I really do not know where to begin. Oxford was an absolutely surreal experience. Until the last week I hadn’t fallen in love with the city; however that last week was magical: I met three amazing guys, wrote one of my best essays, explored the city, and had an incredible shit show mess of a night with my best friends.
I feel that I’ve failed to blog the experience well, and I don’t want to go back and nitpick what I’ve already written. So instead I’ve decided to write a catchall. Yes all 6 weeks in one post (though I absolutely must have a separate post on Barcelona, the greatest city in the world).
To begin let’s understand the cast of characters that made Oxford so unforgettable:
Hannah: honestly I think Hannah is one of the people that understands me on the most fundamental level, the number of people that I know like this can be counted on one hand. She is absolutely charming, beautiful in my favorite way, ghettolicious and fabulous, endlessly witty and intelligent, and quite honestly perfection. Oxford could never have been so much fun without Hannah.
Kelsey: Just like Hannah, Kelsey is just too good to be true. She seems quiet and nice, unassuming, but the Kelsey I got to know is a firecracker (literally, what a pyro) who is also one of the most empathetic and relatable people that I’ve ever met. I could talk to Kelsey forever.
Kelsey and Hannah were my diehard twosome, always there to catch me when I fell. And as you’ve already read I fell quite a few times.
Next comes quite honestly the most beautiful person I know,
Morgan: it’s funny because when I met Morgan my first thought was “no way we’ll be friends, she’s too pretty and popular.” How wrong I would be. Morgan is brilliant, articulate, hilarious (big girl big glass), and so open to everyone that you can’t help but love her. I feel blessed to have met her and I can’t wait to see her when I get back to Duke.
Lindsey: The only one I knew from before Duke-in-Oxford, Lindsey is a character. She is definitely the clumsiest gal I know, but she makes up for it with her heart of gold and thirst for knowledge. Lindsey and I have had so many great conversations; she always has something to talk about. I’m glad I was able to help her in Barcelona and she definitely contributed significantly to my fun in Oxford.
Now of course every great cast has its supporting characters. At Oxford these men and women rounded things out, gave life a balance that study abroads often lack.
Matt & Noah, must be considered together. The greatest bromance in history is fails to describe the deepest bro-bond that unites these two. Endlessly hilarious and always affable, these two were the guys I most liked within the Duke group.
Sammie, this sophomore is just peaches and cream. She’s wonderfully witty and sarcastic. Chill to the core, Sammie is always great company. We also had quite a few great conversations, and she only reinforced my love of Kappa.
Shelby is absolutely wonderful. One of the first people I befriended at Oxford, she also was in “The Making of Modern Britain” and was my go-to when it came to talking about that class. She’s effortlessly charming and funny in that sly-and-I-know-it kinda way.
Kaitlin was by far my favorite “alternative friend,” the friend outside of my core group. Almost everyday I would seek out this Tae-Kwon-Do blackbelt & Robertson Scholar fro some delightful conversation. Kaitlin and I met during Leadership Roundtable freshman year and ever since we’ve remained friends. She’s just that delicious blend of spunk, playfulness, and radiant happiness. I’ve never seen her without a smile, and the things she does always amaze me. Her two-month internship with an NGO in Sri Lanka before she came to Oxford was a constant source of fascinating stories, and with every conversation I peeled back one more layer of this most-proud Rhode Islander.
Swain may be President of the Duke Student Body, but she’s President of my heart first and foremost (so cheesy, so true). One of the most genuine people that I have ever met, Swain is a dollop of Carolina sunshine. Behind her genteel disposition and warmth beats the heart of a highly intelligent and ambitious young woman, and I feel honored to have gotten to know her while at Oxford. Swaino always complimented me and lent an ear when I needed one. It will be a great loss for Duke when she graduates.
Matt, “Douchey Matt” as we so lovingly called him, was our Oxonian liason. He was in charge of basic administration of our program and herded us around as his own little flock of American sheep. Which was rather odd given that he only just turned 21. He’s in Med School and is contracted to the Royal Navy once he graduates. We had a playfully bitter relationship with greetings such as “Hey fuckface” and “Sup Dosey” as common as English rain. He was always fun to joke around with and could be helpful at times. A solid British friend.
And who could forget the romantic plot lines? Cue Taylor, Ashley, Greg, and Andrew.
Now I’ve explained Taylor (USAF asshole in Cambridge) quite a bit and at this point my only feeling towards him is pity. I defriended all of them on facebook so that chapter of my life is most certainly shut. However the other three I have not mentioned before, mostly because I haven’t written much due to the craziness of these last two months.
Ashley is the least consequential. We chatted online for awhile and he seemed to be (and was) a very cool guy. His mother is from Guyana and he studies theatre though I’d never guess that he was gay on meeting him. We watched the Olympics and Batman begins and hooked up. Pure, simple fun. I doubt I’ll ever see him again but I wouldn’t be opposed. We clicked nicely and he was a great guy.
Andrew is an Australian post-doc working at Oxford. He taught at the Australian Defence Academy (imagine West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy rolled into one) before coming to England and has a wonderful demeanor. We went on three dates, and while I liked him more as a friend, but he liked me in other ways so we hooked up before I left. Wasn’t really an enjoyable experience, but he’s a really nice guy that has an interesting take on things. I will definitely keep in touch with him.
Greg was my hands-down favorite. We also went on three dates and also hooked up on the last date. Definitely the best hookup I had in England. He rows crew and is a giant at 6’ 4”. We met for a beer at the King’s Arms and lunch at Quod. For our last date he took me to this gorgeous park that overlooks all of Oxford’s spired skyline, and afterwards we had (regrettably lackluster) tapas. Afterwards we had a great hookup in my room and shower. He has an incredible, everything. Greg is the only true Oxonian (someone who goes/went to Oxford) and was that classic British mix of good-natured humor and reserve.
And now Greg and Andrew are dating each other!
Also don’t forget the flaky and forgettable Army doctor Damian.
Though, with the exception of Taylor, almost of this happened in the last two weeks so it was all rather compressed. However I got to meet some great guys that showed me parts of Oxford I would not have otherwise seen, and my faith in gays was slightly restored.
Now for this part, please bear with me. It is now 12 days since the end of Oxford and 55 since it began, therefore my memories have amalgamated into a giant impression that I must dissect and relive in order to retrieve them for you.
I had a quite painless travel experience to Oxford, with two fascinating seat partners (the nurse and the Scot) and an easy bus ride to Gloucester Green in Oxford. The first night we had our first high table which was an amazing experience full of debauchery and fun. We had our main photo taken and I fell in love with Kelsey, Hannah, and Morgan. My first class was rather less good than I had expected, yet we were the only class that did not have a paper the first week so things proceeded apace nicely. We also had two Exeter College lecturers that week. The first was on Social Media and the Arab Spring and didn’t have any insights that The Economist or Foreign Affairs hadn’t already printed. The second lecture was an absolutely mind numbing survey of free market capitalism. So broad and generic as to actually make me doze off. So far Oxford’s illustrious academic pedigree seemed a false façade. Otherwise though things were incredible, in the first week we had a tour of Oxford that gave us a good, if brief, overview of the city and its history, and the food seemed wonderful: lamb, potatoes, salads, tens of desserts. We also went to an incredible performance of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, by far my favorite Shakespeare play. I do love fairies after all. Unfortunately England’s endless rain spoiled the second half and the play was ended early. At the end of the first week Oxford was a great place to be. Though I also had a nagging sense of “Is this it?” For one the university is not contiguous and as a result there really is no “Oxford spirit” so to speak. Instead your college (New College for us) defines your experience in Oxfordshire. I hadn’t planned on going anywhere the first weekend, but upon an invitation from my friend Kelly at University College London (UCL) I took a 7am bus, god that was rough, to London. I got to Langton Close, her dorm, at 10am and within 20 minutes we were on our way to “World Pride” which while fun was quite chilly and very political. Feistiness rather than frivolity was in the air. We had the honor of marching in the parade at the end, and were able to quite a swathe of LGBT life-most interestingly the loud and proud asexuals. Yet, despite the slight let-down of the parade the people that I went with were incredible. The Duke-in-Londoners were a riot, and I had so much fun hanging out with them. It was unfortunate that I was never able to see them again (for the most part).
That night we had planned to go to Fabric, and I wish we had, but on the way we went into this 80s club dominated by 30 year olds to go to the bathroom. However, since we got in without paying a cover we decided just to stay. I wasn’t a huge fan, especially since the one cute I saw, and made 5 second eye contact with, left when his friends left 20 minutes into us being there… We had walked passed St. Paul’s to get to the club and the way out we saw its looming dooms obscured by a pounding London rain. It was torrential. We ran to the night bus stand, sketchy I know, and managed to get back to UCL in one piece. The next day I went down to Soho, one of London’s two gay districts (I never went to Vauxhall, the other), and met up with about 8 other gay US military guys. They were fun, but in the end meeting them was definitely the greatest mistake I made while in Britain. I met Taylor almost instantly, he was refreshingly American and cute. He was exhausted but we had a decent exchange. The other guy at the table, his name escapes me, was nice, but rather portly and overly sarcastic. Marcos, another gorgeous American, had lost his voice and wasn’t much of a conversationalist as a result. Chris was fun, and would be my hero the next weekend with Taylor, but we didn’t speak much. Otherwise Jake is the only other person of note. I didn’t talk to him much, but he’s also in the Navy and will be stationed in San Diego when I am so he’s the only one that I’ve remained facebook friends with.
During week 2 the true amount of academic work I would need to do at Oxford hit me. Every week we had book after book to read, and the subjects were so generic that they required mountains of background reading before you could crystallize your specific subject. My first paper that week was on British decline in the post-war era. I read about 400 pages that week. I also settled into my room more, especially once I figured out how to turn my Macbook into a wifi terminal for my iPhone (aka enabling Grindr in my room). I had planned to read a lot at Oxford, but honestly between the weekend travelling and the workload most of my time in my room was just relaxing. I honestly don’t even know what I did. Aside from 2 episodes of How I Met Your Mother & 8 episodes of True Blood I watched almost no television while in Oxford. During the second week we another Wednesday night high table. Now since we got 4-8 free drinks depending upon how aggressive one was during champagne cocktail hour Wednesday became the main going out night… except for me. My weekly papers were due Thursday afternoons, and since I would actually try to be diligent about my studies I took forever to research and write them. As a result I never finished before Wednesday night. I wish I had been able to go out more, but unlike almost everyone else on the program Oxford was only the beginning of my 2012 European adventure so I didn’t feel the party imperative that I think they did. Quite simply I just wanted to enjoy Oxford and do well in my class. For me Oxford wasn’t a study abroad, it was more like summer school. Though that doesn’t mean that I didn’t travel and live it up, I just took things a little slower than some of the others. Week 2 also saw us go on our first Duke-in-Oxford sponsored trip. Early Friday morning we journied up to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare’s, now terribly tacky, hometown and a performance of The Tempest by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was a nice little town, but so touristy that my only enjoyment stemmed from the company of my chicas and when we had our first afternoon tea at “Anne Hatheway’s.” Those scones were mind-blowing. Imagine the best, flakiest, butteriest southern biscuit that you’ve ever tasted then douse it in jam and cream. Yeah. It was heaven. We returned to Oxford then took an early morning Saturday bus to London, this time to stay at LSE.
This second time in London was completely different. First, unlike the quaint, picturesque London that I encountered on my walk from Marble Arch to Langton Close, this London was rainy, gloomy and overcrowded. The trek from Victoria Coach Station to LSE was tiring and uninteresting. We dropped our things off and proceeded back outside to do London tourist-style (almost as fun as Thai-style ;). With Steven, Hannah, and Kelsey plus a gaggle of other Dukies we headed down to Parliament, Big Ben, the Tower of London, and the HMS Belfast. We ended up dividing into two groups as us “Tour people” (Hannah & Kelsey) went to the Tower of London and had one of the best tours that I’ve been a part of. The Beefeater tour of the Tower of London is a must-see. It was hilarious, interesting, and well paced. We saw the gallows, locations of royal intrigue, especially those of Henry VIII, the Crown Jewels, and everything else under the royal sun. Afterwards we went to Parliament and just barely caught the last tour, and even then we were destined to take the French tour had it not been for the miraculous intervention of a kindly woman who smuggled us into the last English tour. Parliament was stunning. The House of Lords had more pomp and circumstance contained in its chambers than I had ever imagined possible, whereas the austere House of Commons seemed hardly enough to contain the seat of modern British political power. The galleries of Henry VIII and other Tudors were resplendent along with the Queen’s antechamber and royal throne. The wood paneling and carvings were breathtaking throughout Westminster and seeing the statues of Churchill, Lloyd George, Attlee, and Asquith took my breath away. I was standing inside the legislative chambers that had had debated “the American problem,” the future of India, how to contain German expansion, and what to do about Napoleon. This was where it all happened.
That night I tried to meet up with gay Spanish-Brit guy that I had met when I met the other gay military guys the week before; however Ollie didn’t show up at our meeting point and I left, let down by another gay. The silver lining was how much fun the rest of the night was. After downing way too many bottles of wine we started singing and dancing to pop hits, and recording it… I don’t have them on here yet but once I do they will be some of my most prized possessions. Aside from Ollie, that night was impossibly hilarious. I truly love London, and after two weekends with two very different sets of friends in two very different parts of town I knew that this city was something special.
Then Sunday we went around some more… missed going into Harrod’s and the Churchill War Rooms by minutes… but we did see Buckingham Palace. It was nice end to our weekend trip to London.
That night we headed out, Kelsey and Hannah back to Oxford, me to Cambridge…. I’ve explained that quite enough earlier so I’m just going to skip over the most regrettable series of events.
Week 3 had a much more interesting topic: the end of the British Empire and its decolonization. However, Dr. Coggins and I disagreed on quite a bit and tutorial that week sucked, which was only compiled by another pointless “lecture.” My class met twice a week for an hour, once on Tuesday at 2pm for “Lecture” in which we discussed the topic of the week… aka we just regurgitated what the books told us and he sat back and offered slightly critiques. I found lecture quite futile. On Thursdays Jack and I had Tutorial at 2pm. Our class’ tutorial was set up so that we had to present and defend our final paper to our tutor each week. This proved extremely frustrating since we didn’t learn much lecture and then when we suffered withering criticism in Tutorial we had no recourse, no ability to correct our papers. Dr. Coggins was exceptionally combative with me, even Jack remarked about it once. I don’t know if he was trying to push me more than the others because I had already have such an extensive historical background or if just didn’t like my ideas, but either way, I strongly disliked Tutorial. Otherwise Week 3 was the week when the weather FINALLY relented. In June and the first part of July England had experienced the worst rain on record. Yes folks, the rainiest summer ever in one of the most perpetually wet places in the world. In fact the rain was a large part of why I didn’t much care for Oxford initially. It rained constantly: on the way to dinner, on the way to class, on the way to the library (we couldn’t check out books so I had to go to Social Sciences everyday to read in their stacks… huge pain), on the way to high table, on the way to… everything. It was always grey. Grey and wet.
After the Taylor disaster I kind of retreated inward in the third week. I watched all of True Blood Season 4, which was incredible, and recomposed myself. I also did not go anywhere that weekend. Week 3, as best as I can remember, was my least eventful week.
Though it did have one exceptionally bright spot, our trip to Avebury and Bath. Avebury is a set of man-placed stones older than Stonehenge encircling a village in the middle of Southeast England. The stones were rather uninteresting, but the pastoral life was glorious. The sheep roamed everywhere, with most mounting the verdant hills that dominate the landscape in that part of England. It was beautiful in its simplicity, its pastoral perfection.
After Avebury we set out for Bath, the only natural hot springs in Britain. Full of Roman and royal history Bath is a wonderful little English city. We toured the old Roman Baths and strolled into the pumping room (where the English started drinking the spa waters in the 18th century rather than bathing in them; Bath was the original Jersey Shore, with the young, old, trashy, and dead all floating about in its increasingly unsanitary waters). However, the best part of Bath was that we went to the modern spa. I had never been to a spa before, but of all the places to lose your spa-ginity Bath is the place to do it. For a reasonable 26 pounds we got 2 hours of access to all of the levels of the spa. Of course massages were not included, but the warm waters and pristine city views allowed us to see Bath from the vantage point of its original purpose. And oh was that purpose cozy. I really didn’t want to leave.
We hopped on a bus back to New College and I passed a wonderfully lazy weekend back in Oxford.
I’ll leave you to reflect on this post and I’ll finish the second half of Oxford once I get to Paris.
Glad to be back,