After my usual morning routine (I’m sure you know it by now), the group was whisked off to Oxford, where–who’d have guessed?–we descended upon Oxford University’s Christ Church location, the largest of its kind and one of the most famous, with approximately 430 undergraduates and 215 postgraduates. The map of the area that we used:
I’d known bits and pieces about Oxford before the trip, but our meeting with Mr. Worthington the night before truly opened my eyes to just how exclusive the institution is. Generally, only a few students are accepted each year, after concluding a rigorous application process involving a written appeal (grades, exam scores, letters of recommendation, “personal” A.K.A. academic statement”– no B-average students or SAT scores under 2000 sounded like the basic gist to me), and then a thorough overnight interview in December. (Aspiring English majors like me might, for instance, be asked how E.E. Cummings influenced later authors.) What really struck me was how very intensive an Oxford course of study sounded. Mr. Worthington explained that this university does not stress the “well-roundedness” that the States do. Oxford expects its students to select a specific channel of education, and follow it through all the way to graduation. Which, I realized as we were briefed, is awesome for kids who know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives and prefer to bypass detours–hey, more power to them. Not so awesome, however, for people like me, who might major in English and minor in illustration and snatch up a few history courses on the side and look into education and the didgeridoo while they’re at it, and are just generally less decided. Basically, I love writing. But I also love a lot of other things, and I don’t know if I’m willing to cram all my eggs in that basket. (Especially considering the dubious quirk of an eyebrow and twitch of a grin one earns when disclosing their interest in the pursuit of an English degree. “Oh,” I’ve heard in response, “good luck with that.”) Studying at Oxford sounds amazing; the English program (sorry to keep circling back to this) embraces authors from the medieval period to present day, and as, thusly, might well be assumed, seems to weave a taut tapestry of both history and literature. Tutorials once a week offer opportunities for essay prompting, focus questions, review, suggestion, etc. English graduates go into business, journalism, law, the media, and teaching careers, as well as further academic study.
Phew. Okay. Getting a little wound up here.
Anyway, it was a bit of a rainy day when we visited, so I ended up picking up a sweatshirt in the gift shop and throwing it on over my other one. It’s marvelous.
(I was tempted, also, to purchase some Alice In Wonderland gear. The author of the series, Charles Dodgson, studied, taught, and lived at Christ Church, and many aspects of his stories were directly inspired by campus life.)
Our tour consisted of a look around the Christ Church Cathedral, which serves both the community and the school. It is the mother church of the Diocese at Oxford, and lots of special services that take place are attended by its Bishop. Here, he has his throne, or ‘cathedra,’ to which the cathedral’s name can be traced. During term time, the Cathedral Choir, founded in 1525 and made up of 16 boys and 12 men, sings throughout the week.
Welcome to Hogwarts! Another highlight of the tour was the famous staircase where the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone scene in which Professor McGonagall welcomes the first years was filmed. (My father will hear about this.)
The Hall, at the top of the staircase, has its own claim to fame: it inspired the ornate dining hall in the films. It is described as the center of college life, a place where banquets are held, where the eyes of John Locke, a sprinkling of Prime Ministers, and other respected alumni peer out from their keepers’ wall-hung oil paint facsimiles.
After Christ Church, we spent about an hour combing through the Ashmolean Museum a few blocks down, created in 1908 by combining the Oxford University Art Collection and the original Ashmolean. Today, coins, sketches, statues, musical instruments, and other antiquities are secured beneath its roof. Ivy and Julia (both from Houston) tagged along with me in the Chinese and Middle Eastern collections, admiring the tapestries and pottery on display. It was really remarkable how well the pieces had been preserved. Even rugs hundreds of years old looked to be in exceptional shape.
The final focus of our journey was a swing by Christ Church’s Bodleian Library, which stores a copy of every book ever published in the country, the combined collections racking up a total of over 11 million printed items, 50,000 e-journals, and many more materials in various alternative formats. Pretty big responsibility, and something I’m very envious of the students for. All current members of Christ Church may use the library and borrow modern books.
What’s unusual to me about the campus is the distinct absence of grass. These pebbles are about it.
We dipped into the gift shop while there, too.
I liked the door.
A knitted chain was draped across the top of one of the campus fences. I’d heard of this being done in other places but never seen it! So that was cool.
It’s interesting that the entire town adheres to the same Romanesque, Gothic style of architecture. I mean, of course we’d seen this in London as well, but perhaps the effect was bolstered by the more compact vicinity. Someone back home asked me last night what the biggest culture shock had been, and I think it’s this liberal use of stone. No other place looks like it. (That is, as far as I know.)
We had a dab of free time before our bus departed, so I poked around in an antique shop called “Antiques On High.” It was absolutely jam-packed with glistening doohickeys. (So proud of myself for finding an excuse to use that word.) Jars shaped and painted to resemble faces, bagpipes, silver platters, and records all come to mind. I could sped an entire afternoon there.
Off to dinner! I’ll be back later tonight!