The Oxford Experience Oct07

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The Oxford Experience

DSCN6834I must first start this blog entry off with a disclaimer:  I did not complete my undergraduate degree in English; I studied Music and Political Science.  That being said, I had the time of my life studying abroad in Oxford with the English Department and learning all about Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales.  In fact, several people in our group came from disciplines other than English literature – we had students from Political Science, Computer Science, and Theology as well.  If I could recommend one thing to future Study Abroad students, it would be to not be confined to the groups solely pertaining to your major.  Go out and explore other disciplines and learn new things!

Our Study Abroad group was led by Dr. Mikee Delony, a medieval scholar within the English department at ACU.  I have known Dr. Delony since my freshman year and she has become one of my all-time favorite professors and mentors.  When the opportunity came to study medieval literature with her in Oxford, it was too good to pass up.  As soon as she knew she was teaching the course, I began figuring out how I would be able to go.  The Honors travel grant that I received helped in many ways to make this trip possible.  Through it, I was able to purchase a train pass that allowed me to travel anywhere within the UK during my time abroad (I highly recommend it if you’re going to be traveling around a lot) as well as pay the fees for an academic conference on George MacDonald at Magdalen College on Oxford University’s campus.

I started my trip in Scotland a week before the class began.  I come from Scottish ancestry and really wanted to see as much of the country as possible before my class started.  Within that time, I visited Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Pitlochry, Inverness, Fort William, Oban, and Glasgow.  Essentially, this was a tour around the entire country of Scotland.  I saw all the different geographical regions of Scotland from the Highlands, to the east and west coasts, and the mountain range that includes Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in the UK.  Along the way, I saw Loch Ness, the battlefields of Bannockburn (made famous by the movie Braveheart) and Culloden, castles, cathedrals, ruins, DSCN5750and the throngs of people in Glasgow eagerly awaiting the start of the Commonwealth Games (it’s basically a sort of UK Olympics and is a HUGE event).  Scotland is an amazing country with a wealth of historical and cultural wonders.  Its people are friendly and easy-going and always a delight to talk to (if for no other reason than to hear their wonderful Scottish accent).  I had one of the most interesting conversations of my life at a bookstore in St. Andrews with a WWII vet and a man who had worked for the Foreign Ministry.  The stories they told were incredible!

My time in Great Britain was just as incredible.  Every street we walked down had some historic significance.  Everywhere we went in Oxford was another 300, 400, 500, or even 1,000 year old building or artifact.  That kind of history is just staggering!  I had the great fortune of attending some concerts in the Holywell Music Room in Oxford.  This was the first purpose-built recital hall in Britain.  The venue has hosted many famous musicians throughout the centuries, including Joseph Haydn!  The age and historical significance of this building really struck me when I went for a performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.  The Variations had been composed in 1741; the Holywell Music Room was built in 1748.  Even if we had stayed solely in Oxford the entire time, we couldn’t have explored all of its rich history (some more recent than others – particularly, the Harry Potter tours that showed various filming sites within Oxford’s immense campus).

Our studies in Chaucer led us to London where we attended a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the British Museum, the British Library, and Westminster Abbey where Chaucer is (supposedly) buried.    Throughout our class, we learned a lot about Chaucer’s life, his works, and his mysterious death.  Chaucer essentially just vanished from the pages of history around 1400 and no mention of him has been found except several eulogies dating from about 1410.  The great thing about studying in the UK is that this is where it all happened; the things we learn from our textbooks and study through literature happened here!

My favorite memory from the whole trip comes from Rochester as we were climbing up the ruins of Rochester Castle.  We had earlier just finished touring the amazing DSCN6799Rochester Cathedral and speaking with one of the guides there and our group conversation was still centered on medieval life.  As we began walking up the narrow steps of the winding staircase, Dr. Delony began pointing out where the great hall of the castle would have been, where the knights would have slept in relation to the nobles and the servants, who would have actually stayed at this castle, and how daily life would have looked.   All of this, she said without ever looking at a single placard or info brochure.  As we came to the top of the castle, we were stunned by the breathtaking 360-degree view of Rochester from one of the highest points in town.  We could see the cathedral we had just visited and the all over the countryside.  No wonder this was the location for a defensive castle.  Several of us and Dr. Delony stayed at the top of the castle and just began talking.  We talked about the Norman architecture and purpose of this castle, we talked about the Saxons who once lived here and of the Romans who came before them, we talked about literature, about Tolkien, about Wagner and Norse mythology… It was possibly the best “class” moment I have ever experienced.  It wasn’t a lecture; it was a real conversation between people with a genuine interest and it was wonderful.

My time in Oxford definitely had an impact on how I view the larger world, but also on how I view my immediate surroundings and reflect on my own views.   How could itDSCN7016 not?  Oxford is a life-changing place.  The historical surroundings are so incredible and pertinent to who we are as people; as Americans; as English speakers; as lovers of literature, art, music, architecture, theatre, etc.; and as Christians.  It’s not just the place where C.S. Lewis and Tolkien met to discuss Naria and Middle Earth; it’s the place where everyone can come together and discuss life.  It’s like the motto of LIFE magazine from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”  This is also the purpose of studying abroad – the find yourself in the midst of so many new and exciting experiences and to come back changed.