Just Another Day

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I’ve noticed that I’ve spent a good portion of my Oxford blogging to the more reflective side of things – make no mistake, I will continue to do so, but it occurs to me that I should also like to engage my readers to the visuals of my Oxford journey as well.

View it as a shameless “Go study abroad!” advert if you will, but this has been – for the past two, going on three months – my life. I can scarcely believe it myself – often times I forget that I’m not on an extended winter holiday, but an actual school term. It’s unbelievable.

Like I said, it’s been rather easy to think of this as a sort of vacation with required reading and papers, of course. I’ve had, for the most part, no reason to wake up very early, so I’ve miraculously never been lacking in the sleep department. And most mornings, I wake up smiling. As I have my two tutorials on every other Monday and every Tuesday, I’m essentially left to my own devices for the remainder of the week. I won’t bore you with the nitty-gritties of my studies, only to say that I am given an allotted time in which to complete my weekly/biweekly readings and assignments, so obviously it’s not a total holiday. Oh yeah, and both my tutors are both brilliant and engaging (My poetry tutor and I had a bonding moment over the subject of Sherlock last week).

I’m an associate student of New College – but be not mistaken, the only time I really spend here is to exchange my library books as necessary, and admire the Harry Potter scenery. Below is the hall where Harry and Cedric converse in The Goblet of Fire:

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The Bodleian Library – it’s like the VIP of libraries in Oxford. Even as a student of Oxford, I can’t check out books from here, but I am granted access until mid-March…meaning that I can get access to the Radcliffe Camera via underground library entrance:

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Depending on the day, I get the opportunity to attend either an English Faculty lecture, or Union speaker event. Yesterday I listened to a lecture on feminist literary theory, and the night before got to see F.W. De Klerk speak at the Oxford Union (BTW, he’s responsible for much of the improvements made in South Africa during Nelson Mandela’s time). Below is a poor-quality iPhone photo of him:

Holiday I

Speaking of the Union, some of us who went to the Moroccan Mystique Union Ball last Friday were pleased as punch with the event festivities! Which should have been the case anyway, since it cost an arm and a leg:

Holiday II

On one of the non-rainy days, a walk around Christchurch Meadow proves to be one of the highlights of my day. It’s quiet and serene, and the ducks are always pleasant company.

Holiday III

In my case, studying Jane Austen and the Brontes is a source of joy for me, so I consider it both leisure and academic-related reading for which I am responsible. An avid tea-drinker, I’ve found Café Nero to be my favorite place to enjoy a pot of English breakfast tea while mulling over that week’s reading.

Holiday IV

Weekends…twice have I been to London. Public transport to and from London from Oxford is relatively cheap and flexible. Below are just a few snapshots from one Saturday excursion:

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Towards the beginning of the term I didn’t dedicate my weekends to much other than studying and walking the Oxford grounds, but the OPUS study abroad program did sanction for the group to visit Stratford, Shakespeare’s hometown, included in the program cost. Again, some photos for your perusal:

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I went to Southern Ireland about two weeks ago, so for some photos from that brilliant weekend, refer to my previous posting. Or add me on Facebook.

It’s been a fulfilling adventure thus far…I’d recommend it to anyone with a heart for the Motherland and an insatiable need to “get more” out of the university experience. Some days are harder than others. And some days contain less excitement than the day preceding it. But as a whole, I’m sorry to see my term come to a close in just a few short weeks.

Thoughts from the Edge of the World

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Chances are that if you keep at least some tabs on my life, you’ll know that I got to hit up Dublin last weekend with one of my closest friends. And if you’ve asked me about it in person, you’ll know that a) it was hands-down one of the best and most enlightening experiences I’ve had, b) I certainly plan on going to Ireland again one day, and c) I probably learned more about myself in those four days then I have in these last seven weeks in Oxford. That’s not to say that I haven’t learned ANYTHING about myself in good old mother England, but the changes that have happened within me became much more prominent while in Ireland.

So for the necessary excursion portion of this entry…

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The first two nights were spent exploring and diving into the Irish atmosphere. Our hostel (staying in a 12-bed mixed dorm hostel was a new experience on my end) was located in Temple Bar and conveniently within walking distance of the quintessential touristy places, like Trinity College, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and yes, the Guinness Brewery.

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We had no trouble making friends while in Dublin – I don’t mean that in a creepy way. For whatever reason, the people we met there seemed fascinated by our SoCal lives while we were in turn charmed by their accents and livelihoods. Literally, they could have been reading from a phone book, and I would have gladly listened to them speak for hours on end.

But for the final full day of our Dublin weekend, we hauled ourselves onto a Dublin Tour Company bus after about five hours of sleep the night prior, bracing ourselves for the 12+ hour day tour.

*FYI, as a seasoned traveler-in-training, I highly recommend experiencing both sides of a region’s culture – the social and the historical – when booking your trips.*

We basically rode across the expanse of Southern Ireland all the way to Galway, stopping at some scenic spots – Corcomroe Abbey, Dunguaire Castle, Doolin, and the main attraction – CLIFFS OF MOHER (not to be confused with the Cliffs of Moor from Wuthering Heights).

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Thus we began the trek to the top. It was like a movie – but better, since it was my reality. I couldn’t believe that I was present, standing before the scene of my childhood/teenage daydreams.

Once there, my friend Emma (sorry Em, hope you’ll forgive me for publishing this) amused me with these first words: “I wonder how many people have killed themselves up here…”

Initially I responded with something along the lines of, “Haha, that’s your first thought?”

But as I looked over the awesome cliffs (I use the word “awesome” in the most literal sense of the term) where the waves struck boldly and majestically against the boulders down below, I thought about the ghosts of doomed lovers who threw themselves over the edge, the unfortunate souls whose horse might have led them too close to the edge, and the daring yet stupid tourist who tried taking a jumping photo there, only to be blown away by a strong gust of wind (I did take a jumping photo there, but at a safe distance). Even where we were at, the ocean spray reached us across a great distance. I mused to myself the contrast between the beauty of the Cliffs, and the danger they could pose as well.

A voice, in the manner of a gentle whisper said to me, “This life isn’t your own.” It continued, “You’re on this earth for a purpose; may your actions be wise so that you can carry out this purpose.”

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For me that voice is God, but whatever deity you resonate with (or none), I think it’s safe to say that this piece of philosophy which was carried to me through the wind gusts is nonetheless valid.

I’ve made some mistakes – who hasn’t? None that I wish I could use a time machine to go back and change though, because I believe both my good and less-than-pleasant experiences have and will continue to allow me to grow. Yet I also know that some mistakes have longer lasting repercussions than others. I should hate to think of what might happen if I were to take a left when I was supposed to go right; my chosen destination guiding me in the wrong direction.

I don’t want to ignore the lady at the bus station without knowing the reason behind the hurt in her eyes. Nor do I want to make one day’s vulnerability the basis behind a sporadic decision. Each moment I’m consumed by the thought that I’m not “good enough” or seem to have no impact on the world, I must will myself to remember that still, small voice from the Cliffs.

I have no idea what my ultimate purpose is. The more positive side of me says, “Not knowing is part of the fun!” Sometimes that’s a frightful concept. The idea that this life isn’t my own can be a daunting thought. For me, my life is not only mine and God’s, but it’s also my family’s, my friends’, and the future people I meet whom I will later impact. I don’t want to fall short of whatever purpose I have to them by following my own selfish whims instead of my wiser inner voice.

This is not an echo of the reverse YOLO concept; that I should live life so cautiously that I will never run into any perilous situations. I will continue to live life on the edge…meaning that I will live with the yearning and practice of living compassionately, graciously, and boldly. Not necessarily fearlessly, but with the boldness that brought many a wanderer to – but not over – the Cliffs’ edges.

Relative

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At Poundland today, I walked past a myriad of Cadbury chocolates being sold at discounted prices. On my way out of the Westgate shopping center, I passed a kiosk selling heart-shaped balloons. As I walked past a few restaurants, I glanced at a sign advertising a couple’s 7-course dinner with the starting price of £21. It must be that time of year again.

There are a few people in my study abroad program with significant others to Skype back home, but I of course am not one of them. I’m not going to write about how “lucky” I am that I don’t have to worry about that sort of thing while being away. I’m also not going to try to write about the benefits of being unattached. Nor am I going to dedicate this entry to moping about how chivalry is dead, because although it is hard to find, it’s certainly not dead.

In fact, this entry doesn’t have much to do with being single versus taken. I’m just kind of annoyed of having the whole if-you’re-single-don’t-worry-happiness-will-come-soon-in-the-form-of-a-relationship mentality hammered into my head. It’s especially prominent at small private schools, where I like to pass judgment among the girls who equate a request for a coffee date with matrimony.

Happiness is relative. Or as the song in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown goes, “Happiness is anyone or anything at all that’s loved by you.” Right now, my friends are my happiness. My music preferences are my happiness. On a much lower level, free coffee is my happiness too.

Not that a significant other isn’t a form of happiness – it should be, if you have one and if you have proper respect for one another. But it’s not mine right now. And if you’re like me, you’ll know that it’s not a required component of achieving a healthy degree of happiness.

My point being, there are multiple sources of happiness. For example Valentine’s Day COULD be a depressing holiday if I thought about it for too long. My bigger point being…I’m going to Dublin this weekend!!!!!

And that right there again is my happiness.

Not a Weakness

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Walking around the streets of Oxford, any moment can lead to a small adventure thanks to the antiquity and history-rich environment where I am currently based. On one of my first days here, I just kept walking until I came across Christchurch Meadow, a scenic area to run in (which I did not do). A few weeks ago, I found a pub I quite like. Last week, I wound up taking a contemporary dance class at Wadham College. Today, I found a little bookshop down a street I usually don’t walk in that sells paperbacks for £2. And in the next few weeks, I plan on scoping out Tolkien and Lewis’s graves when these showers let up.

A lot of walking is involved in my daily routine – I obviously can’t drive here (and driving’s not really as commonplace in England, not with their great public rail systems), don’t want to pay for a bus pass, and have not the patience to learn how to ride a bike on the opposite side of the road and around the weird roundabouts.

It’s good exercise, but there are some downsides – one being that when it rains, it pours. Carrying my books, groceries, and umbrella with wind gusts fighting against me is not the ideal way to go home after a long day.

The other downside is that it’s basically impossible to walk down either side of the streets without encountering a homeless person ask for spare change. I don’t have a problem with homeless people, not in the least, but I hate that feeling that I get when I have to walk on by, making no eye contact.

“Can you possibly spare some change, madam?”

It’s really hard to ignore that, especially when it’s phrased in that manner. Judge me, do whatever, I know I’m not Mother Theresa. But all of my Ventura friends reading this, you really can’t judge me, because I KNOW you don’t empty out your pockets for the homeless downtown. Of course, I’ve noticed that the homeless here tend to be more polite than anywhere I’ve been. Oh England…

It hurts to have to do that. One of these days, I would like to buy one of them a hot coffee (or tea, which is probably more appropriate), but I can’t do that every day either.

Yesterday I was walking out of the Bodleian Library, ready to brave the heavy winds on the way to my flat. Suddenly, a young woman – probably in her late twenties or so – with dyed red hair and quite a bit of makeup approaches me, rambling something along the lines of…

“I’m so sorry, I feel like such a t**t for bothering you – It’s just that my boyfriend – police – domestic violence case – have no where to stay tonight – just need four pounds – I really feel like an idiot, a t**t – no one’s been helping me – are you able to spare anything?“

Honestly, I couldn’t follow her story. But I did have a sort of WWJD moment in which I thought to myself, maybe it’s the truth, maybe it’s not. But I don’t want to walk away from this situation with the slightest inkling that I perhaps didn’t help someone who needed it.

I was thinking two things at once initially: a) Would she have approached me if she had known I was American; not really a native here, and b) If her request had been less than genuine, did she figure that I looked like an easy target?

I was thinking all of these things simultaneously as I pulled out the four pound coins from my wallet, and handed them to her. She thanked me graciously, I bid her well, and we both went our respective ways.

The whole mile walk back to my place, I was thinking about whether or not I’m perceived as malleable or convincible by strangers. It’s gutsy to ask money from a stranger. Maybe I do have that look about me – perhaps my height (or lack thereof) has something to do with me being easy to approach. Then I thought, maybe that can make me perceived as weak.

I’ll never know whether her story was true or not – I know she wasn’t homeless, her all black and leather attire and heels spoke for that – but it doesn’t matter. If being compelled to do something good makes me weak, so be it.

I share this little episode not as a way of saying, “Hey look at me, I’m practically THE GOOD SAMARITAN!!!” I’m definitely not that. What I would like to emphasize, however is that acts of kindness – however little – should never be looked down on. A person who gives a stranger a dollar which, unbeknownst to them, goes towards the stranger’s drug habit should not be referred to by words like “gullible” or “naïve.” A guy who refuses to comment on the attractiveness of a girl while around his buddies out of respect for his significant other should not be perceived as “whipped” or “buzzkill.” And people in general who practice courtesy, particularly to those who don’t return the favor are not suck-ups or weak – they’re what I would like to be more of.