Thursday, September 30, 2010

Katherine C. - Oxford, England - Fall 2010

It has been one month since I arrived in Oxford and started here at CMRS – well, very nearly a month and by the time this is posted that will be true. What to say about what has really been a cavalcade of experiences in this one post? I guess I will try to go in order on an overview scope. For anyone interested in a detailed account of the day to day my personal blog is at and I welcome any direct inquiry beyond what you are assigned to ask in the comments here at my e-mail address: either now or in the future and will do my best to answer promptly.

When I arrived the staff had someone to meet me at the Gloucester Green coach station and that was Bianca, the current Junior Dean who is here working on her doctorate and overseeing the dorms this semester. I did end up bringing two suitcases and that did make it difficult to manage my baggage, but for a whole three months here I really did feel I needed all I brought – and incidentally I do recommend bringing a range of clothing for warm, chilly, sunny, and rainy weather because the weather here in England is nothing if not unpredictable!

The building we are housed in where classes also take place is quite old to our standards, though not ancient as some of the places in Oxford can truly claim, and so there is no elevator. Expect stairs and plenty of them. I also recommend bringing an Ethernet cord for your room if you are bringing a laptop – even though wireless is provided, it is an old building and so a hard-line connection is more reliable, especially in the first few days when things are getting set up and settled in. Every room has outlets (look into proper converters as needed, more on this in my personal blog’s earliest entries) and Ethernet connection plugs on the walls.

The semester here at Oxford is not the same length as the semester at home, ours is longer, so initially you are not taking all your classes when you begin. You start with the Integral class that you were required to sign up for in this program and that runs one month with its own final and essay assignment at the end before your other three classes begin (the 2 tutorials and the 1 seminar). This gives you a good amount of time to settle in and is actually quite brilliant because the four field trip outings described in the packet are all done in this first Integral course which really gives you a feel for England in general and gives you plenty of time virtually every afternoon to explore Oxford and familiarize yourself with the landscape, shops, eateries, and other essentials. Basically you have two lectures every morning Monday – Friday from 9/9:30 to 10/10:30 and 11-12, and a Field Trip each week which takes up the whole day generally; breakfast is served from 8-8:45, lunch from 12:30 to 1:15, and dinner from 6:30-7:15. You can see from that the places in the day built in for study (remember to study!!), exploration, and making friends.

At first, it is really you and a building full of other American students here for the Integral course ahead of all the other English students who will trickle in gradually before the start of official University term. This, while at first it seems counterproductive to your immersion into another culture, is actually another stroke of brilliance by CMRS’s methodology because you can build a base of support and friendship among students in the same position as yourself before going forth to encounter the bulk of native students.

This is getting a bit long… what else can I say? Oh, well the field trips are amazing – do bring a camera and take lots of photos. If you are not planning to travel while you are here they are going to be your best opportunity to see the sights and they are already funded in the cost of your tuition as far as admission and transportation – though you should bring some money for food and souvenirs of course. Also, and this is rather important, when you receive the recommended reading list from CMRS about a month before you leave and it suggests that you might want to “look into” some of the listed texts for what they call colloquium – READ THEM. Buy them and read them, I wish I had. First, it will save you money to buy them and bring them and you can mark them up how you like if they are yours (remember the dollar is worth less than the pound so buying them here logically costs you more) and also it will save you time which will be at a premium as you will very much want to go out and explore and make friends and so on – not be in your room reading earnestly every hour of the day your first month here. Also, they hit you with a rather larger list of recommended reading when your Integral course starts up and it is really easy to feel overwhelmed by that (don’t worry, for that list you can be selective, and that will be explained in the program) if you are also trying to read whole books for colloquium which are all required reading. Many people here stressing out this week because of that little issue, so if you can summon your motivation to get what is suggested read ahead of time you’ll be better off for it when you are here.

Of course, this is the barest of overviews so please do ask questions and please do feel free to go to my personal blog and read or ask questions there, e-mail me, follow, comment, whatever you think will be helpful. A big thing on my mind while I am here (and before my 3 major classes pick up next week) is sending back as much that might be helpful as I can to my Elmhurst community, family, and friends while I am on this epic adventure.

Editor's note: Take a look at the View from St. Mary's Tower video that Katherine produced at Gorgeous!


Anonymous Ellie Pipal said...


your trip so far sounds amazing! My name is Ellie Pipal and I am traveling to Australia in February. I was interested in your take on being in a country that speaks English, but obviously has a different culture. Have you felt out of place, or is everyone fairly accommodating? There are of course many issues when you travel to a place that doesn't speak english, but I assume that being in a place that does speak English still has other problems.

What are the biggest things that you have noticed about England that does not happen here? Are people more friendly, or are they wary around Americans?

I know that England and Australia are not the same society at all, but because their customs are similar, I would love to hear what you think of their culture so far.

Thanks so much for describing all your experiences! Good luck on your classes,


9:36 PM  
Anonymous Mark Blumstein said...

Hello! It sounds like your experience at Oxford has all of the elements that I hope to have this spring when I cross the pond. Have you heard anything about/been close to St. Catherine's College? That is where I will be studying math (maths over there) this spring. I believe it is a couple miles away from the CMRS. I actually visited the CMRS when I was doing a J-term trip to London and we visited Oxford for a day.

Here's a short list of observations/questions:

Have you needed to wear anything formal, or will you need to in the future?

The ethernet cord is an excellent idea.

I love that video you posted from St. Mary's

What is the best way to get around the city of Oxford when you are site seeing and such? Do you ever rent a bike or anything like that?


9:42 PM  
Blogger Katherine said...

Yes, there are differences between us and the English - particularly in the observance of social customs related to friendliness and personal information disclosed (they are polite, but distant to our thinking of things), but I have found everyone to be accepting of my regardless of my being American more or less. You do get noticed as being from the US, by your accent as much as your general demeanour, and sometimes that is a positive thing and opens a discourse about why you are here and how you are enjoying your stay - other times it is a negative and people want to jump on the foreign policy of our country and try to make you personally responsible for things you probably know nothing about (or I know nothing about anyway).

In short, it is a mixed bag. I read a brilliant ethnography about the country I was going to (Watching the English by Kate Fox) which has helped me a great deal in being prepared for and understanding the different 'unwritten' rules of the culture that no one thinks to tell you about - I wouldn't recommend it for Australia, since they are as different from the English as we are really and have developed in their own vein, but if you can find something LIKE that to prepare yourself you will be worlds ahead of the game.

5:46 AM  
Blogger Katherine said...

I would recommend the Watching the English book to you, it's very helpful when the odd culture rub comes up in passing and you don't feel as awkward if you have some idea the source of the discrepancy. I have been to St. Catherine's I think, though there are SO many colleges it is rather hard to tell one from the other unless you are going there regularly to be honest. Every other building seems to be part of one campus or another.

Walking is your cheapest go-around method, the busses are only really going to come into play if you are going someplace far, and even then a lot of people prefer to walk and see the sights on the way if it will not be an often repeated trip. There are bike shops here and if you want to budget for one they are easy to obtain parking for (though once term is going the bike racks are as crowded as the Elmhurst parking lot, so be prepared to have the same kind of parking issues - just with another vehicle at all the main stops and libraries etc.) - walking and riding a bike are the top two forms of transportation you see in and around Oxford, with the exception of the busy streets. I haven't seen bikes 'to let' (rent) but they are probably out there somewhere and I know there was a used bike sale at the Fresher's Fair - but you will not have that coming in mid-year as you will be.

I would say it really depends on how much of Oxford you want to see, where you want to go particularly, and your willingness to part with a few pounds for the coach then walk - since the Oxford coach system goes just about everywhere around the town itself, but for just going around I've been walking and that's taken me just about everywhere I have wanted to go, though a bike might have been faster. One note though: be good on a bike if you are considering that route (and budget for it obviously) because the roads here change their pavement frequently from fully paved concrete to cobblestone to brick to stones in mortar back to paved and so on. Some "roads" will be like off-roading bike work and others will be your usual city street feel.

As for formal wear, I have not needed it - though I have been informed that formal dinners do occur at some of the colleges (St. Peter's will do a few this term which we MAY be included in, it is not clear yet) on a semi-regular basis so you may want to write ahead to your advisor on that issue and see if your college has that custom, which would mean you do need formal dress. I would bring at least 1 formal outfit for such events if you happen to be invited to one, but would (from my situation) by no means advise bringing a whole wardrobe of finer garments. Warmth is going to be your concern at the outset because this winter is shaping up to be a chilly one already in October with an average of low-mid 50's all last week, this week, and the next.

Thanks for the nice comment on the video - there are a bunch more on my personal blog from the various field trips we took during the Integral portion.

5:47 AM  
Blogger Katherine said...

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5:48 AM  
Blogger Katherine said...

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5:49 AM  
Blogger Katherine said...

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5:51 AM  
Blogger Katherine said...

Sorry about all the deleted comments - I was repeatedly told by the system that my posts were too long, kept editing them, finally got one go to through and there they all were!

5:53 AM  
Anonymous Jessica Noble said...

Hey Katherine,

I enjoyed your very detailed report of your excursion thus far and I am looking forward to reading your other blog as well. I am going to Oxford next semester and I couldn't be more excited and nervous at the same time. Although I can't think of any right now, be prepared to be bombarded with questions!

10:40 AM  
Blogger Katherine said...


Happy to answer them as they come up - right now I am in the "and we work you jolly hard" portion of my stay here, with 2 tutorial papers due weekly and a major research paper due for seminar at the end. It is a lot of reading and writing but it is also really interesting stuff. I'll try to check back here regularly for questions, but if I miss something for a few days don't hesitate to zip me an e-mail to prod me along to answering them :)

12:12 PM  
Blogger Katherine said...

Oh and this is important for future CMRS people for Spring - in that semester the term starts up "on time" for your arrival and you have Integral at the end I am told by another student who will be here for next semester as well as this one - so the order of my experience will be backward to yours and you'll get to have a relaxing out-process for Integral rather than an easing in. Just a heads up on that.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Adam Baldwin said...

Glad you're enjoying your time at CMRS, I can't wait to go! I'll think of 10 questions after I post this, but right now I don't have any. Ooh, I got one. How much did you talk to Prof. Wilcox before you left?, cause I haven't talked to him since the school year started at EC. I look forward to reading about your adventures, it'll be a replacement for our discussions after Ann's class(I miss those).
Good luck with all your work,

1:34 PM  
Blogger Katey Hawley said...

Hey Katherine!
I'm so happy you have a blog about your trip. I'm going to Oxford for the Spring Semester, and I was just curious about what courses you decided to take, and how heavy the course load is for the Integral course (I know you said you hadn't started your other three classes yet).
Also, what are the living arrangements? Do you have a roommate, and if so are they randomly assigned?
Thanks so much, and best of luck to you!


1:39 PM  
Blogger Katherine said...


Great to hear you're coming out! I talked to Dr. Wilcox a bunch, but that was mostly because I was helping to tack down the procedures for VISA applications for future comers like yourself (cause the process is made of frustration and anguish). I would make it a point to see him if he ever summons you, or even swing by his office just to check in and make sure you're on the right track if you feel like there's something else you can be doing - he is an awesome person and completely approachable with all matters.


It is a single building and dorm rooms (called study rooms here) are housed in the floors above the library, classrooms, and computer room. Most of the people here do have 1 roommate, but I got a single room to myself. Roommates are randomly assigned, but there is an e-mail where they ask you about your habits and preferences as well as if you have any requests as to roommate and they do the best they can to pair people up according to this. Fiona, who you will have contact with soon if you haven't already, is the main go-to person when it comes to matters like these and she's absolutely great so don't hesitate to be honest with your answers on the questionnaire.

Course load for Integral is 1 - the class itself consists of 2 lectures daily M-F and 1 field trip/week with a 4 (1,000 word) essay questions exam at the end of 1 month + an essay of 2000 overall assignment due at the end. To be honest, it was interesting but the structure left something to be desired on the correlation between lecture and exam point, but it is probably the easiest course you'll have here compared to tutorials and seminar in terms of workload and demand.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Katherine said...

Oh, and I'm taking Viking Literature, Classical Mythology (for tutorials), and Arthurian Legend (for seminar).

Another note on Integral - you Spring people will probably like yours more, because they cover the Middle Ages in Fall and the Renaissance in Spring. Both are interesting periods, but you're likely to be more familiar with the material you'll be presented than I was with stuff from the Middle Ages, which is usually half passed over as the end of the Dark Ages in our literature classes.

Mind, as per my previous post, that yours will be at the end rather than be the beginning and as such will be a relaxed cake-walk compared to the tutorial/seminar work you'll have been doing more likely than not.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Adam Baldwin said...

two questions (possibly required by CPP 250, but you know, whatever). How did you plan out/arrange how you got to Oxford from the airport? (Sub-Question: What airport and airline did you use?) Also, are the laundry machines in the dorm, or do you have to go somewhere else to do laundry? Glad to hear you're getting along with the professors, and thanks for the tip about the universal dvd player!


11:49 PM  
Blogger Katherine said...

You get e-mailed suggestions about how to get from London - but basically if you come in via Heathrow there is a bus terminal (follow the signs) that goes to Gloucester Green which is where CMRS staff will pick you up.

The terminal is a machine, not a person. You want to go to OXFORD ~NOT~ Gloucester. The name confusion (because Gloucester Green is the last stop in Oxford) almost sent me to a 3 hour wrong town mayhem moment. To avoid this, when using the terminal, tell it you want to go to Oxford (the city, not the station) - there's only one line to and from the airport, you'll get to the right place.

The ticket is about 22 pounds btw, but the machine does take card if you haven't got cash on you (though you should).

I flew Virgin Atlantic - but I booked through STA travel agency online, which had the best student deals of all the sites I browsed. For this flight I actually had to prove I was a student by putting in my International Student ID card # b/c of the special pricing... it is the only thing I've used or needed that for so far.

There are laundry machines in the laundry room here in the dorm building. The cost to wash is 1.30, same to dry, so it's 2.60 (pounds) per load. You CAN get two loads to dry in the same machine b/c the dryers are much bigger than the washers, but you almost always have to dry twice then anyway... so that's your call.

So there's your two questions for CPP - and look on the bright side, at least someone is answering you. I think my question from last semester is still standing un-noticed.

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Jessica Noble said...

Hey Katherine,

I was hoping you could tell me a little bit more about your academic life at Oxford. What classes are you taking and are you happy with the choices you made? Aside from the tutorials, how many students are in your classes? I hope all is well :)!

2:41 PM  
Blogger Katherine said...

I don't want to be scary but the workload is heavy. Right now, for Viking Lit which I had on Tuesday I have 7 sections of the Poetic Edda to read and a list of 17 "suggestion" books + a paper due when we meet again (Tuesday next). For Classical Lit this week I read the Orestia and had 4 "look at these" books additionally + the paper - which I am writing this evening because I've been sick all week unfortunately, not much I could do from my bed - I meet for that Fridays so tomorrow I expect another load from that class of approximately the same weight.

Meanwhile I am also reading 1-3 books for Seminar class, which has 6 girls in it by the way, and I am supposed to be working on an over-all research paper for that come due at the end (which is only some 6 weeks off now) and to add some garnish to this we're still reading for Colloquium which meets once every two weeks and has a book per meeting assigned for next time.

I'm not unhappy with my choices. I do wish the books I wanted / needed were in a library around here that had better hours, but there's nothing I can do about that and so you either get lucky with that or you don't. Some of the libraries (and you can't borrow from any of them) have decent evening hours - my thinking of decent being till at least 9 or 10, other's don't and close at 6 or 7. Having the books to do the reading is key, and don't imagine you could buy all the books you'll be looking at either, a lot of them are out of print, special order, ancient, etc.

Granted, I've been sick and missed practically half the week of work time so I am feeling a tiny bit behind right now, but time management is definitely going to be one of the things you learn while you are here at CMRS.

3:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for getting back to me. How many hours would you say that you spend on homework every day? Do you ever have any free time to travel?


12:14 PM  
Blogger Katherine said...

Well right now "free" time is a foreign concept. Then again, I JUST found a library close by that I like and figured out the ordering system for the Bod - so... hoping to do better next week. I would say between Breakfast (8:30 ish) and Lunch (noon) is solid reading time, then usually after Lunch (1ish) till Dinner is library time, and then I take my evenings either writing, doing more reading, or spending relax time with the people in the JRC. If you plan things well - and if you get lucky with your tutorial times - you could travel pretty easily I think. If you don't get lucky with tutorial times it makes it a good bit harder - like me: I have a tutorial Tuesday am and Friday am with a Seminar on Wednesday am and that pretty much means I have Friday afternoon - Monday evening for a window to travel in if I found the free time and blocked it right.

One thing they do stress here is that classes will NOT be moved for travel plans, so keep that in mind. You don't really get a say on the when of things either, since the tutors come in from other colleges and they have their times that work for them and you get to pick from among those if you get a choice at all.

Some people seem to be doing alright though - either they slack on something somewhere or they are ridiculously awesome planners I have no idea. There are different schools that send people here and [SUPER unfairly, I think] not all of them have to worry about grades, because some schools don't transfer the GPA over - they do some kind of pass/fail thing. Most of them go out every other night and don't seem to be fussed about planning or travelling... must be nice >.<

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Mark Blumstein said...


Thanks for the recommendations. As it turns out, I am in the elmhurst public library right now and they have the Watching the English book you mentioned. It is really good. Was there anything in particular from the book that you have found useful in adjusting to culture shock?


For everyone else commenting on this blog, am I the only one at Oxford not studying at CMRS??

3:09 PM  
Blogger Katherine said...

Mostly the book comes in handy when you're interacting with the other students from England - which you will be doing far more than the CMRS students will be (we see them mostly at meal times and socially if we choose to). Part Two: Behaviour Codes is going to be probably the more helpful of the two sections for you in the book, Work and Play rules being top of the list. It isn't a guide book per se, but it is helpful for background knowledge on some of the things people won't expect you to know and might give you an edge when making new friends.

And yes, they really do squash their peas onto the backs of their forks... it is completely inefficient.

1:13 PM  
Blogger Adam Baldwin said...

Did you have to get an ISIC card through CMRS, or did you just get one through Elmhurst? Prolly something I should've looked into already.

11:04 PM  
Blogger Katherine said...

CPP will make you get one through the International Office there on campus. Might as well do so, but as I said - they are not a lot of use in England as they might be elsewhere. People do not accept them here as valid identification (bring your Drivers License or State ID for that) because they are so easy to produce fake. Student discount has a similar issue, and all students in the Oxford University system are issued a student discount card for that purpose.

But... you have to get one, so you might as well try to use it for a discount on your plane tickets because STA will give you better deals if you have an ISIC number.

3:44 AM  
Anonymous Jessica Noble said...

Hey Katherine,

Thank you for the helpful responses! I am sorry to hear that you were sick and I hope you're feeling better now.
Right now in CPP we're discussing culture shock, and compared to other countries that students were discussing, I feel like the culture shock in England won't be as...well, shocking. What have you dealt with in that regard? Have you experienced home sickness at all, if so, how do/did you cope? I can't wait to hear more of your insightful thoughts and best of luck with the rest of the semester!

3:35 PM  
Blogger Katherine said...

Honestly, at CMRS, it wasn't as "shocking" since you're housed with all other students from American schools here to take classes. I imagine it would be a little bit more of a shock in the Spring semester, since you don't have the relaxed pace of the Integral Course to ease into things - but get hit with the 2 tutorials + 1 seminar pace which would have limited the time of "getting to know your surroundings" that I took this semester upon arriving (it is reversed in Fall and Spring). So... maybe you might have a harder time getting around at first without having the time on your table to explore and get to know things. What's important maybe for that then is major landmarks around CMRS that you should find useful (grocery store, library, etc.) I am not sure if CMRS does a crash course for Spring comers to cover that stuff - they might, I can ask. If they don't I can try to put together a little list or get some of the maps they gave us to Alice in the department when I get back so she can get them to you guys before you go.

Basically, to answer your question: no, I didn't have a big culture shock, but my interaction with the culture is more or less "as I want it" rather than a total immersion like being at a host home would be. I joined a few clubs around University, but I don't go out much otherwise except for with the people from CMRS - then again, not to be boring, but I came for the books and the libraries and photos, not so much for the people I'll never see again once I leave who'll be an ocean away when travelling like this isn't something I can expect to do regularly.

Homesickness... I am not really sure. I am kinda an anomaly in the family department so I am not sure I would know it if I felt it. I have been keeping in touch with my boyfriend and my grandma and uncle via phone and Google Chat (which is awesome, make sure everyone in your circle gets a Gmail account if you wanna talk to them).

Important point: They don't like Skype here at CMRS - too much eating of the internet bandwidth. Google chat is ok, iChat is ok, but Skype is very hoggy with the bandwidth and everyone's internet gets really sloooooooow and people complain.

Also I got a temp phone here, nothing fancy just a little 10 pound dinky phone, but with my "Top up" (read: pay as you go) plan if I put 10 pounds of credit on it (about 200 min to the US) during the week - then I get a bonus 200 weekend minutes (or 10 pound credit, whatever) that following weekend.

So, I use the 200 minutes I pay for to check in with my sig. other, touch base with the family, and local calls as needed etc. and when I top up I blow my 200 "free" minutes on family and friends who I wouldn't call otherwise. They're happy, I'm happy - and they don't know I didn't splurge on the $$ to make them feel special with a phone call, it's a beautiful thing.

I know that was a lot, but you weren't really specific... so if I missed something let me know.

I also want to reiterate my advice to put about $100 aside for potential medical expenses after having spent 30 pounds for a doctor's appointment (standard fee for CMRS students) and another 16.50 pounds for medicine for my sinus infection at the local chemist (read: pharmacist). So that was an easy $75.00 for getting sick enough to need medicine - which, if you're like me, happens at least once a year. Be prepared for it, and don't begrudge the cost in favour of going out to travel or hitting a club - NOTHING is worth more than your health, especially when you are far from home with no one to take care of you.

I'll be fine, 7 days of antibiotics and it will be a whole new week. :)

5:27 PM  
Anonymous Mark Blumstein said...


You mentioned that you joined a couple clubs around campus. Have you found this to be a good way of making British friends?

Also, although you have been very busy with school, what places around Oxford have been the most fun? Any favorite hangouts, pubs, theatres, etc?

-Mark Blumstein

3:28 AM  

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