Feeling like part of an Oxford community


in Daily updates, Oxford

An open gate at St. Catz

This morning, I went for coffee and a walk with Bryony Lau: one of my fellow Canadians in the M.Phil program. She is a well-travelled and interesting person, who seems to be handling the program extremely well. I am glad that she will be coming to the dinner and film at St. Antony’s tonight, to which Alex has invited several of us. Like Claire, Bryony is taking a course at the Oxford University Language Centre: an idea that I should probably emulate. I can almost feel my command of French seeping away.

In the early afternoon, I met with my college advisor – Dr. Paul Martin – for the first time. We spoke about scholarships to apply for, the structure of the university, and the M.Phil program. As he explained it, college advisors don’t really do anything, aside from answer general questions by email and take you to dinner at high table twice a year. Dr. Martin also said that I should be reading eleven or twelve books a week, which I think is mad. Either I would have no comprehension of them whatsoever, or I would have time to do absolutely nothing else. That kind of personal abuse really doesn’t seem like education to me. That said, I definitely don’t feel as though I have been reading enough. It’s quite a difficult thing for me to buckle down and do, unless there is no more interesting alternative or the situation has become absolutely urgent. Perhaps I am not well suited to academic life.

Today brought two excellent pieces of mail. The first was the NatWest credit card which I applied for in September. My days of pondering the Mastercard Pound-Dollar exchange rate when buying groceries have ended. Better still, I got a birthday card and gift from my maternal grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousins in North Carolina. I shall write them a letter of thanks. My Uncle George and Aunt Eva are the parents of my cousin Jiri in Prague, as well as his sister Kristyna. It seems that Sasha and my mother will be going to visit them around Christmas time.

In the evening, I took a stab at Vancouver emulation. I sat in Starbucks, listening to Melissa Ferrick, and read The Economist and the Spence China book. Never mind that when you order a Venti dark roast here you get a blank stare followed by a query to the manager about what a dark roast is. Differing voltages, differing nomenclature. Despite minor cultural friction, it was an excellent way to escape the cold, induce wakefulness, read, and avoid libraries all at the same time. For those who haven’t heard her, Melissa Ferrick is an energetic and engaging Canadian singer. For me, her musical talent is somehow well demonstrated in the precise timing of the pause between the words “You are” and “walking grace” in the live version of the song “Will You Be the One.” I think it’s the constant theme of seeking love in her music that so endears it to me. Another fine musical introduction from Astrid.

The later part of tonight was extremely nice. Having dinner at St. Antony’s with Alex, Bryony, Shohei, and Iason, I felt like I was finally part of a community, not just friends with a few people in Oxford. It’s a powerful thing, to finally feel connected in a place.  

After dinner, Bryony, Shohei, and Iason had to go off to work on various projects. Alex and I, however, went to see Buongiorno Notte with the St. Antony’s European Film Society. It’s a difficult film to write about, really. Most anything you would care to say about it is said better by the film itself: a complex and beautiful story about the power of human choice.

I should get back to the eternal task of reading – one that I don’t feel that I do enough of or sufficiently well at. My thanks again to Alex for the invitation.

Night of 1000 Dinners: Sunday, December 4th  

I encourage those in Vancouver, whether at UBC or not, to participate in this excellent event at the Westin Bayshore Hotel in Coal Harbour, which raises money to combat the global problem of land mines. All proceeds from the evening go to Adopt-a-Minefield, which funds mine clearance and victim assistance programs. I attended all the ones that were held while I was at UBC and enjoyed each thoroughly. Tickets are $20 for students and $40 for non-students: on sale by my friend Fernando and others. If this year is the same as previous ones, the United States Consulate General in Vancouver will provide free wine.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben November 17, 2005 at 12:28 am

Happy birthday, whenever it was (do birthday cards take as long as credit cards?)

It seems you get a good deal out your advisors. In two and a bit years, I only got two lunches – and only that many because of a change of advisor.

The 11-12 books isn’t so unreasonable if he means readings bits from that many. If he means cover to cover it’s clearly absurd. In any case though, journal articles are where it’s at these days. I was very pleased to find a two page article this week. It boosted my crude productivity measure (‘things read today’) vastly…

Milan November 17, 2005 at 12:31 am

The birthday isn’t actually until the 28th. The card was early.

Anonymous November 17, 2005 at 1:19 pm

People wanting Night of 1000 Dinners tickets can also get them by phone:

You are meant to RSVP by the end of November.

Nick November 17, 2005 at 1:32 pm

We can celebrate our birthdays together in Oxford! Mine is the 25th :)

Milan November 17, 2005 at 2:01 pm

Sounds like a good plan.

Anonymous November 17, 2005 at 5:45 pm

It says something about your serial intentional outsider status that your Oxford community is outside your college.

Ben November 19, 2005 at 1:38 pm

Re: Anon. I don’t know how much you know about Oxford life, but that seems fairly normal of graduate life – particularly on a science or taught course (like the MPhil). As an undergrad, pretty much all my friends were college-based, now they’re mostly departmental.

R.J. November 21, 2005 at 4:24 pm

My fav M. Ferrick lyrics:

“Look at you
So proud
But you lie
So I will sit here and wait
Until all your fantasies fall behind
Look at you
So dead
Yeah you’ve got nothing on me brother
But some kind of distance blood tie.”

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