Learning in London

Anna Alden
September 29, 2015

Well, as quickly as I got here, I only have one more week left of my term time in London! Because Oxford goes by trimesters, we take one class in London beforehand in order to get a few more credits in. To prepare us for the tutorial system at Oxford, which involves meeting one-on-one with your professor once a week, we took this first class either individually or alongside one other student. Because I'm me and an embarrassment to cool people everywhere, I didn't let a mere course survey do my picking— a good several weeks before starting the program, I went straight to the source, asking my program coordinator how popular she thought my number one course choice would be, and the likelihood of me getting to take exactly what I wanted. And, surprise! Enter, my glorified spot in "Modern British Novels" with Professor Julie Charalambides.

A few weeks before my departure, we received an email from the professor with a full syllabus. A little overwhelmingly, it included a list of six books to have read for the duration of our London term. Within hours of receiving the email, I was, not surprisingly, already trolling the aisles of my nearby Barnes and Noble, hoping that the writers from across the pond sold well in the U.S. too. I was lucky to find the first two books we needed, and from there did what any good college student would do: trudge into the depths of Amazon in search of deals that are equal parts astounding and sketchy. Despite having been slightly overwhelmed by the reading list—all to be read and written about in just three weeks—the books were a great way to end my summer. I can now say that they were by no means too arduous, and I enjoyed being back into the routine of schoolwork and seeing my usual stack of books "in progress." Finally, after many emails, our first day of class arrived. As we sat nervously in our seats (It was just me and one other student!), we discussed how our ambitious preparation had gotten the best of us, and of course we had both finished every single book on the list before even stepping foot in England. And yet, when our professor walked in, right on time, she only had one question for us: "Why did you choose this course?" Forgetting the specifics of our reading list, she wanted to know what motivated us to check the little box next to "Modern British Novels," for what reason we entered that room today, and, simply put, "why?"

As I thought my answer through, I realized it was really quite obvious: I wanted to be where the stories happened. I explained to her the different streets I had been on and the areas I recognized solely for their literary significance, and how truly real the books had become just in my first few days here. Her response? "Well, let's go." The funny thing about London (or the central areas, really) is that you're never more than a mile or two away from anything. And so, as my friend and I struggled to keep up with our professor—a woman who loves London so much I almost don't believe her when she says she's been anywhere else—we found that only a block or two away from the IES Abroad Center was the square in which our first book was set, right next to the war hospital that one of the main characters visits, and just a few steps down from there was one of the most famous children's hospitals in the world. (I also feel a duty to say that right behind us was the church where Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath got married, the same church that Hughes had to see every time he was working on a manuscript, years later...in a terrible and truly ironic way, it was amazing.) Our professor seemed (and still does) to know everything, and by the end of our first class we were absolutely mesmerized. Flash forward to my last week: we are still completely mesmerized by our professor and the amazing course that is ending all too soon. Any experience in London, for me, would have been incomparable to the one I've had. And as sad as I am to be leaving, I know that I will definitely be back. In the meantime, if anyone would like a guided literary and gelato tour of the city, I'll be here...

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Anna Alden

<p>I am a Literature major at the University of Rochester and am attending Oxford through IES Direct Enrollment in the fall semester of 2015. As an aspiring academic, I am far too invested in the contents of my bookshelf and can often be caught printing an extra copy of completed papers for my own safekeeping. I am fully prepared to take on a completely new and exciting abroad experience both in and out of the classroom, and my love for writing makes each experience even more exciting to share.</p>

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