Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A History Education, Jeopardy-Style

I've been feeling a stitch homesick recently: not in the sharp, stabbing, god-why-can't-I-get-out-of-here way it sometimes hits, but more dully and perniciously. It's not that I'm not enjoying myself here (quite the opposite, in fact; I'm loving it). I do miss American food and American culture and obviously my American friends and family, but I think to a reasonable degree. No, it's more subtle than that. 

I just miss the American land mass as a whole. I miss looking at pictures of beautiful American landscapes on Tumblr and being able to know that I was connected to them through some physical spit of earth: that if I drove, biked, rode, walked far enough, I could get there myself. That I could see it with my own eyes if I wanted to, and experience firsthand the beauty and wonder that the vistas of America have afforded me so many times. It's a small thing, but a persistent one.

(I mean really, how could you not miss knowing that you're connected to this view, even 2,000 miles tucked away at home in Massachusetts -- it's the most simultaneously thrilling and comforting thing of all time, and what I think of when I think of 'American Freedom')

I know that as I feel more at home here, I'll start to appreciate the solidity of the land here as well. It's just going to take some time.

In the meantime, I'm happy to report that life is ticking along just fine and dandy here in dreaming spire land. I've been getting used to being back in an academic setting again after my thoroughly non-academic interlude last year, and have been pleasantly surprised to not feel too left behind my straight-out-of-undergrad peers.

(Spires in full-on dreaming mode, living up to Oxford's official moniker in style)

The most difficult thing for me has, in fact, been simply the fact that my base knowledge of British and European history is not that strong, especially for someone pursuing a masters in... British and European history. There are a lot of times in class when some historical event gets tossed out there and everyone else in the class nods along knowingly, and I think to myself, "hmm... I understand what some of those words mean..."

Not ideal. But honestly, it hasn't been that bad. And since my American history is quite good, I've become 'that token American who brings up US history in a European history class' in most of my sections, which I'm ok with. At least it means I have something to say.

I was talking to a fellow American friend at lunch yesterday about this discrepancy in my historical knowledge, and as we were sitting talking I realized that I've only taken 1 full year of high school history and 4 trimester-long college history courses, total (2 in US history, 2 in World War II history, and 1 in the history of the Samurai). 

Wait... what? I seriously had never thought about it before, and am probably glad that I didn't before I applied to Oxford, because otherwise the sense of imposter syndrome would have surely scared me away from even sending in an application. Basically, if you count up the hours I've spent playing the US History categories on the TV game show Jeopardy! versus the amount of formal history training I've actually received in school, I think Jeopardy! might come out on top. 

I don't know whether to feel proud of this fact that I'm essentially a self-taught historian at Oxford... or terrified. Probably closer to terrified. If I felt underqualified to be here before, this surely isn't helping. But at least I won't feel as bad now when a relatively obscure British witch-hunting movement comes up in class, and I have absolutely not the faintest idea of what they're talking about. I can just continue being the loud and possibly uninformed American, which I was doing perfectly well beforehand anyway.

(And besides, screw it! Any education, be it self-taught or otherwise, that allows me to call this the view from my library window is one I'm going to cherish forever. Thank you, Alex Trebek!!!)


redheadlins said...

I love your pictures, they just seem completely unreal. Sorry you are a bit homesick, maybe take a train ride somewhere to fall in love with some English landscapes:)

Niamh said...

OH my goodness... imposter syndrome... I have been reading a lot about this lately!!!!!!

L.Williams said...

It's really easy to feel low and like a pretender (re: me and every job I've ever had) but you need to remember they chose you and you are meant to be there, or you wouldn't be there.

T Myers said...

I have felt this exact way in the UK also...keep your chin up and put some Hollyoaks on the telli...that will take your mind off everything haha

saddlesore said...

I have to say, I completely empathized with this post... first off, you are clearly completely capable, as I'm fairly sure Oxford isn't known for being lax on its admission requirements! I'm sure once you settle in a bit more the feeling of wrong-footedness will dissolve and you'll start to feel more confident in what you know and what you're learning. And secondly, I just want to say that I felt exactly the same way you seem to when I started my Master's. My undergraduate degree was in Physics and I entered a Master's program in Electrical Engineering, and second semester in, I'm still finding gaps in my education that are shocking to me, and I wake up in a cold sweat wondering when someone is going to catch me out as not belonging there. I just had to sheepishly pick up a Intro Circuits book, because (shockingly) I've discovered that my two weeks of circuit theory in second year are NOT cutting it when it comes to problems in my graduate microwave course. You may have to fill in some of the gaps on your own, but I have full confidence that you'll manage that in spades. (BTW, I know you have no idea who I am, but I am a keen follower of your wonderfully written blog!) Best of luck! And keep updating :)

SprinklerBandit said...

At least catching up sounds interesting. Obscure britsh witches? I'd read up on that and I'm not attending Oxford.

Your pictures make me wish I was, almost.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

I wonder if geography doesn't affect us more deeply than vastness, grandeur or charming beauty?

(written from a sliver of sand in the Atlantic)

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