Home Away from Home

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Published on the AIM Overseas Blog Website: Week 2 – Home Away from Home

It’s funny how quickly a place starts to feel like home. Two weeks into the English Literature program at Exeter and already Oxford feels like a special part of me, a home away from home. By the middle of the second week, everyone gets settled in. Those colourful tourist maps that we clutched so close and never let go during that first week have made their way into desk drawers and out of sight; every street has become easy to find and walking around the city in the midst of thousands of rushing tourists actually feels relaxing somehow, because we finally know where we’re going. When I’m at the library studying or out for coffee with some friends, and one of us says, “what time are we heading home?” we all know home means Exeter College. And even just pushing open the heavy wooden front door and not having to worry about the ‘closed for visitors’ sign makes me feel a teensy bit special – it reminds me that I am a part of this wonderful experience, that I belong in this enclosed little world.

By the middle of the second week, I had made friends with quite a few people both in the English Literature program and the History, Society & Politics program, and met the majority of everyone here. One of the best parts of this adventure so far has been the people I’ve met – already my two new best friends Victoria and Conor and I are planning our group Skype dates for when we are back in our own countries. It will be strange leaving and being apart from people you’ve just spent three weeks with, people who you eat with, study with, drink with and explore with. I’m actually surprised the three of us aren’t sick of each other yet; from 6:30 in the morning we start our days together in one of the local coffee shops to run up stamps on coffee cards (I’m currently on my third card – please don’t ask how much caffeine money I’ve spent on this trip) and research for our papers, and we’re together all day until the sun goes down, or sometimes even later than that.

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For each class I must write a 2000-3000-word paper on a topic of my own choice to be submitted on the third Tuesday of the program. For Shakespeare on Stage and Screen I chose to compare two productions of Henry IV Part 1 and explore their interpretations and representations of Prince Hal’s character, and for Critical Reading I must compile a portfolio of separate short analyses on pieces of literature – whether it be short prose, novels or poems – and use the techniques and styles found in literature to create my own short creative pieces. Now throughout the first week, not many people were too concerned about their papers. “We’ve got plenty of time,” we all thought. And besides, we’re in England. Sightseeing, pub-crawling, exploring and socialising are important parts of this trip too.

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It wasn’t until the second week rolled around that people really started thinking about their research topics and started studying and writing. I’ll admit some procrastination did occur for the first half of the week – I mean we are university students, after all – but when it really came time to get to work I never got too stressed. The resources here at the University of Oxford are amazing. I have access to multiple libraries to source books and journal articles, and the study spaces in libraries such as the Radcliffe Camera are so beautiful, with spiral staircases leading up to landings with walls packed with old books and a beautiful carved dome ceiling – it’s not hard to feel inspired to study hard and do the very best you can on your work. I’ve spent many hours a day in the Camera, running my hands over the thousands of books on the shelves and writing and editing my portfolio and paper.

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The weather in Oxford is typical English summertime weather – unpredictable. One day it will rain, threatening dark clouds hanging low over Exeter College and cold winds sneaking into the quad. And the next day the sun will shine down hard and warm onto grateful faces who have to run back upstairs to discard their jackets and grab their sunnies. Saturday was a particularly beautiful day, and having worked hard the past few school days, Victoria and Conor and I decided to take a study break and walk around parts of the city we hadn’t been to before. Stumbling across a street food market behind Oxford Castle, we were met with the smell of newly roasted coffee, the sound of gourmet burgers cooking on a barbeque, and the bright ruby colour of pitchers full of Pimm’s and sliced fruit, tempting everyone to grab a glass. People lay sprawled out on emerald carpets of soft fake grass, with babies napping in mother’s laps and dogs keeping a sharp eye and nose on the gourmet burger stand. Above the grass and the busy coffee van stands a tall sign, revealing the directions to the famous magical worlds of some of Oxford’s most creative minds. To reach Wonderland, turn left. Keep heading right and you’ll reach The Shire, and just a bit further on from that, possibly through an old wardrobe of some kind, you’ll find yourself in the magical realm of Narnia. Now don’t get lost, and remember you have to be back at Exeter by seven o’clock sharp for dinner.

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The Fellow’s Garden, the pretty flower-filled area hidden behind the college chapel where the formal opening night drinks were held, is a wonderful place to relax and to study. The combination of picnic blankets, some free coffee thanks to our ‘buy nine coffees, get your tenth free’ cards, relaxing music and hours of late afternoon sunshine made for a wonderful end to my second weekend in Oxford. After heading back down to the river to participate once more in our tradition of Sunday afternoon punting down the Thames, lounging around and just enjoying one another’s company makes for a great memory. And none of your friends can judge you if you fall asleep on the grass, because you have been studying really hard all week. But that doesn’t mean they’ll stop any strange tourists from coming up and snapping a photo of you: here we have the stressed-out Oxford student in their natural habitat, snoring beside a half-finished paper and fully drained coffee cup.

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Knowing that the second week has come to an end, and that I am already halfway finished with the program, is quite sad. Not long now until I am back on the long plane ride home, with thousands of photos, some cheesy Oxford souvenirs and a much heavier suitcase than what I arrived with. And even though it sometimes feels like time is going too fast and there isn’t enough of it to be able to see everything and do everything, I know I wouldn’t change anything that has happened so far. I wouldn’t change the Sunday mornings when I grab the only opportunity I have for a sleep-in and don’t get out of bed until noon, nor would I undo the dozens of fifteen minute naps I’ve taken to sustain me in between classes. They, along with everything else that comes my way while I am here, are all part of what makes this adventure what it is, and what it’s meant to be.

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