Saturday, December 7, 2013

Week 8 - Ending with Song

This week was one of busyness and mixed emotions.  It's hard to believe that Michaelmas term is really over.  I've experienced so much academically - being stretched beyond what I could have imagined before studying here.  I've also seen so much of the area - so rich with history and tradition.  As a romantic soul, I found so much to love in the Oxfordshire area.

Sunday, I attended church services at St. Edward's Chapel with Larry and Rhonda Kees.  Woodstock Baptist Church is worshipping in the chapel while their facility is under renovation.

Sunday afternoon we had lunch at the Anchor Restaurant, which was formerly a pub and is now a restaurant.  Afterwards we walked down to the canal and took some photos.  Sunday afternoon and evening I spent reading research material for my final essay: "What factors contribute to civil war or revolutions?" 

Monday I studied all day until 5 pm, then went to choir practice for Evensong service with the Christ Church College Choir.  After the service, and following dinner at formal hall, we drove to St. Margaret's Chapel at Binsey.  The chapel dates from the fourteenth century, and has no electricity.  The room was lit by candles, some of which we held, while we had an Advent Service.  We sang traditional carols and took turns with readings from the Biblical Christmas story.  It was very moving and a perfect way to begin Advent Season.

Left: Christ Church Chapel Evensong Service

Below: St. Margaret's Chapel lit by candlelight.
Tuesday and Wednesday were all about the studying... finishing up the reading and working on my outline and rough draft.  I confess to being old-school: I take notes while reading, make an outline, complete the rough draft, then edit.  Wednesday night I decided it was time to get out of the house - after being housebound with study for two days.  Carrie Ann had heard the Oxford college vocal group, "Out of the Blue" this summer in Edinburgh.  We attended their concert at the Oxford Student Union.  Their voices were phenomenal and they were very entertaining with their humor and choreography.
Thursday afternoon I finished off my last essay and sent it to my tutor by email.  In total since coming to Oxford, I've written approximately 30,000 words for the twelve tutorial essays.  The research, while guided by the recommended reading list, is very self-driven and promotes a great deal of independent thinking as you process the information.  The more I read, the more I found myself assessing during the reading, knowing I had to be able to articulate the material both in the essay and during our discussion during the tutorial itself.  I would have to say I've learned more within this one term than I ever knew was possible in such a short time. 
Friday was the end of Michaelmas term.  I had two administrative meetings at Regent's Park - one with the Principal, Dr. Ellis, and one with Dr. Lynn Robson, the Visiting Student Program Coordinator.  We reviewed the final reports from each of my tutors, discussed my "marks" (grades) which were very positive, and talked about my experience as a visiting student to Oxford.  Friday afternoon I had my final tutorial with Dr. Finlay and my fellow-American visiting student, Mina.  We had another very in-depth discussion about the readings and our essays.  One of the enjoyable aspects about sharing four of my tutorials with Mina, was that even though we both read from the same assigned readings, we would create unique essays, based upon our own views and perspectives.  She is a Political Science major back at Georgetown University, and I am a Sociology major, so we had different aspects of the material that would appeal to us.  It was sad to end this very productive learning relationship, and I admit to not enjoying having to sad good-bye to both of them.  Friday night I attended the Advent formal dinner at Regent's Park. 
Riding back on the bus after dinner, it struck me how fortunate I am to have been at Oxford for Michaelmas term.  Fall 2013 was my last semester - once my Regent's Park grades make it back to Columbus State, I will officially be a graduate with my Bachelor's Degree in Sociology.  For a mature, returning student, this has been a long process.  But it is a dream fulfilled, and I am very grateful that Oxford was where I completed my undergraduate experience.

Saturday I spent time shopping for Christmas gifts, and doing some additional sight-seeing in Oxford.  We had a lovely sunny afternoon, so Larry, Rhonda, Carrie Ann, and I went up to the St. Mary's (University Church of St. Mary the Virgin)  tower, and got some truly break-taking views of the city. Saturday evening, we attending the Handel's Messiah concert at the church.  The vocal and instrumental performers were outstanding. 
I'll be staying in the U.K. for a few more days, to spend some time traveling to areas I want to see before I return home for Christmas.  Oxford is a magical place - a combination of past, present, and future all merging together in an absorbing kaleidoscope.  It's been my pleasure to have been a part of that for the last twelve weeks.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Week 7 - Scotland, Thanksgiving, and Postmaterialism

This week began with what should be Rule #1 when travelling: expect the unexpected.  Now that I've completed one tutorial, and only had two essays left spread over two weeks, I planned an overnight trip to Edinburgh.  However, things did NOT go according to plan.  The plan was to leave Oxford via bus early Sunday morning since the Oxford trains on Sunday don't leave until about 10 AM.  The bus would take me to Birmingham, where I'd get on the train for the remainder of the trip.  Getting to Edinburgh takes about 6 hours, so I was trying to arrive about 2 pm to have some daylight remaining and hopefully have time to see one or two things on my "wish list" before dark was upon me.  I packed a backpack, grabbed a book from my assigned reading list, and headed to Scotland.
What really happened:  the Megabus was thirty minutes late, so I missed the train from Birmingham to Edinburgh.  In order to avoid a one hour wait in Birmingham, I was re-routed to Carlisle, where I would then pick up the Edinburgh train.  However, about one hour north of Birmingham, the train comes to a dead stop, and we sit for thirty minutes waiting on some sort of relay repair crew to make corrections to faulty relays ahead.  As you can imagine, by the time I arrived in Carlisle, I had also missed my train to Edinburgh.  So I sat in the Carlisle waiting area for 45 minutes, and caught the next train.  I finally arrived at Edinburgh Waverly Station about 5 pm.  So much for the daylight plan.
At this point I decided to forget sightseeing, check into my hotel, get some dinner, and start fresh the next morning.  I found the hotel which was wonderfully close to the Royal Mile.  Walking around the area, I decided to eat dinner at the White Horse Pub, and ordered haggis pie (at least I could cross one item off the wish list).  I'm not sure if it was representative of all haggis, but I found it quite tasty - rather like salty sausage.

I returned to the hotel, made a cup of tea, and turned on the television, when the fire alarm went off.  As I was grabbing my handbag (passport inside) the lights went out leaving me in complete darkness to stumble around to the door, and exit the hotel.  The other guests and I waited outside while the fire "brigade" (department) arrived to assess the situation.  After thirty minutes we were informed that all was safe, no fire had occurred but there were some malfunctioning alarms due to a severe pipe leak in an upper floor.  Unfortunately, that did not stop the alarms from remaining on - and sounding off loudly.  The hotel clerk moved me to a room on another floor, hopefully to get away from the fire alarm volume.  Unfortunately, that was the floor with the leaking pipes.  At this point I pulled out my cheap Vodafone (pay-as-you go cellphone), dialed up another hotel down the street, and booked a room elsewhere.  Once I got checked in at the second hotel, my calm was restored.  I made another cup of tea, relaxed, and called it a night.
Monday was wonderful; I was the American tourist in a hurry, but still managed to see the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the Queen's residence for a few weeks each summer), the Scottish Parliament (wonderful modern architecture), the John Knox house (Scottish reformer), St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle, and the Scottish National Gallery.  It was a whirlwind day, but I made the most of it.  Here are some of my favorite photos of the day...
Left: Political Martyr's Monument on Carlton Hill.  Right: Exterior of the Scottish Parliament building.  On September 14, 2014, they are scheduled to vote on Scottish independence from Britain.  Below: Interior of the Scottish Parliament, the debate chambers.

Left: Me, in front of Holyroodhouse.  The house was built on the site of Holyrood Abbey which dates from the twelfth century.  Below: interior room of the John Knox house.  This home is said to be the oldest residence intact in Edinburgh.  It dates to 1470, and is believed to be the home Knox lived in when he died.  He was a major Scottish reformer, and founder of the Presbyterian Church movement.
Right and below: a bust of Sir Walter Scott, on display at the Scottish National Gallery.  I mean no disrespect to Sir Scott, but the image looks remarkably like Russell Crowe to me !!

Below: The view toward Princes Street, taken from Edinburgh Castle.  Monday had clear skies, and I could see all the way to the ocean.

Thankfully the return to Oxford was uneventful, with my Edinburgh train leaving on time, and my connection in Newcastle occurring without incident.   On a side note: thanks to all the waiting, I completed the assigned reading book - 340 pages.
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were spent finishing up my research reading  and then writing this week's essay on postmaterialism.  It was a critique of the postmaterialist theory developed by Ronald Inglehart to explain the change in values and political activism of post-war generations. I turned in my essay via email at 4 PM.
Thursday was also Thanksgiving Day, my second one to be spent overseas.  (Three years ago I celebrated in Ukraine.)  Anyhow, to make us feel less homesick, our gracious CSU House Director Larry Kees and his wife Rhonda made a wonderful dinner for us.  However, it was so good, we ate too much! 

Friday was a BUSY day.  My tutorial was moved forward to 3 pm, as later my tutor and I both planned on attending a talk to be given at Christ Church by Senator Mike Lee from Utah.  He was in Oxford giving a speech on the importance of the American Constitution.  The speech was followed by an incredible formal dinner at the Rhodes House.  The Rhodes house was created by Cecil Rhodes, and is affiliated with his scholarship foundation.  It was a bit intimidating eating in the same location as had notable persons, like Edwin Hubble (astronomer), Lord Florey (penicillin researcher), and  President Bill.  The dinner conversation was quite interesting as I  discussed the U.S. Constitution and our unique tri-power government to students from Poland, Norway, India, and the U.K.

(Photo of the Rhodes House, left) 

Saturday was another Thanksgiving celebration, this time held by Regent's Park College.  Our turkey was prepared by the RPC chef, and we each brought side dishes and desserts to contribute to the meal.  Afterward, "The Hobbit" film was shown for those that weren't in a starch coma from the fabulous food :)

Left: Senator Mike Lee, Utah

Below: Mixing and mingling in Helwys Hall, at Regent's Park College, before our Thanksgiving Dinner.

Left: Dr. Lynn Robson, Visiting Student Program Coordinator at Regent's Park College, doing the honors of carving the turkey.
And thus completes another week in Oxford.  It's hard to believe that I only have one more week of this term remaining.  While I miss my family at home a lot, I have a feeling that saying goodbye to this town will prove more difficult than I had imagined.  But I'm trying not to think about that too much right now.

Below are some additional photos taken travelling to and in Edinburgh

These three are my "scenes from a train" taken while riding  from Birmingham to Carlisle.


Above: Palace of Holyrood House, exterior.  It was built by King David I, on the site of the Holyrood Abbey.  Right: Ruins of the  Holyrood Abbey.  
Matchstick sculpture of Robert Burns inside Scottish Parliament building.
 Monument to economist Adam Smith.
St. Giles Cathedral
A William Wallace impersonator (or maybe he's a Mel Gibson impersonator)

Edinburgh Castle

St. Margaret's Chapel inside Edinburgh Castle - oldest building in Edinburgh, from 1100s.
The Hind's Daughter, in the National Gallery 
Sketches by Allen Ramsey, Scottish Artist.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Weeks 5 and 6: MI5, Blenheim, and the Festival of Lights

Week Five (November 10-16) included some similarities and some significant differences from prior weeks.  Sunday, November 10 was British Remembrance Day, a day of respectful observance for the contribution made by service men and women who made peace possible for Britain.  Very similar in spirit to American Veteran's Day.  One outward symbol of support for veterans and their sacrifices are the red poppies people buy and wear to honor them; funds raised go to supportive charities. 

Monday was a research reading day, with Christ Church Evensong service that evening.  If you get the chance to attend Evensong service at one of the churches in Oxford, I strongly urge you to take the opportunity.  I am not Anglican, but I find the services very spiritually uplifting, and the music is really beautiful.  As an American, I rarely get the opportunity to hear classical hymns anymore, let alone sing them as I do in the college choir.  The services only last an hour, and are a combination of music, short prayers, and small readings of excerpts of the Psalms or other Scriptures. In honor of Remembrance Day this week we sang a song called, "For the Fallen."  Here's a link to the Westminster Choir performing this song.

Tuesday- Thursday were major reading, research, and writing days, as I had to get this week's essay on "Media and Politics" by Thursday at 4 pm.  Friday was the tutorial with Dr. Finlay, which went well.  Once again, we had an interesting time of discussion that covered not only the essay topic, and the readings, but correlations to current events and social conditions. 

Friday night, I had a most unusual opportunity occur that I quite enjoyed.  As a member of the Oxford International Relations Society (  I was able to attend a talk given by Sir Jonathan Edwards, who was the Director of MI-5 up until this April, 2013.  He shared a very unique perspective on global politics, terrorism, national sovereignty, and international interaction.  Unfortunately, I cannot divulge everything he shared (we were sworn to secrecy, or, well, you know). 

Saturday, I went along with my fellow CSU housemates (all except Kelsey, who stayed behind to study for three papers due this week!), to see Blenheim Palace.  This is the home of the Dukes of Marlborough, and was the birthplace of Winston Churchill.  Being a world history hobbyist, this was a tour I could not pass up.  Unfortunately for us, it was also the week of a major Christmas arts fair, so there were HUNDREDS of people present.  Note: check the schedule of the venue you plan to visit to ensure you aren't one of a huge crowd. 

Despite the numbers, Blenheim Palace is incredible to behold, and the good thing is your ticket is good for an entire year, so you can return and visit as much as you wish during that year.  The bus from our nearest stop in Summertown costs about  £3.50, so it's very reasonable to get there for another visit.  The bus ride only took us about 30 minutes to the town of Woodstock, which is quite nice to walk through.  We enjoyed tea and scones at a local restaurant.  Here are some photos of the visit to Blenheim. 

This the front of the palace.  Too much to get in one photo alone!   The property was a gift to the Duke of Marlborough from Queen Anne, for winning the battle of Blenheim against the opposing German army. Technically, the land still belongs to the Crown, and every year the current Duke appears before the Queen requesting continued use of the land.  The palace, however, belongs to the current Duke!
(Right:) Some of the exquisite grounds around the Palace.  Truly breathtaking, even here in the end of autumn.
The photo to the left is the room where Winston Churchill was born. Technically, the families' last name is Churchill, which was relinquished due to a female heir inheriting the property, but later re-instated as the last name of the inheriting Duke.                  

Week Six, November 17-23rd, held a bittersweet experience: my last tutorial with Funda Ustek.  I have really enjoyed learning from her; she has a unique approach to teaching, and she has definitely had me questioning some of my previously held concepts of social policy, welfare state typologies, and how the political process impacts those most marginalized - especially women.  She is originally from Turkey, and has a perspective of a regional culture so different than my American background - that has added to the dimensions of what I've learned as we have engaged in conversation about each essay.  After our tutorial, we had lunch together at her college, St. Cross, along with my other tutor, Dr. Finlay. 

Wednesday during the day was reading, and writing, and choir practice. Wednesday night, I was privileged to hear British historian, author, professor, and BBC documentarian Simon Schama speak at the Sheldonian.  One of the good AND bad things about Oxford: there are so many worthy events to participate in! 
Thursday was spent writing like a fiend, and turning in my essay for Dr. Finlay's tutorial on Friday.  This week's topic:  the intersection of economic development, religion, and politics.  The challenge was in choosing what to include in a 2500 word essay with such a plethora of research material to use.
Friday night began the official start of the Christmas holiday season in Oxford, with the "Festival of Lights."  St. Giles street and the City Centre were closed down, food, craft, and entertainment vendors set up, and the entire area became a Christmas carnival.  Luckily for me, I was accepted as a volunteer at the Ashmolean Museum, which simultaneously held a Folk Music evening.  I got to assist guests as they played replica instruments from the Bate Museum Collection, and I heard some outstanding Gaelic vocal performers.  This was a lovely ending to my week, and a lovely beginning to the Advent Season.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Week 4 - Guy Fawkes, Two Tutorials, and Cardiff

Week 4 was largely a repeat of the last couple of weeks: research, reading, writing.
Sunday afternoon I had a rebound of my freshers flu from last week, only this time I lost my voice.  Completely.  The day before the Christ Church College Choir (hopefully with me included) were scheduled to go to Gloucester Cathedral to sing at their Evensong service.  Instead of joyfully preparing to sing in such a beautiful and historic place, I spent Sunday and Monday alternately drinking tea, taking naps, and reading for both of my essays due this week.
Tuesday was my third social policy tutorial, and my voice was half-way back -- thank goodness.  This essay covered the challenges and opportunities presented to welfare states in recent years. Here's a link to my page on, if you enjoy reading sociology and political critique: It's hard to believe I only have one more tutorial to go with this tutor.  Time is flying by this term! Technically Tuesday was also Guy Fawkes Day.  This is a British commemorative holiday based on an event that took place in 1605, when Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up Parliament because of religious dissent between the Catholics and the Protestants.  Since the holiday fell during the week, local celebrations were observed on Saturday.  More about that later.
Wednesday my voice was back to normal.  My basic research was complete, and armed with my pages of notes on the reading assignments, I spent the day writing my political sociology essay on social movements.  Wednesday night I was able to return to choir practice at Christ Church College.
Thursday I finished up my essay and turned it in.  Since I had now spent the last four days inside between being sick and reading/writing, Kelsey (another CSU student) and I got out of the house and ate dinner at Mission Burrito, a restaurant off Cornmarket Street.  The servings were massive, but tasty.  Not quite as authentic as Mexican food from the U.S., but still quite good.
Friday morning I decided to go into town and do a bit more investigating of the local sights.  I ended up climbing Carfax Tower, and got some good photos of the bird's eye view of town, right before a storm headed in.  The steps going to the top of the tower are rather steep, and it's a one person at a time pathway; not suitable for the claustrophobic person.  But the view is quite good.

Friday afternoon was my tutorial with Dr. Finlay and another visiting student, Mina, from Georgetown University.  Dr. Finlay came bearing a large chocolate bar - which he proceeded to share with both of us.  I wasn't sure if that was a good sign, or a bad sign about his assessment of our essays, but I wasn't about to turn down good chocolate :)   Thankfully, he liked both of our essays, and we had a very productive hour of discussion about state formation, tax farming (thanks, Mina), and social movements based upon successful leadership.  Friday night was formal dinner again at Regent's Park, and I could actually relax by having both tutorials behind me for the week!
Saturday I rewarded myself with a day trip to Cardiff, Wales. Note: buy the tickets ahead of time to save hassle.  Also, you can apply for a student rail card, and save 20%.  If you plan on doing a bit of travel while here, it's worth the time to fill out the form and have your college admin sign it. Anyhow, I left the Oxford Rail Station at 7:25 am, and was in Cardiff by 9:50 (did have to change trains part of the way through.)
Cardiff is a neat town.  It has an eclectic mix of high end and regular shops, a LOT of sports venues (the Welsh rugby team was playing and drew in 70,000 fans), historic Cardiff Castle, and the Cardiff Bay area which has restaurants, shops, and the Doctor Who Experience.  Here are some of the sites I was able to fit in for the day.
Right: Cardiff Castle, the Norman Keep and the East Wall, portions of which date to Roman occupation. 
Below: Armor belonging to the Marquesse of Bute, who owned the castle.  

I also toured the National Museum of Cardiff.  It has a great collection of everything from traditional art collections, to natural history (dinosaurs), to science interest items.  I spent about and hour-and-a-half looking at their "top ten" items listed in the tourist brochure.  My favorite items were from the Welsh origins section, including pottery, bronze weapons, and jewelry dating from 500-1000 AD. 

Gold and Metal Hammered Welsh Necklaces
The Goddess Immortality

In order to please my kids, I made a trip to Cardiff Bay and did the "Doctor Who Experience" tour.  It reminded of the themed tours I've done at Disney World back home; somewhat cheesy, but if you are a die-hard Doctor Who fan, there are some interesting pieces of memorabilia, including costumes and props used on the various TV series.

If only I had a REAL Tardis to speed me through the next few essays I have to do!
 A room full of Daleks....
Below is the Wales Millenium Center - a very unusual piece of architecture. 
In order to beat the 70,000 rugby fans to the rail station, I left Cardiff about 5:30, and arrived back in Oxford at 7:15 pm, just in time for the Guy Fawkes fireworks display being held at South Park.  This is a big event, and it culminates in a bonfire.  The fireworks were fun, but I was tired, so I took the bus back to the Spencer House and called it a week.