Adventures abroad

I am sure you’ve all noticed that there is something different about JBU this semester.

Walking to class feels a bit emptier. The Caf seems slightly less vibrant. Sitting on the quad brings a little less fulfillment—I’m looking at you, granolas. Well, I’m here to identify this mystery void.

This semester I have been across the ocean, far removed from John Brown University, studying at Oxford. I traded late night Taco Bell runs for afternoon tea and Reese’s cups for chocolate Digestive Biscuits (which anyone who’s had chocolate Digestives will tell you is a fair trade). Instead of driving to Walmart for groceries, I plan my afternoon around the journey that is biking my food back from the Tesco Metro, with granola bars and yogurt spilling out of my wimpy wire basket.

While I am certain you all—yes freshmen, even you—have noticed my absence and long for the spring when balance is restored, I must admit that there are things I miss as well, such as the five-minute walk to class, grape jelly, and the sun.
Academic life under the Oxford system has also taken a lot of getting used to.

At JBU, the daytime was for the routine of classes and chapel while the night was for homework, ahem, I mean being cool and social. At Oxford, my mind is focused on writing papers for tutorials, which are weekly meetings with a professor who knows much more about my subject than I ever will. I attend much fewer lectures and spend a lot more time in one of about twelve hundred libraries researching for my papers.

After a week of stressing over an essay on Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” or Athenian vase painting (my current projects), I take it to my tutorial and am then forced to talk about the ideas I’ve come up with and the conclusions I’ve drawn in my paper. Although this process has the potential to be slightly terrifying, it is a challenging and unique experience. My Greek art tutorials take place in the Ashmolean museum, in which I talk with my tutor in the museum café, then follow him around the museum looking at all of the art I’ve just studied and written about.

While a lot of time goes into ascertaining exactly what my tutor is getting at with each week’s research question, I do have a bit of time to spend on non-academic matters.

I live in a big house just outside of Oxford with 37 other students who are also from the U.S. This living situation means that quiet places and refrigerator space can be elusive, but a pot of tea and people to share my stress with are never out of reach.

I have made many great friends here, and I know that when I leave, I’ll come away with an Oxford-shaped hole (much like the Amy-shaped hole you all have endured in my absence—or the JBU-shaped one in me).

I will miss reading Shakespeare in the café in Blackwell’s bookshop and swiping my Oxford University card to get into the exclusive club that is the Bodleian Library. I will miss spending my afternoons in a beautiful library feeling like Hermione Granger.

Although it has been difficult to be away from the JBU community, the lovely friends and brilliant professors, my experience at Oxford has been invaluable. I am learning how to think on my feet and compete only to top my own standards (as well as how to live off of peanut butter sandwiches and cereal).

My experience this semester at Oxford has been like late night stargazing with friends: seeming to simultaneously last a lifetime and end in an instant. It is a rare encounter that will not be soon forgot.