Rebecca at Oxford

Rebecca, a Hunt Scholar and junior at SMU, is a double major in political science and English. She is participating in SMU-in-Oxford, where she will be taking one English and one honors history course. She also will be exploring a new culture by visiting Paris (on Bastille weekend) and Belgium.

Day trip to London

rebecca-blog-24july2008.jpgWe went to London for the day. We started it off by going to see St. Paul’s cathedral, which was amazing! I looked at how long the aisle was in awe. I could not believe that Princess Diana walked down the whole thing!

The most touching part was the American chapel honoring all of our fallen men in WWII who served in the U.K. It was beautiful with eagles and a book that had all the names, and the page gets turned every day.

We then went and ate lunch at the park. That was a lot of fun because we are still meeting everyone. The lunch was box sandwiches (with prawn on them – sick!) and chips (some were steak-flavored) – overall it was not the best meal ever.

Then we went to the British Museum. We did not get halfway through it before they kicked us out because the workers were going on strike. The strike lasted only 45 minutes, but it was just long enough to keep us from getting to see the rest of it.

Then we went to the Tower of London. It was a little morbid to see the place where people were executed, including Anne Boleyn. There is also a room that has carvings of the prisoners on the wall. The best part by far was the crown jewels. I have never seen anything so beautiful. The septor has the biggest diamond in the world on it. The coronation crown is massive and covered in amazing jewels! We were looking at pieces of history that have been used or worn by many members of the royal family.

Afterward we went on a riverboat cruise along the Thames River. We all danced to the ridiculous music the DJ played; Britney Spears and the Spice Girls. It was cool because I don’t think you will ever see those people intermingling that way again. The last 15 minutes were just singing and dancing along, and everyone was on the dance floor. It was cool because for a minute everyone forgot what sorority and fraternity everyone was in or whether they were wearing designer clothes and just had a great time together. Not to mention that the House of Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye were lit up at night and beautiful from the river!

On Saturday I opted to stay in Oxford. Saturday was a good day because it was the first time I had a couple of hours to just chill. That night we went to a nice dinner at Bella Italia, which was the first time I have been full on the trip. Then we went to Chequers (a pub). If you are looking for a place to have one drink and sit around and talk, this place was perfect. We went home about 11 because that’s when the pubs close.

On Sunday I went to church at St. Aldates again. I like the sense of community there, even if it is really charismatic. This Sunday a man spoke in tongues, which is definitely not something I have ever heard, so it was interesting.

As far as classes go, I feel that they give us a lot of homework, for as busy as they keep us – the tutorial paper once a week, then lots of reading, but it is definitely manageable. The three-hour classes are pretty miserable in the morning, but then you have the whole day to do whatever you want.

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Arrival in Oxford

So it is now Wednesday, I can’t believe it! It is just flying by.

We got in on Saturday and after a flight delay, a nine-hour flight, an hour and a half bus ride, we were exhausted.

We had a group meeting telling us a little about Oxford and its history. We are living in University, which they call Univ. I got sooo lucky with my housing arrangement! All the rooms have a sitting area and a desk, and a bedroom. Mine, however, is like a little cottage. It is in Helen’s court, which is where Bill Clinton lived when he went to school at Univ.

We have our own little courtyard that my three friends and I share with the faculty, who are never there. It’s got a beautiful bench to read on and ivy growing on the sides of the buildings. I have a roommate, but we only share a bathroom. You walk into the door and the bathroom is in front of you (It’s rather clean and nice for its age), then on the left is her room and on the right mine. We have two separate keys to get into our rooms. We each have our own sitting area with a couch, desk, dresser, chair, refrigerator, and a pot for tea.

Then we have a loft upstairs with the bed, cabinets, a sink, closet, and bedside table. The bed is really firm but I am always so exhausted, that I just fall right to sleep.

On Sunday I went to church at St. Aldates,a block from Univ, with some other SMU students. They were extremely welcoming and friendly. It was a lot like the churches in America. It was contemporary, so it had a band (the guitar player was wearing an American Eagle shirt). Some of the songs were the same and the children’s church got up and sang and did hand motions to a few of them. Church lasted like two hours, rather than the one hour it usually is at home.

After that we took a walking tour of Oxford. It is so amazing how beautiful it is and how much history is in one place. There were all kinds of fun facts- like they would put this stuff that looked like barbed wire at the top of the girls’ school’s walls so that boys could not get in.

I also got to see the Natural History Museum and the house where Halley’s Comet was found by Halley himself. I saw the Sigh bridge and the pub The Eagle and Child, where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis hung out. Later that night we had a formal dinner and Lord Butler, the master of the school who is retiring, stopped by.

I am an extremely picky eater but the food has been all right. It is just seasoned differently. There is wine served with dinner, which is an odd change coming from America and SMU, where that would not happen at a school function. The worst part about the food is that they do not drink much water or anything over here, so I have been thirsty the entire time. They give you these tiny little cups to drink out of and it is just not enough. The only other bad thing about being over here is that it gets light at like 4:30 a.m. and dark at like 9:45 p.m.

We had our first day of classes on Monday, which was interesting. Our SMU classes are what you would expect. The Oxford tutorial is a completely different method of learning. They do not have grades normally, and they write a paper a week for their class. Then they have a tutorial, which is like 1 or 2 people from their larger class, and they have to read their papers and discuss it with the tutor. It makes students be very self-sufficient because they will tell you what books to look at for the topic but you have to decide what is relevant out of them, no chapters are provided.

In the larger group we get to ask our tutor any question we want and dicuss it. My tutor is Leslie Mitchell, a history professor here. He is the typical English man. He was telling us the differences between Americans and the English. It is just a whole different perspective, and he is so funny. His sense of humor is very English, he uses dry sarcasm, cynical comments, and understatements.

I had to read my paper in my tutorial on Wednesday, and it was intimidating but he was very nice about it. I learned so much about 18th-century government in one hour. He used my paper as a launching point for discussion with my other group members.

We also had our first high table on Tuesday. High Table is a formal dinner where some of the students get invited to eat at the head table with the professors and the speaker. There is a lecture beforehand. The High table food is very good, while the lower tables is still good. We have another one on Thursday. I was not prepared to need so many dresses – I have already worn two of my four!

Last night after High Table we went to Turf’s Tavern. It was extremely crowded but the atmosphere was so fun! The people were extremely nice; it was just hard to find a table. It is definitely a good place to go to meet natives who are our age. It still amazes me how casual drinking is over here, I guess because it is such an issue in the U.S.

Today we went to Blenheim Palace, which belongs to the Duke of Marlborough. It was where Sir Winston Churchill was born. It was the most amazing historical house I have ever seen! It was on 250,000 acres of land, and the Duke still lives there today at age 81. It has several gardens, and the landscaping was all dug by hand and created when the house was built. Everything was just so grand! There was an organ in the library that had over 10,000 books. Overall, it was like stepping back in time.

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