Thursday, March 12, 2009

Shannon - Spring 2009 - Oxford, England

Two months into my time here at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Oxford, and I still wake up amazed that I am really here. These first two months have been a whirlwind of reading and writing. I cannot believe how much information I have learned in 8 weeks, it is, after all, a semesters worth of work crammed into 8 weeks. It's not surprising then that I have two papers and a couple books due each week. But, now that my first set of classes is wrapping up in another week, I am going to miss it. In a very strange way, the immense amount of work has been fulfilling.
True, I have spent most of my time either at Café Nero inside of the famous Blackwells bookstore, the Bodleian Library, or in my room with its extremely bright yellow walls writing and writing. But, I feel like I have gained so much, not only from the culture but also from what I have been learning. It's such a hands-on experience, one that stresses personal growth through learning. Wow, I sound so geeky, but it really is fulfilling. It's nice to accomplish something big each week, and knowing that I am improving gives me so much confidence.
However, I have also learned a lot outside of my studies. I have already traveled into London a few times. One weekend I visited my uncle and I went up on the London Eye Ferris wheel (it has a gorgeous view of the city from high above). I also got to see Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, and Lion King the Musical. On a separate trip, a group of us went to Trafalgar Square for the Chinese New Year celebration. My latest trip was to Coventry, where I walked through the medieval district and saw the famous St. Michael's Cathedral. During WWII, Coventry was heavily bombed and St.
Michael's Cathedral was hit. The inside of the church is completely gutted, but some of the sides are still intact. It is such a beautifully tragic place. After the war, another new church was built next to it to symbolize hope, as a sort of church rising from the ashes. That night I also got a chance to see a Scottish Musical, Sunshine on Leith. The music was great, but I didn't always catch all of the dialogue as they had very heavy Scottish accents.
The food here in England really is different from the food in the United States. You'd be surprised how hard it is to find a really good burger (I did actually find one a week ago at the Gourmet Burger Kitchen, it has since brought immense happiness), and a Chicago style pizza has yet to be discovered. Here they serve bacon on lots of different dishes, however, do not be deceived. It is not the crispy American bacon that I love. It is softer and of a light pinkish-red color. It is because they take the bacon from the back of the pig, whereas American bacon comes from the stomach.
They have a lot of little baguette shops here, and of course pubs on every corner. They are very fond of these cookies called Digestive Biscuits.
Now, I thought that they were used to help you digest, and I wondered why they sold them in the cookie aisles by the dozens. I learned that they do not in fact help you digest, and that when they are sold in the U.S. they have to change the name because it would be considered false advertising.
My favorite has chocolate on one side, and they are a salty-sweet biscuit.
They are often eaten with tea.
Well that sums up the last few months pretty well: studying, an occasional trip, and food. My future is filled with many more trips around England, and Europe. My biggest lesson thus far is if you want to do something, don't sit around waiting to do it. Just buy those train tickets to France, or find a hostel to stay in during a trip to Ireland. Don't hesitate, just try and don't be afraid to make mistakes, but also stay safe. Simple enough.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Shannon! It sounds as if your time has thus far been incredible to say the least. Even though we all miss you in french class, I am positive that you are learning and growing so much from your experiences! Have you made a trip over to France yet? If you do be sure to brush up on your "français" for me :)
~ Ashley Mothershead

6:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shannon! I'm getting ready to study abroad in Spain during fall term...I've gone abroad for J-Term twice, and a lot of your comments reflect what I experienced during those trips: food, excursions, and studying. But how difficult is it to balance your course load for the whole semester when you have so many other travel/exploring opportunities available to you? I feel like balance is going to be my biggest challenge, because I will want to do everything I possibly can while I am abroad, but I obviously need to make sure I stick to my academic and program commitments. Do you have any suggestions for keeping on track with your syllabus and your travel aspirations? Thanks, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your time in Oxford and wherever else you get to visit! :-)

~ Jenn Kosciw

1:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Shannon! I'm getting ready to study abroad this summer in Italy and Greece. I am super excited! It sounds like you are having a great time exploring and learning in England. I have never gone abroad and my main concern is keeping in contact with friends and family in the states. How do you keep in touch? I was also curious about culture shock. Do have an tips for making the transition easier? Did you have any major issues with coming from the states to England?
Enjoy the rest of your stay!
Casey Gans

8:44 PM  
Anonymous Shannon D. said...

Thanks for your comments everyone!

Ashley - I miss French class! Say hello for me! I actually just got back from a long weekend in Paris. It was beautiful, and it was so fun to practice my French. I really feel that if you at least try to speak the language, even if you make mistakes, the locals really appreciate it and are often more helpful. Are you headed over to France in the fall? I will try to stop into class once I am back in the states!

Jenn - Spain will be great, I have a friend here who just spent last semester in Spain and loved it. I don't know about the course load for your program specifically, but we were warned before going to Oxford that this was the most academically challenging program. I still found time on the weekends to do some traveling, but I had to spend most of the week doing work. The balance is tough, but don't forget that you also have to take a break from your work, and to take advantage of getting to know the culture through the nightlife or a walk around (Oxford has some beautiful parks). The euro and the pound exchange rates aren't the best for the U.S. dollar right now, so that is an issue when it comes to traveling too. Check out for cheap flights and for cheap places to stay. I hope that you have a great time!

Casey - I am going to be traveling to Italy in a few weeks so I will let you know how the culture differed, and any tips I have for you. As for keeping in touch, Skype is a free video chat service, and you can also use it to call people in the states for cheap rates. I don't use the phone option on Skype, but I did get a pay-as-you-go phone with an international calling plan (I only pay 5 pence per minute for calls to the states).

Good luck everyone! Let me know if you have anymore questions!

4:03 PM  
Anonymous Laura Romero said...

Hey Shannon!
It's Laura from North Hall! I am going to study for a semester at Salamanca, Spain in the Fall. I hope you are safe and enjoying the time over there! I wanted to ask what are some things to take in consideration when choosing classes? And what kind of classes will you recomend to take?
Take Care,
Laura Romero

11:06 PM  
Anonymous Shannon D. said...

Hey Laura!
Spain is going to be great for you, I am just going to miss seeing you around campus! Well, I would first look to taking gen ed classes (I took a philosophy course here), but then I would fit in some for your major. You are a Spanish major along with Speech Path, right? Well, Oxford was the right fit for me because I am an English major, so I got some of those requirements done here. Its a great chance to test your skills in a new environment, and it definitely gave me a lot of confidence to learn English literature in one of the most literary places in the world. So, take some fun Spanish courses, they help you learn more about the culture, and they are great confidence boosters. I hope you have a great time! I also hope to see you when I get back to Elmhurst in a few weeks!

1:02 PM  
Anonymous Ashley Mothershead said...

I'm so excited (and jealous) that you spent a long weekend in Paris! I'm sure it was fabulous ;) I do plan on going to France this fall. Right now I am working on all the logistical plans with the ISEP program. It looks like I've been accepted to Aix-en-Provence/Marseille for next year! Regarding selecting classes abroad, what sort of tips do you have for me? I still have a lot of gen eds to fill up so I'm hoping to use up some of those when I go abroad. Anyways, where else have you traveled to or plan on travelling to while in Europe? I will tell everyone "bonjour" for you in class!!

Ashley Mothershead

11:38 PM  

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