Thursday, May 30, 2013

I Miss Funfetti

It's Thursday morning about 10:00, about that time for another update! This week has been very different from the previous simply because we've actually fallen into a bit of a routine what with going to our MSU led class as well as acclimating to the study habits of Oxford students! On Monday we had our first "Objects of Travel" class led by Dr. Ben Harvey. This class is very different from others I've taken at State, mainly due to the fact that I am in the UK, but also because it's a very interactive, discussion and activity oriented class. I mean, one of our first assignments was to go visit the Museum of the History of Science where I found some pretty amazing things.

This is how people carry their backpacks here. Not really. But upon entering the museum we were forced to carry our backpacks as so...

Oh you know, just a blackboard from one of Einstein's lectures here on the expansion of the universe.
And some surgical instruments used for amputations in days past. Makes me realize how thankful I am not to have lived in that time!
Later that afternoon we made our first attempt at acting like real Oxford students by studying in the Radcliffe camera. Definitely a big change from our typical "Club Mitch" experience. 
Tuesday was pretty consistent with Monday except for the fact that we attended a C.S. Lewis Society club meeting that night. Johnathan Kirkpatrick, current curator of the Kilns, was the main speaker who talked about the appearance of "Bacchus" in some of Lewis's literature. One thing hasn't changed in that I still get an awkward lump in my throat whenever I see one of my teachers outside of a classroom setting. How could I not expect to see my C.S. Lewis tutor at the C.S. Lewis Society meeting?? It's like that time I saw Dr. Carskadon in Wal Mart and didn't know what to say except "I like your jacket". Still just as awkward.

Yesterday I had my first experience with Indian cuisine at a place called Chutney's! Dr. Snyder is off to London today so he wanted to treat us for one last meal. I'm not gonna lie, I was pretty hesitant to try out the curry due to some less than ideal experiences with Thai food I've encountered in the past. To my surprise I liked it a lot. Like a whole lot. Like maybe went back for a second plate a lot...Probably because everything actually had some flavor to it unlike the typical British meal which I'm pretty sure has about 3 salt crystals in an entire meal. 

Afterwards we all split up into small groups and Mary Lowry had a great time exploring where we found a quaint little shop with old timey postcards and trinkets. Later on we went off to explore Christ Church Cathedral which is a truly magnificent place. Like Steven always says, the pictures here really don't do it justice. It's hard to capture the beauty of one place in a simple 4 x 6 photo. 
Forgot to mention, we went to Evensong Monday night! This is where the college choir sings and tourists and students are allowed to worship in the cathedral for about an hour. I had actually thought about joining the choir for the remainder of Trinity term, but after about two minutes into their first song I quickly decided that probably wasn't the best idea. I think I could catch on if I had enough time, but one of the hardest parts would be trying to produce the same vowel sounds as them. They can twist their mouths into some funny shapes that I'm just not quite sure my little Mississippi mouth can do!

Outside of Christ Church Cathedral. 

Last night was a fun night in the flat just relaxing and enjoying each others company. I bought my first baguette yesterday (delicious by the way) but the other girls cooked pasta for themselves. We watched Pride and Prejudice, typical I know, and Jade and Jenni attempted to make cookies. Here's the thing, cookie dough doesn't really exist over here. I know, I know, crazy right?? They managed to find some in the crevices of Tesco but let's just say it was no Nestle's. Once again, no sugar! At least now we know. If I ever find funfetti cake mix over here I might die. 

Well I'll leave you with a little pic from one of our first days outside of Christ Church! 

Ta ta for now!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Summer Eights


After our long haul to Stratford, Saturday came with the promise of late mornings and relaxing afternoons. We slept until 11:30 so I guess we were still getting over the effects of jet lag. Jenni and I have been having a bit of trouble waking up on time because we never hear our alarms! Hopefully that will straighten out in the next few days. Once we finally rose from our slumber we decided to go eat lunch. We stopped to eat at a little restaurant called Ask Italian. Little did we know, what good fortune was about to befall Jade. The manager seated us at our table and we simply thought that he was being friendly. Well, when the waitress brought the check she brought another little surprise along. The note was for Jade and went something along the lines of "Jared, blonde manager, would like to take you out sometime if you are single :)." Literally five minutes before, Jade had mentioned how she wished that she could marry a British man and have blond hair blue-eyed babies. Jared had blonde hair. And blue eyes. Serendipitous.
After our eventful lunch we went to do what us girls do!! On this shopping trip we found the godfather of all department stores. MARK AND SPENCER'S. I'm talking this place had a three story clothes department, cosmetic area, coffee shop, bank, and grocery store! I think I might be cheating on Target. Afterward I had my awkward experience where a young guy followed us into the store, proceeded to have a one-sided conversation with me about shoes and his mom's birthday, got tongue-tied, and turned around. Poor thing, he was trying so hard to start a conversation but it just didn't work. Anyway, it made for a great story and is even better to tell in person, so ask me when I'm back in the states. 

Later on that day we went to the Summer Eights, which is a rowing competition between the 38 colleges of Oxford. Steven tried to explain the process of "bumping" to me but I still don't really understand it that well. Basically, the boats are lined up in a row and as they paddle down the river they try to literally bump the other boats in front of them. The boat that comes out in front is the winner and thus advances to the next day. At least that's how I think it works. 
This is a picture of Mary Lowry and I in front of one of the college boathouses. The students stand up on top of the boathouses and cheer on their respective colleges. It can be compared to a high class tailgating event and everyone looks as if they are dressed for a summer in the Hamptons. We tried to fit in as best we could. One of the highlights of the Eights was the drink of choice, "Pimm's". It's a summer drink, and the British REALLY like it here. And so did we! It tastes like lemonade and sweet tea and a bit of alcohol. Oh, and remember how I said that the Brits are more reserved than we are? WRONG. After the last race we heard shouts of joy and laughter coming from behind us. We went to see what all the fuss was about and people were stripping down to their knickers and swinging into the ice cold river. Not only that, but I'm pretty sure the PDA here is even worse than in the states. 
After the Eights we went to a famous little pub near the Bod called The Turf Tavern. It was absolutely swamped with people, but the food was worth the wait. 
This picture was too good not to post. Wonder if Bill knows it's here?

We woke up for church Sunday morning and attempted to go to New Road Baptist Church and found that it was having a combined service with Wesley Memorial Church. Surprisingly, it wasn't that different from church back home. I was expecting angelic voices and long sermons, but it was short and to the point. The priest pointed us to a restaurant down the road called "The Nosebag." This should have been our first inclination to STAY AWAY. It's cheap prices and small crowd drew us in, but little did we know what we were in for. Jenni, Steven, and I ordered the quiche with three side salads. And everything was ice cold. One of my salads was raw potatoes mixed with mayonnaise. Straight up mayo. Don't get me wrong, I'm a mayo fan, but using it for a sauce to mix my potatoes in?? Our only saving grace was our tiny cup of fruit. 

Later on that afternoon I tagged along with Jenni and Jade and sat by the river to read Surprised by Joy while they went for a run. And what did we wear? Nike shorts and a t-shirt! It was one of our first really beautiful days, and at that point we didn't care that we were screaming "Look at us we're Americans!" from head to toe.  
That night will go down in history as one of the coolest experiences I've ever had: eating in the Great Hall at Christ Church! Aka the dining hall in the Harry Potter movies! We even had to wear black robes to signify that we were students. It looked very much like the one in the movie except much smaller, and the portraits sadly didn't move. The ceilings were extremely high, the tables long with dimly lit lamps, and the walls were covered with massive paintings of chancellors and deans from hundreds of years past.We were served a seated three course meal consisting of tomato soup, roast, cabbage, and potatoes and a pear/summer berry crumble. Needless to say, we were spoiled rotten!

Afterwards our international liaison named Georgia took us to a nice little pub called Chequers where we exchanged stories and enjoyed one anothers company. She was just as eager to learn about American life as we were to learn all about the ways of a true Oxford student. 

Here are a few pics from our first night in the Great Hall

I know I know, cheesy Chi O pic but it isn't every day that you get to eat in the Great Hall!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Day in Stratford

"All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players..."
              -William Shakespeare, As You Like It

I realize the picture does not fit the quote above, but I couldn't leave out my main man Hamlet! On Thursday, we were once again not allowed a single minute to rest as we headed off at 10:00 for Stratford, aka Shakespeare's home. One of my favorite parts about the trip was not actually Stratford itself, but the amazing English countryside we drove through on the bus ride over. We passed through several small country villages that had such a quaint and simplistic spirit, complete with grazing sheep and rolling meadows. I'm hopeful and excited to be able to visit some of these villages, because apparently that's where the real heart of England lies. 
As for Stratford, we found out that it is a HUGE tourist hub, what with it being the home of Shakespeare's birthplace and resting grounds, as well as my personal favorite part of the excursion, the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre. First, we went on a walking tour of the city. The first main attraction we visited was probably the most significant, the Holy Trinity Church where, you guessed it, Shakespeare himself is buried alongside his wife, Anne Hathaway. A couple of interesting facts about Shakespeare:  he is thought to have been born on April 23,  1564 and died on April 23, 1616. Bummer. I would hate to die on my birthday. Our guide told us about the courting method that was used during 16th century times in which all of the eligible bachelors and bachelorettes would meet in a designated area and mingle amongst each other. The fathers of the women would give all of the interested men a block of wood and knife to wittle on and would take it back at the end of the night. This was to ensure that the men had been wittling on their block of wood and that their hands weren't in any spot they shoudn't have been. Not a bad tip for dads today! Shakespeare and Anne were married on November 27th, 1852 and their daughter Susannah was born in May 1583. You do the math, doesn't sound like that wittling block worked after all. 
We had alot of free time just to wander around that afternoon, so we found a neat little pub called "The Old Thatch Tavern". It was completely authentic with small cozy rooms, wooden beams, and a thatch  (straw) roof. We hung out there for about two hours just taking in the laid back lifestyle of an Englishman with no cares in the world but sitting and enjoying each others' company. 
My favorite part of the night hands down was having the opportunity to see the amazing Royal Shakespeare Company perform "As You Like It." I had never read the play and was a little hesitant about seeing it for the first time because I simply didn't know if I would able to follow along with all of Shakespeare's flowery language. To my surprise, I actually found it easier to follow than analyzing every aspect of every letter like we used to in Mrs. Downey's class. The wonderful thing about this specific play is that there was a modern day spin to it. The music ranged all the way from dubstep to Mumford-esque styles. With all of the flowery shirts, leather vests, suspenders and bare feet, it was basically a hipster's paradise. After the play, we loaded up on the double decker buses and headed for Oxford. I'm so grateful that I was able to visit such a prominent figure's birthplace and learn a little bit more about the man behind the classics. 

Tune in soon for an update on my weekend, including the Summer Eights, awkward encounters, and sunshine!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Glimpse of Oxford

It's amazing what one can do in a 48 hour span. And how many miles can be walked. And how little sleep can be had. Even though I think my ankles might break off any minute, I wouldn't have traded one step for all that I was able to explore today. Not much happened yesterday and to be honest, it was such a blur that I don't remember a whole lot. But here are a few things that I have learned about "Oxfordians" and the way of life here.

It didn't take me long to realize that we Americans are LOUD. It all started on the bus ride from London, when I was seated towards the front of the bus and my other American friends were in the back. In my opinion my friends were talking at a normal decibel, but compared to the complete lack of utterance of even a groan from the front of the bus, it made us sound like bulls in a china shop! When they do speak, I find myself inching closer and closer because everyone is so softspoken. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to criticize in any way. I actually respect them all the more for it because they simply understand that less is more, and treating others with manners and formality is a virtue that we Americans could definitely take a few notes from.

Secondly, the bathrooms here are really entertaing. Exhibit A (read the fine print in the blue, if you can)...
Third, do not set fire to the library. One of the highlights of today was being inducted into the monstrous Bodleian Library. Just to give you an idea of how impeccable this library actually is, there are approximately 11 million books underground that span blocks beneath the city. We were first taken into the room pictured below where Parliament was once held! We weren't able to go into any of the reading rooms, but there will be plenty of time for that once we receive our reading lists from out tutors and are locked up inside studying. Fun fact: you cannot check out books from the library. Even King Charles was turned down when he sent a formal request for a book. The second picture is the actual induction where I recited the oath (containing the part about "I will not set fire to the library") and then gave my signature. It's crazy that I actually have access to this incredible library and all of its magnificent books!

After that was when things really got fun. For one thing, the sun came out! I'll never take the beautiful sunshine of Mississippi for granted again. Just as the sun burst out of the clouds we embarked on a beautiful 2 hour walking tour that mainly consisted of touring a few of the college campuses. Another fun fact, the name "Oxford" actually came to be because River Thames was actually a "ford" where the "oxen" crossed before bridges and such were made. Who's the cow college now TSUN?? Anyhow, the first college we came to was Trinity College. Isn't it absolutely gorgeous? How is that grass so green you say? It's because no one is allowed to even step one foot on it unless you are either a tutor or a recent graduate of the college. The thought of not being allowed to walk on the Drill Field sounds preposterous, but then again, this is Oxford and they can do whatever the heck they want. The second college we went to was New College where apparently a very famous boy choir is home to. In fact, they were doing a recording for BBC while we were there. Hopefully we'll get the chance to see them during our stay. Forgot to mention that I found out that I will be a member of Christ's Church a.k.a. Hogwarts!! We weren't able to make it into CC before the doors closed today but I will be officially inducted on Friday, adorned with robes and all!
After the walking tour we decided to set out to find the 8's, which is the name for the infamous rowing competition between all of the colleges. It started today and will go until finals on Saturday. All I can say is I think we may have found a rivalry that may beat MSU vs. TSUN. I've never heard so much screaming in my life from the enthusiastic fans who are so loyal to their individual colleges. By the way, there are 38 colleges that make up Oxford University. It was the perfect setting just along the River Thames right behind Christ Church meadows. There were geese wandering about with their ducklings, families strolling along the river bank, and lots of people dressed in speedos adorned with each school's crest. I am absolutely amazed at the sport and can't wait to watch the growing competition in the coming days!
We ended our wonderful day with a warm dinner in a nice little pub called "The Crown" which was tucked away in a little alley off the street. Interestingly enough, I ordered a burger which ended up being a nice little taste of home. 

Well, tomorrow we're headed off to Stratford to see "As You Like It". I can't wait to see the place where Shakespeare's imagination came to life. We leave at 10:00 a.m. and don't return until after midnight, but I'll be sure to update at some point on Friday. Until then, cheers!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Well, tomorrow I leave for the adventure of a lifetime. It's been a hectic couple of days trying to get all of my clothes, last minute emails, tickets, and luggage all packed up. It's hard to believe that in just 35 hrs I will be touching down on London pavement, ready to spend 6 weeks at Oxford University, the real Oxford, that is ;). During my time away, I will be updating this blog with photos and stories of my travels in Oxford, as well as some other trips I will be taking on the weekends. 

Many of you have asked specifically what I'll be doing and to be honest, I'm not all that sure. I will be taking a class called "Objects of Travel" led by Dr. Ben Harvey from MSU. More details about that are later to come. The really cool part about this trip is that I will be meeting with an Oxford tutor once a week for about an hour to learn anything and everything I can about the incredible C.S. Lewis. My tutor is named Dr. Michael Ward, who is THE foremost expert on Lewis, especially his Narnia series. Dr. Ward wrote a book entitled "The Narnia Code" in which he delves into decoding Lewis's allegorical strategies in the Narnia series. He was also curator for Lewis's house for a number of years. I'll meet with Dr. Ward on Friday to learn more about what I will specifically be studying. 

I'm a first time blogger, but really excited about the opportunity to share my adventures with all of you (that is, if there are any of you actually reading this). Hopefully I'll be able to update pretty frequently. Until then...Bon Voyage!!