Trinity term, the last of the academic year, is in full swing: it’s week 4 here at Oxford. Right now, the air in is a little tense–finalists (seniors) are all taking exams, and these are a big f*in deal. At Oxford, your marks (grades) in tutorials and on collections (prelims) don’t count toward a GPA. Exams in your final year are the only things that determine how well you do on your degree. High stakes, high pressure. Luckily, since I don’t have to take exams, I’m just doing what I’ve been doing all year here. Visiting students: we do a lot of work, but we have a pretty sweet deal.
My major tutorial this term is loosely titled “The Personal Essay.” I’m taking it with the same tutor I’ve had for the past two terms, my personal tutor, so she’s very flexible about what I read and write. I’ve been loving writing in the personal mode. After all, that’s what this blog is all about. It’s so freeing to take a break from hardcore analysis and close reading to write in a more casual capacity about things I know everything about. They’re my experiences! Who could know more? I’m learning to develop my voice as a writer, which is challenging but super worthwhile, of course. My minor tutorial is Shakespeare, so I’m getting two very different experiences this term, and I’m very happy with the work in both courses so far.
Because I can read short pieces intermittently (instead of cramming to finish a novel in a few days) and I’m writing in a less academic style, I’ve been trying to work in cafes around town more often. The noise is actually a nice background when I’m writing personal pieces–it doesn’t require the same intensity of attention. In fact, I’ve found that the bustle actually helps get the words flowing. Cafe hopping is also a great way to explore more of Oxford, so I’m trying to hit a different place every time. So far, I’ve been to Gail’s Bakery (amazing gruyere and chive scones), Art Cafe, and Organic Deli. They’re all great places to work with delicious noms and solid cappuccinos. I hope I can visit one or two more this week.
About a week ago, I went to Balliol Ball–the theme was “dreamland” or something like that. It was the last one I’ll be attending during my time here at Oxford! Whether I come back to visit and swing through another one is a different question. In a last minute transfer, I managed to get a ticket for Neal. So we dressed to the nines (pictured left): I pulled out my prom dress and was relieved to find that it still fits. Granted, it’s a loose dress, but I’ll count it as a victory regardless. When we got to the ball, we picked up some sparkly drinks and joined the ridiculously long line for dumplings. Balliol College is beautiful, and they had really pretty decorations, so it was a great atmosphere. Throughout the night, we hit up the photo booth, the several bars they had, the big dancing tent with a reggae band playing. True to the theme, the night was a dream.
Last week, I took off after my tutorial for the week to visit my friend Michelle in Edinburgh! I’d never been before, so I was really excited to see the city. What I first noticed when I got off the plane were the accents. Although I knew what Scottish accents sounded like, it somehow slipped my mind that I would be hearing them. That was definitely a pleasant surprise. After Michelle picked me up from the bus stop, we walked around to hit a few of the major streets, then ate an amazing goat cheese and vegetable pizza. Like most of my other travels, the Edinburgh trip largely revolved around food.
The next day, we walked to Arthur’s Seat, “the main peak of the group of hills in Edinburgh” as a quick Wiki search just told me. Though it was sunny the night before, it was overcast that day, so I felt like I was experiencing Edinburgh’s true colors. We walked to Old Town after that, had some killer falafel wraps, then I shopped and sat down for some tea while she did a bit of studying for finals. For dinner, we got Indian food served tapas style (amazing) and then just hung out for the rest of the night. Because it’s pretty small, I think I got a good taste of Edinburgh in the short time I was there, and it was really great to get to catch up with Michelle. The only caveat? Oxford is SO hard to travel from. The flight from Stansted to Edinburgh was less than two hours, but with other transportation, the journey took eight hours each way. It was pretty brutal.
And now I’m back in Oxford for a few more weeks. While I kind of want to ignore the fact that I’ll be leaving the UK in just a month, I also need to keep it in mind as motivation to get things done on my big Oxford/abroad to-do list. In general, I’ve been very satisfied with my experience and I don’t regret choosing to leave Cornell for a whole year. Not even a little bit. But still, there are a few more things I want to do before it’s all over. I want to go to London one or two more times, visit the Botanic Gardens, spend some more time in the park, pig out on afternoon tea, among other things. I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to get around to most of it if I keep my eye on the prize. In my last term abroad, I’m trying to perfect the balance of work and fun. So erring more on the side of fun.
Bonus British Bit: Garden parties seem to be pretty universally popular here. It’s nothing that we don’t do in the US: eat and drink in the open air, play music, hang out with friends, soak up the sun. They just happen to have a cute, quaint name for it. Typical Brits. I haven’t been to one yet, but maybe I’ll make it happen soon.