FAQ, Oxford Edition

FAQ pic

I’m not so narcissistic to think that EVERYONE that comes across my Facebook account actually asks themselves, “Gee, I have so many burning questions about what Caitlin’s up to in Oxford!” To be honest, I probably would have more of a general, polite curiosity than a series of “burning inquiries” for any acquaintances of mine who were encountering a similar milestone.

That being said, I have neither the funds nor attention span to sit down and write and send 10+ handwritten letters overseas to the closer of my friends who HAVE expressed similar inquiries – it would be quite a thing to write essentially the same message over and again, and costly to send them all overseas (fear not though, my handwritten sentiment junkie friends reading this, postcards WILL be coming!).

So here are some of the basics – questions that I’ve been asked multiple times, and am more than happy to answer:

How long you there for?

I flew down on January 7, lost most of the 8th while crossing the Atlantic, and my return flight is scheduled for April 12. I originally wanted to stay in England through the whole of April, but sticking to the schedule just gives me more reason to come back again! School-wise, the Hilary term (winter/spring term) started last week, and officially ends for me on March 26 – about a month sooner than my home uni!

Rooming situation?

I live in a three-story flat with three other girls; all from schools in Virginia. The house is rather roomy, but comes at the cost of being a mile or so away from the city center. So I average about 2 miles a day by walking, sometimes more, sometimes less.

University of Oxford is so big, comprised of 50+ individual colleges. Where are you studying?

Ok, so I took a little liberty coming up with that question. I am an *associate student* of New College (built in the 1300’s, so I say “New” with caution), although my academic advisor is placed in Christchurch College, my primary tutorial is at St. John’s College, and my secondary tutorial is at my tutor’s flat, just down the road. Basically, the only time I spend in my actual college is when I need the library – but there are plenty of those all around Oxfordshire. Churches and libraries are like burger joints in the US – they’re everywhere.

What classes are you taking?

I used the word “tutorial” in the above paragraph, so rather than “classes,” I would say that I’m taking tutorials, which are one-on-one sessions with a tutor, usually about an hour. My primary tutorial is once-weekly, and is on Jane Austen and the Brontes. My secondary tutorial is called Creative Writing Prose, which I have every other week. As per APU requirements, I’m taking a one-unit “Faith Colloquium” class, and after these first seven weeks are up I’ll have a rather brief group tutorial on British history as well.

Wait, so you only spend about two hours in class every week? Not fair!

Yes…but for my Austen-Bronte tutorial, I have to read a novel each week and write a solid paper on it to be critiqued and discussed with the tutor during our weekly sessions, and for Creative Writing Prose, while I don’t necessarily have to write term papers, I have to turn in “something brilliant” every two weeks. Which – I think – makes the latter tutorial in some ways more challenging. But, I often feel that the workload is so much more than bearable, since I’m taking courses I actually like. In that sense, my time seems more freed up.

So what do you do in your spare time?

Sleep. Haha. I explore Oxford a bit – go to the cafes and pubs, libraries, and the colleges themselves – parts of New College were used as the setting for some Harry Potter scenes! Or on weekends, it’s relatively cheap to fly out to neighboring countries, though I have yet to do that.

How’s the weather up there?

Colder than the usual temps at home, but not really much colder than the coldest California’s been. It’s raining on and off at the moment – let’s just say that for this particular season, I don’t leave the house without a coat and collapsible umbrella.

Strangest cultural differences?

I haven’t actually been much in contact with Oxford students (that’s the nature of the tutorials, and the fact that I haven’t joined any clubs or societies yet), but the fact that most everything closes early (except the pubs, of course), and there’s some slightly different terminology (elevator = “lift”, rainboots = “wellies”).

Miss the US yet?

Well, there’s the slightly lower cost of living, the popcorn (which I have not seen sold in stores), nearby fitness facility, driving, and being able to stream Big Bang Theory via Hulu (which does not work outside the US). Oh yeah, and some of my dear friends and family 🙂


How I Made it to My Flat

How I Made it to My Flat pic

It’s not exactly a secret that to get into the Oxford program, you have to exhibit a certain level of intelligence. I wouldn’t ever compare myself to the native Oxford students here or even some of the UC friends I have at home, but a 3.4 GPA to meet APU’s program requirements isn’t too much to ask. What they don’t tell you is that it’s crucial to have some street smarts as well, what with all the instructions and self-navigation that you have to do to get from point A to point B in a new country.

For example, on the day of our arrival into Oxfordshire (which was not a collective travel, most of us came groups of two or three, or occasionally just one), we were instructed to first take a train from London to Oxfordshire, and a bus to the “Westgate Center,” where we would find our flat assignments. Turns out, this second step wasn’t even necessary. A program representative stood at the bus station, handing out said flat assignments. We were then to take a taxi to our new respective homes. Long gone are the field trip days, where teacher leads all her little ones to the right direction.

I should probably point out that I was able to nix both the train and bus steps, since my travel companion’s aunt was able to drive us a little into Oxfordshire.

So after towing our luggage in the manner of lost tourists around the city, we finally got our assignments from the bus station, and split a cab. As we were in different flats, we parted ways as the cab driver dropped her off at her place.

“107 Botley Road,” I said to the driver, ready to unpack my things and kick back for the remainder of the day.

“Street’s flooded, I can only take you so far, love” he replied back in his Middle Eastern accent.

If you’ve been keeping up with the news at least somewhat, you’ll probably know that parts of the U.K. have been flooded. I knew this going in, but didn’t really think to put more thought into which exact areas I might be swimming through. It’s been by no means a Noah’s Ark scenario, but a few of the main roads near and leading to my flat were closed off due to the flooding.

The fare ended up being a little over four pounds, a bit ridiculous to me since I now regularly walk the distance he drove me. Was I supposed to tip?

He dropped me off at the sidewalk; I took out my suitcases (with no assistance from Cabbie Man, surprisingly), and I paid my dues with the instructions to keep on the same road.

I treaded my first block, until I came to a small lake – a.k.a., a flooded intersection. The police keeping watch told me that my best shot was to go around, snaking through some neighborhoods as I did so.

I went on my less than merry way, asking an older lady if I was indeed headed the right way. Her instructions were opposite to that of the police. I ultimately went with the police’s advice, after she had left.

Before she did though, she said to me – bless her soul – “Are you alright? You seem…anxious.”

“Well, I’m new here, but you could probably tell that,” I replied, trying to maintain amiable despite my sour mood.

So I went around, strolling my luggage through wet pavement and alleyways. Unfortunately, some areas here were rather flooded too, leaving me marooned. I sort of stood at the water’s edge as some local mother-type folks crossed my path, then asking if they could be of any help.

“I’m so sorry, I don’t mean to be a burden,” I said, accepting their help.

“No, it’s no trouble! In times like this, we need to help each other in this world!”

With their assistance, I was able to get my bulky items across the water. One of the moms informed that some of the blocks on the way to my flat were still flooded yet.

“If you come with me, I’m going to Eggs and Eggcetera (local grocer); I know a man who works there and he can watch your suitcases while you look at your flat.”

And so we headed out to her friend and grocer, making some small talk along the way. I was able to leave my stuff behind while I came to yet another “lake” that was in between me and the flat. A couple walking alongside me observed that a) I looked relatively new in town, and b) I didn’t have on a pair of “wellies,” or rainboots.

“I can piggyback you across,” the wife offered.

After some initial “Oh no, I can manage” and “I’m not sure how you’d appreciate being under my weight” excuses, I finally relented.

Fortunately my flat was a lot better than I had thought it would be, so that almost compensated for the less than ideal trek through the English Channel  – er, floods. UNfortunately,  I didn’t have piggyback ride back to Eggs and Eggcetera, so I trudged on through the water on my way back.

As I collected my bags, I contemplated  solutions as to how I would reach my flat as dry as possible.

Noticing how pensive I probably looked, the grocer inquired of me, “How do you plan on going back with those big suitcases?”

“I suppose I’ll improvise,” I mused.

“If you wait ten minutes, I can take you in my truck,” he offered.

And so I did. I found out his name is Steve, as he made friendly conversation about how the members of the small community in Oxfordshire are indeed a community. And I couldn’t have agreed more as I thanked him while deboarding the truck and finally, FINALLY closing my flat door behind me.


Live Extraordinarily

Live Extraordinarily pic

I am – and have been – listening to Bastille on a loop in between prepping for the end of winter break and the beginning of a different scene. I also happen to be wide awake at 1:42 AM, and just noticed that it’s the 7th – meaning that it’s been exactly a week since New Year’s.

Also meaning that it’s been a little over exactly one year since the start of this little blog site. Back in the day, I ended my farewell-to-2012 entry  “…toasting to a better, brighter, classier 2013.”

This time around, one particular phrase recurred again and again in my mind which compels me to not only have a merely good upcoming year and the years following it, but to master them.

Before I reveal what exactly the phrase was, I think a little anecdote is necessary:

I recently read a story about one of my favorite actors in which he disclosed one of the most pivotal moments of his life. While filming in South Africa, he and his friends were suddenly kidnapped by some locals, bound and thrown into the back of a car. Some hours later, the group was set free in a remote location and without being told why. Of the incident the actor commented, “It taught me that you come into this world as you leave it, on your own. It’s made me want to live a life less ordinary.”

Live extraordinarily.

These are the two words – a single commandment – that have been haunting me, but in the best way possible.

As I was listing down this year’s series of life goals (not New Year’s resolutions), each goal was written with the intent of pursuing a life that I can be proud of. I want every aspect of my life to reflect some degree of extraordinary-ness, in a Secret Life of Walter Mitty sort of way.

Of course I still have the usual goals, like trimming down, but I also have the mindset of not wanting to waste any time. Obviously I will waste time on occasion because I’m only human (as are you), but maybe I’ll be guilted/inclined to do so less?

Some specific goals I have  include reading  50 books during 2014 (so I guess that actually is a resolution of sorts), devoting some time this summer to improving my Spanish, reading more news/becoming better informed, nixing some shows I used to enjoy in favor of “smarter” television (however you want to define that), etc.

But more importantly is the whole “live extraordinarily” concept. Starting within these next 365 days, I want to be more of a “yes” woman. Ever seen The Yes Man? With some painstakingly obvious exceptions, saying “yes” can mean a world of difference between being an average Joe and being awesome. Lately I’ve been thinking about how I spend my earnings and came to the realization that the things I most want to invest in are experiences versus material items. I’d like to think that a spur-of-the-moment trip to New Zealand will always be worth more than a set of wheels.

Back to Bastille. The first thing that attracts me to a song is the beat, then the lyrics. That’s probably not a good order, but it is what it is. In the song “Bad Blood” (which has excellent musical quality), I fell in love with the words of the pre-chorus:

“But those are the days that bind us together, forever
And those little things define us forever, forever.”

The things we do are indeed what define us. And the days ahead seem to beckon us to sharpen that definition.

Dear me, my flight takes off in a little less than 12 hours.