Monday, October 28, 2013

Sunshine Award!

First of all, in response to T Myers' question on my last post as to whether there are any hot men in this crazy British fantasy world that is Oxford, I have but one reply: 

That would be a yes. (For the full details on the calendar these fine ladz posed for, which features shots of 12 different varsity teams at Oxford, check out this article; so much drooling.) On a more day to day basis, the fact that one sees men in well-fitting black tie on a weekly or even daily basis doesn't hurt either. There's a lot of eye candy to go around.

But on to more serious matters: awards! Thanks to Viva Carlos and The Polka Dot Periodical for nominating me for a Sunshine Award. I'm honestly really touched, and getting nominated made me still feel like a real member of the 'horsey' blogging community, even though I don't get the chance to do much talking about horses anymore. So thank you!

To the questions:

Mares or Geldings? I have great admiration for mares, but the best horses I've ever owned have always been geldings. I'm a pretty stubborn, pushy, catty b*tch sometimes, so it's probably not the best idea for me to have a horse with all of those personality traits as well. Though I do love diva geldings (looking at you, Ray).

English or Western? Well from a competition standpoint I've competed English my whole life, but the few times I've competed Western have been so much fun. I've often wondered if, when I come back to riding after this current hiatus I'm on, I might give something like reining a try. Those reining horses are AMAZING and it looks like a fun new world to explore.

Do you prefer younger or older horses? I don't have a ton of experience starting out youngsters, though I'd love to get better at it. Unfortunately my neck and back problems make it so that I have to be more careful about the horses I ride, as I have to try to minimize the risk of falling off, so that makes doing the young horse thing a challenge. But there's no better feeling than riding and succeeding on a horse you've done most of the work on yourself.

Have you trained a horse from ground zero? Sort of, in that I've done all the pieces separately, but on different horses. I've never gone all the way from first backing to, say, first Training level event on one horse. Again, given my physical limitations, that's probably not something that's in the cards for me in the future unless I find a truly exceptional and safe horse. But I'd love to get a young horse and, with the help of a trainer to get through the 'wild and wooly' phase, get as close to that experience as I can.

Riding or Groundwork? Well, obviously, riding. But anyone who knows me knows that I also take groundwork very seriously! My horses always have good manners, ground tie, and generally stay where I put them until I put them somewhere else. The only slight exception to this rule was Ky, who proved a very tough nut to crack indeed, but even he came around by the end.

Do you board your horse or keep them at home? I've done both, but I truly love keeping them at home.

Do you use all natural products or commercial? Mostly commercial. If I have one 'activist' thing at the barn it's trying to save/use every available ounce of water, but I'm not much of a hippie.

All tacked up or bareback? Both are wonderful in their time. There's nothing more therapeutic than a great bareback ride after a stressful day, but if I actually want to work on things then I like being tacked up.

Equestrian model: Pippa Funnell, Mark Todd, Bruce Davidson, Tuny Page, Charlotte Dujardin, Paddy Smithwick, Tony McCoy.

What's your one main goal while being in the horse world? At the moment, to get back into the horse world someday! But my overlying goal in riding has always been the same: I want to always remember to put the horse first, I want to stay true to myself as a person, and I want to never stop learning. I used to get tangled up in certain material goals, but the great thing about transitioning from one discipline to another and having to start all over was that it really drove home that the most wonderful thing about riding is the journey (as awful and cheesy as that sounds). I like riding because I like the day to day process of being in the barn with the horses and improving my skills as a rider and a horseman. All the material goals are secondary to that.

10 Blogs I've Nominated (hopefully with a minimum of repeats!):

...Sending Postcards (I know this one isn't horsey, but gosh it's a favorite)
Walking the Fine Line Between Clever and Stupid
Confessions of an AA Event Rider and Convicted Overthinker
Just a Girl and Her Horse
The Adventures of Lucy
Comedic Eventing
Charlie and Me
Pacific Coast Eventing
Bicycles and Icicles (also not horsey, and unfortunately it hasn't been updated in a while, but I love it too much not to include it)

Thanks again for the nomination!

Coming up this week in the adventures of Oxford-land: MOAR BLACK TIE, my first boat club social event, ALL THE READING, and hopefully some Halloween hijinks. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Cafeterias, Oxford-Style

Oxford, despite its fantasy and Harry Potter-ness, is in fact a real place, inhabited by real people who lead real (ish) lives and pursue real day to day activities. (At least, this is the mantra I try repeat to myself whenever I find myself in situations like matriculation last week, which seem like an obvious jest). 

But when it comes to college dining halls, that sense of reality often begins to slip away. I mean seriously, whose university cafeteria looks like this??!

Apparently, mine does.

I find the halls to be one of the most fascinating features of the different Oxford colleges: obviously its a facility they all share (something that can't be said about some of the more outlandish holdings of some Oxford colleges, such as Magdalen's deer park or Christ Church's personal art museum), but in classic Oxford style that's about where the similarities end. Some halls are big and grand; others intimate and cozy. They range in age from 13/14th century (HOW IS THAT REAL?!) to 20th. And the food of course ranges as well, from tragic (*cough*Corpus Christi*cough*) to suspiciously delightful.

I got the pleasure of eating at two new halls yesterday: Trinity for lunch and Green Templeton for my first 'away' black tie dinner of the year (having already had one at Pembroke as part of freshers orientation week). At both, the food ranged onto the 'suspiciously delightful' end of the spectrum, and I'd love to come back to a formal hall at Trinity because if what they served me was their 'casual lunch' fare, I'd wager that their fancy food is off the charts.

(Trinity Hall)

(Green Templeton Hall, in the ground level of an eighteenth century observatory!)

I sat next to another Stanford alum at dinner, and we mused briefly on the bizarre culture of Oxford that leads to such a surplus of black tie events (seriously, you could probably go to one every week, or even multiple times a week, if you played your cards right and had unlimited funds). And how you really do get used to it and start to think of it as just normal practice (apparently; that hasn't happened for me yet!): a sort of very well dressed Stockholm syndrome.

 (My food at Green Templeton: so tasty)

 (Nom nom nom nom)

My friend Rachel has described the process of coming to Oxford as going 'down the rabbit-hole,' Alice in Wonderland-style, and on evenings like last night I tend to think that she's right on the money.

(And of course, there was tea, coffee, port, and chocolate to finish)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ringo Update

As several of you have pointed out over the past few weeks, there has been a conspicuous silence on one particular topic on this blog over the past few weeks. 

What, you might be wondering, has happened to Ringo?

Well, I will be honest. The reason there has been silence is that I haven't wanted to write about it until everything was happily resolved. Things are not yet resolved, though, so I guess I should just write anyway.

Ringo is for sale.

The decision came as the result of some of the most difficult soul-searching I've ever had to do in relationship to my horses and my riding. I've always been so spoiled that I've been able to maintain ownership of my horses, either by leasing them out or by letting them retire at home. However, as I transition into adulthood, I realized that I needed to be more grown up about my strategy. So I made the decision to sell.

It's been really hard for me to think about. I really would love for him to sell quickly, so that the giant hole in my heart that is not having him in my life anymore can get a chance to try to heal. Now, with him for-sale-but-not-yet-sold, the hole just gets bigger and deeper day by day.

Dear readers, if you or anyone you know would be interested, please let me (or more accurately, my trainer, as she is in charge of his sale now that I'm in England) know!! I would be so unbelievably eternally thankful to you and would bury you in good karma (and cookies too, if you wanted them, no joke).

NAME: Ringmoylan ("Ringo")
SEX: Gelding
COLOR: Pinto (Black/White)
HEIGHT: 16.2hh
DOB: 1997
CONTACT: Kim Litwinczak, (978) 413-9094,
ASKING: $35,000 (neg. to good home)

Ringo is rare athlete, having achieved nationally-recognized success both as an upper-level eventer and FEI dressage horse. He took his adult amateur rider from 1st Level to Prix St Georges in under 2 years, earning the scores for her USDF Bronze and Silver medals and winning regional and national year-end awards at every level along the way. Most recently, he was named the 2013 All-Breed Award reserve national champion at Prix St Georges for the Performance Horse Registry. He is extremely sound and low maintenance. More importantly, he is a kind and gentle horse who loves people and having a job. He is currently confirmed through his 2-time changes and is schooling piaffe and passage, and could easily continue up the levels with the right rider in 2014.

Ringo can be seen at Stone Fox Farm in Stow, Mass. Please contact Kim Litwinczak at (978) 413-9094 or for more information.

Ringo winning at PSG (64.5%) earlier this summer:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sport at Oxford

How I found myself shuffling through puddles on a dark and rainy morning in pursuit of Oxford's most iconic athletic venture

First of all, thank you to everyone who expressed your concern and support after my last post. It was a truly frightening event that I'm glad to have behind me, and mercifully I would say that I'm now back to feeling my normal self again. It was a longer recovery than I'd first imagined, though, and probably wasn't until I woke up this morning that I felt ready to do more than lie in bed or gently shuffle around. 

Which is good, because if one sensation has underlined my Oxford experience so far, it's been a distinct lack of gently shuffling around! As I've written about before, one of my biggest fears in coming to Oxford was trying to find a way to at least partially fill the void that riding was going to leave behind. I came in determined to go out and do some physical activity, hopefully meet some new friends on the way, and try not to think about how much I missed horses. (Though gosh, I really do. Like, a lot.)

What I didn't as much piece together until I got here is just how different the sporting environment is here than it is at Stanford. I'd been told this before by people wiser and more informed than me, but it hadn't really struck home until I found myself at the Oxford Freshers' Fair, being courted by every sport imaginable from rugby to "octo-push," which appears to be a version of ice hockey that you play underwater by pushing the puck along the bottom of a pool. 

(yeah. this is a thing.)

The difference was simple, but profound. Stanford is a NCAA Division I powerhouse; if you're not already a national champion in your sport when you arrive, chances are good that they don't really want you (the sports I participated in, equestrian and polo, are among the exceptions to that rule... which is why I liked them! They also weren't varsity sports, which is why they were able to do that). Oxford is... not. Which means that if you're vaguely sporty, you're in! Pretty much anywhere you want to go! Even if you're not athletic per se, most sporting societies here seem to be based more around participation and having fun, at least at some level, than about winning national championships.

(Of course, that doesn't mean that there aren't very serious athletes or very competitive teams here -- there are! -- but sports clubs seem to do a lot more to cater to the bottom of the spectrum as well as the top here, whereas at Stanford it was about focusing resources primarily on the elite athletes only.)

I was surprised at how liberating I found this. Besides a brief period in high school where I was forced to do other sports, I've always considered myself an equestrian first and everything else second. Suddenly I was offered the possibility to become pretty much anything I wanted: a clay pigeon shooter, a cyclist, a pentathlete, a pole vaulter. There was no guarantee that I'd be anything but rubbish at any of these ventures, but the door was open wherever I turned. 

So for the past few weeks, I've been dabbling. I've gone on some group rides with the cycling club, practiced some introductory footwork with the fencing team, and learned the basics of rowing form with the Pembroke College boat club. It's been really fun and exciting to get to use my body in new ways and appreciate the strength I've built through riding over the years put to new uses. 

In the end, I decided that probably one sport was enough to focus on, and have opted to go for perhaps Oxford's most iconic activity: rowing. The Pembroke boathouse is fierce and venerated, but also large and friendly and very accommodating of newbies (or as they rather more poshly refer to them as, 'novices'). They have tons of boats, which means that even the newer rowers get a chance to race during the year, which I'm very excited about. 

(The view from the Pembroke Boathouse)

It looks like it's going to be hard, perhaps somewhat masochistic, work, and has already involved some pitch black early morning practices in the rain, but I really like the group of people and find something about its repetitive technique-driven side very akin to the mindset that I enjoyed about dressage. So I guess it's time to invest in some warm wet weather clothes and hit the water!

Now you might be asking, 'but what about Marcel?' And no, I haven't forgotten him. I think I am going to join the cycling club (especially as it has one of the cheapest annual memberships at Oxford: £20! I don't even want to begin to compare how much cheaper this is than the Stanford Equestrian Team), but probably just as a social member or occasional slow ride tagger-on. 

I've realized that the thing I enjoy most about biking is the quiet zen of being alone with the road and the bike, my thoughts reduced to the mechanistic necessities of going as fast as I can safely go and not much else. It's as close to meditation as I get, and as close to the wonderful calmness that I used to find on long solo car rides through the West. It was in those periods in the car that I've come the closest to having what you might call an existential epiphany, and I feel myself approaching that same understanding of the sublime when I'm alone on the bike. Cleared of all thoughts, the 'bigger picture' (whatever that is) starts to materialize.

(Pondering power lines in Oxford's southern industrial sector)

I don't get that same feeling on group rides, which I enjoy for their social aspect but in many ways find more stressful, as I not only have to worry about my safety in connection to the road but also in connection to the people around me. So, for the time being, I think my future lies as a soloist. And I'm fine with that. There's a lot of beautiful countryside out here for me and Marcel to explore :)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Guardian Angels

To put it bluntly: this was one of the shittier mornings I've had in a long time. 

I don't really want to go into too many details, but basically exhaustion + food poisoning + my extreme stubbornness to the point of stupidity = me trying to walk to the corner store to get ibuprophen at 7am, being overwhelmed with pain, and collapsing semi-conscious onto a public sidewalk in the rain in only a pair of jeans and a T shirt.

I've had a lot of times in my life before where I've been in a lot of pain, even to what felt like it was beyond the point of endurance, but I've rarely felt such a combination of fear and pain as I did this time. I realized just how few people I know in this new country of mine, and that I didn't even know how to call for help now that I needed it.

But then, I was visited by a pair of guardian angels. Two young people walked by and initially kept going, but several minutes came back and asked me if I was ok. At this point I couldn't really open my eyes, couldn't stand, and could barely speak from the pain. These people called an ambulance on my behalf and stayed there well longer than they were required to in order to try to make sure I was going to be all right.

Finally the EMTs sort of shooed them away, and they left. I never got to learn their names, never even really saw them properly, and could only mumble a quiet semi-coherent 'thank you' for what they did for me. But whoever you are, thank you. Thank you so much. I'm so overwhelmed by your kindness. It's a reminder that it's very easy to do nothing (if I'm honest with myself, I know I would have been tempted to keep walking if I'd seen me on the street this morning); these two people went out of their way to save me. I wish there was some way I could let these people know how much their gesture means to me.

With some strong pain medication and fluids the cramps subsided, though I also developed minor hypothermia from being out on in the elements (my official temperature that got put on my release papers was taken at 34.8ºC--or around 94.6ºF--though I suspect I actually got a bit colder than that as my temp was taken right at the beginning when I was still covered in cold sweat and it was another 10 minutes or so until I was well enough to be moved). So when I was finally released, it was with orders to put on my warmest clothes and lie in bed for as long as I needed until I got warm. It took several hours of uncontrollable shivering, but I'm finally feeling up to temp again. Phew!

So it's been a bad day, but I'm feeling very blessed. I'm reminded to try to be the best member of this larger human community that I possibly can be. It's easy to be self-centered and only looking out for yourself, especially in a place like a city that can often feel so cold and impersonal. But if those two people who had stopped had given into that temptation instead, my day would have become VERY bad, indeed. So thank you again, both for giving me physical aid and what I can only describe as spiritual inspiration. I don't know what would have happened without you.

(in more upbeat news, here's a sweet panorama one of my classmates took at the Pembroke official picture yesterday; I was actually standing right next to him when this photo was taken, so am not actually in it, but it gives a pretty good idea of Pembroke's crazy beauty!)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Matriculation Day!

As one of my friends put it: 'Today, I became a tourist attraction.'


In other words, today was Matriculation Day. One of the most quintessentially Oxford traditions, it's a morning where you dress up in your full Harry Potter outfit, complete with suits and white bowties for the men and absurd blouse/string tie combos for the women, get your freshers picture taken with the rest of your incoming college class, walk en masse over to the Sheldonian Theatre in the center of town, stand around for ages and ages and ages, and then file in so that some old dude with silver scepters can chat at you in Latin for a few minutes before declaring you OFFICIALLY NOW A MEMBER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD.

In practice, it looks a lot like this:

 (Posing in front of the beautiful Pembroke hall!)

 (Heel. Stuck. in. Grass.)

 (Penguin suits on parade, wandering through our much bigger neighbor Christ Church en route to the ceremony)

 (Inside the Sheldonian)

As we walked over from Pembroke, a crowd of over a hundred young people dressed in our finest wizarding robes, throngs of tourists crowded around to take pictures and ask us what the heck we were so weirdly kitted out for. There were a lot of titters and a lot of really feeling like a spectacle.

I do admit that, all joking aside though, it did feel like 'a big deal' in the way I think it was meant to. I spent some time during the looooong periods of waiting before the ceremony began thinking about what a bizarre, unexpected journey it's been that's taken me here. I feel so lucky to get to study at one of the best and most venerable institutions in the world, and still have to pinch myself to realize that I'm actually here, that it's actually happening, that this is actually my life. It all felt a little like an out of body experience.

(My friend and I also somewhat deflated these lofty thoughts with very vocal discussions of how much we wanted hash browns, and then in a truly classy moment hot-footed it over to McDonalds as soon as the ceremony was over and ordered the biggest size of french fries we could get our mitts on. Oh well. It was a good moment of profound thought while it lasted.)

(Super classy)

The big tradition after matriculation is to transition directly into a day and night of the most wild partying, but unfortunately my exhaustion from earlier in the week has made that essentially impossible for me. So it's been an afternoon of hearty brunch-eating, napping, and curling up and watching the rain come down. No regrets.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Crash and Rally

Well I'm slowly treading my way through my first week of real grad student classes, and I must say so far it hasn't been quite as bad as I'd feared. Yes, there is a LOT of reading. As in, literally thousands of pages a week. The discussions are indeed lively and intellectual (wouldn't it be a disappointment if they weren't?), but I don't feel like I'm completely below everyone else's level. Mostly I feel a little out of practice of being in the classroom, which means my attention starts to wander after about an hour in a two hour seminar. But overall, I'm pleased so far.

(Plus, dude, I get to go to school here. Too legit to quit, man.)

What I've been struggling with, truly and strenuously, is the schedule. And I don't really get why! Compared to life on the farm, it seems like it should be easy: my average wakeup is a fully 2.5-3 hours later than it was on the farm, and I have fewer hours of class than I did chores, (though my homework time does probably exceed riding time and work... though not by much). And yet, I find myself exhausted. all. the. freakin'. time. Right now, for example, it's not even 9pm and I'm curled in bed, fetal and wiped out. What gives?

Several reasons, I think. First, I'm not used to using my brain this much, which is legit exhausting. I read an entire 400-page book in two hours over lunch today, and then promptly passed out and took an hour and a half nap as soon as I got home. Additionally, the pressure of meeting new people is something that really wears me down, and since it's all I've been doing since I arrived, I guess it would stand to reason that I would be feeling pretty drawn out. Finally, I've been trying a lot of new sports, which I'm really enjoying (more on that later, I promise!), but which have been working me in really different ways than the ride/bike/chores (and occasional yoga, on the rare days I'm feeling flexible) that I'm used to.

(There is, granted, an unglamorously large amount of study time involved)

So, I'm beat. And in the meantime, I've fallen into what I grimly would term the 'crash and rally' cycle of sleep: where I wake up in the morning, do a few hours of work, become a zombie by lunch, shove some food listlessly into my face, take a long siesta, do some afternoon work or physical activity, become a zombie by dinner, shove some food listlessly into my face, then fall asleep early and fail to sleep restfully through the night because of my long midday nap. Grumph. Not my favorite sleep pattern!

(Speaking of zombies, don't these mannequins sort of look... undead? It's hard to tell but they're weirdly listing forward, and with their stiff forward arms and lack of heads, I feel like they're a few seconds away from gurgling, 'braaaaaiiiiinnnss.' In full suits. Obviously, Oxford WOULD have the classiest zombies of all time.)

I remember going through the same thing pretty much my entire freshman year of Stanford. Hopefully I'll be able to get back to a more solid routine more quickly than that this time around; I love my sleep and become a royal grumpus when I can't get my beauty rest.

In the meantime, we've been treated with another burst of lovely fall weather (after a few days last week that were a grim reminder of what is to come--namely cold, rain, cold, rain... and more cold and rain!), and it's been nice to soak up as much of Oxford while it's looking its most beautiful before the long night of winter sets in.

(Green Templeton looking sooooo beautiful!!)

The prettiness of Oxford is something that, I admit, doesn't come as naturally to me as it does to some other people. Perhaps it's my redneck American ways, but old stone buildings--even ones as beautiful as you can find anywhere in Oxford-land--have never made my heart sing in the way that many American land- and cityscapes do. But on fine autumn afternoons like the one we had today, it's undeniable that there's magic in the air here: something indefinable, hazy, dignified, and fair. The buildings seem to give the air around them a quiet substance that normal houses cannot. It's hard to remember that this place is, in fact, real, and that people actually live real lives here. It all feels like a dream.

(Seriously, this is the view out the library window. How can that be real??)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Oxford Freshers Week

The past week has been Oxford's orientation time for new students. It was like Stanford's orientation week, except... insane. Seriously, I'm knackered and can't remember feeling this exhausted in a long time (maybe not a great sign for the year to come!). I've clearly gotten too old for all these social shenanigans!

A quick recap of the insanity:

Saturday: New Pembroke students got an introduction to what appears to be Oxford's native sport--drinking--with a pub crawl through some of the city's more famous haunts. It started out a bit awkward (as most social meetups are for me!) but by the end of the night I'd met a lot of really nice people and drunk a lot of tasty cider. After my somewhat moping post of last week, I was feeling a little more hopeful as my friend and I walked back on Saturday night (it also helped that we were armed with the best street falafel in the city, which we inhaled disgustingly quickly upon getting home). 

Sunday: Tired of going out from the night before? Why not stay in and drink instead? This appeared to be the thinking behind Sunday's festivities, which were essentially the same as Saturday's except that they occurred in Pembroke's very own postgraduate-only bar instead of out on the town. Still, I enjoyed the opportunity for cheaper drinks and a chance to sit and talk in better sound levels than I'd experienced the night before.

(Meanwhile, it also looked like this all weekend: if only it could be this way all year!!)

Monday: Tired of drinking all that British 'real ale' and cider that they seem so fond of here? Why not champagne instead? And so we did, in copious quantities, after eating a supah classy pizza dinner in our 19th century vaulted-ceilinged hall. Fun fact: the Pembroke MCR (the name for the community of postgrads) does not open champagne bottles; it sabers them. As this is a practice that I'm actually well-versed in, I initially played a little unimpressed... until I saw one of the returners successfully saber a bottle with a glass champagne flute. Kudos. 

(Sabering victims)

Tuesday: For a change of pace, Pembroke decided to take new students out for a night of Britain's most beloved national cuisine: Indian food. As a massive Indian fan, I was super thrilled, though slightly less so when it turned out to be a buffet with only one vegetarian option. Oh well. At least the one option was good. Also, in what was quickly becoming typical form, we were plied with free wine but informed that if we wanted soft drinks, we would have to pay for ourselves. 


Wednesday: On Wednesday, I finally had my first real 'orientation-session' activity of the week (many of the other courses started earlier, but History did not), in the form of a welcome talk from the various heads of Pembroke College and some general housekeeping notices and reminders. A little underwhelming, but we got a free buffet lunch (again, with free wine), so no complaints. 

Thursday: Here's where Freshers Week took a turn from run-of-the-mill to MADNESS. The morning consisted of attending Oxford's Freshers' Fair: basically a university activities fair on steroids, where you are shuttled, one-way, through a mend-bending labyrinth of stalls pitching to you every imaginable club, sport, and society. Highlights: a gregorian chanting club and a 'real tennis' society (aka the original tennis that the nobility used to play in the 16th century). I signed up for more clubs than I could possibly in a million years attend, and my email inbox is still paying the price for it.

(Wending our way through the Examination Schools, Oxford's über fancy (and intimidating) building where you sit all your exams at the end of every year)

Then, it was off to a meeting one-on-one with the academic head of the History Department (which, somewhat confusingly, is called the History Faculty at Oxford, the 'Faculty' referring to the actual physical building instead of the professors therein), then a brief pause before my actual History induction (the Oxford term for academic orientation). At last, academics!! The structure of my course looks good, though it's a little intimidating that I'll only be graded on 5 things in two years. Period. Everything else is pass/fail. But the good news is that my first graded assignment isn't until after Christmas, and is only 3,000-4,000 words long (child's play! I say now with possibly massively false bravado). I'm feeling tentatively confident at the moment, but talk to me again in a week after classes have actually started!

It was no rest for the wicked then, as it was then straight on to tea at the Stanford House (very fun!), and then the evening's big event: our first formal hall! So we got to get dolled up and don our very finest Harry Potter robes, drink champagne for an hour before a three-course dinner in our (unspeakably beautiful) hall, followed by coffee and then port and cheese back in the common room. Oh, and then clubbing after that. We didn't get home until 3am (and I left before some other folks!) after over 8 hours of continuous social activity. Wiped. Out. 

(Getting ready! And no, the One Direction T shirt didn't make the final cut)

(Pembroke ladies looking classy!)

 (Me, chillin' with Queen Anne's portrait. NBD.)

 (Our hall is so pretty!!)

Friday: Needless to say, after Thursday's outings, I was nearly destroyed. I had to bury my wish to lie in bed all day, however, to meet briefly one-on-one with the Master of Pembroke, and then start my work for the coming week--ahhh! Already! Then it was time for one more round of drinking at the Pembroke bar, this time accompanied by free pizza. I was pretty much a zombie, though, and failed to have a very good time. A reminder to stay rested as the year goes forward!!

This weekend has been devoted to trying out some new Oxford sports, which I think will have to get a post of its own when I've finished 'tasting' (the term they seem to like using) them all. This weekend's activities included cycling, crew, and fencing. (Needless to say, I'm exhausted.) The next few days promise more crew, some swimming, maybe some shooting and running, and... learning how to play bridge. That's a sport, right?? Wish me luck!

Monday, October 7, 2013

One Week In

(Disclaimer: this post has a lot of text at the beginning but then many pretty pictures at the end, so don't be alarmed by the initial wall of writing!)

It's hard to believe, but it's already been a week since this whole wild and crazy adventure began. I suppose a week isn't that long in the grand scheme of things, though I did calculate this morning that my whole course, breaks included, is only 90 weeks in total, so it feels a little strange to already have over 1% gone without really doing much!

It's been a week of ups and downs, for sure. I'm really looking forward to school getting underway and things normalizing a bit. Right now, everything in my life just feels uncomfortably new and raw: sometimes in a good way, like when I was absolutely awed by my first sight of Port Meadow in all its beauty on a fair autumn afternoon yesterday, but also sometimes in a far less pleasant sense, like when I've been feeling lonely and homesick and fearful that I won't fit into this bizarre little English tapestry at all and will be left out, like the loose jigsaw piece that migrates out of its own puzzle by accident and ends up in another to which it doesn't belong.

It's also hard not to feel very intimidated in this city of some of the best and brightest budding academics of my generation. As I mentioned when I first got in, I really don't feel like my resume or qualifications are all that impressive, to the degree that it was essentially a lark that prompted me to send in my application. I was so stunned when I got in that I could hardly believe it, and even now it's difficult not to think that some grave error was made. I'm surrounded by so many people whose deserved place here is so obvious: Rhodes scholars, Fulbright scholars, Clarendon-funded geniuses, and winners of what feels like every other academic prize under the sun. I have to fight the urge to not want to panic in the face of all this talent that feels like it so far outstrips my own.

I remember having the same feeling when I arrived at Stanford (and Stanford I think might have been worse, because you found yourself surrounded at every turn not only by geniuses but also by Olympic gold medalists, self-made millionaires, and these gorgeous tanned Californian amazons who seemed to have fallen effortlessly out of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog WHO WERE ALSO GENIUSES). And, I got over it. By the time I graduated I still wasn't clear on why I'd ever gotten in in the first place, given how suspiciously exceptional so many of my classmates seemed to be, but I was confident and happy in the niche I'd found in the Stanford community where I was valued and successful.

So I know I can do it, and I know that the intimidation factor will largely go away once this period of pre-academic speculation is over and the actual work begins. (The work itself might be intimidating, but I'm well used to that!!) I've just got to hang in there until then!

It's a whole week of induction activities and orientation before school begins next week, and I still don't really know my schedule and only have an amorphous idea of what my first term is going to look like from an academic perspective. Perhaps another explanation of why I'm feeling a little on edge! But in the true California spirit that Stanford bestowed on me, I'm just trying to relax and go along for the ride at this point. There will be plenty of time to fret later on if I want to.

Whinging aside, here are some photos I've collected over the last week but hadn't yet posted. As you will see, we had heartbreakingly good weather yesterday--possibly the nicest day I've ever experienced in England EVER--and I tried to take full advantage, between a nice foggy morning bike ride and a 3-hour afternoon ramble while the sun shone. It was a reminder that, anxiety aside, life is indeed good :)

 (Warlands, the bike shop where I got Marcel reassembled on Tuesday; additionally, I also received a dead-serious explanation of why the British term 'spanner' is far superior to the American term 'wrench' when I used the latter word in requesting to have my seat lowered--apparently, 'wrench' is BARBARIC and IMPRECISE, while 'spanner' isn't. If these people ever saw my attempts at construction, they'd see that 'wrench' is the proper term for whatever it is that I'm doing!)

 (This was advertised as an example of 'good living.' Why, again, are Americans the ones who get the reputation for shady food??)

 (My room more decorated, complete with some horses and some (obvi) American pride)

 (The new building at Pembroke, which has a bizarrely desert-like, 'sandstone ziggurat oasis' feel to me. But in a good way, if that makes sense.)

 (The view from the Osney lock in West Oxford on my way back from picking up Marcel at Warlands)

 (It was summer term commencement day at St Peters College - if you look between the gates you can see a crowd of people in full academic robes, complete with fur lined black hoods and all the rest. Very Harry Potter!)

 (The view from the kitchen/common room in my dorm - I think I could used to this!)

 (Umm... okay? I was unaware that vegetarianism required an identity card, but apparently it does? Also yes, that is my Oxford ID picture, and yes, it is glorious and makes me look vaguely psychotic. No regrets.)

 (Sunday morning bike ride in the Cotswolds - pinch me! So lovely!!)

 (My attempts at cooking at lame at best, but I love our little kitchen sitting area!)

 (A very festive street in North Oxford looking boooootiful in the autumn sunshine yesterday)

 (So much pink!! Also the Rose and Crown is the name of the British-style pub near Stanford that my friends and I used to go to for weekly pub quizzes, so I feel like a pilgrimage here needs to be in order)

 (Pretty British doorway that was probably only my height at the top)

 (The canal on the way to Port Meadow looking amazing)

 (Port Meadow - !!!!!!!!)

 (Sailboats, Port Meadow, and some Dreaming Spires in the distance - truly a perfect day)

 (The number 1 pub on my 'want to go' list: The Punter in Osney - it's quaint, small, always seems to be packed with suspiciously stereotypical British people, and at night they fill the windows with real candles and it just looks so snug and cozy. Soon!)

 (Watching a balloon go up in the meadow outside my dorm)

(Up and away! The white footbridge is the route to the Pembroke main campus and central Oxford - I live on the quiet side of the river in a residential neighborhood. Some people seem a little disappointed that it's not right in the thick of things, but I'm loving it.)
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