Archive for November, 2011

The Pilgrims Didn’t Have Hot Water Either: Thanksgiving in Oxford

Friday, November 25th, 2011

Happy Black Friday! For the first time in many years I did not wake up at the crack of dawn this morning to go shopping, though apparently my family in Connecticut didn’t either since I wasn’t there to roust them out of bed. However, I did enjoy a wonderful expat Thanksgiving yesterday, thanks to the cards from my family and the wonderful people at Mansfield that put on a formal Thanksgiving dinner. Yesterday afternoon we had the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving parade streaming live in the common room (the beauty of being five hours ahead- none of us had to wake up early) and we made pilgrim and indian hats to wear to thanksgiving dinner!

Arts & Crafts in the JCR

The dinner was in the Chapel, and both visiting students and British students were invited to get a taste of a traditional thanksgiving dinner (portioned, of course, with British restraint rather than American excess, so no one actually ate themselves into a triptophane-induced food coma). We had our JYA president Max give a brief history of Thanksgiving (including the more unsavory parts that we don’t like to mention in elementary school) and our President, Baroness Helena Kennedy, gave a lovely speech on the tradition of giving thanks.

John Stepsis, Courtney Penna and I at dinner


Of course, Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without real American football (the ‘American’ is necessary to avoid confusion with ‘football’) so we had an after-party to cheer on whoever it was that was playing (my knowledge of football extends to Superbowl commercials) and show off our hats.

In other news, this is my flat’s third day without hot water, so I’m really internalizing the Pilgrim experience. Hopefully our many (many) polite emails to the housing authorities will pay off. However, at the moment I’m just ecstatically happy to officially be able to blast Christmas music, as per Black Friday tradition.

English Plus

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

So all Oxford students have to complete what’s called an “ICIP” or Independent Cultural Immersion Program, which is a non-academic way for us to experience British culture and integrate into the community. I’m volunteering with an Oxford program called ‘English Plus’ that us up with local public schools to help students with their GSCE’s. I’m at Oxford Spires, an easy 15 minute bicycle ride from my flat, and working with the same few students consistently on their reading and writing proficiency. It definitely pulls me out of my ‘oxford bubble’, where I’m moving between various ancient libraries and halls and constantly thinking about things like the use of mimesis in The Winter’s Tale. Stepping out of the center of Oxford, where everyone is a student and equally concerned over various academic minutiae, and into the peripheral suburban neighborhoods is a bit like stepping off the ‘Hill’ at Holy Cross, and it has the same grounding effect; it makes me concious that I’m living in a very privelidged sphere, and that all of England isn’t cobblestones and commoner’s gowns (as much as I love the cobblestones and commoner’s gowns).

I’m not sure how much use I am as a GSCE tutor, but my students are endlessly amused by my American cultural references and the fact that I’ve never had a Mars bar (and wouldn’t even know what one was if it wasn’t for the Harry Potter series).  However, I think that my leniency on what they write their essays on has at least changed their attitude towards writing, though it does mean I read a lot of paragraphs on Kurt Cobain and Jack the Ripper. So far it’s one of my favorite parts of oxford life.

Presidents, Fetes, and Football Matches

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Yet another busy Saturday at Oxford- this week was less hectic, since I only had one tutorial to prepare for, so I was able to attend all of the lectures that had caught my interest (including a really awesome and slightly gruesome one on Jack the Ripper). Right now we’re in the fifth week of term, known as “5th Week Blues,” and everyone is a bit strained and burned out, myself included. However, I’ve been fighting 5th week blues by planning my trips to London and Italy before I go home for Christmas! I’m going down to London for a few days and visiting my friend Jill at SOAS and doing tourist-y things like visiting the Globe and going to the Hyde Park Christmas Festival. Then two other Oxford students and I are flying to Italy for a week, visiting friends and soaking in all the sunshine (and pasta) we can find! So whenever the constant essay deadlines and endless reading on the Tudor reformation get me down, I browse travel sites for ideas on what to do (and phrases I might need in Italian!)

Today was especially busy- I had a President’s Brunch this morning, which is a lovely concept in which 20 or so freshers go to the president of Mansfield’s house to chat and discuss ideas for the college. Our President, Baroness Helena Kennedy, is a human rights barrister, author, and member of the House of Lords, so as you can imagine I was a little nervous, but it was a lovely relaxing brunch- we talked about the differences between the American and English concepts of a college education, and what part of Mansfield the visiting students would change if we could. I had a pretty difficult time with that (I don’t know if you can tell from his blog, but I’m pretty obsessed with Mansfield) but I still think a liberal arts education is a good idea no matter what you’re studying; I can’t imagine coming to Oxford for three years and studying nothing but English.

So from there I dropped into Mansfield’s Autumn Fete, which we had organized in conjunction with Aston-Mansfield, a local public school, and had my face painted and bobbed for apples and all of those festival-y activities. Finally, we had our third football match against Wadham, which we tied after being down 0-2 at halftime. We scored both of our goals in the last ten minutes of the game, so as you can imagine it was quite dramatic. However, it was also quite muddy, so soccer cleats are definitely the next item of my shopping list!

My Struggles with ‘Englishisms’

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Hey guys, so I’ve been updating quite frequently lately, mostly because I’m swamped with work and this is a more productive procrastination than sitting on Facebook and laughing maliciously at everyone’s snowstorm pictures.

I was in Tesco the other day (sadly not the one that Liz saw Emma Watson in) and I spent about fifteen minutes wandering the dairy aisles looking for eggs, until I finally had to ask an employee. He gave me an odd look (I was also in full football uniform and carrying several large books on the English Reformation, so I might have been a little harried) and pointed to the bread aisle. Eggs are kept unrefrigerated here, next to the bread. I’m not sure how the British public doesn’t die of food poisoning, but my scrambled eggs were delicious and I’m still alive, so apparently refrigerating eggs is yet another cultural difference I need to adjust to. This episode made me think of the other small ‘Englishisms’ that are now part of my everyday life.

1. ‘Cheers’- I really thought that this only existed in British TV, but EVERYONE actually uses this phrase; it can mean anything to ‘goodbye’ to ‘thank you’ to ‘I hate your guts’ (when used ironically at cars that cut you off when cycling to school)

2. Signing ‘xxx’ after emails- writing ‘xxx’ or ‘xoxo’ after emails or texts definitely suggests some sort of friendly intimacy in American communication, but everyone does this to everyone else in the UK, even if it’s someone you just met. Trust me, I had a few very confusing conversations after getting a cellphone.

3. ‘Black or White?’ -When they ask you if you want you coffee ‘white’ or ‘black’ at coffee shops they’re really asking if you want milk. There is no such thing as white coffee. In retrospect, it’s actually pretty embarrassing that this ever confused me.

4. The Language of Food-Deciphering English menus can be a struggle: ‘Courgettes’ are zucchinis, ‘aubergines’ are eggplants ‘crisps’ are chips, ‘chips’ are fries, ‘squash’ is a type of concentrated juice and ‘gardern’ and ‘mushy’ both refer to ways to eat peas (naturally or mashed) Also, there are vegetables in England that don’t exist in the US- for example, a ‘swede’ isn’t, as I previously thought, a Swedish person, but a small root vegetable resembling a squash.  Oy vey.