Thursday, July 2, 2015

Left Side of the Pond, Right Side of the Road

            It’s a wrap. My nine months abroad has expired and I now find myself in the sweltering Georgia heat. First, let me backtrack and tell you about my last weeks in Oxford.

            With about four weeks remaining, I began counting down the days until my return. I think the countdown was not as much looking forward to returning, but dreading my departure of a place of which I had grown fond. My optimization tutorial carried on. My tutor and I decided to start a bit of game theory, which I loved. The logic and reasoning appealed to me; the games were like puzzles. It was challenging since I had never covered the topic, but nonetheless, stimulating and exciting.

            Gosh, some four weeks ago I went to Cambridge with a group of American students. The tour first took us to the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, the only American WWII cemetery in the UK. It was a peaceful place. I was thousands of miles away from the U.S.A, but I felt at home, and of all places, in a graveyard. I looked up at the American flag and I smiled.

Chapel on site

            Arriving in Cambridge, we went straight to the canal and punted. This was mine and many of the others first punting experience. It was not a pretty sight. We zigzagged from shore to shore, ramming into trees and getting scraped by brush. Though, from the pictures, you cannot tell of our amateur punting status!

            The rest of the afternoon we walked around the town and visited a few of the Cambridge landmarks. There is a famous clock near the center of town, the Corpus Clock, that features a grasshopper creature “eating up” time. It really is an ugly looking clock, all gold with a giant bug on top, but it is a rather cool device, all the intricacies and gadgets ticking and tocking. We walked by a few of the colleges, including Kings College and Corpus Christi College. We were not able to go inside any of them because it was exam week. Ending the day, we went to The Eagle pub and had a pint. Like most of the pubs in Oxford and Cambridge, everyone is famous for having said famous person drink there on a regular basis. The Eagle happened to be the place where Crick exclaimed that he and Watson had “discovered the key of life”. Thus, at The Eagle, they serve an ale called “Eagle’s DNA”, of which I had a pint.  

            Three weeks ago, Collin came and visited from Germany. She was the friend that lent me and Tyler a room while we visited Germany. I was able to return the favor by giving Collin a place to stay for a few nights and show her more of the city of Oxford. We went punting one morning and another day went to the local board game café (yes, a café with over 2000 board games). Then, on a Saturday, Collin and I and some other American friends, went to Bath and Stonehenge. Bath was a lovely little town, most famous for, you guessed it, baths. Roman baths to be exact. They would have been more impressive if I had visited before going to Italy, but alas, I did not think my travel plans through that thoroughly. They were still stunning and surprisingly well intact for how old they were. 

            In Bath, we caught a tour bus that drove us out to Stonehenge. I had been downplaying Stonehenge in my mind, leaving only room for improvement. And it worked. It was more than just a pile of rocks – it was a monument, a symbol, a mystery – surrounded by an alluring landscape that added to the charm. My favorite part of Stonehenge were the rolling green hills in every direction. Some poor humans had to transport these rocks over that terrain. Or, better yet, were these stone blocks deposited here by aliens? I think not. 

I forgot my TI, so Tyler helped me summon one up on the spot.
May not have been in Italy, but we still got some gelato!

            What else, what else, what else…Saturday of seventh week, Regent’s Park College had Final Fling, our version of the traditional Oxford ball. The theme for this year’s Fling was the Surrealist Ball. I had hired a suit from Walter’s, and thanks to a persuasive fellow from Cambridge, invested in some braces (suspenders), all which I wore to the Fling. I’m telling you, braces are the way to go. Belts are overrated.

            The event started around seven that night, where it began with a reception in the quad, followed by a three course meal in the dining hall. Midway through dinner, a jazzy kind of funk band made a rambunctious entrance and played a song or two. It was rather amusing. After the meal, we students were set free to enjoy the night. Set up in the quad was a cocktail bar, a shisha tent, a bouncy castle, an open bar, and a grill. There was also a contortionist and a fire-eater performing. Up in the JCR, there was a mini casino set up, where you could play poker, roulette, or blackjack. The dining hall was cleared of all table and chairs, making for a great dance floor. There was live music until midnight, which is then when they switched to a silent disco. Now, I was a bit skeptical at first, everyone wearing headphones dancing to music playing in their ears. However, it was a blast. It was also quite hilarious taking off the headphones and listening to some 200 people screaming the lyrics to said song. The music continued until two in the morning, which is when the ball concluded. And for those who stayed that long, they served  fries and water. Those were some of the tastiest fries, I swear. 

Vio and I. Good to be friends with the kitchen staff!

            And so the last week at Oxford ensued. It was bittersweet. Walking everywhere, I reminisced to my first few weeks back in October, and recalled how everything felt strange and foreign, but now this town had transformed into my home, a place that I loved. It’s funny how just nine months could change that. Lisa and Tyler walked with me on Monday and we got some pictures of ourselves at some of the iconic places around Oxford, including the Radcliffe Camera, the Bodleian, and the Sheldonian Theatre. 

Tyler giving us a private ballet performance.
Looking down Broad Street.
Looking towards Magdalen Tower.

The place where all the misery occured: the library.

The Mathematical Institute!

            That Tuesday I made a second trip out to Blenheim Palace with a few of my British friends. We enjoyed a picnic on the lawn. It was a lovely, sunny day. We toured the palace, then walked around the grounds, taking many a goofy picture. We raced through the hedge maze and spent several moments laughing about the existence of a pleasure garden. It was a good afternoon. 

            Wednesday I submitted my final assignment. Gosh, what a liberating, freeing feeling. Tyler joined me at the Maths Institute and documented this glorious moment in time. For dinner that evening, a large group of us American students walked out to The Perch. It was quite a walk, but well worth it in my opinion. We crossed Port Meadows with all its grazing cows and horses, and walked along the Thames until we finally reached it. Secluded back in the countryside, The Perch is a fairy-like place. There are willow trees that hang over the property and set the mood, whatever mood that may be. Anyways, the food was decent and the beer not too shabby. But really, hanging with all my American friends is what made it. We had shared much of the same up and downs while studying at Oxford, but at this point, it was all about over. We had nearly reached the finished line. 

Walking through Port Meadow
The Perch

            Thursday I had my last tutorial. Number 32 of 32. My tutor and I went over my last assignment, discussed some interesting game theory scenarios, and then just chatted about life after Oxford. She was an excellent tutor and just an overall great person. Directly following the tutorial, I walked just around the corner to the Magdalen boat house where I met my friends for punting. I guess you could call it a joy ride. After completing our tutorials, what better way to unwind than cruise down the River Cherwell. 

            Like always, Friday night brought formal hall. This had become the staple of my weeks at Oxford, and I’m sure the staple of many others. After a stressful week of studying, it was always nice knowing that formal hall awaited on Friday night. And, since it was eighth week, we had a bop afterwards. Everyone let loose – people danced, people drank, people socialized. This had become a familiar sight to me, and I sure was going to miss it. The clock struck midnight and the music was silenced. Everyone lingered, not wanting the night to end. People said their elongated goodbyes and eventually left. I joined my American friends and continued the tradition of going to Tesco and the food truck following the bops. We sat in Wycliffe not wanting to accept the fact that our time in Oxford was coming to a close. 

Kojo and I.
Lisa and I.
Tyler acting like he doesn't like me.

            Saturday morning, one last breakfast at Spoons was to be had. Beginning as just me and Tyler going for breakfast, it had grown to nearly ten of us visiting students. I ordered my usual, the large breakfast. But, this last time, I ordered something extra. Every Saturday morning I would walk into Spoons and see a group of older men drinking beer. I thought this was hilarious. So, of course, I had to do this at least once. I ordered a beer to accompany my meal this last Saturday, and I thought it was the funniest thing. I chuckled as I washed down my food with my pint of Hobgoblin. 

            Later that afternoon, Regent’s Park had a Valedictory ceremony for those students leaving the college, which included those students graduating and us visiting students. Several notable people of the college talked, including the principal and the president of the JCR. Then, near the end of the ceremony, we got to sign our names in a book, officially marking our time of studies at Regent’s Park. Though it was just a signature on a piece of paper, it made me proud of all the work I completed while at Oxford and proud that I survived nearly nine months abroad.

            I left the Valedictory service and walked back up to the Spencer House. There was still packing to be done. As I packed, I reflected on my time at Oxford. How had it passed so quickly? It felt like yesterday that I was lugging my bags up the stairs at one in the morning. Nevertheless, I continued packing and another question arose in my head: How did I accumulate so much crap? I had done my fair-share of traveling, but gee whiz, I had a lot of stuff. I soon knew a third suitcase had to be purchased. For the time being, I dragged all my bags to a friend’s flat for the night, since we had to be out of the Spencer House early the next morning. I turned in my keys to the house and said my goodbyes to the place I called home. I will miss that house.

My room. Countless hours were spent at that desk.

            Sunday, June 21: my last day in Oxford. An American friend, Michaela, accompanied me as I walked around the town, taking in the sights one final time. The Sheldonian, the Bodleian, the centuries-old colleges with their dreaming spires, the iconic pubs, the local cafes, Cornmarket Street, the churches, Magdalen Tower – I was going to miss it all. Though I had only lived there for nine months, I now considered this place my home, even more so than Columbus, Georgia. I fit in at Oxford and the city fit in me. I went to one of my favorite coffee shops, The Missing Bean, and ordered my usual, a large Americano. I went to the cookie store, Ben’s Cookies, inside the covered market. My sister had implored many times that I needed to get these cookies, and on my final day, I finally decided to pay their outrageous price for a single cookie. It was a pretty stellar cookie. 

            That night I ate dinner at my favorite pub in town, the Turf Tavern. In my opinion, the atmosphere at the Turf is unrivaled by other pubs in Oxford, and according to my knowledge, they have the most variety of beers on tap. Oh, and Bill Clinton did not inhale here in the early 1960’s. I had my burger and a pint of the house ale. Following this meal, two of my friends and I walked and met Tyler at the Eagle and Child. We sat in the back of the pub for some time, again reminiscing of our times at Oxford. Sometimes it was sad talking about how it was ending, but for the most part, we were all happy- happy that we made new friends, happy that we received an invaluable education, happy that we travelled to foreign lands. We slowly drank our half pints and, surprise, surprise, walked back to Wycliffe. The night, actually the day, would not have been complete if not for a few games of Snooker. Tyler and I battled it out one last time for the imaginary record books.  

Bridge of Sighs
Michaela and I in the Eagle and Child
Where Woodstock and Banbury connected.
The final game of snooker.

            My journey home in a nutshell: caught the bus to the airport at six in the morning, flight left Heathrow at 10:45, had a three hour layover in Philadelphia, arrived at the Knoxville airport around 7:00. It was a long journey home, especially since I thought it was a bright idea to pull an all-nighter the night before. I still stand by this decision. My parents and my brother greeted me at the airport and we went to Cracker Barrel for dinner. American food, how I missed you, but at the same time, I enjoyed my time away from all the greasy, fattiness you contain. 

            Being back for over week, I have had to adjust to life back in the States. People had mentioned reverse culture shock before I left England. I did not think too much of it at the time; however, I now know that this is most definitely a thing. To make things easy, and since I like numbers, here is a list of things that have stood out to me/ I have realized/ I miss :

1. It is hot in Georgia. When I left Oxford, the average temperatures were in the mid to upper 60’s. In Columbus, it has been well in the 90’s, with the heat index being over 100. My sweat glands have had a workout; I think I have been sweating nonstop since my return.

2. The accents. I stepped foot in the Knoxville airport and my ears were tingling. Rich, Southern accents reverberated through my ears. I’m not saying this is bad, just that it had been some time since I heard so many people talking as such.

3. Driving was strange the first few days. Within an hour, on three separate occasions, I almost turned onto the left side of the street. That could have ended badly.

4. What is Walmart? I walked inside this marvelous store and was overwhelmed. What alternate universe had I stepped into? Not having to go in this store for nine months was a blessing.

5. I miss being able to bike everywhere. Oxford, and many cities in the UK and throughout Europe, are compact. You can easily live without needing a car on a daily basis. In Columbus, having a car is a near necessity.

6. I miss having meals in College. Eating as a community was refreshing and made me feel like I was part of a whole. Also, having a nice meal cooked for me every day of the week was a dream. Now, it’s back to a steady diet of waffles, cereal, frozen pizza, and pasta.

7. I will miss all of my friends. Some of us American visiting students were pretty tight-knit, and I cherished every minute in which we got to spend time with each other.

8. I will miss the intellectual community of Oxford. I awed at how students were so academically-driven. I met so many students while at Oxford, and it seems like everybody was a genius. At dinner, most conversations were about what students were studying and/or recent world news. I felt at home. Other people’s intelligence and dedication to learning inspired me to try harder in my studies. I will be lucky to find half of this inspiration at Columbus State. I’m not knocking CSU, but Oxford, well, Oxford is Oxford.

            That brings me to the end of my blog. What a journey it has been. Most surprisingly, I did not think I was capable to type so many words onto this screen. So, what’s in store for me now? I have one final year at Columbus State and it will surely be a busy one. I have a few upper level math courses still to take and I have an Honors theses that I must complete. Earlier this spring, I was elected vice president of the Honors College, so that should keep me busy as well. I will also resume working at Mathnasium, where I will help students K-12 reach their math goals.

            Wait just a second! This blog would not be quite complete if there wasn't just a ton of pictures     added on at the end!

Kings Lock
Kings Lock
Kings Lock
Kings Lock
Boars Hill
Track out at Iffley Sports complex, where Roger Bannister was the first to run a sub 4 minute mile.

My street!
Phoebe and I battling it out over table football.

Cruising the River Cherwell with Zoe.

            Okay, now I think that is all. In the famous words of Porky Pig, “That’s all, folks!”