July 13-15th-The 2018 SJC Oxford Experience comes to a close

So this post is way overdue!  Our last two days in England were spent visiting Bath, the city of Jane Austen and the Roman baths and then Brighton, a seaside report that reminded me a bit too much of Coney Island for my taste.  But the regency pavilion was wroth seeing.

Bath is a gorgeous city if overrun by aggressive sea gulls.  Signs are everywhere, pleading with people not to feed them.  Seriously?  –A bit of a Hitchcockian experience walking around town in the evening with streets full of gulls fighting over garbage.  Yikes.  But the town itself is simple beautiful.  The royal crescent is a vast semi-circle of Georgian townhouses up on a hill, all the same but each one a work of art.  The abbey in the middle of town echoed the 18th-19th century stories of bath.  And the Roman baths had been upgraded to a major tourist site with ebaborate and crowned exhibits.  The students love exploring the town on their own and enjoying the freedom to capture the essence of this beautiful place.

The Royal Crescent in Bath

The Royal Crescent in Bath

The following day brought us to Brighton, apparently the gay capital of Britain, or so we were told.  It was a festive, seaside resort on a warm summer weekend so it was crowded with families, “hen parties” with the bride-to-be tipsily making her way around the pubs, and a long pier into the water with rides and restaurants and tons of people.  The sun was fairly oppressive but the students went right for the rides and again, dove into the sights and sounds of the festivities.

Sunday morning brought us all back to Heathrow and off we flew to New York and the rest of summer.  A number of students were already planning on a return visit.  Together we had explored new places and to some degree made them our own.  Now these places are part of the map of our memories and in some ways transform how we negotiate our way through our home places and spaces.

Oxford 2018 was a success, I would say.

sunset image

sunset in Worthing

Wednesday-Thursday July 11-12

Merton College libary

Wednesday, July 11th was our final class day.  The topic was ‘place’ and how the students had experienced Oxford as place and in what ways their experiences changed.  Each student contributed his or her insight into the way in which Oxford-as-place affected them.  Some of the ideas shared included:

  • from unfamiliar to familiar: getting one’s bearings
  • same but different: how Oxford and its people challenged us to see the world through different eyes but in many ways they found a core of the familiar
  • insiders and outsiders:  tourists and ‘natives’; St. Hilda’s as ‘home’
  • place through food:  longing for American comfort food but finding alternatives here
  • finding one’s place in the group:  moving from strangers to friends
  • connecting with locals through shared love:  football for one!

We end the session by encouraging them to consider carefully what kind of capstone project they would want to undertake as a summary of their experiences.

Thursday we left Oxford and drove around the Costwolds, a rural area in England with picturesque villages.  Our theme this day was nature as place.  Our visit to a Falconry Center included a demonstration of birds of prey and how they negotiate their own ‘spaces’ and ‘places.’  Every imaginable bird of prey was there in the aviary and the guide assured us life was far better there than in the wild.

 

We also visited a number of small town, bustling with visitors where those who live there try to make their way through the many transient tourists, like us.  I felt a certain degree of sympathy for them, even as we recognized the financial boom their lovely villages have brought them.  Where is the tipping point when a genuine community becomes a tourist destination and thereby loses its soul?  –A question for another day.

July 10th-Tuesday

At St. Hilda’s

A slightly cooler day, if still sunny, which raised everyone’s spirits.  The lack of air conditioning on a grand scale has been noted more than once by our crew!   Today we explored the story of the “Oxford Martyrs” as well as the area around St. Giles Street as our geographic area.  The presenting students had written a well nuanced play which a group of them performed.  The students explored a range of historical topics:

 

  • the nature of a conversion expereince, its orgins (the story of St. Paul) and the varied reasons for such
  • the meaning of tolerance and its limits
  • the relationship between the legal and moral limits regarding free speech
  • how to speak across different viewpoints without silencing one
  • the fascination with public executions as entertainment and the modern day replacement of reality TV as both signally a dark side of human nature
  • the power of belief, and its expression as integrity

where Cranmer was burned

Later our team took us on a tour which included a visit to St. Mary’s University Church to witness where Cranmer was charged and tried to defend his beliefs, the cross on Broad Street that represents where he was burned at the sake, and the Martyrs Memorial on St. Giles.

Afterwards we all visited the Ashmolean where the students could engage in a scavenger hunt for a number of art works and artifacts found around the museum. Tomorrow is our final class meeting.

At the Martyrs Memorial