A Friend Amongst Scholars

Many of those in the class have shared parting thoughts about tutorials, nostalgia for home, and the thrill of Stratford upon Avon – or the thrill of ducks and swans, whichever is most preferable.

Before leaving for Oxford, it sounded as if none of us from Colorado State would be living together once abroad. There would be purposeful mix up, even the odd British post graduate (i.e., graduate student) to keep things authentic.

Arriving that first Tuesday, which feels lifetimes away, now, it was a bit of a surprise and a relief to move into the same flat with other Colorado State people (peeps, as they might colloquially be referred to).

It was nice, at first, to be able to talk not only about tutorials and the newness of a new country, but also about our shared Shakespeare class. It also did not hurt to split the cost of laundry detergent or the odd jar of peanut butter with people who did not feel quite like strangers, because they were at least from home.

Then, and I cannot even pinpoint quite when, it happened. The not-so-strange strangers, who began as contacts in my Oxford group chat, became my Oxford family, or “Oxfam,” as we so aptly named ourselves.

Walking away from our last class, I had the realization that we had to come to know each other intimately as both classmates and friends, which makes for an uncanny and refreshing learning experience – and one I am, likely, not soon to repeat.

To be wickedly cheesy, life handed us each our lemons (nine, to be exact). We, somehow, in five short weeks, managed to make lemonade – which, in England, actually tastes more on the Sprite side of things.

Photos courtesy of Rachel Telljohn, waiter at The Eagle and Child, Krista Thogersen, Aparna Gollapudi, and the collective Oxford GroupMe.  


Riding the Rails

For my final post, I would like to flashback to one of the most memorable days to me of this trip. The day I missed the train.

On the day when we went to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Antony and Cleopatra, I left the house late and, thanks to my talent at misreading Google maps, I took a really round about route to the train station. I arrived one or two minutes late and missed the train. It was one of those “oh crap” moments when the way ahead is hazy and overshadowed by your own embarrassment. However, once that had passed, I realized what I needed to do, catch the next train, I was left with one course of action, wait.

It was two hours until the next train, which gave me a wonderful opportunity to work on a paper (yay!) when I wasn’t reassuring the others I would be there and that there was no need to worry.

Of course, as an American, I have very little experience with trains. However, I am an honors student and will not be outsmarted by a remnant of the industrial revolution.

With the help of the Internet and my own common sense, I got onto the next train, changed trains at the correct station, and made it in time for dinner and the play.

Let the record show that I crossed the crossed the country on my own. I am truly a world traveler now.

I don’t regret missing the first train at all, I got a good story and valuable life experience.


Me at the train station for the second trip, on time (me)

Blood, Guts, and Titus

For those unfamiliar with Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus is one of his bloodiest tragedies. There is rape, murder, limbs being cut off, and a bloodbath of an ending that Game of Thrones would be proud of, and that is only the reading of it. Performed live, Titus became even more bloody and gruesome with the use of great effects and acting. The scene where Titus cuts off his hand is made unnervingly surgical and very graphic with a good deal of fake blood and the agony filled screams of the actor. Lavinia’s rape was made even more disturbing as the actress appeared coated in fake blood. Perhaps, what makes these scenes so disturbing was the fact that it was all made real and human. Violence on the page is one thing, violence on the stage is another thing. Even if it’s still only drama, there is an effect when watching people act out these acts on one another which reading alone cannot give. I found myself incredibly uneasy at points, which I found incredibly impressive on stage.

Reading a play can be boring and two dimensional as performance and movement are a part of the experience. Seeing actual people perform humanizes the characters. Aaron turned from a genius force of evil to a human, a bad human, but a human nonetheless. Watching Titus turn from the perfect Roman soldier to a complex character who seeks revenge for himself and his family was quite the experience and far more believable than just in the play.


Shakespeare’s house (me)

A Summer Pilgrimage

“By any chance, do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over?”
Holden Caulfield


Mallard duck in Oxford’s University Park

Well, Holden, I can’t say I know where the ducks go in the winter, but I encountered several of their favorite hangouts during my summer in England. Unlike the wintertime New York City of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye, English parks in the summer season are riddled with the friendly fowl, along with many of their other feathered friends. On lush green lawns by peaceful lakes, mallards make homes next to Mother Goose, as well as her English and Canadian counterparts. White and black swans dive for their dinner, while coots chase after the finest fresh fish. Amidst the chaos, the motionless grey heron makes its presence hardly known.


In London’s St. James Park, a group of women walk by each afternoon to offer samples of a bird-friendly afternoon tea. Before they’ve even reached for their bags of breadcrumbs and seeds, the birds flock to their feet, awaiting their daily treat. Meanwhile in Oxford, the ducks waddle right up to ask any unsuspecting visitor for a bite. However, they quickly lose interest if someone has shown up unprepared, moving on to the next picnic blanket of snacking opportunity. On riverside lawns of Stratford-upon-Avon, littered with giant white swans, tourists and park-goers have the opportunity to introduce themselves to the massive bird. If you’re not careful, a swan might stretch its neck into your bag of crisps or snatch a misplaced biscuit.


Animal encounters in Windsor


Swans in Stratford-upon-Avon

In contemplative moments by their lakeside homes, I often found myself wondering what the life of these various birds is like throughout the year, when there are less tourists and less food to go around. I picture a great expedition in search of the finest available fares, or maybe a true snowbird holiday vacation to somewhere warmer. After flying between two continents myself, with the earth and oceans beneath my the airplane’s wings, I still don’t know exactly where the ducks—or any other birds for that matter—go in the winter. But I can imagine what it might be like to take such a journey.

Letter From a Former Shakespeare-Hater

As a science major who has happily avoided all English courses since I started college two years ago, you can imagine that “Shakespeare” in the title of this program “Shakespeare in Oxford” didn’t excite me greatly. I wanted to attend this program because the tutorial system was very attractive to me, and I was enthralled by the photos of the Bodelian Library and New College. So I basically said “I guess I will just put up with some Shakespeare for five weeks,” and I applied. Needless to say, when I found out that every single one of my Colorado State companions were English majors, I didn’t bring up that whole “putting up with some Shakespeare” bit…


I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed our 4-play Shakespeare course, each play accompanied with it’s respective performance. When our professor said “Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be seen, not read,” I was immediately comforted, hoping I would understand at least a little bit of the old-English mumbo-jumbo (I know, I know. Don’t judge me). My professor was right: seeing the plays enacted on stage, with all of the stage marking, intonation, and dramatic effects applied, Iunderstood the plays on a much deeper level–even the ones I hadn’t read before.


In general, I don’t love to read and I’m not particularly talented at understanding deep meanings in text. When I arrived to Oxford, I thought that flaw might ruin the trip for me. To my pleasant surprise, discussing the plays with other people helped me to understand that there was a purpose for everything in Shakespeare’s works: every pun, every insult, every soliloquy had a meaning behind it, and the interpretations dove farther deep than I would have expected. I wasn’t expecting to analyse morality of men, gender equality, and incest in the Elizabethan lens when discussing these plays. However, our class did exactly that, and it made my mind think in a different way. In my major, you never need to consider historical or social contexts; they don’t have any effect on the material (unless the research was incorrect). In our English course “Shakespeare in Oxford,” a different perspective could have changed the entire meaning of the play. I thoroughly enjoyed our Shakespeare course and want to thank my professor and my peers for helping me get out of my practical/life-science comfort zone.


Afternoon along the Avon

On the way to Stratford-upon-Avon for another night of Shakespeare, I wondered how I might best spend my time in the lovely, but rather small town. On our last visit, we had covered most of the bases, taking a walking tour past important Shakespearean sites and strolling along the River Avon. During the past month, we’ve been told by so many people how lovely it is to take a walk through the parks—the Oxford students we talked with said this was often their favorite recreational activity—so I decided to visit one and see for myself.

I imagined that we would see families having afternoon picnics, maybe a dog playing a nice game of fetch. After a quick walk through the green lawns, my visiting friends and I found a nice bench to sit on and watch the fun and festivities and waterfowl. What I didn’t expect to run into was an incredibly energetic game of croquet, complete with mallets swinging through the air and people chasing one another though the otherwise serene lawn. Just as we thought the wild game was coming to an end, we heard someone yelling at us. A man ran over to us, announcing that they needed a few more players for the next round. As a) Americans and b) people who had never played croquet before, we were a tad bit intimidated by this proposal. Yet, we accepted the challenge and were taken under the wings of a few English IT professionals on an afternoon team-building getaway.


The rules were explained (hit the ball through the hoop in the right order), fears were calmed (these people didn’t really know how to play either) and the game began. My Colorado friends and I were afraid to bring shame to our country by our lack of skills in leisurely park games, but before too long I realized we were in the lead. A natural talent, or perhaps an inherent competitive drive, had worked out in our favor. But right before I was about to make the winning shot, our newfound friends decided it was time to head out. The last place team was given the winning title, and everyone was a bit confused. All we knew was that we had a lovely time, that no one is really any good at croquet, and as our friends said, “Someday you can tell your kids you played croquet on the greens at Stratford!”


Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

The sun is setting on our final day in Oxford, and with the closing of our time here comes a bittersweet feeling of reminiscence. These five weeks have been a complete whirlwind of amazing sights, experiences, and learning opportunities. When looking back over my time here, there are definitely highlights that stand out: eating the best ice cream of my life while walking down the streets of Bath, watching two completely breathtaking Shakespeare performances in one day at the Globe in London, or taking a spontaneous day trip to Paris. There has also been so much enjoyment in the everyday activities of navigating my way around Oxford on a bike, spending time in the New College Library, or finding authentic Cream Tea at tiny Oxford pubs. The outstanding experience during this program, however, has been the incredible learning opportunity of the one-on-one tutorial with an Oxford professor. Because I have a literature concentration within my English major back home, I elected to study elements of the Gothic within literature with my tutor. Beyond the genuine, understanding and engaging nature of my professor, I appreciated the way that she challenged me to read and engage with multiple long novels in ways that many professors back home would not attempt in the course of an entire semester. Within four weeks of tutorials I read and wrote extensively on Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, The Woman in White and Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 2.09.29 AMFrankenstein, texts that certainly influenced my understanding of literature, my appreciation for the Gothic, and the ways that I may teach literature myself someday. The tutorial system on which Oxford University is run is so incredibly valuable because the time invested is so worthwhile; I gained so much more from my time spent in this four-week tutorial than the time I spend in any semester long class back at CSU. And although this is goodbye for now, I know that I’ll return to this city someday, because a part of my heart will always remain here. And so, in Shakespeare’s own words, “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,/That I shall say goodnight till it be morrow” (Romeo and Juliet, II.2, 184-185).

The Pull of Home


Radcliffe Camera

My time here at Oxford has certainly been interesting, what with multiple people going through strange, outrageous, and simply horrible situations all while attempting to study at one of the most well respected universities in the western world. Despite these setbacks and discomforts, I’ll be sad to say goodbye to this town. City Center is an absolute treat to walk down on a nice (I.e. not a boiling hot) day. The old buildings are magnificent, and the city itself is simply a relaxing place to hangout for a morning coffee or afternoon beer.


All Souls College (photo credit to Colin Kennedy)


I think what I’ll miss the most is the look of the city, the spires along the college walls and the castle like structures made me wish that I had been able to grow up in a place like this. If I had, I can only imagine what sort of crazy creations my imagination might have spawned.


The Backyard Hangout


Most of all, however, I’ve learned that a place isn’t home without the friends that get you through your darker times­– those few that I consider my chosen family. The fellows that have accompanied me here are amazing people and are a blast to hang out with, but it’s amazing how much I miss those who helped me through my lowest points, and I can’t wait to see them again …in a little over a month or so. I’ve enjoyed the connections I’ve made with my new friends here, and I still have some traveling to do, but after a month, I’m beginning to feel the pull of home.

Tutorial Final Impressions

As we get ready to leave Oxford, there’s a lot to reflect on. However, because I was disappointed at first impression with the tutorial, I think it will be fitting for me to provide my final impressions as well. Now that it’s over, I think it’s a neat system, but also challenging, and quite subjective based on the tutor/student relationship.


The biggest challenge comes in having to direct yourself, which is nice in that it gives you flexibility, but it can feel like you’re looking for a needle in a haystack trying to process the texts. Despite some frustration this might cause, when you actually find the needle, it feels great! It provides the chance to learn a lot more than you might otherwise had you been railroaded into looking for one specific aspect of the text to focus on.


I found my legs within the second week, and I think I ended the program well. We ended up moving to more recent texts, which I found more engaging. I read The Loved One, and several short stories from George Saunders’ Tenth of December, both of which I loved. There was also a lot to analyze in the works, so it wasn’t all fun and games, but I definitely felt more rewarded with the last texts.

I don’t think I really clicked with the professor on a personal level as some students seem to have, but I think that may be a product of limited time. In the end,  I’m glad I got the chance to study here, and I do think I’m taking away a lot from the short experience. If I had to rate it, I’d give the program and my professor a perfect 5/7.



Human Pies and Hand Puns: A Recipe for Success

Enter: a nurse in blue scrubs and white Crocs, pushing a cart with medical supplies. An anxious old man delicately places his hand on the makeshift operating table. The hand is sterilized, then the nurse readies the scalpel and makes a superficial incision. Finding this to be too difficult, she replaces the tool with a saw and proceeds to finish the job. Blood gushes all over the stage and the old man is in agony. The hand is triumphantly displayed. This is Titus Andronicus.

Last night we had the pleasure of returning to Stratford-upon-Avon to view the final performance of our trip: Titus Andronicus. I was completely blown away by how well it was done; the play was modern yet not to the point where it lost meaning and the violent scenes were jarring.

Throughout the experience of rape, amputations, and many murders I found myself on edge, yet completely captivated. Going into the play I had some reservations about how these scenes would be done, but the director’s decisions were excellent; the gore and violence was shocking and upsetting while simultaneously fascinating – it was like passing a bad car accident and being unable to look away. The blood and gore was abundant, yet in a manner that was tasteful and humorous.

The director interpreted the play and characters accurately and the actors surpassed all expectations with their renditions. I assumed much of the violence would take place off stage for the sake of simplicity, but fortunately I was wrong. The audience bore witness to nearly every blood-shed, making the play all the more powerful and effective.