If I didn't think beer tasted like vomit, that is. But it's a hypothetical.
Sunday morning began with a 9am jog. My first lesson of Oxford? Brits don't jog. They don't even walk briskly. I decided to put an end to that adventure when a mother hurriedly ushered her child to the roadside, obviously afraid I was going to bowl them both over. After a fulfilling breakfast at the Hall (over-fulfilling...they serve up obscene portions), I spent the afternoon running various errands around the city, including stocking up on Custard Cremes and muffins. Several of us tried to attend a festival, but the festival ended up being a preponderance of balloons and some sketchball clowns. In lieu of sitting with the six-year-olds, I went to Westside Mall and got a Vodaphone - if you have an emergency situation, I can be reached at +001 077 66186152. My Skype is up-and-running, but I'm unsure when I'll actually be online. I'll email you with an "official" time later tomorrow.
The entire evening was booked with official Oxford activities, beginning with a brief Welcome Session. I met my tutor, Dr. Hugh Gazzard, who seems like an incredibly nice and intelligent man. Fairly young and laid-back, I think he'll make sure we both work hard and have a good time. Unfortunately, there are 12 students in my Jane Austen course. It seems like a small class, but when you realize most of the others have under 5, you may understand why I was taken aback. Hopefully it will still work out. Sunday ended with the classiest BBQ I've ever attended, featuring salmon (not as good as Dad's!), burgers (or an attempt at them), cheesecake (America needs to jump on that trend), and red wine (GO UK!). I made an early night of it, exhausted from the day's activities.
Today was even busier, and gave me a closer look at where I'll be spending the next five weeks. Biggest news of my travels yet: I have a library card to the BODLEIAN. If you don't know about the BODLEIAN (a place so great, it must be capitalized), it houses over 8 million books and adds thousands to that number every week. My mouth hit the floor when we got a brief tour of the premises, partly because of its beauty and partly because tourists were turned away in places we were allowed to enter. I'm not a tourist. I'm a student. Wow.
The Bodleian was followed by various orientations (which is how I got my internet working! Five points for the IT Director!) and a walking tour. Neither of those warrants writing much about, although I will say that I discovered a brilliant pub on our tour that I'll definitely be re-visiting. Apparently, it's where Clinton allegedly "didn't inhale" during his time as a student.
My day ended with a formal lecture and dinner with the full group. Our speaker was Dr. Malcolm Coe, a St. Peter's Fellow in Zoology. He talked about evolution along the Great Rift Valley in East Africa, and it was amazing to hear someone speak so passionately about their subject. He professed to loving elephants more than humans (with the way our world is turning, I can't really blame him) and had fascinating stories from his times living in the jungle. What an amazing human being. This was followed by an equally-interesting, but much more stressful, dinner.
How can a dinner be stressful, you may ask? Allow me to explain.
In the hall, there are 3 tables for students, and 1 high table. The "high table" sits perpindicular to the others and is slightly elevated, meant for fellows and guest speakers. Starting later this week, we were to start allowing students to rotate out seats at the "high table." Tonight, however, one professor couldn't make it, and there was an empty seat. Guess who got volunteered...
Hence, instead of enjoying a leisurely dinner, I spent most of it being quizzed by two of the most intelligent people I think I've ever met - one Peter, the other Henrietta. They constantly barraged me with my views on political matters, on matters of literature, on matters of social science. They were very well-spoken and had well-defined opinions on every issue brought up. I felt like I didn't have time to prepare or really think about what I was saying, so I just said the first thing that came to mind, which usually wasn't what I actually think, and I'm pretty sure they think I'm idiot, and it was embarrassing.
If you know me, you know I actually do have strong opinions on politics. I have strong beliefs on gender roles, and I can talk about books - particularly Jane Austen - for hours. In Oxford, however, there is a strategy to talking. You can't just "talk." Everything is a mini-debate, and every word you utter is critiqued. There is no such thing as face value, no such thing as "what I meant was," and no such thing as pleading the fifth. I wish I had been more prepared. But I'm here to learn, and before classes have even begun, I feel like I've been schooled. In a way it's a a good thing, maybe even a great thing, because I'm learning to support my beliefs. I'm learning to learn in a completely new fashion, and it's going to completely change my views on education.
In another way, though, I'm determined to partly fight it. I want to come out of these five weeks a smarter, more cultured individual, retaining my stubbornly sunny outlooks on life and love... not a pretentious cynic.