Once again, we have reached the end of term here in Oxford. Hilary term has been an adventure, to say the least, full of new friends, hard work, and making memories. This term St. Catherine’s had our college Ball, something that only occurs once every three years. It was an amazing night full of good food, ample drinks, and wonderful music. This term also saw the inauguration of Stephen Fry as the visiting professor of contemporary theatre here at St. Catz, including the obligatory welcome lecture which was both hilarious and thought-provoking (and I was within 3 feet of him as he walked by!). With the Christ Church College Choir, I was fortunate to have the amazing opportunity to sing in the beautiful chapel of Windsor Castle, surrounded by the tombs of deceased British Monarchs. Of course, Hilary term was as educational as always and I’ve learned a lot, both about my field and about myself.
Over the past two months, I have been taking Egyptology, Assyriology, and Theology. All of these have been fascinating and exciting. In Egyptology, I’ve learned about ancient Egyptian myths and religious beliefs, while in Assyriology I’ve focused on key moments in history, such as the fall of Babylon to the Persians and the disappearance of cuneiform writing (which were about 600 years apart). My Theology tutorials have taken me on a whirlwind tour through the New Testament, spanning from the Gospel According to Mark to the Revelation to John. I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the complexity and depth of the Holy Bible, and for history in general. One thing that my tutors remind me again and again is the importance of stepping out of my own cultural conditionings to try to view the past in the eyes of those who lived there. I never cease to be surprised by what such practice reveals. There are both amazing continuities over the millennia (such as ancient Egyptian letters from husbands to their deceased wives protesting that despite the accusations, they did not sleep with the maid), and substantial discontinuities (such as a myriad of Egyptian creation myths, some of which appear to be impossibly divergent and contradictory to modern eyes, which are all accepted, incorporated, and given equal weight). Studying the ancient past offers glimpses of both how humanity is fundamentally the same across time and space, but also how much of what we perceive as ‘obvious’ or ‘common sense’ is actually the product of millennia of culturally specific developments that may not be universally true.
In addition to all I’ve learned about the ancient Near East this term, I’ve also learned a lot about myself. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned quite a bit about my own limits. I’ve seen 4am this term whilst working on essays more times than I would care to admit. It comes down to a matter of my poor time-management. I have finally come to terms with just how much I procrastinate instead of doing my work in a timely manner. Although I can handle the occasional all-nighter to pull off a last-minute essay, this term has shown me that doing so too regularly wreaks havoc on my physical and mental well-being. It’s a lesson that has been a long time coming, since I know I’ve always procrastinated on my work for as long as I can remember; I’ve just finally found a place where doing so simply isn’t practical anymore. I’ve already taken a few steps towards better time management (though taking Candy Crush off my phone took a surprising amount of mental fortitude), and it will be my goal for my final term here in Oxford to establish the better work-life balance that I will need to make my hopes for long-term pursuits in the study of the ancient Near East possible.
Overall, I think Hilary term has been quite successful. I’m having fun, learning lots, and making many new friends. The past 8 weeks have been without a doubt the most academically rigorous weeks of my life, and I foresee the trend continuing into Trinity term. But for now, as Hilary draws to a close and my friends and I say our goodbyes for the Easter vacation, I am looking forward to a month of relaxation, travel, and adventure throughout the UK (all of which I will continue to blog about, of course!).