Adventures abroad

Sometimes, I’ll be riding my bike or drinking a cup of tea when I’m completely overwhelmed by just being here. Oxford is beautiful, and completely lives up to the nickname “City of Dreaming Spires.” Every day I walk in the footsteps of men and women who shaped all of Western culture, America included. It’s strange to think of the authors, artists and painters who began here and who maybe visited the same coffee shop or studied in the same library. How many thoughts and dreams and stories were inspired here? The buildings are stunning, if a bit intimidating, and people from cultures from all over the world are attracted here, to Oxford’s colleges and libraries. The libraries are incredible. Thousands of books on any subject you could ever dream of fill hundreds and hundreds of shelves. This is a place that loves its books.

The program I’m here with, SCIO, has taken us on field trips all around England. There are around 50 of us—all honors scholars from universities all over America. We visited Saint Albans, where the first English martyr lost his head. We traveled to Bath and saw the Roman baths, and then walked the streets where Jane Austen’s heroines visited. In London, we saw Big Ben’s clock tower, the Tower of London and listened to Evensong in Saint Paul’s Cathedral. My favorite field trip was to Hampton Court Palace, one of King Henry VIII’s favorite palaces and the home of some of his six wives, one of whom is still said to haunt an upstairs corridor. The museums in Oxford are filled with artwork by famous painters and artifacts of ancient cultures, and one museum is filled with dinosaur bones found in England.

Tonight, I am taking advantage of the fall break to visit London, where we will watch Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” in the Globe Theater, which is basically the most awesome thing I’ve ever done.

It’s strange to be in a city where academics and study are not considered a means to an end. At home, the first question anyone asks after learning someone’s major is “What will you do with that after college?” Learning here is valued for its own sake. Some things should be studied because of their intrinsic value, not because they lead to a prosperous lifestyle somewhere down the road. It’s a very different mindset than that of the United States. Less practical, perhaps, but still so very appealing.

I love it here—the culture, the books, the tea and even the ever-present threat of rain. This semester is going to be challenging—two 2,000- word essays every week—but it will be worth it. I’ve already learned so much about literature and writing and culture, and I’m so excited to keep living this fantastic adventure!