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.

Wednesday-July 4th

Buckland: dead panther, anyone?

July fourth is just another day in England.  So we had our class and learned a bit about King Charles I, the Civil War, Puritans and Quakers, what meats one would eat, and Christ Church. William Buckland caught our attention and his goal was to eat every animal on the planet–not all of them but simply to try all of them. The anecdotes in our text were particularly attention getting:  jackals under the table munching on guinea pigs.  We did ponder if we really could draw a line between eating one kind of animal (chickens, say) and others that seem quite upsetting to us (dead panthers.)  Other points of discussion:

  • the fall of the great and mighty (King Charles I and Cardinal Wolsey)
  • the wives of Henry VIII and his error in blaming them for a lack of a son
  • William Penn, the Quakers, and Quaker Oats.  Turns out that Quakers had nothing to do with Quaker Oats…

But perhaps the most riveting activity was we decided to hold our very own All Souls’ entrance exam essay on one word.  Our word was… pots.  This choice was inspiring by an impassioned outcry of injustice and rebellion against the apparent theft of the kitchen pots and utensils, thereby depriving our group from their ability to cook their own dinners. The resulting array of essays were All Souls’ worthy: spanning meditations on Native Americans, poetry rhymed in couplets, one’s family cooking traditions, idea of a pot as the key to civilization, and many more.  We hope to publish the full array in the near future.

Tolkien posterThis afternoon we visited the delightful exhibit at the new Bodleian on J.R.R. Tolkien and his magical kingdom.  What struck me quite powerfully is the geography and the language that he created so meticulously and thoroughly.  The allusions to the Norse myths were
very strong if not seemingly acknowledged by the exhibit itself.