- Education and Science
I knew I would go to Oxford when I read the letter asking me to reply. There would be an essay to write, and an interview. But I believed that I would be among those 29 or so chosen to go.
And so I was among those who were thrilled to get a follow up letter informing us of our good luck. I thought about my late dad and how proud he would have been. Many years earlier, I had seen a movie with my father, "The Corn is Green," which starred his favorite actress, Bette Davis. The story involved a teacher who mentored a talented but poor Welsh lad who wound up going to Oxford. I remember sitting in the theater and thinking it grand if I were to go. But that was before Oxford became co-educational. But September 3, our departure date was soon upon us and I was beyond excited as I boarded the 747 and the plane lifted into a dazzling sun-kissed, early evening sky.
After a delicious dinner, I settled down and tried to sleep. But I was too thrilled about seeing Oxford on the morrow. So I tried to remember everything I learned over the years about the school. It was founded by King Henry II, of England, when he mandated that all English students at the Sorbonne University in France to come home to study at Oxford. From the first there were arguments between "gown and town." Eventually, the students left Oxford to go to the new school, Cambridge. The students were invited back by the townspeople who apparently missed them and gave them back rooms in their homes. This situation ended when the students began to take up living space in the various Halls. And then, in the 14th Century, colleges began to be built, which housed student and tutor rooms, and lecture halls and chapels. Oxford University is the oldest English speaking school in the world and remains a popular choice among scholars the world over.
Once we had landed at Heathrow and got our bags and joined the welcoming group from Oxford, I looked down at my feet as the driver of our bus said, "You are lucky, it rained throughout the night but the sun is out this morning." Now, all these years later, I remember thinking to myself as I saw the blue sky overhead reflected in the puddle below, "It is a lucky sight."
After being dropped off at our assigned townhouses, we settled into our rooms and rested for a preplanned get-together at the King's Arms Pub for a dinner of fish and chips. It was a delicious meal and we were all excited, chatting about our welcoming luncheon at St. Catherine's College the next day and our 4 day trip to London the following Thursday.
It was a jam-packed four days at a Thistle Hotel in London. We were taken on a bus tour straight-away. We saw all the tourists sites over the remaining days and spent a lot of time at the Tower, where the Beefeaters told hair-raising stories of all the tragic ends of prisoners held there. We were told by our bus tour guide that "England is the most heathen place in the world!" and "We keep the cathedrals open for the tourists; hardly anyone attends services on Sunday."
Over the evenings that followed, we were taken to see productions of "The Mousetrap," the longest running play there, by Agatha Christie, and at the Globe Theater we enjoyed Shakespeare's "Cymbeline." We also toured Churchill's World War II hidden offices, which were of great interest to me. I would remember the chills curling down my spine when the alarms went off, giving us all a sense of wartime in the UK.
When we returned to Oxford on Sunday afternoon, we planned our free day on Monday. I would take pictures and get school supplies for the term, which would begin early in October. Lectures would start early on Tuesday morning, September 11.
September 11, 2001
We awoke early that Tuesday morning and set off for St. Catherine's College, where all of our many lectures would take place. It was a most beautiful, sunshiny day. I remember how excited we all were. The first lecture was on the English School System, the second, after lunch, was on the legal system, led by a Barrister. We asked the barrister to accompany us to the King's Arms for dinner. We were laughing and chatting our way as we walked to our destination. The laughing stopped, along with our hunger, as we beheld the chalkboards outside of the King's Arms.
A World Changed Forever
"Terrorists Strike New York and the Pentagon" the signs said. Fear gripped my heart and the students around me cried out. We staggered into the pub and saw the carnage being played out on the television. We just stood there, each one of us feeling that the world had changed forever.
Somehow we got home, our minds still whirling with the horror that had happened. We tried to phone our families, but all of the lines were jammed. I eventually fell asleep and wakened in the morning, my mind fixed on getting ready and out to St, Catherine's.
It seemed like all of us had determined not to let the horror of the past day infringe upon our determination to excel in our chosen fields of endeavor. Not that we in any way would put on a back burner the shock of what had happened. We seemed to realize that we somehow must carry on. And so we did. Our first lecture that Tuesday morning, was on the architecture of Oxford, led by an architect and teacher at Oxford. He first told us how sorry he was for the horror of the previous day, and then he praised us for our strength in carrying on. It meant a lot to me to have him say this. I thought of it often in the succeeding days. And I would always remember that he told us that Hitler had instructed his Luftwaffe not to harm in any way Oxford University, because he intended to make it his headquarters when Germany had won the war.
New College Chapel
Term begins, at last. Michaelmas Term began early in October. It is named for St. Michael, my favorite Archangel, and my Patron Saint. We had all met our tutors or dons after we came to Oxford. I liked my tutors from our introductions and got on well with both. I chose my studies carefully. I wanted to learn all about the real Arthur in history, so I selected Arthurian History. For my other study, I chose Nineteenth Century British Authors of Fiction. I sincerely loved those frantic days; getting up early and out on my walks to my assigned college. I'd eat my fruit and perhaps cheese as I walked. First I would go to the student's lounge and have coffee, then read several of the many newspapers. Then I would go to the library and spend hours researching the titles of assigned studies given by my tutors. My college was named for the Virgin Mary, but called since the 14th Century New College, to differentiate it from an earlier college, Oriol, which had been dedicated to the Blessed Mother. Coincidentally, both of my tutors were at Oriol, We met one on one, and I read my essays and then we discussed my research and conclusions. It was different from my home university, and I did enjoy meeting one on one during the week; on Fridays with one tutor and Tuesdays with the other.
On Saturdays, we climbed upon a tour bus and visited many areas, including Stonehenge, Stratford Upon Avon, Blenheim Palace, and Warwick Castle. All were wonderful, but I did love Blenheim, where Winston Churchill was born.
On Sundays, I would go to church at St. Michael's at the North Gate then on to an early dinner at the Mitre, an ancient inn, rumored to have ghosts. At different times during the week, I'd take tea, usually at the shop in back of St. Mary's. Once, I had high tea at the Randolph Hotel.
The time went fast, and all of a sudden December 3 approached, my departure date. It was bittersweet to leave. Outside of being a wife and mother, it was a most marvelous experience. I've always encouraged students to study abroad, but I must say the challenge of Oxford was to me a Godsend.
If you would like to read a fuller account read my fourth novel where I have the heroine go to Oxford.