The Travels of Nadia!

Oxford and Beyond- one adventure at a time!

Time for Winter

 

I can’t believe it is almost December! Time is flying by here at Oxford. I am enjoying the whole experience. Studying British history here is intense and I am often reminded to stop thinking from an American perspective, something that is not easy to do. Pembroke College is such a friendly place to study and it is right in the heart of Oxford. I have met many visiting students from colleges in the U.S. but we are all mixed in with the students at Pembroke. I still enjoy formal dinners three nights a week in the dining hall as it is a great way to share experiences with those who are studying other subjects. Also, my dorm has mostly upper classmen so whenever I need advice, I just ask. I find the British take a little more time with meals to enjoy the company. Even when running for a cup of tea or coffee, they set aside enough time for a short chat. It makes ever encounter personal and allows you to get to know each other a little better. I like it actually, although when I am on my rushed American timetable, I feel like I am missing things. Cultural Lesson:  Slow Down a bit!

 

This past weekend we went into London for a dinner with Cornell alumni and visiting students from Cornell, Brown and University of Pennsylvania who are studying at several Universities across the United Kingdom. Some were not staying the full year and were sad they were leaving. The dinner was lovely and helped us celebrate Thanksgiving as a family far from home. I also got to go to London’s Winterfest celebration! I really love and appreciate London taxi drivers. Unlike home, they have to learn everything about the city and its sights before being allowed to drive a taxi. Most own their taxis and have tremendous pride in both the history of London taxis and in their jobs. Little things matter. For instance, they do not wear seatbelts because they are supposed to be ready to jump out and assist whenever necessary. From experience, they most often do! As a positive side note, every black cab in London—every single one—is easily accessible even for a motorized wheelchair! This means I am able to go anywhere in the city, at anytime, without feeling that I may be stranded!! Just like home?? NOT!!

 

It is so different to live in Oxford as a city, rather than just visit it. As I travel back and forth to London by train (it is about an hour long ride), I feel like a commuter rather than a visitor. Oxford started out feeling very large, but now so much of it is familiar to me. I bump into people I know often as I go about the day. Many are friends, but some are just people I see daily. I have learned to ask for assistance if I need it, for directions, to change trains, or to buy tickets to a show. I have found people to be friendly and helpful, even strangers I have just met. It makes me appreciate kindness and helpfulness on a human level much more than before. I will forever remember my experiences here and keep them in mind when I return home to represent our city to visitors. It takes so little to help someone out who may feel adrift in a new place. It is a kindness connection– a circle I hope I have become part of.

Until later,

Cheerio!

Fall Fun!

Fall has arrived in Oxford. The trees are dropping leaves and the landscapes are like postcards. I have settled in quite well and am now used to reading and writing constantly throughout the week. Weekends, at least one day, can be spent exploring this beautiful city. I visited Oxford Castle that was the birthplace of education in Oxford and the crypt was the site of the writing of King Arthur’s Knights of the Roundtable written by Geoffrey of Monmouth. This was under St. George’s Chapel before it was a castle. Pretty cool! Then it was used as a prison and was the site of hangings until the 20th Century.

 

Enough about history because Oxford is full of so much history, centuries in fact, that my blog can’t accommodate it.

  

 

What else is new? I have adjusted to most things-surprising how little it takes to adjust when one has to. The food is a little different. For whatever reason, potatoes in any form taste better. The British also do wonders with pastry crust filled with anything and everything. Not so much with pizza crust which, for whatever reason, they cannot get right. I am from Brooklyn so standards are high, but still.

 

 

Halloween passed without much celebration. I am looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner in London sponsored by Cornell alumni.  I notice that the British don’t seem to celebrate holidays on a particular day. They drag it out before and after- Christmas celebration masses are scheduled for December 8th, dinners the week or two before Christmas. It is more about the season than the holiday. And after studying so much about the historic conflicts between different religions such as Protestants and Catholics, all celebrations, at least in Oxford, are inclusive. Choirs and Church music abound for all denominations!

Pembroke students are wonderful, and formal dining hall brings us all together three times a week to share our stories.

 

 

If not for these evenings and the time spent in the JCR- a sort of student lounge- or the college bar – a lot of the week is spent in lectures, the library, or our rooms, producing voluminous essays. I have rarely appreciated my reading and writing skills as much as I do here.

 

As my first semester hits midway, I am starting to believe that I am really studying at Oxford!

 

Some students from other American universities were instructed on what to expect in terms of the actual subject work and how to deal with the tutors in discussions. I wonder if these students were better prepared, or just think that they are. I’m doing O.K., so I guess Cornell has prepared me well! Cheerio for now!

 

My Second Week!

Well, I’ve been roaming around Oxford for about 18 days, so here is my take on the locals.

 

From a wheelchair perspective, they are less inclined to allow you to pass, more apt to try to climb over you actually, especially to board a crowded bus. No special treatment, you are just part of the crowd. The double edge on this, is there is a great deal more general tolerance for older or slower moving individuals everywhere. As a result, any random crowd of people will contain some or several older individuals. Even in a college town, doubly crowded with walking shoe-clad tourists, and jammed with bicycles up the wazoo, old people thrive. Some are into their 80’s and 90’s, waiting for buses, alone, on walkers and in wheelchairs, just hobbling along on the cobblestones, existing as part of the UK world. Maybe its because society here has that much more respect for these older folks and their surviving the last couple of bombarded generations intact. Whatever the reason, they add to my day. Wrinkly faces with well-worn smiles reflect an assurance of time passing and sure survival, no matter what my immediate crisis may be. I find it refreshing and comforting.

  

 

Also, I notice more greenery here—more flowers, not in special places for decorative purposes. Just there, as part of the landscape, blue and purple lavenders, bright red poppies, shades of yellow, burnt orange and pinks abound as part of the everyday world. I am new, so I notice; but, I also think the locals not only notice but take pride in their beautifully ancient and blossoming surroundings. They enjoy the beauty of their landscape and are a bit smug about it as well. We Americans do not, or at least do so on a much lesser scale, in New York City anyway.

 

As a flip, they seem to tolerate many things that we do not– ever–a three-hour line to see someone at a bank to open an account, a half-hour wait to order a cup of coffee, 15 minutes in line to buy a newspaper. As I grow impatient with these things on a daily basis, I wonder if their tolerance for these mundane annoyances helps build a tolerance for the older person on the street or the wheelchair user in the crowd. Culture to culture, differences are evident. So too, sameness abounds.

 

So far, Oxford has greeted me well, embraced me slowly, and tolerated me fully. As I wait on one more queue to find out information on one more insignificantly trivial thing, I hope my patience holds out and I can return the feeling.

Cheerio for now! From Oxford with love.

 

My First Week!

Well, my first week at Pembroke College, Oxford University has been a whirlwind! I definitely did not heed the advice and packed way too much, as can be seen in the photo of me arriving at Heathrow airport with my Harry Potter pile! Some of it is my Mom’s (who has now become my Mum!), and is travelling with me.

The nice surprise of Oxford is how big and busy a city it is, aside from the University life. Truth is, I could have probably purchased everything I needed here and travelled much lighter. Pembroke College is lovely, filled with flowers, and the whole town is architecturally breathtaking! At every corner are more spires and gargoyles and reminders of those that came before me. There are so many cultural and fun things to do here, plus the shopping and restaurants are great! Before October ends, I plan to catch the Which Jane Austen? exhibit in town.

 

I

Is this really my new home?!

Somebody pinch me!

 

Yesterday I was inducted into the Radcliffe Camera library and given the privilege to study in, and borrow from, the libraries of Oxford. Of all the places on Cornell campus, one of my favorites has always been the A.D. White library. For this year at least, my new favorite is Radcliffe Camera. I guess old libraries are my thing!

I already submitted my first essay assignment and had meetings with both my tutors. The work is intense, the reading lists are endless, but the people are wonderful. My tutors are supportive and helpful and want me to get the best learning experience from my time here. I also decided to take German lessons!

There is a sense of a community from students that are here to work hard, but want to get to know each other, and learn from each other, as well. We had several social events already, including a 1970’s-themed night. I met so many new friends and am beginning to feel part of the college!

I definitely would suggest Pembroke as a choice of colleges because it is situated smack in the center of town and is close to the lectures. Also, it is one of the older colleges, established in 1624 and still maintains the older traditions. First year students and visiting students meet three nights a week for formal dinners in the dining Hall, (which is a smaller version of the Harry Potter one across the street at Christ Church), complete with sub-fusc-wearing diners and faculty, and Grace recited in Latin. It may seem from another era, but it is actually a wonderfully formal and friendly event and is something I will remember forever.

 

Everyone at Pembroke seems happy to be here, which makes for a nurturing surrounding. Here I am meeting Dame Lynne Brindley, Master of Pembroke, and Ms. Nancy Braithwaite, Academic Director of Pembroke. I am honored to be among such great people!

All in all, my start at Oxford has been all that I hoped for, my dream coming true. I will continue to keep you updated on my happenings. For now, Cheerio!

Bound for Britain!

I cannot believe that in less than three weeks I will be off to study for a year at Oxford! Although it seems like the start of a new adventure, it is actually the culmination of dreams that were sparked by a trip that changed my life. For my 16th birthday, my parents took me to London and included a day trip to Oxford University. Little did I know, that seeing the students in their sub-fusc marching to their exams, the beautiful city’s ancient architecture, and the Harry Potter dining hall would spark a yearning desire. From that moment, I wanted to be part of the Oxford community and learn from the best experts in the world. I never dreamed that I could achieve this in such a short time.

During my first week on Cornell’s campus, I attended a study abroad meeting and discovered that it was possible to go to Oxford for my Junior year. Memories from my trip roared back into my brain like a rushing wave. I discovered a goal and focus that helped me survive my first semesters at Cornell. As a result, I did not let my anxiety about classes, or tempting distractions such as partying, thwart my dreams. I applied myself diligently to my work, and was not deterred by confusing, but required, subjects like Statistics. Any time I wanted to quit or slack off, my dream of studying at Oxford tugged at my heart and revitalized my passion. Slogging through the months-long application process, including what seemed like never-ending details and forms, was exhausting. Before I submitted the application in Fall of Sophomore year I reviewed every detail, but in my heart I knew that I still might not be successful because of the high standards of the program. This time I truly had to take the leap and apply the philosophy of, “what do I have to lose.” With this thought running through my head and my hands shaking, I clicked the button to submit my application.

When I received support from Cornell Abroad, I rejoiced, but had to wait many weeks before I received my formal acceptance letter from Oxford. My dream was coming true! I finished my Spring semester on a high note, only to face the Summer’s struggles—completing my Visa application; planning and budgeting for tuition, travel expenses, health insurance, and other incidentals and logistics; contacting my Faculty Advisors to request background assignments to begin my academic work; and, the impossible task of planning and packing one suitcase to get me through nine months of living and traveling in Europe. What helped was that I had spoken to several Cornell students who had already attended Oxford and enjoyed the experience. Their advice was to not get overwhelmed with the details, but to take the time to enjoy all aspects of the experience, even the most tedious and daunting, and to remember that when Cornell students travel abroad, they are not alone. They have the full support of Cornell’s faculty, the abroad office and administration. Following their advice, I am giddy with the excitement of the adventure that is finally unfolding. For others who may be considering going abroad to study, or applying to Oxford, I offer one piece of advice: do not be afraid to set your goals high and work towards them even if they seem impossible. For me, Cornell is a pathway to greater opportunities and it can be for you too!

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