Oxford / The attempt / Updates

an orientation (long overdue)

As it is, this post took far long than it should have because the photos won’t turn out right. In any case, it has been very difficult for me to make any general comments about Oxford, partly because it has only been two weeks (and yet we are already a quarter of the way through my first term !) and partly because I have been very … mellow, so to speak, and deliberately so.

I spent Thursday, the free day in my schedule, traipsing down the shopping street and reveling in the romance of the rain – something I did not expect to love about the English weather. So far, it has been alternately gorgeous and moody, and I like both turns of weather. On grey, drizzly mornings, it feels like license to be mopey and angsty and wronged. On warm, effervescent mornings, walking to my lectures seems like a treat. (That’s saying a lot, coming from me.) On Thursday, I also found this exquisite red trench coat that broke my heart by costing £110. Altogether, it was four hours of window shopping, though I did pick up some basics and a black skirt for matriculation and talked myself out of beyond-my-means black boots.

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The motorway to Oxford (why are signs posted in mph here, when the Brits use the metric system? Asked my economics tutor and he suggested it was because the older generation that drives is more familiar with it. I think it is ridiculous, anyhow.) and the view from the Holiday Inn Express near Oxford, which was next to the stadium where there was this divine Asian buffet restaurant. My parents and I went there the night before they left and I literally stuffed my face (not that most of you would doubt that!).

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What I see every morning en route to the city centre.

Two things about my college: it is really far from the city centre (carrying a 4L jug of milk, among other groceries, is not fun – though milk is really cheap here, which makes up for it, I think) and it is really, really far from my lecture halls (also known as the Examination Schools. Oxford is so cool.) It is a pleasant enough stroll, but tedious when you’re in a rush, though I leave for my lectures half an hour before every morning so I can saunter through the city centre and feel … picturesque.

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The dining hall and the entrance to the Hartland House, which has the common room, the administrative department and the library.

My college has no pretensions of being ancient, but it is unassumingly charming, I think. I can’t wait to live in the building shown in the photo with the blue sky in my third year! Looks gorgeous. I am grateful for my college so far – it is not as Oxfordian or even as stately as some others I’ve been in, but I admit to feeling less awestruck and more comfortable in St Anne’s, without the weight of eight-hundred-year-old stone foundations or the brass knockers or the candlelit (or what seems like it should be candlelit) stone corridors resting on my every single action. I don’t want their historical magic to be stripped away by the trivialities of daily life.

The people seem friendlier, too (this could, I admit freely, simply be an uninformed and baseless observation), and more open. In some respects, it is uncannily similar to Pearson; this thought crossed my mind frequently during freshers’ week. But perhaps it is my frame of reference imposing its paradigms on my observations. In any case, I take the resemblance as a comforting thought.

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That said, I am so very much more comfortable – and at home, already – here than I ever was at Pearson, and certainly several orders of magnitude more so than my first weeks at Pearson. Whether this is a result of my prior experience there or the inherent differences between the two, the sentiment is undeniable. Having your own space matters a significant deal, I have realized, because it gives you a refuge from the exhaustion of explicit social contact and the implicit expectation of it.

What surprised me considerably – and continues to surprise me – is how respectful everyone instinctively seemed to be in this college, without the exhorting, the lectures, the nagging that I’ve sat through all my school years. Maybe this is characteristic of university, but I’ve heard enough complaints about stupid domestic students from internationals at other universities that I don’t think that’s really the case. It started with all the freshers’ orientation lectures we had to sit through – even when they edged slowly into boredom, the students were quiet and upright (by the middle of some, my head had slumped down onto the back of the chair but as far as I could tell, this disgraceful display was exhibited only by me, oops.) There’s a college rule that no one rides into the compounds, for safety reasons, and I haven’t seen a single person do that yet. No one has jumped the line at the dining hall. No one has taken books out of the library (self-loan policy) without checking them out. (I am a terrible person – I’ve done it once.) No one has – and this is the most amazing one – messed up the kitchen in my house or stolen food or left unwashed dishes lying around. No one.

I feel that it is almost small-minded to be amazed. But I am.

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The red brick buildings in the two photos above and below in the right column are the main first year accommodations. All singles, but they vary greatly in size and enviability. They’re called Bevington Houses because they face out onto Bevington Road, which is perpendicular to the road my college is on, Woodstock Road. My college tries to be very inclusive, and so housing is pretty much guaranteed for all three years. No one in the second year has moved on this year, apparently.

One thing that bothers me slightly about it, though, is how inflexible their procedures for some things are, like doing your laundry or using the gym. You need to go to the Lodge (a kind of all-purpose security counter, with porters manning it 24/7, ready to answer any query and solve any problem!) and get a key card in exchange for some identification. So far, though, I haven’t had to do either, so it’s not a huge hassle.

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I’ve gotten used to the facilities in my house by now, though I still can’t figure out why one would put hot and cold water into two separate taps. What if you want lukewarm water? How are you supposed to wash your face? I have resorted to using the basin method. The one saving grace is that the radiators are right by the toilet and in front of the shower.

My room is unfortunately at the top of six flights of stairs. Now my leg muscles get a good workout everyday. The photo on the left below is my landing. My neighbour’s from Malaysia and studying biological sciences (or biochemistry). The toilet, pictured on the right, is literally the size of my closet.

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It took me really long to unpack – in fact, I’m not technically done, since there’s a last pile of clothes on the bench in front of my bed (conveniently out of the photo in the photo on the left in the last row). My bed cheers me up a lot, though. I picked the sheets especially to brighten up my room – it is my one spot of sunshine in an otherwise drab existence (i.e. room). I spend far too much time on it. I think I’ve been getting an average of seven hours of sleep since term started. I am clearly not studying enough!!

Melodrama aside, the photos also show the extent of my room decoration. I need to move out of my room every term, which is eight weeks, so I don’t see a point in postering it up or being too elaborate. The correspondence wall is nice, though. I ended the photo compilation with a typical Oxford memento: the giant tome known as ‘the Grey Book’ containing all the examination regulations we are assumed to have read before our examinations. Lovely, isn’t it?

I just went windsurfing today (it was cold and refreshing and frightening and exhausting), so my post will end here. I’ll put up photos of architecture, skies and food – doesn’t that sound appealing ! – uh, sometime next week; I’m heading to London this week so I have to catch up on tons of work before and after that. I must end by saying that I think I am content enough here (extensive bruising and aching after windsurfing notwithstanding!), which is something I am very grateful for. This fortnight could have been much more difficult and lonely, but save a few understandable days of wallowing over freshers’ week, things (i.e. my emotional state) have been stable enough. Mellow, like I said. I’ll sure like to stay that way.

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2 thoughts on “an orientation (long overdue)

  1. Karen, Oxford looks amazing and you seem like you’re having fun there! :D take care yeah, I can imagine the workload wouldn’t be easy. (Secretly stalking your blog through my subscription~)

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