Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A title: "Thanatologist"

As I was leaving my "Graduate School prep" lecture two weeks ago, lovingly planned by the programme to allow us the freedom in using Oxford's resources--my heart was pounding. Realistically, I was watching the rest of my housemates attempt to put together a year plan: GRE tests, reccomedations, applications, internships, fellowships....and it suddenly became apparent that I no longer had the time to gingerly consider each of my options! Graduation this May could not seem more implausible--I mean, I worked so hard to get to Oxford that I neglected to consider: "What Now?" 

Most of you who've spent any length of time with me have watched me develop a budding interest in both ministry and dying individuals. If you've been truly blessed, you've probably patiently sat through "Tuesday's With Morrie" for the 15th time, heard my analysis of the importance of "Charlotte's Web" as a lesson about the brevity of life,  listened to me discuss my inspiration with my Grandmother's death in 2001, got a chance to read my "Living Will" when I decided to take a "Death and Dying" class last year--and even watched me do mental cartwheels at the discovery of Margaret Edson's play "Wit".

...How does this tie in? 
Well, I'd like to explain it to you all individually, but for the purposes of the blog--I will use this medium for now. 
I left that lecture entirely confused, and went home ready to Google my future to the extremes. 
I never in my wildest dreams imagined I'd find it--the Lord's faithfulness is near to me.

In the next few years, I plan to save money and prepare for continuing graduate studies for a Masters in "Thanatology". (I encourage you to Wikipedia the discipline that finally, upon finding, brought teardrops to my eyes!) 
The goal of the narrow field is largely a ministry goal--pallative care for dying individuals and death education.

SO, as a Christian Ed Ministry major, I was given the opportunity to be featured in this semester's newsletter and to write about my experience at Biola and with the program, etc. 
In case you are interested--the following was my response.

"When I entered Biola as a na├»ve freshman, my intention was remarkably narrow and surprisingly simple: I wanted to learn how to “do” ministry. Several years later, I am convinced that of all the adages Christian Education Ministries has taught me, it began with this truth: at its core, my life already was a ministry.
It has taken me the past few years to learn and relearn this truth (as it should with any pearl of wisdom), and with each approach comes the coy temptation to experience new freedom.

As I attempt to encapsulate all that I’ve gleaned through the CEM program, I realize it would take much more than a few hearty paragraphs. I pray my words can convey much with the little space in which they dwell.
The obvious place to start with is all that I have learned and continue to learn through CEM. I’ve researched the philosophy behind Christian Education and why it is so valuable to equip the body of Christ. I’ve learned the importance of ministering and administering, and how to best utilize the specific resources God provides.
I’ve harnessed and treasured my creativity, however strange it may seem to employ multi-colored and eclectic illustrations for the goal of scriptural truth! I’ve successfully suffered through my internship (much to my chagrin), and have seen the essential need to prepare and contextualize in teaching. I’ve tested the need for evangelism anywhere and at any time, learning to never compromise the truth of the Gospel for cultural relativity. And perhaps the most essential piece for my own journey: I’ve learned the necessity of knowing and assessing my own soul, before I minister to anyone else.

Combining my passions into something God could best use has proved to be a daunting task, a bit more like a feverish search for Waldo than a pursuit by Holy Spirit’s divine leading. I decided the best way to learn where I needed to be was to experience every possible opportunity. I’ve been involved with a youth ministry for three years, dabbled in areas of campus leadership as both an SOS leader and a Resident Assistant, and joined more outside ministries and missions trips than any one person should properly handle! Exhausted and a little discouraged, I will admit I started to run exclusively on all the energy I could muster up.
Yet as my definition of ministry began to broaden, I discovered other joys God had given me, and started to use them! An avid lover of a novel’s role in exposing deeper realities, I took on a minor in English Literature. Now approaching my last semester at Biola, I am finishing up coursework in the English discipline at Oxford University. Through pursuit of a more intensive academia, the Lord has allowed me to redefine my life’s ministry.

With the help of much research and affirmation, I’ve uncovered a fascination with the human condition approaching death. I’m currently researching a thesis concerning literature that illuminates issues surrounding death. Be it a loss of personhood or stunted grief, the more I’ve uncovered these issues—the more I’ve been drawn towards a field I sensed existed but knew nothing about!

I now plan to continue on to do graduate work in Thanatology, a field that studies death and the grieving process of those left behind. Looking back, I cannot imagine better preparation for a career that will ultimately prove to be: holistic ministry.

The journey towards “doing” ministry involved much knowledge and experience. I then learned to broaden my perspective and allow the pieces of several specific interests to fall into place. For rich preparation, sincerely involved faculty, and an intimate community of students—I thank the CEM program."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Holidays, and a Lewis Excursion.

If I attempted to recount every milestone from the past month (for I regret that it has been a whole month!), this blog post would happily serve as one of my tutorial papers! 
So, I will do my utmost to update on with feels like a whirlwind of happenings. 
I figured I'd begin with holidays and a few excursions.Thanksgiving day was not exactly the same as the states--it was nothing more than a Thursday. Fortunately, our house planned and executed a huge feast for this weekend--and therefore we did our best to celebrate the holiday with the usual "tryptophan"overload and the boys played a solid game of American football--no shame felt :] 
Most of the excitement of the evening included household entertainment from our staff, a few guest tutors, and housemates--but the real fun, as you can ascertain, was in the kitchen! We had  copious trays of mashed potatoes, yams, makeshift stuffing, Libby's pumpkin pie sent contraband from the states, and 6 turkeys...among other items. 

Our Halloween party had a similar setup of food and an "open mic" setting at the Vines, complete with the most
disturbing food contest you can imagine--everything from "Silence of the Lambs" stew, to Shakespearean "Out vile jelly!" to...you name it, it was present and looking entirely inedible.
My roommate Daena was Amy Winehouse, I was Mariah Carey--a sing-off (completely embarassing!) did in fact take place that evening.Appearances from the Joker were in double, as I'm sure many of the seasonal parties experienced this year. Another favorite: Ms. Sarah Palin not only shook every hand in the room with a hearty, "get those absentee ballots ready!", but also did a question and answer session for the group! The voting box costume, needless to note, was utilized. 

This would be an excellent time to interject that the Brits we've come across have been absolutely mesmerized by American politics and the "personality voting" versus policies. The night of the election, much
 of the house (divided politically) stayed up for await the results...it should be hilariously noted that a few locals dropped by to "observe" us in our natural habitat. 
Oh deary me.

Anyway, on to other excitement in the past month--Daena and I took the treasured walk up to C.S. Lewis' Oxford home (the Kilns), now being used as a home for select students, as well as his grave in the Trinity Church cemetery. It was an absolutely gourgeous walk,  and quite a feat walking grave to grave looking for Lewis' modestly paced stone--almost identical to the rest. We found there were fresh roses on the grave with a note that made me pause with likeminded thankfulness for how the Lord has used Lewis' work. 

Daena ripped out a page from her copy of a Lewis book and left a note as well...other than two grave-diggers, the cemetery was silent and beautiful. 

Friday, October 24, 2008

Autumn in Oxford...& lots of work to be done.

a slight disclaimer: I must confess that I've been withholding my subsequent post in the hopes of receiving more reader comments...simply to ensure that I'm not writing this to myself! Its become quite troublesome to be waiting with so much to say, however, so I write nevertheless. This is not to say that your comments aren't still desired--this means YOU. :] 

About a week ago I found myself using the advice of my Creative Writing tutor (a man who is inspirational in everything from his bookshelves to his attire) and exploring Oxford in a solitary new way. I pushed my lazy self to wake up early one morning and decided to bring my camera to capture my morning walk into town--it is full of Autumn scenes precisely like this one. Having been living in Southern California for the past 3 Autumns, I have longed for my favorite season in actuality for so long, arbitrarily filling the void with Pumpkin Spice lattes and Disneyland's "Halloween" transformation--and although the season in Connecticut is much longer and brighter than here in Oxford, I'm still reveling appropriately.

The leaves on this path literally swirled in raindrop-like patterns as I walked into them, and I found that remarking on God's faithfulness to me was simple to do in watching the leaves. Not everything comes this simply, so I try to take advantage of these moments. It was good to remember the faithfulness of each season to produce a similar effect in me: childlike wonder. 

I then decided to climb up Carfax Tower to see all of Oxford on the semi-clear morning--it was only just opening up for the public when I got to the bottom of the staircase, and the little man at the desk checked the time to make sure I could go up. Up several flights of slightly precarious stairs with my bulging backpack, I reached the top and discovered the skyline entirely alone with Lord. 
It was breathtaking. And a perfect way to begin 1st week of term. 
And now I am entering my 3rd week--

SO, what have I been doing since then?! 
In short: tutorials, lectures, papers, weekend excursions. 
But I will elaborate...

The highlights and observations of the last few weeks have gone as follows: 

-Generally, reliving the "Freshman" (or Fresher, as they say in Oxford) experience. Entering this very intense world of Oxford life has been an enjoyable whirlwind, not entirely unlike the Freshman experience at any university back home. Remember the clamouring throng trying to assist you with building maps and encouraging words? all the clubs that tried their hardest to sell you their shtick? As international students, we were invited to attend the "Fresher Fair" at the start of first week...which aside from marking us as "official" Oxford students, included a ton of free stuff and sign-ups for everything from electric dance clubs to political organizations. It was held in the gorgeous Examination schools, which was definitely a perk, but the agony of hundreds of sweaty onlookers was just a bit much for me. I was most surprised to discover that in the hubbub, almost every plea for recognition included, "Join the [Things with Wings] club! You don't have to be a bird enthusiast--even if you know someone who loves birds, we'll love you! You don't even have to like birds--just come!!" ...and I'm not being sarcastic.

-Discovering almost daily the newest places to get work done and eat good food. With absolutely no where to retreat to in a house with 60 people, and in a city where everything closes at 5pm, I've had to be extremely creative with this one. With that said, I have my senses--and my coupons--prepared for almost any spontaneous work location. 

-A Visit from two amazing Biola friends studying at Roehampton University in London--Justin and Michelle stopped by to tour Oxford last weekend and see how Daena and I were doing at living the Oxford dream. 

-Although this years' "God Delusion" debate at Oxford between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox was sold out practically before anyone could breathe, the town hall was nice enough to hold a viewing of last years' debate in the main meeting room the night before! So, not only did I have the pleasure of sitting in the beautiful Oxford Town Hall, but I was thoroughly impressed with the debate as a whole. I encourage anyone still interesting in the book or the debate in general to see if it's posted on YouTube and watch a clip or two...very well done by both sides.

And now, arguably the most important part: my tutorials. 

I'm taking Modern Literature (1900-to the present) and Creative Non-Fiction: Writing as my tutorials, as well as going to a handful of lecture series that perhaps only relate cursorily to the subject matter I'm studying. 
(This fact is one of the craziest things about Oxford--even if no student happens to be studying Chaucer, there may very well be 5 lecture series done on him during the term...simply because the faculty here have the freedom to teach on whatever they very really please. )

While my Modern Lit tutorial has kept me busy, I will save that story for another time. 

I am currently very enthusiastic about my Creative Writing tutorial, and am working on a series of "vignettes" surrounding my experience with my late Grandmother. 
My tutor actually had me look up the etymology of the word vignette in his $1,000 Oxford English Dictionary complete with magnifying glass...he then had me flip through the dictionary and read the words that "fancied" me aloud, to get a feel "of what sort of person I am". 
It was quite an exercise and he remarked that I looked "very scholarly"...I certainly felt very scholarly.

I meet in his house quite a walk outside of the Oxford center and over the railroad tracks...he informed me that this area is actually referred to as an "island" revolving around the Thames, and it is absolutely beautiful. Although he reminds me frequently that I need to shut the door firmly because his cat is suicidal, and he is quite scatter-brained--he always seems to know exactly what book to pull out of his multiple dusty bookcases to have me read a passage aloud...and with thanks to him, I have now discovered the poet Philip Larken.

We talked so much about my future career goals and ministry of various kinds that I hardly had time to read my own work, but he encouraged me to read a few specific things and after he learned I was a "Theology" major, managed to ask me what I thought about his eternal destiny. It was a highly educational interaction in its entirety, and I'm eager to get back writing more. 

Friday, October 10, 2008

Firenze: "Grazie; Prego"...

Much, much success to report: I have officially completed my "practice" preterm course--and have consequently, completed and turned in 3 (count 'em)--3 papers of which I am proud of two, and ready to face the red pens of my over-eager graders. The task was gruelling to say the very least, and just for the sake of saying so, I oft considered stealing my library copy of Engels's "Conditions of the English Working Class in 1844"--such a compelling read! Not to be concerned though, it was properly returned just yesterday.

So with completed work behind me, and my 3 day break ahead of me, I made my very first (speedy, highly surprising, and thrifty) journey to the Motherland. For those of you who are unawares as to what that means, let me tell you in plain language that I travelled to Florence, Italy.  And it was just as breathtaking as it should be. I actually contemplated whether or not Oxford had an abroad programme so I could just stay there :]...

Daena, Sarah, and I flew into Pisa due to the price of airfare to Florence, and after about 13 hours of bus, plane, and train travel--we trudged our way to Pisa's famous "Leaning Tower" to see what we were told is the most inconsequential city to visit outside of the tower. Once more, although the tourist attraction was pretty exciting, I was more enamoured with a pair of stately dachshunds being walked adjacent to it...oh well! Florence, however, is known for a few things that were surprising, including but not limited to its cow stomach sandwiches--cows and their leather being some of the biggest industries there. Needless to say, we skipped that local delicacy.

We then took on the reasons we came, starting with Michaelangelo's masterpiece "David"--I was absolutely breathless at the majestic size and the feeling of weightiness I was able to capture by spending about an hour in the room observing the marble wonder...after reading and hearing so many money-saving tips that suggested we "skip the David and just see the identical replica in the piazza or the square outside"--they could not have been more wrong!

Just walking into the far end of the room and catching a glimpse was incredible, and it was well worth lines and a multiple of other excitements. One of which involving a police raid of the knock-off print and trinket salesmen outside the museum--it was quite a sight! (A little Chinatown-esque, if you will). I managed to catch a stray toy truck as they were running, and it was promptly taken out of my hand and thereafter (30 seconds later) attempted to be sold back to me by a very short elderly Italian man in a ski cap. Priceless. We did go to the Uffizi as well, although I felt the building was much more impressive than the paintings inside--with the exception of Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" and "Spring" and a few Rembrandt paintings.

We walked to the Piazza Michelangelo over the Ponte Vecchio bridge and saw the gorgeous view of the city as well--then contemplated Italian phrasing and listened to each other respond in silliness. Daena (who is from South Africa) was literally switching between Africans, English, Spanish, and German each time we purchased a gelato or sat in a restaurant.

We also got to see much of the city in our wanderings: 
the Duomo, Santa Maria Novella Cathedral, Santa Croce, etc. All of these are masterpieces on the outside alone, which of course was the "free" part on a student budget! 

And to be sure the food, after growing up with both grandparents own regional versions, was perhaps the most exciting for me as an Italian-American...and lets set the record straight: New Haven pizza comes the closest to the real thing...I promise you! 
All the bragging is validated I must assure you. I even happened to stumble on some cookies my grandma made every year at Christmas Eve while in a grocery store...and they were very good.

Our last day we spent traveling to a vineyard to see olives and grapes in tuscany--and it was simply beautiful! Aside from the interesting crowd of overweight American tourists, highly enjoyable. Our goal of resting before returning for the term, however, was perhaps the only one not achieved (although it was well worth it for Italia)--as we spent the entire night from 2am-6am circling the Santa Maria Novella bus station and trying to keep warm for a bus to Pisa. 

Having arrived just a day before the term started, the past few days have been very full and exciting and there will be much to report for tutorials and other excitement.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Birthdays come in all kinds of ways...even at Oxford.

:] In lieu of my 22nd birthday, THIS was my surprise as I awoke...
...this adorable little cake is from "The Cake Shop" in town...and the sheep is simply the cutest.

It it was a lovely day, overall. 

It is most necessary to include that the day of my birthday just happened to be our last trip--this time to Bath, a few hours away from Oxford--and also, notably, known for Jane Austen having been a resident there with some of her family. 
Ironically, Austen herself hated Bath, mostly due to the pressures of the "elite" society's particular way of life--and also of course because she felt it much too showy. Actually, we happened to bump into some costumed Austen characters getting photos taken for a celebration the next day...umbrellas and petticoats galore.

We visited the beautiful Bath Abbey, the Roman Baths (still with warm water steaming in the center), did a kind of "walking tour" for the specific architectural 
strides that make the city so unique--and even managed to drop into "Sally Lunn's Buns"...the name says it all. The abbey was probably my favorite experience of the day, getting to walk through with a sort of guide to remember the faithfulness of the Lord in our lives. 
(In fact, one spot even had us recall our baptism and how that was used in our walk to strengthen our commitment, it was a much needed exercise for my soul!). The baths themselves--still used for certain arthritic medical purposes, are very impressive...it was slightly disturbing that they had tried to replicate the bathing of locals so closely that they cast overhead images of naked men with towels standing by the sides of the inside caves.

It was actually quite a surprise how many gawking eyes stayed in that room to try and make out exactly what the images were! :] I concluded the visit by tossing a penny (Lord knows our currency is worth nothing here anyway) into the respective area in a birthday-wishing fashion! It should be noted that I had an excellent shot, and ripples ensued.

Sally Lunn's Buns is a tiny hole-in-the-wall tearoom 
that claims famous admirers like Dickens and Austen very openly, with references to their favorite rooms or specific quotations on the stairs leading up the main dining area, but I must admit that there is nothing very appealing to me about an extra large hamburger roll type-bun on a plate--even if it is covered in some sort of cream or jam. And I do mean extra large. (It never ceases to amaze me what the English will call food!). Anyway, a group of us had the famous buns and tea/coffee and laughed probably too loudly for most tearooms unaccustomed to American gregarious twenty-somethings, and it felt very birthday-appropriate.

We also observed John Wood's masterpieces of architecture: the King's Circus and the Royal Crescent, both half-moon style buildings now divided into separate
vertically-aligned apartments. The interesting thing to note regarding the Crescent, and much of the cities architecture, is that separate contractors were hired to complete the segments--so that while the front of the facades appear to be symmetrical and orderly, the back of the buildings are absolutely ambiguous.  

When we got back, we gathered momentum and went into town to enjoy whatever an Oxford-style Italian restaurant could offer us...and frankly, the food was amazing and not at all fried! Such a great birthday excursion. 

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Theory of tourism, Elizabethan papers, and sheep...!

Sure, car accidents happen...bike accidents happen--this is why I've yet to get a bike. For all those who think I'm exaggerating, my roommate Terese went flying over the handles of her bicycle while tackling our lovely Headington Hill two days ago. (She ended up VERY bruised and scratched, and it was a good thing she had just gotten a helmet 30 minutes prior...) None of these sorts of accidents, however, are what I am about to allude to--I, on my own two feet and carrying my very full and extremely heavy bag through Port Meadow last night, managed to collide with a four year old little British boy. His scooter handle caught on my bag and the force of my 15, 4-inch Elizabethan portrait books,and sent the poor lad flying into a parked car. 
I'm serious.
So after I managed to explain to both his mother (who frankly, should have been monitoring him on a narrow sidewalk) and the car owner that it was all an unfortunate accident, I'd spent an extra 45 minutes en route in addition to my already lengthy commute. I felt horribly about the little boy, but he's okay--and I was on a mission, not intending to be cold or heartless. :]
So I'm sure that your best guess can tell you why I haven't written a  lengthy blog post recently,
 but in case you're wondering...the work has begun. I am in the very heat of a paper topic I decided to change last minute, but finally settled on answering the question, "Why are there no portraits of Queen Elizabeth I's likeness?" So far it has been much more exciting than my previous topic on how much we can be sure of in the life of St. Patrick (not to say that Royalty has any edge over Sainthood), and that was my goal after wandering through MULTIPLE libraries like a chicken with my head cut off! I have finally made it to several, gourgeous libraries :D and I'm finding that it is true: I feel much more intelligent surrounded by all those incredible books. And Oxford scholars. Andddd the fact that I breeze right by tourists 
clamoring to come inside the Bodleian with my student ID doesn't hurt either :D. 
Yesterday I sat in on a lecture regarding Shakespearean, or more 
specifically Stratford, tourism by the head lecturer in the English 
Literature school during which she remarked on that familiar feeling 
we (as tourists, or distinctly American tourists) often
get when visiting a long-awaited landmark or renowned spot. She 
actually was working on a book regarding this usually fascinating
topic, and had just returned from New England where she was at a 
conference marking Hawthorne and his particular spot in American
tourism. I won't bore you with all the amazing details of her theory on
tourism (suffice it to say that much of what we get enthused, or 
un-enthused about in regards to these places are a fabricated set 
of experiments in emotion to let us more properly "get it"), but I will 
ask you to share if you've ever felt what she describes as coming upon 
these locations and finding "it [the place] goes 'dead' on you, really,
cause it was more alive than it ever could be"--

"really, you've 'remembered' it before, even though you haven't been 
there", and your sense of personal ownership over the distinct 
experience feels as though its robbed you of something "more".  

This is the perfect tie into my experiences in the past week (before the 
work piled on)--since I've gotten to take two amazing day trips that I've 
yet to share or post photos about. Last week, we went to Stonehenge, 
Salisbury Cathedral, and Old Sarum. I was pretty excited to see 
Stonehenge in particular--these largest standing stones in 
Great Britain, mysteriously finding themselves thousands of miles
away from where they came from and reminding us of a time even
further back than the Neolithic age...and I found myself unusually 
unamused by the lack of an "authentic" feeling surrounding
roped off areas of rocks. 

Instead, those of you that know me will find these pictures of me having 
more fun in the sheep fields adjacent to the stones very typical of me :D.

At any rate, I did find that I was 
absolutely enthralled 
by Old Sarum--the site of ruins of a fortress-kingdom, 
used by Henry IVand others until the stones were 
brought down to create the city of Salisbury, formally 
demonstrating the separation of the state
and the Church. You can see the Cathedral from on top 
of the Old Sarum hills, and the tallest spire in 
Great Britain (at 401.3 feet for that alone) 
is absolutely breathtaking. 

At the Cathedral itself, we were able to climb the very 
daunting multiple sets of stairs to view the countryside, hear 
the bells chime, and see one of 4 surviving copies of the 
Magna Carta's manuscript. On top of a burial ground that 
is now only a few feet above water-level, the sanctuary 
is majestic! It was quite an experience to visit on 9/11 
as well--those there did pause for a moment of prayer.

And then just a few days ago, we visited Cardinal Woolsey/Henry VIII (and many after him)'s Hampton Court Palace--probably the most beautiful place I've
 seen so far. 
Like a miniature town, the kitchen, gardens, and tapestries alone  are impressive. Apparently, the halls are haunted by one of the Queens--I report no official signs of that. 
We also did the famous maze, priced now it 3.50 pounds...borderline ripoff, but it was quite fun. I encourage to look it up yourself to see the aerial view of the palace--humbling! 

I was able to capture so many awesome pictures because the weather was also just as beautiful as the palace, and unfortunately I will have to be posting them on Facebook in an album, because as you can tell...posting a ton of pictures of this blog can make it difficult to format and read smoothly. 

Although we visited Hampton Court a day before the lecture, I can personally attest to just how telling this woman's theory really is! Just prior to packing up to go I turned towards Sarah and remarked, "I would just adore having this whole place to explore alone...I want a personal experience." 
If man can create masterpieces so beautiful, I cannot wait to see Heaven :]. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Oxford: where even your 'best' isn't good enough...since 1117."

The adventure continues!...so starting this week we've been inundated with literally all sorts of 'orienting' information that we'll need to know for the coming weeks. It has been so exciting to get acquainted with the university and with my college specifically--Wycliffe Hall. (Oxford is broken up into colleges, and each has varying specializations; it should be noted that some have quite a bit more funding than the others, but essentially they are all connected as degree programs are to the university at large in the states.) This college is where we'll be based out of while we are at Oxford, and it functions primarily as a theological school for ordinands/those pursuing ministry and theology. They connect us with our particular disciplines and tutors out of those disciplines accordingly. 
Those of you wondering exactly what it is that I am doing while here, I will indulge you. (Those uninterested, hope the perusal is going swimmingly:]). For the first 4 weeks I'm doing pre-term work, because the actual Oxford semester begins in October--and that will be a VERY full term of 8 weeks total. Because the rest of the undergrads (or junior members) have yet to arrive, for these first few weeks I am doing 2 additional courses--a British Landscapes course and my English Lit integrative seminar. 

Since this is a study abroad programme connection, there is the goal of "cultural immersion", and therefore the Oxford equivalent becomes an in-depth British history class for us. We are learning about the whole of English history, as well as choosing 3 of numerous research questions from certain eras that interest us (be it King Arthur, Henry II, etc.) on which to do case study essays. Occasionally, this overlaps with a field visit--the first of which is tomorrow to Stonehenge, Old Sarum, and Salisbury. The chief aim of this preterm class is to allow us much practice in writing and researching the "Oxford way", in order to not fall flat on our faces come tutorials. 
The other class is particularly interesting because it is allowing me to explore the purpose of the discipline of English in the first place...through the discussion of various issues. During the course (which continues on into the fullterm) we get to choose a topic  (be it the development of romance in a certain time period in literature, value of fiction or humour to both scholars at large and Christian scholars, etc.) and write a lengthy paper on whatever we choose. SO, basically, I get to choose whatever topic and whatever books I want! :D and for that, I am very excited. We are told they want this to either be a continuation of a previous study or utilize our tutorial work, and therefore so we meet with our leader several times to gather and hone a narrow topic. It's all set up to mirror graduate school so that we get a taste of writing a dissertation, and "finding our voice in our particular field". 

I'll be going to 8 lecture series that I can choose out of many, many options--as long as I can relate them to my areas of study: Modern lit and Creative writing. Then, I write all my respective essays and talk about my research with my tutor once a week (or a fortnight)...and wait for them to push me to write better and ask better questions. 
Of course, while we are preparing for these, our instructors keep trying to scare us to a degree--and they are telling us to un-learn everything we've ever learned about writing an essay: no more introduction, no more "thesis" statement, or bland spoon-fed questions to answer. We have "REAL" resources (between the Bodleian Library and 100 others with volumes literally kept in perpetuity)--so we are expected to "move from a passive consumption of learning to an active direction of learning". Oh, Oxford. 

Also, apparently, this style of learning is only done at Oxford and Cambridge because they are the only two universities that can still properly afford to have one tutor per student! This accounts for why the individualized structure is so coveted.
While all of this information is terribly exciting, it is also very nerve-wracking without consistent reliance on the Lord for the guidance on my true identity and worth--all glory to Him for creating such marvelous minds to work for knowledge.
what is perhaps even more exciting, however, is that I now am the proud owner of an official Oxford email address [aubrie.kusmit@wycliffe.ox.ac.uk, if you should need it], as well as student ID to access all this wonderful information. it is truly...exciting.

I also was able to drop by the St. Giles' fair yesterday and I thought I'd post some pictures of one of the oldest running Medieval fairs in Europe...it wasn't impressive for more than the normal amount of junky, greasy food and interesting people watching. They did, however, have a "Rock N Shake" ride with a picture of 14 year old Britney Spears on it. 

This nighttime picture below is the dedication
of the fair with the
choir of St. Giles the night previous (this intersection is part of my morning and afternoon commute).