Monday, October 27, 2014

Weeks 1 & 2: Adventures and Essays

Here I am again! 
Since life has been a different kind of crazy these past couple of weeks I’m condensing 1st and 2nd week into one post, so what we're looking at is October 13th - 26th.

1st week was full of adventures.

I made my mom’s chicken noodle soup by myself for the first time! The results were decent enough, for a trial run, but it was a tad bit salty. It was fun to feel independent in a new way – although I emailed her about fifteen times that day with questions. Cooking with her in the living room, available to help, is definitely easier than cooking thousands of miles away from her.

That week I also went to the Farmer’s Market that’s open in Gloucester Green on Wednesdays. It’s basically a market featuring food stalls, jewelry stalls, pretty much anything you can think of, set up in a little town square type of area. I caved in front of a food stall and got some fabulous apples. The apples here have been so crisp thus far, and I’m in heaven.

I also tried out a pub (pub = restaurant, not just bar) with some friends called the Jericho Tavern and had a wonderful burger with wonderful company.
(And the best vanilla ice cream ever).

On Thursday I had tea at The Grand Café, the oldest coffee house in England. 
I ordered what is called “Cream Tea,” which is less extravagant than “High Tea,” featuring a pot of tea and two scones with clotted cream and jam.
Clotted cream is arguably the most amazing thing to have ever been invented.
After tea, my friends and I wandered around town a bit and ended up at Oxford Castle where we climbed a mound that gave a great view of a bit of the city.

I also went to FOCUS, the church group for students that I’ve been attending, and met with my small group of girls for the first time.

On Friday I met my Shakespeare tutor for the first time and explored the area of Summertown, which is a few miles outside of Oxford City Centre.

That evening I joined some friends in attending dodgeball. Yes, dodgeball. I possess the mixed blessing and curse of throwing somewhat accurately, so my throws went the right direction but they were also easy to catch. I was able to stay in longer if I merely dodged, but it was almost more enjoyable to get out quickly and watch than it was to stay in and fear for my life as very strong young men hurled things at my head.

After that I went to a meeting of the Tolkien society where I got to meet Tolkien fans of varying degrees of intensity enthusiasm. While some of us felt we were in over our heads, it was a grand time of chatting, games, and Tolkien-themed snacking. I’ve not been able to attend since then but I hope to be able to make it to another meeting or two.

Saturday (we have now arrived at October 18th) I went to London for the day with a friend who is here for her third term, so she knows her way around. We had wonderfully mild weather all day and were able to see a lot of the geekier aspects of London that I’ve wanted to visit.
Herein follows a list of that day's adventures:
We started out in Kensington Gardens and saw the Palace there, but what we were really after was the Peter Pan statue. It was surreal to see it in person. I couldn’t stop smiling, I was so amazed to be seeing it for myself.

After Kensington we went on a wild goose chase for these “Book Benches” that had been scattered around London but have now been removed. So instead of finding a bench based off of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” we ended up in St. George’s Garden. Which is a cemetery. Hooray.

After that bit of adventuring we went to King’s Cross station.
Harry Potter fans know where this is going.
The station has set up an attraction for those who want to go to “Platform 9 ¾” with a luggage trolley halfway through the wall for a photo op.
So of course I stood in line with the dozens of other young adults (and a handful of kids) and got my picture taken.
And then resisted the urge to buy a wand from the gift shop.
(I did get a Gryffindor scarf, however. I am unashamed.)
It was amazing.

After that hopped back on the tube to go to the Sherlock Holmes Museum.
As in, 221B Baker St.
As in, “Oh my goodness is this real life?”
It was basically a recreation of what the flat would have looked like based on the books, with some rooms also recreating scenes from different stories. And then there was a gift shop.
Basically I went from one surreal experience to another, visiting places that up to that point had only existed in some of my favorite stories.
I was all a-flutter with geeky happiness.

We then refreshed ourselves with tea from Fortnum and Mason’s, from which Her Majesty the Queen orders her tea.

We finished the day by wandering around Piccadilly Circus.
Side note, circus = circle. No elephants were involved.
I found a couple souvenirs and we went to a 5 floor M&M’s store.
I’ve never been anywhere that smelled so much like milk chocolate.

That was a bit detailed, so forgive me for that, but it really was a wonderful day of adventuring even if my feet felt like they were going to fall off for two days afterward.

2nd week, beginning on October 20th, was much less adventurous and much more studious.
I wrote my first essays and had my first tutorials (meetings) with my tutors.
The expectations for the Oxford Essay are incredibly different from the way I’ve been taught to write during my time at Cedarville, so it was a bit difficult this first time around to know what exactly I was meant to produce. My tutorials were instructive and enjoyable, however, and I feel much more prepared for my future essays.

I also met with my art history tutor again! My assignments for him are not quite an essay since they involve demonstrating an understanding of the particular types of art we’ve been studying. This time, we went to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Northleach. Also known as “The Cathedral of the Cotswolds,” it is a church whose construction was begun in the 14th century using money provided by those who were wealthy due to the wool industry. We studied the Northleach Brasses, portraits chiseled out of brass and inlaid in stone that was then set into the church floor. The artistry of the memorials was incredible in the details and precision of the design, and the church itself was a beautiful structure.

Saturday, the 25th, my study abroad program took us on a tour of Cambridge. The weather was incredibly mild and sunny, perfect for a field trip day.

We were first shown Madlington Cemetery, a War Memorial dedicated to fallen Americans. It was beautiful and sobering, the resting place of over 5,000 members of the armed forces and civilians who lost their lives serving alongside them.

After that we were taken on a tour of Cambridge, which reminded me of Cedarville as it is a small “college town,” especially when compared to Oxford. We ended at King’s College Cathedral, which has magnificent stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings. After that we explored the town before heading home.

Side note: The rivalry between Cambridge and Oxford is comparable to that between US schools such as OSU and Michigan. Our Cambridge tour guide didn’t even refer to Oxford by name, she just called it “the other place.”

Sunday I attended church at St. Ebbe’s again and my student small group had a time of fellowship with a few other groups at the student leader’s house.
If there weren’t dozens of reasons why I can’t stay another term, I would stay just for the chance to spend more time at St. Ebbe’s. It’s an amazing environment and I already know I’m going to miss it terribly.

Well, that was sufficiently long and wordy.
On a more personal note, I found out this week that a family friend died in a horrible accident. I’ve been confronted with the reality of death on a more personal level this past year than ever before and it has been hard to understand and the struggle of reconciling untimely deaths with what I know of God’s goodness can sometimes be discouraging. Prayers would be most appreciated, for myself and everyone else who had the blessing of knowing him.
I’ve also had to figure out graduation/class registration issues over the past couple of weeks. In addition to keeping in touch with family and friends, all that communication is making it a little difficult to be mentally “present” here. Prayer for focus is always something I need.

Thanks for reading, friends! 

P.S. – Doctor Wilfong? This is a spot in Oxford where Mary Tudor executed martyrs, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. We saw it on our first tour of Oxford and I knew you’d appreciate the history of it. 

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