Friday, May 28, 2010

Paul - Oxford - Spring '10

Studying in Oxford is a dream come true.  Mind you, I often try very hard to refrain from employing such cliché phrases! But it’s true! If you are seeking an environment where your intellectual abilities will be stretched to the max, then join! If that sounds scary, well, to be honest, it is. I nearly fainted when I saw the reading list at the beginning of the semester. Yet the amazing thing is this: if you work hard you can do it, and as a result, will achieve a great sense of accomplishment- not to mention all the wisdom and knowledge that comes from studying so hard! Stretched to the max, but not torn.

The professors here are great. Expect to see a few more bow-ties than in Illinois. On the whole, they are brilliant and patient men and women who want to see you grow and achieve all you can. At times their constructive criticism may get you down; but like the gardener who clips away dead leaves from a plant it’s only to make you blossom.

My course work this semester involves: Anglo-Saxon History, Philosophy of Science, Great Books Seminar (Paradise Lost, Gulliver’s Travels, Prolegomena to Future Metaphysics etc), and the Integral Medieval and Renaissance course. As you may know, the teaching method here is the tutorial: one-on-one. My seminar class happened to also follow this method as I was the only one to sign-up for the course. However, the Integral course is classroom style with plenty of opportunity for discussion and even the good old hammer-and-tongs debate style!

The facilities one can take advantage of here are tremendous. I’ll list the facilities in order of proximity to St. Michael’s Hall: CMRS library, Charles Williams Library (one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s and C.S. Lewis’s good friends…you need special permission to access), St. Peter’s Library, Philosophy Library, Bodleian Library (the cardinal university library, built by Sir Christopher Wren, also the second largest in the U.K. if I remember correctly), and the Science Library. There are even more than what I’ve listed, such as a theology library, which I did not use. That’s one of the great things about Oxford- there’s so much to explore!

You might be thinking...ok, those are the hard parts, any fun? To that I give a resounding Yes! Only six or so ‘city blocks’ from CMRS is the Ashmolean Museum, one of the largest in the U.K. and indeed world-famous. From Phoenicia to WWII you can see just about anything you wish to quench your curiosity. The resources there may also improve your studies. For example, in my Anglo-Saxon History class (with Dr. Philpott…get to know him if you can) I read about the coinage of 9th century England. So I took a jaunt over to the Ashmolean and actually took a look at their deposit of 9th century Anglo-Saxon coins! It makes history come alive.

In addition, there are famous walks, parks, buildings, restaurants, pubs, and the famous Blackwell’s Bookstore which will call for your attention.  My personal favourites are Addison’s Walk around Magdalen College, the University Parks, Merton College, Christ Church College, the Eagle and Child pub (or as the locals say the Bird and Baby, or even the Foul and Fetus), and of course, Blackwell’s.

There is also a thriving extra-curricular scene at Oxford as you can imagine. I frequently attended two societies: the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society and the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion.  The Lewis Society had as its guest near the beginning of term the Rev. Dr. Michael Ward, who recently published a book about the main theme of the Narnia Chronicles (a must read, one of the most interesting literary discoveries in a while, or so say the Oxford dons). Likewise, the Ramsey Centre brought lecturers from Cambridge to Pontificia Universita Gregorianato to speak on issues which intersect and are even mutually affirming to science and religion (one professor of philosophy from Notre Dame talked on St. Augustine’s interpretation of Genesis as a description of an evolutionary process, fifteen hundred years before Charles Darwin).

Will you see sights? Absolutely. CMRS itself includes in the tuition fee passage and admission to places like Kenilworth Castle, the Roman baths in Bath, the Tower of London, and much more. And if you spend your time wisely during the week there’s plenty of opportunity to go romping around on weekends. I visited London several times during my stay and got to spend a considerable amount of time soaking-in Parliament Square, Westminster Abbey, Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, and all the rest. And Oxford itself has great tourist destinations: Oxford Castle being the chief among them (what’s left of it after Oliver Cromwell blasted it with canon fire when King Charles II made Oxford his temporary headquarters during the Civil War).

CMRS also presents a great opportunity to make friends. It’s amazing what good conversation around a fire-place in a cosy pub will do. Or maybe not so amazing, perhaps that’s to be expected.

Speaking of expectations, please feel free to comment and ask any questions regarding your Great Expectations of CMRS Oxford. I’d be happy to answer them!

Paul Shakeshaft


Anonymous Matt Forster said...

Hey Paul, how's it going in England? What program are you studying through? Also, how does your program work at the end of the semester if the starting and ending dates of the semesters are different than those of the U.S.?

10:44 PM  

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