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The Ivory Tower Is My Oyster.

February 22, 2015

I am way down the list when it comes to representing Oxford, but the thing about Oxford is that you cannot typecast. You do occasionally spot a few ‘vintage’ Oxbridge types peeled off from Brideshead Revisited or The First Episode nursing their teatime Prosecco in glorious languor and tweed jackets, but such Christ Church birding is usually exclusive to tourists.

The thing about our generation is that we defy cookie-cutter definitions. For a start, yours truly sports a, to some, unsettlingly American accent as well as a borderline pixie haircut on her 100% East Asian (segue: when the English say ‘Asian,’ they usually mean South Asian; gotta make that distinction) female head. Just to bring y’all old-fashioned folks back into your comfort zone, I do slave away quite a bit in the library. But I’m nowhere near the level of my best friend here – who’s only half Asian, the irony – who does it like an extreme sport.

Introducing J, a first-year reading English, the subject that Catz always ranks in the top five across the university. Hence the intensity of work: freshers need to write three 3000-word essays, give three presentations, and translate three passages from Old English, with commentaries, every single week. Eight consecutive weeks each term. Take that in.

It’s got to the point where we no longer bother making plans. In the morning I’d be in town at lectures, while he goes to classes for his module. After lunch, I’d plant myself in the Social Science Library, to where J’d relocate after the English Faculty Library, his favorite spot, closes at 7. Then we stay put there until the final bell rings at 9:45. Then we let the night wind down in my room or his, which I leave eventually so he could fully plunge into one of the many, many all-nighters of this term, slash his undergraduate career.

Does this sound at all appalling to you? If so, don’t apply. In all sincerity, if you are not gung-ho about your tutorials, it is rather a waste of the resources here, not to mention taking up a spot that would suit someone else much better. The main advantage I have here as a visiting student is not (just) the drinking age, the proximity to continental Europe, or swanky socials where you might get to schmooze with the next David Cameron or Rosamund Pike, but the vast amount of academic freedom; with only two hour-long tutorials each week, I get to binge on lectures to my heart’s content, and to plunge into the rabbit hole that is footnotes.

I get so many kicks out of –there is no other way to put it but – studying, the rebel in me, basically a mythical figure now, gets a little offended just how easily my switches get turned on, instantly, all day every day. The latest of my obsession, Richard Sennett, got me hooked three paragraphs in; by the end of the Preface I was basically ecstatic. He just kept on delivering cold, hard, solid punches of insight page after page. And because his books are closed stacks deliveries that are confined to the reading room, I will be fangirling over critical theories instead of traveling this weekend, like many before, and many to follow.

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