Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oxford. I live here now.

I know. I am a bad bad bad bad bad blogger. And I apologize - it's not very nice of me to promise to write about what's going on in my new life and then not to follow through with it. But, I have to say, my silence has been for a good cause - it's all been in the name of a wonderful new place, wonderful new people, and all those wonderful things that come with them.

The Main Quad at Univ on Matriculation Day.
Oxford may just be the best place I've ever lived. It's a very close tie between this place and Sackville, which will always occupy an incredibly special place in my heart for a wide variety of reasons. But Oxford - wow. It is nothing short of magical, awe-inspiring, fantastical, and lovely. I know no other place where you can walk down a bustling pedestrian shopping street filled with musicians, dancers, and other street performers one minute, and then be strolling through Christ Church Meadows while the sun hovers over the horizon, casting a golden glow over fields, cows, and the river the next. This place is so very old, so full of wisdom and history that its buildings seem capable of telling you things. It is a place where it quickly (quicker than you think) becomes normal to see men and women dashing down a cobblestone alleyway smartly dressed with a long black gown trailing in the wind behind them. Sitting down to dinner in a Harry Potter-like hall while staring up at the oil portraits of the previous masters of your college provides an unbelieveable sense of the past here. But, very few experiences can top the calmness and beauty of rowing along the Isis with your crew as the sun creeps its way into the sky, sending the darkness that you walked through in order to get to the river melting into the atmosphere.

Rowing on the Isis.
Rowing has quickly become one of my favourite activities here at Oxford - I've joined the Novice A Team at Univ (short for University College, which is my college here at Oxford) and so I am in a boat with seven other rowers and our cox, Cathy. A cox is a verrrrry tiny person who weighs verrrry little whose job it is to steer us rowers and tell us what to do. It takes serious dedication to agree to freeze yourself at 6:30am by squishing yourself into the front of a boat with eight other women who are relying on your direction.

I've also joined the Oxford volleyball team and played a game with the women's first team last week. It was a pretty surreal experience to look into the mirror and see the word "OXFORD" emblazoned across my chest. I probably lost us a point or two just looking around at the other girls wearing the same jerseys and thinking "Holy cow, I play for OXFORD...!". I've also succeeded in finding a stable to ride at here in England, and took a lesson a few days ago in preparation for the tryouts for the Oxford team. It had been two years since I'd ridden and our coach had us jump a full course by the end of the hour. Needless to say, I am walking a little funny these days as a result of the recent discovery of muscles I forgot I had.

The four Rhodies from Univ at Matriculation: Geoff (US), myself, Julien (Quebec), and Lyle (South Africa).
The Canadian Rhodies.
Funnily enough, the academic side of Oxford has been the part that has been the least engaging. I feel like I've done very little work and I haven't been overly engaged in the classes I've been in. As an MPhil candidate in Comparative Government, I'm required to take a core course in comparative government with 10 other people which lasts for the whole year, covering a different subject every week (i.e. defining the field, constitutionalism, democracy, democratization, development, federalism, political parties, the state, etc...). Students lead short presentations in these classes and the professor of the week is supposed to help guide the discussion. There is a single, final exam at the end of the year, which is the only method of evaluation for this course. In addition to this, I attend a lecture with about 100 other people on Statistical Methods for the Social Sciences, as well as a hands on class in a computer lab where we work on applying statistical methods to social science research. Then there is the lecture on the Philosophy of the Social Sciences - I'm not even sure what was covered last week... I think there may be a paper to write on this (methods of assessments and what is expected of you is pretttttty unclear here). Finally, I meet with a tutor twice a semester and prepare short papers for them on some sort of subject relating to what we are covering in the Comparative Government course. It's all pretty different from Mount Allison, and I found myself sitting in my core comparative government class two days ago wishing for a little more honesty in the discussion, a little more push from the professor, and some more engaging reading assignments. Basically, I was thinking of how much I would love a class with T. Small, Michaelis, D. Thom, Brad, or Mike, haha. I went to see my college advisor about how I found the core class to be pretty uninspiring so far and he essentially told me that he and most people in the department knew that the first year class wasn't very good and that unless I wanted to jump into a PhD, the best thing to do was to suck it up, make the best of it, and attend as many guest lectures and seminars as possible. A student just finishing his DPhil here told me the same thing; "You will probably resent and dislike the core course in this programme, but you will learn so much more by attending as many seminars as you can." And so that's what I've decided to do - I'm off to a seminar with a professor from Yale on Colonialism and Democracy at 1:00.

The Turf Tavern, one of the neatest pubs ever.
While the academics are taking a little getting used to, it has been so easy and so much fun getting to know people here. The people at Univ are tons of fun and I'm starting to get to know the folks in my programme a little better. The Rhodes community in particular seems to be exceptionally easy to feel at home in - everyone is so kind, so interesting, and fun/hilarious to boot. We had a Rhodes Women meeting yesterday afternoon after tea and it was unbelievable to look around the room and see so many amazing women whom you already felt so close and connected to. It is, however, still a challenge to really meet everyone - there are so many of us! It's nice that we still get to have the infamous Rhodes "Meet & Mingle" events every few weeks, and we are having our formal 'Coming Up' dinner tomorrow night. I'm really looking forward to that!

There. Wow. That was a long one. But what a great chance to reflect and look back on the first three and a half weeks here at Oxford. If you'd like to take a look at some pictures, you can see my albums on Facebook even if you don't have a Facebook account - just click here: and here: I've thrown in a few into the blog, but there are lots more on Facebook!

Thanks for reading, folks. I hope you're all well - I miss you dearly!