It is the second day of my program at Oxford, and the third day that I’ve been in town. Much has happened in that time and within that time a sense of the inability to actually sit and write down some impressions and experiences, for fear of missing something. So it is with a sense of relief that I am finally sitting down in Blackwell’s Bookshop on High St, directly across from the Bodleian Library and typing on this laptop.
If I try to encapsulate my experience thus far, I have to begin with standing up.
Not right now in Blackwell’s. I mean two nights ago, in the Exeter Dining Hall. Here’s what it looks like:
And here’s me with a drink in hand in the Dining Hall:
Notice I’m wearing a suit? Required. Our first night consisted of a champagne meet and greet in the Fellow’s Garden, and a four course welcome dinner with wine flowing freely, served and poured by Exeter’s wait staff. But what really struck me was what happened before we ate.
We stood up. But why?
As sudden as a light switched turned off, all pre-dinner chit chat in the dining hall stopped, and we all stood as the faculty made their way to the high table, their black robes flowing behind them. The sense of ceremony in the room was palpable during that moment, and to me, it set the tone for the whole program. This was a tangible statement of respect for learning. The positioning of the head table and this ceremonious walk stated very clearly “Learning is set on a pedestal here. It is worthy of respect.” For those who are teachers out there: Can you imagine your students actually standing when you walk into the room? I really liked that moment. One might think it smacks of elitism and inequality, but the fact of the matter is, I am not their equal. They are my literary and educational betters. But that’s ok. Because they are taking time to teach me, and who wants to be a student and have a teacher who knows just as much as you do?
My rooms overlook Ship Street, off Turl. I am situated right in the heart of the University, with Bodleian Library and the Radcliffe Camera and the Sheldonian Theater next door.
I’ve met many people thus far, and there is a whole coterie of us representing Florida, especially because of scholarships given out by the ESU. In addition to the US, however, I’ve had conversations with people from New Zealand, Pakistan, Denmark, Germany, France, and Australia.
Exeter is the college of Tolkien- this is where he studied English Literature and Languages in the early part of the 20th Century. There is a bust of him in the Exeter Chapel, sculpted by his daughter in law in 1977.
My mind still feels a bit scattered, but I feel totally at home here. I am surrounded by wood and stone and grass and books and coffee shops and PUBS. I am sitting in places my favorite authors sat, and looking at buildings and structures which have been here for centuries. tolling church bells tell me when to go to lecture. I was sitting in class in the Morris Room, and noticed elaborate tapestries showcased in each corner. One girl said, “Those are great replicas of William Morris’s work!” Our professor gave her an odd look and coolly stated “Ah. Actually, those are the originals.”
I am still echoing many of my fellow summer students: “I can’t believe I’m here!”
Next: A trip to Canterbury, and what the heck am I actually doing here?