Once again I am interrupting the chronology of my posts to write what I wanna write. Oh well!
It’s been cold as all hell and snowy in Memphis, which is very unexpected and unappreciated by me. Although, maybe this cold and windy weather is responsible for why I keep thinking about my few months living in England, and maybe that’s why I wanna write a little more about it.
I wrote a few updates in between assignments, but there’s so much life I lived over there that I’ve just never talked about on here. One of my favorite parts of attending Oxford was taking part in some of the University’s traditions.
It was such an honor to be allowed to participate in or observe them. While some of these traditions like high tea are well known, so much surprised me, and I’m excited to write about them 🙂
Church Bell brigades
If you’ve ever lived near a church, you’ve probably grown used to them chiming on the hour. Lots of fun at noon, not so fun at 4am.
Something that surprised me about Oxford, and about Europe in general was how seriously they take their church bells.
Unlike what I’m used to in the U.S., most churches here seem to have multiple bells of varying sizes, meaning that they can play little jingles or even songs!
Since so many of the colleges have bell towers, each turn of the hour was like a chorus!
Although nothing compared to the bell chiming classes. Since Oxford-ites take church bell ringing so seriously, they actually teach classes for those who want to eventually become official-church-bell-ringers.
The result, occasional melodic cacophony.
These classes were usually around an hour ever Saturday in the late morning, and I could watch the practicing bell tower from my dorm room window! It was a welcome distraction during my study time.
Calling Dinner to Order (gavel slam slam)
On our first day of class, and then on every Thursday, dinner was an especially fancy affair.
It always begun with everyone standing up in front of the long table, one person saying a prayer in Latin, and then they would bang a wooden circle on the table, and then dinner could begin.
Being my shy self, I never had the guts to say the prayer in front of everyone, but I did gain temporary ownership of the circle!
Before the fancy Thursday night dinners, we would be invited to a half-hour long socializing event in the Lincoln College courtyard. Here, you could get a glass of wine, sample some sherry, or have a bit of orange juice if you’re non-alcoholic.
Everyone from students, to professors, to our coordinators were invited to chat together.
Formal attire was mandatory, and so it was always a wonderful time to see everyone all dressed up and unwinding after a week of tough classes. This was also a great way to get to know some of my classmates.
On these fancy-Thursdays, a couple of students would be invited to the high table.
The High Table is a huge privilege. Named due to it being a special table separate from everyone else and on an elevated surface, I’m talking SILVERware and candelabras, a thousand forks, and wine that is generously refilled (dangerously fun!).
The greatest part of high table, though, is that you are enjoying dinner right next to your professors!
As excited as I felt when my turn came, I was also very nervous. I took some etiquette classes 1000 years ago, and I’d been paying close attention in my classes. Still, it was a little intimidating being a part of this unfamiliar world. Especially because this is an art history program, and my concentration in college is biology, so I was concerned about my ability to talk academia.
In reality, it ended up being totally fine. I made sure to sip the same glass of wine the whole night so I didn’t get too tipsy, and I talked to my History of English Theater professor about the museums we’d visited. As far as manners go, I sort of copied what everyone else was doing and that seemed to get me by without any faux pas.
When I think back about it- I think what an incredible privilege it is that Oxford professors take the time out of their days to meet and talk with students outside of class time like this. All the while learning to eat fabulous food.
Don’t Forget High Tea!
This is more of an England-wide tradition. I mean, who hasn’t heard of high tea!
This is a tradition I couldn’t wait to be a part of. When I was in high school, my friend always threw the most fabulous Christmas tea parties, complete with tiny cucumber sandwiches, and I was excited to do the same while at Oxford.
What I learned is that High Tea can vary a lot depending on where you go. Usually, my friends and I would go to a standard cafe for High Tea. This came complete with tea and dishes of cream and sugar, plus scones with jam and clotted cream for everyone.
This was pretty affordable, usually coming out to a few pounds each. Although if you go to a more high-end high-cost place, these can also include sandwiches and cakes.
It makes for a great afternoon. My favorite place to go for tea at Oxford was Vaults and Garden on Radcliffe Square. Afterwards, you can climb the St. Mary of the Virgin church spire for excellent views over the Radcliffe Camera and All Souls College.
Other Fun Traditions (that I haven’t done but heard they were cool)
When you’re a realio-dealio full time Oxford student, there’s a special flower system you use for finals. You wear these black cloaks to each final, and the color of the carnation you place in your pocket represents where you are in the finals schedule. A white carnation means it’s your first exam, pink is for each exam in the middle, and to your last exam, you carry a red carnation in your pocket. So cool!
Watching an Oxford Union debate in the Old Library is another Oxford staple. The most talented debaters in the world meet here to discuss both current and age-old controversies. Observers can even vote at the end by submitting their votes into boxes labelled “Aye” or “Nay” (for yes, or no). I learned about all of this while our class was touring the Old Library and thought it was just too cool to not share. Speaking of which, you should also visit the Old Library to see the Rossetti murals on the ceiling for some Merlin-tastic fun!
Well, there you have it! See you soon 😉