Sheila Coursey '13

Last Sunday, hundreds of Oxford students retreated from the libraries (or from their beds, let’s be honest, it’s Sunday) in order to participate in Holi, an Hindu festival celebrating the beginning of spring. Though we haven’t had much spring to celebrate yet (yes, it’s now been three weeks of consistent rain, the wettest spring in England in a century) we managed to get a pocket of comparatively dry and sunny weather for our Holi festival, held out on the Mansfield/Merton sports grounds!

just the beginning of the paint warfare

As you can see, the traditions of Holi require all-white clothes, which are then ‘decorated’ with the multicolored powder and water that everyone throws at each other! There was even water guns for those who wanted to celebrate a little more aggressively. Holi traditionally lasts about two days, but our celebration only lasted four hours, giving all the students time to walk home and shower away the layers of paint (I think some the white-clad cricket players were eying us a little nervously as well). Holi is also supposed to temporarily lift the social barriers of age, class, gender and other factors that would normally inhibit strangers from conversing (or throwing paint at each other), and it was funny to see students engaging in paint warfare with eight-year olds. While Oxford perhaps doesn’t have the same rigid social barriers that India once maintained (though some might argue differently) it was still an excuse for students from different colleges and disciplines to interact.

the sports ground pre-Holi....by the end it was literally packed with people!

Sadly, I’ve already been dispatched in our college-wide game of assassins. In hindsight, my practice of studying in the Theology library pretty much every single afternoon without fail probably made me an easy target.

In other news, Monday was ‘May Day’ in Oxford, which isn’t widely celebrated in the United States; of course, Oxford has it’s own quirky traditions. Students usually stay out all night and gather on Magdalen Bridge at 6AM to hear the choir sing from the Magdalen Tower. However, the prospect of staying out all night in the  chilly drizzle (May has yet to really arrive in England)  sounded less than appealing, so instead I woke up early and joined some other JYAs on Magdalen Bridge early in the morning to see the choir sing!

Ashley, Sophia Liz and Kelly brave the rain

Magdalen Tower actually had an excellent speaker system rigged, so even though there were literally hundreds of people packing in high street and Magdalen Bridge, you could hear the psalms from all the way from the top of the tower.

The Tower- excuse my early-morning photography

After the choir sings to ‘welcome’ May, tons of restaurants in Oxford brace themselves for the hordes of students that come rushing in from 6 to 8AM to fuel their all-nighters with sausage baps and English fry-ups. As good as that sounded, I was more concerned with getting back to bed.

It’s been pouring rain for the last week and a half. I really have no reason to complain, since I knew what I was getting into signing up to study aboard in England, but at the moment I’d really love some melatonin, possibly in IV form. However, the general drizzle and damp hasn’t stopped the Mansfield students from playing Croquet on the quad, preparing for the ‘Croquet Cuppers, 2012.’ This is a real sports competition, I swear, it’s like March Madness for overly-stressed English students. I’ve never even seen croquet before, besides the Alice in Wonderland flamingo version, but I suppose I’ll watch and cheer when the tournament begins.

While it’s been a wet start to Trinity Term, there’s already been tons of events going on, such as our last Champagne & Chocolates, which was tragic since it’s my favorite social event at Mansfield (for obvious reasons). I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the half-dozen cocktail dresses currently on rotation in my closet!

Holy Cross Repping The Last C&C's

The JYA’s (possibly in response to croquet) are also organizing a game of Assassins, a competition that any self-respecting college student knows all too well as the reason you got up at 5AM in high school and rearranged your schedule in order to prevent getting poked with a popsicle stick or whatever constituted getting ‘killed’ at the time. I’m excited to play, even though I’m a bit of a sitting duck living on campus.

Tomorrow night also begins ‘May Day,’ for which the Oxford tradition is to stay up all night and then meet at the Magdalen tower to hear the choir sing at dawn. I apparently cannot miss this; however, my ability to stay up all night is shaky at best (which made me less than popular while staying in Spain over the vacation) so we’ll see how long I last.

Sorry for the delay, I’ve actually been back in Oxford for the last week or so and am into the first week of my last term (!) but before I get into the tons of things happening in Trinity Term I wanted to finish off my ‘Carmen Sandiego’ travels part of my blog, or the places I went during our enormous six-week break between terms.

In my last post, I talked about London, Rome and Scotland, and I took a break between trips to reboot (and buy a smaller suitcase- thanks, Easyjet) and then I was off to Spain for about 2  1/2 weeks!  As a note to future study abroad students,traveling via visiting your fellow HC aborad friends or other college students you know studying aborad will save you a lot of money (though hostels can definitely be an excellent source of quirky travel stories). Sometimes you also run into your fellow crusaders completely unplanned! Kelsey (who worked with me on CINE-GLOS last summer) and I literally walked into each other while in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid!

The spontanous CINEGLOS team reunion!

Over the two weeks, I visited Palma Mallorca, Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla, ending my trip watching Semana Santa and going to Easter Mass in the Sevilla Cathedral. While I’m still pretty fond of the HC Chapel, I admit there’s something to be said for going to Easter Mass in a church older than my home country.

Palma!

View of the Cathedral in Palma from the beach

It was fantastic to be back in Spain (I lived in Madrid for a little over a month when I was in high school) and dust off my Spanish, which had gotten really rusty while in Oxford, since I haven’t been able to take any Spanish classes. I also got to ask my friends about their study abroad programs in Spain  and see how their experiences have compared to mine. The food, of course, was also wonderfully exotic after months of English food (Sorry, England! Though I have to say the Mansfield Dining Hall food is excellent).  Every night me and my travel buddies would either order enormous plates of paella and seafood dishes like pulpo planchado (grilled octopus- seriously, it’s delicious) or go to a tapas bar and share a ton of small tapas plates.

Food market in Barcelona

'Las Setas' (The Mushrooms) in Sevilla

I hadn’t realized how much traveling itself is an integral part of the study abroad experience- speaking as someone who is much more ‘book smart’ than ‘street smart,’ navigating around foreign airports, making connecting flights, and booking the right transportation demands a lot of responsibility and awareness. Probably the scariest moment  of my entire trip was when I was taking a 6-hour bus from Sevilla to Madrid to fly back to London, and the bus stopped at a rest station to let passengers off for about ten minutes to stretch their legs. I got off the bus with just my purse, bought a sandwich, walked back outside and my bus had disappeared.

Of course, after (sort of) calmly asking people around me if they had been on my bus, I found out that the buses move to the back of the rest station to refuel and change drivers before returning to the front, but there was a few minutes in which I genuinely though I was stranded somewhere in Southeast Spain with just a wallet and non-working British phone. These are the situations that study abroad prepares you for.

So, in this shameless plug for the study abroad program, while you can’t add ‘traveler extraordinaire’ to your resume, traveling during breaks on study abroad has definitely given me the hard-knocks education I can’t get in the Bodleian (and that’s saying something, considering you can find pretty much everything else in the Bodleian)

Easter Mass in the Sevilla Cathedral!

I’m currently packing for a two-week trip to Spain, and just recently recovering from a rather traumatizing encounter with an evil Easyjet stewardess coming back from Rome. Despite the fact that my suitcase was laughably, ridiculously small, she managed to prove that with the wheels and little knobbly things on the bottom that keep it standing up, it was about a millimeter too long to be placed in the luggage size display without tilting it ever-so-slightly (which I did MANY TIMES to show her just how in compliance I was)

Of course, I was charged 50 euro and forced to put my suitcase in baggage hold at the last minute, which basically meant abandoning it outside next to the airplane, while a few not-that-dependable looking aircraft controllers we’re looking at it with only slight attention. I felt like I was dropping a crying child off at summer camp and driving away, and had horrible visions of taxing away from the airport and seeing my (tiny, tiny) suitcase still sitting in the tarmac.

Of course, I was being terribly overdramatic and it turned out fine, minus the 50 euro fee. However, in order to prevent it from happening again, I have vindictively purchased the most pathetically small suitcase I can find.

Enter ‘Tom Thumb,’ my new suitcase. Literally has the surface area of a cafeteria tray.

Compared to my old suitcase

Compared to my old HC backpack.

Yes, it’s going to be an interesting experience packing for Spain. Luckily I have vacum bags to help me out, since I have none of my mother’s packing wizardry…

keep in mind that I have size 5 1/2 feet, and those sandals take up the whole width

Things that are now being left behind: Pajamas, since they take up too much room (and I’m going to Spain, heck, I don’t need to sleep!) Towels, since I’m going to be staying in other people’s flats, so I can always borrow one. Hair straightener (yeah, that was the first to go, since I’ve learned that after Day 3 of traveling you stop caring how unsavory you look).

Things that must stay: a rainjacket (despite having gorgeous weather so far, I can’t be blessed forever.) Sneakers, (for going on runs in Retiro Park, literally my favorite area of Madrid.) though I might have to wear them on the plane. And, of course, my camera, because when else in my life will I be able to jet off to four different cities in Spain for two weeks?)

For those of you who didn’t experience the magic that was 90′s children’s television, ‘Where in the Wolrd is Carmen Sandiego’ was this quiz show for kids about geography that centered around this sort of international supercriminal, a woman named Carmen Sandiego that was on the run from the law, city-hopping to the most obscure locations possible.

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March 9th (that’s two friday’s ago) I embarked on the first leg of my ‘Carmen Sandiego’ trip, which is what I’ve chosen to call my travels during this six-week break between the last two terms at Oxford. I literally went to my last tutorial with my suitcase packed and waiting in the hallway. I’m definitely going to miss the tutorials I had this term, especially since Medieval Literature led me to my thesis topic, but that Friday I was definitely antsy to hit the road! After saying farewell to everyone on campus, I caught a bus down to London, which was all the traveling I needed to do for my first trip (I know, I started small). I met up with my best friend from home, Christina, who is studying in Sevilla, for some sightseeing, Thai-food nomming (we’re both huge fans, and London has the best Thai places) and other adventures.

The highlights were Portobello Market (I had a bit of a tourist moment when I walked down the first few blocks of the antique section and asked “wait, is this it?” only to peer across the intersection and realize that there was about sixteen more blocks to go!) which was in the Notting Hill Gate district, which I loved because it was so quiet and green and close to Hyde park, which was packed in the sunny, gorgeous weather we had!

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However, the highlight of the trip for me (theatre nerd that I am) was nabbing cut-price tickets to see the recent production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever with Lindsay Duncan and Jeremy Northam, which was perfect light and frothy entertainment for our second night. It was wonderful to see Christina again and hear about her experiences in Sevilla, and I can’t WAIT to see her again next week when we’re meeting up to travel all around Spain (which is why I’m currently back in Oxford for a few days relaxing and brushing up my Spanish).

However, next I caught a plane to Rome for the next leg of my trip, which was so amazing that’s it’s near-impossible to describe. If you’ve been there, I’m sure you understand. If you haven’t, book a ticket, kayak across the Atlantic, basically do anything to go there before you die. Oh my goodness, the buildings, the fountains, the ruins, the pasta, the gelato.

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I met my friend (and future roommate next year!) Lauren and in four days we saw so much of Rome that it still makes my head spin to think of all that we accomplished- we found a great company that does free walking tours of Rome and went on many of those, and then bought tickets to the must-see sights like the Colosseum, the Forums and (of course) the Vatican Museam and St. Peter’s Basilica. It was so sunny and gorgeous (in the upper 70′s!) that I was on a permanent melatonin high as I walked around the city, though the amazing food and wine might have also contributed. One of the highlights of the trip was definitely St. Peter’s Basilica, though the square itself was uncomfortably packed and pushy (like being at a club, only outdoors and with lots of screaming children). However, inside the basilica it was reverently quiet, and since afternoon mass was in session,  the choir began to sing as soon as we walked in, which was just magical.

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I also got to meet up with some fellow Crusaders studying in Rome on the classics program, like Steph, who took Lauren and I out to dinner in Trasteverde on our last night, where we had a unforgettable pasta feast and swapped stories about various Roman, English and German highjinks.

So while it seems weird not to be writing essays every week (I still get a weird twitch every time we walk past a library, and I apologize to both Lauren and Christina for constantly wandering off into foreign bookstores) I’m definitely enjoying the nomad life! Stay tuned for Edinburgh and my massive two-week journey through Spain.

So last weekend I had the amazing experience of popping down to London for a Saturday afternoon to see a show that I had been literally drooling over since I saw the adverts in December- AND it was for my tutorial! La casa de Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba) by Lorca is far and away one of my favorite plays, and ever since I studied it in high school under a wonder and extremely enthusiastic Spanish teacher I’ve wanted to see it performed. The Almeida Theatre was running an adaptation of the play set in Iran rather than 1930′s Spain, and it absolutely blew me away. I was worried that they were going to use the Iranian setting to make the play overtly political rather than focusing on family politics, but it was wonderfully subtle, and the main actress, Iranian Shohreh Aghdashloo, was brilliant.

That being said, I cannot concentrate on my essays!

1. I’m in a storm of packing, trying to find places to stash my suitcases and box up the rest for Mansfield’s international storage (I’m praying it doesn’t get lost).  Right now I’m trying to catagorize all of my things into piles of stuff that I might need when coming back to Oxford for a few days in mid March, and things I can live without for the next six weeks.

2. I am ridiculously excited about traveling. I’m probably never going to have to opportunity again to take six weeks and hop around Europe, going where I want and not worrying about deadlines, just soaking everything in. I’m starting off in London, then Rome, Edinburgh (which, by the way, I can’t get out of the horrible American way of saying it ‘Edinburg,’ like a burger, so hopefully no one shuns me there) and finally a glorious two and half weeks in different parts of Spain. When I’m biking in the drizzle  (and I cannot underscore how incredibly unpleasant that is) I usually count down to the days when I’ll be basking in the sun in Majorca or Barcelona.

3. I have an audition on Friday! I’m literally walking out out of my tutorial to the bus station to London at 1PM, but the directors were pretty much like “oh, that’s fine, we’ll put you down for 9AM then.” Yikes. However, I had so much fun doing Macbeth this term that I jumped at the opportunity of doing it again. I still don’t consider myself a real ‘theatre person,’ and I definitely dont have a library of audition monologues stored away in my mind like my friends who are proper thespians, which means that I’m frantically trying to learn a monologue before friday morning.

All of this contributes to a very distracted, excited and not-very-productive Sheila. Whoops. However, stay tuned for Carmen Sandiego travels! I would get a huge floppy red hat (and maybe a basset hound) but I don’t think I have any more room in my RYANAIR-approved carry-on suitcase.

Macbeth is finally over (I can’t believe I have so much free time!) and it was definitely the highlight of my term. I got to meet so many Mansfielders, try something new (I hadn’t done drama since high school, when I played a jury member, so you can imagine how pivotal I was to the performance). I think the rest of the cast is slightly in denial as well, since we’re all meeting for a curry dinner on Tuesday to relive the glory days.

Earlier this week I had visitors again- Lauren came to visit me from Bamberg (where she is the infinitely brave sole HC student studying abroad there) for two days and I took a break from studying to play tourist in Oxford, one of my favorite things to do since I feel like I miss out on the visitor-perspective of the city.

We took a tour of Christ Church, arguably the most famous college of Oxford (13 Prime Ministers went there! 13!). While it’s gorgeous and much grander than Mansfield, I don’t know if I could ever study there- you could never relax with that much grandeur all around you, not to mention the pressure of such famous alumni! I get nervous enough studying in the Bodlian, I feel like C.S. Lewis and John Locke are rolling in their graves everytime I sneak onto Facebook.

We also went into the Eagle and Child, the pub in Oxford famous for ‘The Inklings,’ the literary group composed of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and others who met and shared their upcoming projects (for those not literary-inclined, that would be the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Chronicles of Narnia) You can definitely see where Tolkien got the atmosphere for the houses in the Hobbit’s Shire- The Eagle and Child is really low-ceilinged and white-washed, I felt like Gandalf was going to enter while I was drinking my mulled wine any second

We finished off the second day with a Mansfield rugby match against Teddy Hall. We got trounced, but Teddy Hall does have the best ruby team at Oxford, and the Mansfield boys put up a great fight. I still can’t watch ruby without wincing every five minutes- there are so many unpleasant crunching sounds, especially when everyone piles over the ball in this kind of violent mosh-pit of flying limbs. Clearly I don’t have the proper  English sporting spirit.

We had our first ever performance of Macbeth last night, and it was such a success! Of course, there were some opening-night jitters, especially since many of the actors (aka me) haven’t done theater before, but everything went smoothly, and we got some wonderful feedback from friends/family and critics alike.

I can finally show you our lovely posters for the play, including the full size one of me and my co-witches looking evil and plotting:

As you can see, it was a mostly female cast, which gave an interesting edge to the questions of Masculinity in Macbeth (that might have just been my inner English nerd though). We even had BAGPIPES for the opening scene out on the quad, thanks to an extremely helpful Mansfield student stepping in to play on command. So far, it’s definitely been one of my favorite experiences at Mansfield.

So I realize that it’s really tiny, but here is the first promotional advert we have for Macbeth!! (I’m the one in the middle, with my two co-witches on either side). Our dress rehearsal is this weekend, and then we’re opening on Monday, I can’t believe it’s flown by so fast. We’re already sold out (!) so  now I’m just praying that this snow doesn’t stick, since I”m going to be rolling around around outside on the quad and would rather not be a witch with pneumonia.

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Sheila Coursey '13

  • Studies: English major with a concentration in Latin American and Latino Studies, College Honors Program
  • Hometown: West Hartford, Conn.
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