Foreign Correspondence: An Odd Jump Across The Pond

Opinion by and
Oct. 28, 2010, 12:20 a.m.

Ed. Note: In a new series, The Daily will have a different writer each week discuss his or her experience abroad.

OXFORD, England — One month ago, I stepped off the plane at London Heathrow Airport and took the bus to Oxford University. This was it: the beginning of a quarter at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, something no one would let me forget whenever I told them I was headed to Oxford for a couple months. It’s the same kind of reaction that makes me tell people I go to school in “northern California…oh, the Bay Area…” It’s frustrating, because it’s not like I’m trying to brag. But I digress. You know what that’s like.

I’ve spent the last month adjusting to the differences between Stanford and Oxford. Previous students had warned us about Oxford’s particular quirks, but you really can’t understand until you’re here and experiencing it for yourself.

Take the library system. At Stanford, I drop by Green with a list of a couple books for a paper, and leave with twice as many as I came for, a great perk of being able to browse the shelves. The Bodleian library stacks, which hold a copy of every book published in the U.K. for the last howevermany hundred years, are underground, and the librarians use a train to go get your books. That’s right, a train. Therefore, no stacks browsing, as much as I’d like to ride that train. And because the Bodleian is a reference library, you can’t check out any books. None. They have a copy of every Harry Potter, but if you want to read one, you have to have it sent to one of the reading rooms, and then you can sit there and read it. When you’re done for the day (which you have to be by 10 p.m., because that’s when the library closes), you give the book to the librarian, who puts it on the reserve shelf. You can go back and pick it up as long as you have it reserved, and you can renew it, but you cannot leave with it.

This drives me crazy. Sure, it’s nice when someone has the book I want and I can just go borrow it if they’re not using it. But honestly, how many times has the book I’ve wanted been checked out at Stanford? Maybe three times in the last two years. And then I just recall it and all is well. At Stanford, I don’t mind working in the library, but tell me I can’t work anywhere else and suddenly that’s all I want to do.

Don’t get me wrong. I like it here. There are things that frustrate me, like the library system or the fact that the dining hall is only open for 45 minutes at lunch, but other things I’m really enjoying, like my tutorial.

Now, the tutorial system does have its pros and cons. Basically, I meet with my tutor, a Fellow in the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies, every Monday for an hour. In that time, I read him the paper I wrote the previous week, he gives me feedback, we discuss for a little bit and then we talk about what I’m going to do next week. Each tutor has his or her own requirements, but everyone is basically writing a five- to 10-page paper each week. When I first heard about this, I thought this sounded insane…and then I actually thought about it. I got to pick the exact topic I wanted to study—for me, contemporary issues of gender in Islam, a topic I’m having trouble finding classes about at Stanford. Then, I spend my week reading books about a related topic, and then write a paper. It’s a pretty sweet deal.

Other than my tutorial, I’m only taking one five unit class, on soccer and English society. It’s taught by Stanford professor Bob Sinclair, who is British and very passionate about soccer. With these two classes combined, I have four hours of class a week. I spend some of the rest of my time reading, and the rest however I want. I can do work whenever it’s convenient for me, and spend any time I want exploring and experiencing Oxford culture. I like having this much freedom in my schedule…but it will be nice to come back to the familiarity of the Farm.

Oxford is a very different experience than Stanford, in both good and bad ways. But I think that’s the whole point of studying abroad, and what the Bings are trying to accomplish when they so generously fund these trips—giving us a chance to experience something completely different than what we get in the Stanford bubble.

Want to talk Harry Potter? E-mail Aisha Ansano at [email protected].

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