Oxford / Updates

a holding operation

It seems I am always playing catch-up – a prodigious number of things have occurred in the past three weeks, I believe, and I compose tiny memos in my head each day of things I want to record but the lurid promise of sunshine and/or plain inertia and/or a darker fear of scrutiny perpetually deter me. It has been gloomy days, however, so yesterday I locked myself up in the SSL for an afternoon of congested reading (congested because I was congested – my logic for the six-hour study session was that since I was too ill to have fun, I might as well study. That seems to make sense.) in preparation for my tutorial next week with one of the world’s leading experts on American politics.

In no order of importance, then, several gently inspirational events:

  • St Anne’s PPE Open Day 2012

Being on the other side of the application process is an ineffable feeling, and recalls such strong feelings of mingled hope and preemptive despair (as well as the attendant memories of Pearson and all the associated meaning I attached to Oxford/the university process) that the whole day did feel a little heady. Speaking to the British students as well – there were so much masked uncertainty and bravado on their sides, not unlike ourselves now just before entering the tutorial room, and yet, as Trinity nears its half-way mark, the privilege of being here has mostly worn down to a harried sort of pre-prelims stress. Having to search myself for the precise words to answer the questions ‘are you enjoying PPE?’ and ‘why did you choose PPE?’ was a good exercise, and the opportunity to listen to the three alumni speak about their St Anne’s experience was lovely and very encouraging. I think I sat on the stage (as one of the current students on the panel, hawith a frighteningly besotted expression on my face as they spoke about the joy(s) of PPE. In any case, it is … cleansing, I think, to be able to express my love for my subject, especially as I could almost definitely be doing more work.

  • Principal’s interviews

Though only ten minutes, I came out of this simultaneously guilt-ridden and empowered – the former because, on the tail of two of my most procrastinating, less productive weeks, I had clearly given the impression that I was a Studious and Conscientious Worker, but the latter because he expressed some probably unjustified but much-appreciated confidence in my future studies, and sometimes a vote of confidence is all one needs (:

  • OxFID application

Don’t think this counts as much of a win, because the interview went a little disastrously – I stumbled so badly on the question, why are you interested in international development, and broke into this long, incoherent ramble (halfway through which I was thinking frantically at myself STFU STFU but obviously I couldn’t stop in the middle of a sentence) but the whole application itself got me unearthing some buried convictions (and credentials) and that’s … always a start. With the end of first year edging closer (that phrase seems incomprehensible to me right now), part of my mind has begun evaluating the year’s progress and relatedly, planning next year’s focus. Even if this doesn’t work out, there are a bunch of societies I think it would behoove me to join next year.

  • Two really good tutorials

Despite the terrible state my work has been in this term (I did my first essay four hours after the deadline, and my second one I finished writing at the deadline, after which I printed it in a mad rush and then zipped off on my bike to Regent’s Park for my tutorial), the quality has been disproportional to the timeliness of it, though my theory is that clearly I work more effectively under stress. Some luck factor with the nature of the readings and the questions, of course, and the various circumstances that mitigated the consequences of my lateness. On two occasions, for instance, I was five minutes late for my tutorials but so was the tutor, and on one occasion, I simply couldn’t get myself to clean up a piece of economics work in time and so I submitted it a day late, but after that, my tutor postponed the tutorial time by a day and my tutorial partner submitted his a day after meand apparently the assignment was really well done, so it all worked out. That economics tutorial was really good, though my econ tutor does tend to drift into bits of economic exposition that makes very little sense to my neophyte mind, but it is all very humbling and inspiring, and I daresay he is half of what is prompting me to keep economics next year. Another one was the political theory tutorial we had on liberty, during which our tutor managed to structure all the reading I’d done in a few sentences; that was very illuminating, and defines the purpose of a tutorial, I believe.

(My philosophy tutorials, however, have been consistently poor and/or uninspiring, and it’s left me with a horrible dilemma regarding my options next year. Loath as I am to drop philosophy, it seems the lesser of two evils at the moment – and I really shouldn’t let my preconceived notions of “what I’m meant to study” affect my current choices, should I?)

  • Good conversations

These things are strangely rarer than one would expect in Oxford. I mustn’t be doing enough to search for them, and good company is never difficult to find, but it’s always a pleasure to discuss philosophy and the like honestly with another person, without getting entrapped into a cycle of one-upmanship.

Among other things less of note, I have been quite good with early morning habits (compared to the last two terms, that is), managing to wake for breakfast most days (even the weekends!). However, I did revert briefly to my infamous naps last Saturday after the PPE Open Day where I slept for 14 hours, but in fairness, there was the culmination of a week’s worth of scant sleep. My food habits are deteriorating a little, however (yesterday I snuck food in the library and sat furtively in the corner munching on grapes and crab sticks while tackling a very dense book on the New Deal) and I’ve missed my last Skypes with two of my best friends. Also vaguely done with my termly flu, so am abhorring most company, with obvious exceptions.

I’ve been so remiss about planning my summer. My Beijing trip has now been confirmed, a full month from July 6, so I’m relieved that something‘s concrete, at least. What remains is a mishmash of commitments to visit people and an amorphous desire to Do Something Useful, but sorting through my various options is proving to be a bit of a headache, especially since I am reluctant to contemplate summer too deeply at the moment, partially because prelims seem so imminent (and my revision schedule is in shambles) and partially it is that time of the year where the beginning of summer also means the end of term. Hearing distant accounts of my Pearson first-years finishing their IB exams jolts me with the reminder that it’s heading up to a year since I’ve left Pearson, since I’ve entered university, and if it feels like an entire new world of experiences has opened itself to my eyes, quite rightly so, because it has. It seems like all I need is to sit down for an afternoon and take stock of everything, but part of me feels that I can’t afford that afternoon at the moment – and another, larger part of me knows that I just don’t want to examine my own, current happiness too closely at the moment. Like a shy bird, it is better glimpsed for fear of scaring it away than too greedily scrutinized, I think. Temperance, and all that.

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