Today marks the halfway point of our time in Oxford! It’s difficult to comprehend how time has gone by so fast, but it has! Earlier in the trip I wrote a blog post detailing surprises, comforts, and lessons I had experienced so far. However, now that I’ve been a resident of Oxford for two weeks, I figured I would update that list!
The first two weeks have been an exhausting, exciting mixture of chaos and routine. We have all been challenged to accept the uncertainty.
OKAY. JUST LEARNED ANOTHER LESSON. I ACTUALLY JUST, JUST LEARNED THIS ONE.
Spotify (the free version) only allows you to use it abroad for 14 days. *breathing, breathing, breathing* I will adapt. (see surprises section below to make sense of this)
Anyways, uncertainty. Okay, so although it has been chaotic, I have learned that I love learning. My classes challenge the way I view the world and provide meaning that I didn’t see before. Churchill’s war rooms, where he stayed during the Blitz (WWII- when Hitler was bombing London), were amazing. The opportunity to explore the space that Winston Churchill led the British response to World War II in was amazing. As a history major, I was extremely grateful for the chance to personally visit them. Although you can read about such things, stepping foot in the rooms is something completely different. My peers, despite their varying majors, all found the experience amazing. The exhibits throughout the bunker taught visitors about Churchill as a leader, but also as a person and husband. For my history course, we were assigned a paper about the friendship between Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, so exploring the rooms in which he spoke to Roosevelt and led the war was amazing. Hopefully, that paper will reflect my interest in and gratitude for that experience, rather than my lack of sleep!
Another lesson I have learned is the delicate balance of being friendly and protecting yourself, and the importance of instinct to know when to do each. Interacting with people from all over Europe: Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, etc., we have made sure to use common sense. One of our friends requested help with a money transfer from Switzerland, which we all blamed our families for saying no to, after his bank wouldn’t let him take money out with a passport. Fortunately, we all knew that was something we wouldn’t help him with. However, it is interesting to note how we all react differently to strangers. Although my peers and I are all from the U.S., the state and neighborhood we grew up in has heavily shaped the way in which we interact with others. A balance is necessary!
I love writing this section because it forces me to highlight aspects of my routine that bring my comfort or moments of happiness. Despite my general positivity, occasionally it’s difficult to set aside exhaustion and work stress to appreciate my surroundings.
I have been comforted by the general kindness of my Salve peers throughout the past two weeks, as well as the professors traveling with us. Although we barely knew each other before the trip, when someone needs something, they are generally met with friendly faces and outstretched arms. This is comforting and illustrates the strength of the Salve Regina community, even abroad.
Another comfort has been friends that, despite only meeting a week ago, can read my mind. Knowing that you have someone in your corner, that can tell if you need a breather or aren’t happy about something, has been incredibly comforting. Similarly, realizing that you can provide that to others is important. Stepping in at the right time to give someone a break or acknowledge discomfort or confusion can remind someone they aren’t alone, which everyone needs occasionally.
Cooking has also proved to be comforting to me throughout my time abroad! I don’t usually cook at Salve, but definitely do when I’m at home, so having the opportunity to do that here has been great. Making my own meals sometimes has also allowed me to cook group dinners, allowing us all to sit down and chat in a setting more similar to home. Additionally, the lack of preservatives and abundance of grocery stores encourages citizens of urban England to shop more often, but buy less at a time. This causes portions to shrink and food to go bad quickly, but I love that food and its preparation has a larger role in the everyday lives of people here.
That being said, many of the foods here are different than the U.S.- more so than any of us expected!
One of the surprising aspects of the past two weeks has been the importance of positivity and attitude. Throughout our time here, my peers and I have been presented with challenges and unfamiliar parts of English culture. Despite those obstacles, though, positivity and flexibility have been inexplicably important. Although this seems like common sense, having the ability to smile as opposed to break down is critical to having a positive experience. Allowing small things, caused by our identity as tourists, Americans or even young people, to negatively affect my time here is not worth the energy. I’ve been surprised by how much self-control it requires to take a deep breath and acknowledge that your needs won’t always correlate with the needs of the group.
Along the same lines, I’ve also been surprised by how important knowing how to do basic chores around the house is. Being able to load a dishwasher, grocery shop, budget and do laundry are all critical skills when studying abroad. I am so incredibly grateful to my parents for raising me to be independent and self-sufficient. This is all connected to the positivity aspect however, for when you don’t know how to do something, having the patience to experiment or simply ask is key.
Switching gears a little bit, I’ve also been surprised by how quickly you can make friends while studying abroad. Although the other students on this trip are my peers at Salve, many of them I didn’t know before going to Oxford. That being said, all it takes is a common interest or similar values to make a friend. I am excited to return to Salve knowing that I have peers that will have shared this experience with me. Additionally, as opposed to at Salve, where friendships tend to remain at the surface level, when abroad you really have no reason to prolong the friend-making process. By that, I mean we have such little time and spend such a large portion of it together, that you get to know people much faster!
Lessons, Comforts, and Surprises
The past two weeks I’ve experienced more surprises than lessons or comforts, but that’s okay. Traveling requires that one abandon routine and normalcy. In doing so, however, I have realized that you gain so much more than routine can provide. I am so excited for the next two weeks, but I’m also looking forward to next semester, when I’ll be in Florence, Italy!