15 December 2009

One Term In the Books...(That's a pun and I didn't even realize it!)

It almost seems impossible to believe, but my first term is already over. In fact, it ended over a week ago. It seems unbelievable because when I left the states, universities had been in session for over a month, and those same schools are currently in finals week. But don't be too envious of me or think that I have things too easy. For starters, the eight week term is basically a condensed version of the 15 (or maybe 12) week term; we aren't getting away with anything over here. Then there is the fact that my professors went to great lengths to ensure that we knew that we were expected to be "working" over "break". One of my professors had a long soliloquy about the difference between a "vacation" and a "holiday". I zoned out a few minutes into this presentation, so I can't remember all of the details, but I'll give you the high points. One of the two terms means that you don't do work, one of the terms means that you do; our break is whichever one signifies that you do work. The real brilliant part of this admonishment is that while it is clear that we are meant (British for supposed) to be working, there is absolutely no direction as to what we should be working on. (Sure, they gave us a group presentation in the last week that is due on Monday of the first week, but what work can you really do on that considering my fellow group members were going to be dispersed amongst four different continents throughout the break?) I think this ambiguity is intended to create great anxiety that will drive us on towards more work, but that is just me.

Here are a few other general reflections on my first term in Oxford:

  • It took me awhile to buy into the value of doing research (as an extensive and prolonged activity). Just when I had started to buy in, I had a conversation with a professor about how he saw his work effecting policy (or the world generally). Here was his response (Picture the speaker in a tweed jacket, a sweater vest, and a knit tie. He is also Norwegian and I have always wanted to ask him if his wife knits his ties.): "For those of us who write, once it has been written, much has been achieved. If it is read, that is certainly an advanatage." It was at that moment that I knew that I couldn't aspire to wear tweed jackets, sweater vests, and knit ties, and write books that people may/may not read (for multiple reasons).
  • While there are things that I have not bought into, there are huge parts of me that have adjusted to the Oxford way. I find myself not getting worked up about things that would have previously been huge catastrophes in my life. I think this results from an awareness that in this country, there is little information to be gathered (aka no one knows the answer to your question); when you do find out information that is actionable, there is very little that you can actually do without someone's help (which won't be provided). So, time spent trying to preempt disaster is largely wasted because there are some things that are just unavoidable. In a city driven by knowledge, ignorance may be bliss.
  • I may still be resisting saying British words like "keen", "epic", "brilliant", "cheers", "meant", "trousers", and "hiya", but I am starting to think them, which means that it is only a matter of time. After all, an idea becomes a thought, a thought becomes a word, or something like that.

No comments:

Post a Comment