes and personal shoutouts, followed by the Principal, who spent most of his speech detailing years that have been historically worse than 2016. Mentions of the Black Plague were made. It was an interesting choice, but it was adorable. Again, a very nice meal.

4. Binge-watched the Gilmore Girls revival

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Going full Gilmore

The day after Thanksgiving, three other visiting students and I woke up at the crack of dawn to watch  Gilmore Girls. We bought junk food from Tesco, of course, and I made half a saucepan (desperate times call for desperate measures) of coffee, which nobody but myself drank. More caffeine for me! With only a lunch break–we ordered Thai delivery, in true Gilmore style–we watched from sun up to sun down. After those final four words (ugh), we talked about our satisfactions and frustrations for almost four hours. It was mostly frustrations, though. I could write a whole post about everything we were disappointed with, which was a lot, but that’s not what this post is about, so I will refrain. Needless to say, we upset. It was just the latest in 2016’s great let downs.

5. Went to (another) ball

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Bathroom selfie for good measure

The Merton Winter Ball was the last ball of the term for me! Three was quite a lot, especially for one term, but I took the opportunity to get a secondhand Merton ticket when my friend offered it to me. It was white tie and excessively expensive, but it was amazing. There was a gazebo and a tent, both with live bands, a big courtyard with food stands, a carnival area, an indoor room with mini car racing and DDR. On the food side (that’s what really mattered), we got paella, mac ‘n cheese, nitrogen ice cream, some really nice cocktails, and alcoholic milkshakes. We ate, we drank, we danced. It was a lovely night, and I got to wear my blue evening gown again! Thanks, Dad and Ballroom Emporium in Oxford, for making me feel like a princess. If any other potential sponsors are reading this post, I would appreciate some woodland creatures to help make me pretty.

6. Had my last tutorials

Compared to the rest of what I’ve been doing, academics probably sound like the least exciting. However, they’re also a hugely important part of the Oxford experience, as you would probably guess. My last tutorials went well; it was a relief to finish up all the work, but it was also sad to say goodbye to a term with two amazing tutors. They were both happy with the work I put into tutorials, though, and we all agreed that I’ve made good progress since the beginning of the term. Yay! Now onto the next.

7. Went to London (again)

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A German, an American, and a Christmas tree at Trafalgar Square

And finally, for my second to last day in England, I went to London with my friend Sonja. We got there around noon, went to Harrods, Camden markets, Trafalgar Square, and met up with a friend of hers at a pub in Soho. The highlight of the day was definitely Camden markets–holy wow the food! There was such a variety that we had a tough time choosing, but eventually we settled on Venezuelan arepas and cake afterward. It’s all a bit overpriced, like Smorgasburg, but the experience was well worth it. And the food was too. Our plan had been to go to Hyde Park Winter Wonderland right before leaving, but by the time we got there, it was closed down for the night. Although it was a little disappointing, we had already had such a wonderful day that I didn’t really mind.

And that was the end of the term!

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London department stores are the perfect amount of Christmas-y

Now here I am, making my way across snowy Norway and reflecting on the first third of my time at Oxford. The biggest thing that I’ve learned from my first term abroad, and I might have mentioned this already but I’m too lazy to check, is that you go into studying abroad with the expectation that you’ll be traveling and doing amazing things all the time. And that’s just not realistic. I didn’t even realize that I had this expectation until Ali mentioned it. You see tons of pictures of exotic destinations from friends who are studying in cool places, but you never see pictures of studying or reading, which take up a lot of time at Oxford especially. Or pictures of another dining hall meal. Or pictures of movie nights with Domino’s. It’s the social media effect, of course. Anyway, you get the idea.

So I hit a point where I started wondering if I should be having more fun. Honestly, it was more worrying than wondering. Yes, I chose to study at Oxford to get an unrivaled academic experience, but I also came to have a good time. And I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s okay not to jet off every weekend because a big part of studying at Oxford is settling into the routine. Instead of spending a year abroad, it’s kind of like transferring to a new school. We take the time to get assimilated, and that’s something unique about having an entire year at our disposal. It’s also okay to have a lot of down time. It didn’t feel okay at first, because you only see traveling photos from your friends, but again, unrealistic expectations. However, I’ve also decided that I want to get out more next term. This term was for settling, but I don’t want to get too complacent.

I’ve also learned more about spending time alone, but as I’m currently taking a Scandinavian/Icelandian/Nordic (?) vacation by myself, I’ll touch on that next time. For now, I’m glad to be on break–we all need it right now. Off to winter wonderland!

~Natalie

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On the move
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On the train from Oslo to Bergen

Bonus British Bit: Christmas Crackers (see photo below)! They’re these little pull apart things that look like giant wrapped sweets and make a cracking/crackling/popping sound when you open them. The one we got at the gaudy had a little fortune, a cardboard ornament, and a tissue paper crown hat inside. Apparently they’re quite the thing for Christmas spirit, as I’ve seen them in gift packages in department stores.

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