At some point, we all experience it: the feeling that life is actually quite short, certainly shorter than we imagined when we were young. Well, these days I feel pretty old. My time in Oxford is coming to an end.
I will keep the remaining lamentation to myself. Instead, I will reflect on some issues that have made this year especially great. Maybe you young people with all your MJurs, BCLs and LLMs still ahead of you might benefit from this.
Let me first start with a commonplace: “It was the people I met here that made this year so wonderful”. But it’s true, they played a huge part in this respect. And Oxford is special here: Due to the collegiate system, you not only meet an incredible number of people, but also from all kinds of backgrounds. In fact, I probably hung out more with friends from college than with lawyers.
Second, I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to learn something totally new: rowing. In hindsight, I cannot appreciate enough that I have not only used the year abroad to make academic progress, but also on a personal level. I highly recommend prospective Postgrads to find something that they might have never considered to do while at home – try to stretch your boundaries a bit. To those who might fear for their future employability: Isn’t it a bit cooler to say you learnt how to do Improv / played Quidditch (it is a real thing, guys) / went hillclimbing than to brag about your “Distinction” in Trust Law?
To be fair, however, the MJur/BCL gave me the amazing insights into my subjects of choice. I would have never imagined – honestly – that I could be so intrigued by studying the Law. I feel that this year has greatly expanded my horizon even in subjects I thought I knew about fairly well. Should you take something totally unfamiliar to you? Yes, but only if you are genuinely interested in the subject and not because you are afraid to appear boring. I actually enjoyed the more familiar subjects more than the other because I had something to build on.
I hope (and I am sure) you all have a great year, wherever you will go. Thanks for following this blog! Many thanks also to those who have given me the opportunity to blog about my experiences in the first place. It was great fun.
(as the British do, although I am still unsure about the appropriate number of X for the varying contexts)
My time in Oxford is slowly coming to an end. And although this city isn’t that big, I haven’t seen and done as many things as I wish I had – this being proof of the fact that there is a lot going on here.
Besides the obviously pretty and numerous colleges, there are some fine places that belong to the University of Oxford, the most conspicuous example here being the City’s landmark Radcliffe Camera.
Second to this surely is the Bodleian Library, which in its current shape dates back to 1602. It is the United Kingdom’s second biggest library. The “Old Schools Quadrangle” is particularly impressive. Here, we find the entrances to the “Schola Moralis Philosophae” or the “Schola Ivrisprvdentiae” (I wish, our lectures were here instead of the ugly St Cross Building).
The closest you can get to the stereotype of an Oxford library is probably the “Duke Humfrey” library, which can also be accessed from the Quad. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to touch most of the books and to bring backpacks, a rule which officers here seem keen to enforce.
Even older than the “Bod” is the Divinity School (15th century) that is adjacent to the Bod. Again, a number of scenes for the Harry Potter movies were filmed here. I, however, find this chair made of lumber of one of Sir Francis Drake’s ships more intriguing.
And since I am not sure I put the “Bridge of Sighs” – another Oxford landmark – on this blog, here we go: It connects the buildings of Hertford College.
Summer is (better: should) be here. This is (should) be the perfect time for garden partys and balls in Oxford. My college had a ball in February and it was good fun already back then. However, the fact that you can actually use the college quads during this season to socialise, dance and eat makes it even more fun. Photos here are taken from the wonderful Balliol MCR Garden Party last weekend.
The dresscode is usually “Black Tie”, although sometimes only “smart casual”. For the really fancy balls, everyone even wears “White Tie”, that is with a (mostly hired I think) tailcoat including white gloves and bowler hat. It basically feels like you are thrown back into the 1920s (<= note how I am avoiding the “Downton Abbey” analogy here).
Balls are usually quite expensive, ranging between 90 and up to 200 pounds. However, you are given unlimited food and drinks. Every ball and garden party has a photo booth, that’s a classic. Others offer laser tag and other fun stuff like for example auto scooters. Obviously, a number of dancefloors, live bands and “silent disco” are essential to a great ball as well.
Silent Disco, everyone dancing to their own choice of music (indicated by the colour of the headphones here)
Quite emblematic of the sheer limitless creativity of ball committees (and competitiveness concerning other balls) is be the example of Sommerville College. Aiming at delivering a night of ‘decadence, debauchery and indulgence’, the ball committee initially sought to get a shark in a bowl until their principal stepped in.
Two weeks until this year’s MJur/BCL class have to take its first Oxford exam. Needless to say, the entire procedure is set to be stuffed with Oxford traditions and peculiarities.
First, students have to take exams in the subfusc (see my earlier post about matriculation). This means we have to wear suit and bow tie plus gown. This, however, is only mandatory for crossing the threshold of the examination schools. Tie etc. can be taken off when sitting down but have to be put on again when leaving the premises. Unlike some fellow students who are on the hunt for pyjama pants that resemble suit pants, I am quite optimistic about the dress code: Maybe, by making me feel important, it induces important thoughts in turn? Given that the weather is turning really warm in the next weeks (and have always felt important so far anyway), this is rather unlikely.
Second, students have to wear a white gilly-flower for their first exam, pink ones in their second and third, and a red one for their final one. Since I love the smell of flowers, this could be a real game changer as regards exam enjoyment.
Third, for your last exam, your friends are picking you up to “trash you”, that is they will put funny things (confetti, shaving cream..) on your head and maybe throw you into the river.
One of the hottest topics in Oxfod cafés and pubs at the moment is of course the upcoming referendum on the UK’s membership in the European Union. It is impossible to underestimate the importance of this decision as regards the European Project’s further development. After all, the UK is not only a huge economic, but also a political and cultural force in Europe.
I doubt that there are many other places where the impact of the European integration and its importance for our generation can be felt more than in Oxford. Although a lot of the foreign study body comprises US citizens, people from all over Europe study and live together. Among the postgrads, 21.7% are from non-UK EU countries.
Oxford is a hub for European excellence. As a lawyer, one can only wonder what would happen to the influence and expertise the law faculty currently holds in European Union law. Funnily enough, the exam on EU Law will take place some days after the Brexit Vote, possibly rendering it a legal historic paper.
The media does its part to influence elections (to be fair, also for the other side, e.g. the Financial Times arguing for Remain).
As a prospective applicant from the European, you should keep your fingers crossed. If the “Leave” campaign actually wins, chances are that your tuition fees will rise to the level of non-EU members.
This weekend, the most important rowing event in Oxford, “Summer Eights”, took place. From Wednesday to Saturday, 171 boats and around 1500 participants are racing against each other.
Our boat closing in at Somerville II
To allow for such a high number of crews to race every day for four days and due to the narrowness of the river, a special mode of competition is used: the “bumping race”. Instead of crews racing each other one on one (that is, next to each) other, boats are lined up in a chain. In order to “win”, a crew has to bump the crew in front of them without being bumped by the crew behind them at the same time.
If a bump occurs, the bumped as well as the bumping boat stop racing. While the latter will rise in their division the following day, the former will descend a starting place.
Our boat bumping Oriel III (note their coxswain conceding)
By bumping four days in a row (and consequently rising 4 places in Summer Eights), a crew can win “blades”. This means that they get to take away a (fake) blade with their names, bumps etc. on it. (FYI: we even bumped five times and won blades)
The whole tournament is a massive spectacle. Around 20.000 viewers are expected in total. Their cheering pushes boats to their limits. To be honest, a boat race is one of the most intense experiences you can have. An entire day boils down to the maximum of two-three minutes your races takes.
On a recent journey through the east of the UK, we ended up driving to the middle of nowhere. Since we were quite hungry and sick of sitting in the car, we made a stop in this small town situated on the river “Cam”. What a mistake.
To start with, the weather was quite bad – something that, coming from Oxford, we were not really used to. Also, people were quite rude. Somehow emblematic of this is, they did not want us to walk on their, frankly spoken: not that green, grass.
Whereas this would be socially unacceptable in Oxford as well, we are usually not so blunt about it.
The place was strange in other ways: In general, there was a certain familiarity in the air. The kind of similarity you experience when you look at shoes that remind you of a really nice pair you once owned only to find out that the one at hand is merely a cheap copy.
Confirming this assumption: Not even the bridges (mathematician’s bridge) are for real.
We also found tons of fake art. The entire town seems to want to conjure the image of being really old.
The houses seemed a bit wonky and the churches quite dull.
In a nutshell: There is no reason to come here. Visit Oxford instead!
During Easter Break, our Boat Club organised a “Rowing Camp” in Wallingford, a 45 minutes bus ride from Oxford. Practising rowing on the water for 5 hours a day, for more than a week.
Unlike on the Isis river in Oxford, you are not interrupted by other spinning boats or the need to turn after 10 minutes due to the shortness of the stretch but can row on for up to 30 minutes. This gave us some time to focus on technique and throw in some longer and faster pieces. The big “Summer Eight’s” races are coming up. Everyone wants to excel in these. Apparently, it is going to be a hell of a spectacle with up to 20.000 people coming to see the races.
Also, Wallingford itself is another quaint and beautiful village in the English countryside. As such, it is definitely worth a visit from Oxford. I also found that it was representative of English villages in general. Several elements can be identified in this respect:
Naturally, we find a lot of old churches with beautiful graveyards and gardens.
The marketplace, where people meet up. It always strikes me as remarkable, that even these small villages have small and “funky” (independent) coffee shops (not referring to Costa here).
Needless to say, there is a post office and several pubs around.
Spring is finally coming to Oxford! I know, talking about the weather is rather dull. However, this makes such a difference. Oxford was beautiful in Winter already. But now it’s incredible. Sometimes, I am close to tears because my time here is over soon.
Especially getting up early is definitely worth the effort (cp. my post about Mayday). For rowing training, I sometimes get up at 5.40am. And if there is one priceless experience I am taking away from my year here, it is sitting in a boat on the river when the sun comes out and looking at Christ Church Meadow. The same holds true for outings in the evening.
Croquet is quite a thing here. Most colleges set the hoops up in their quad. Apparently, playing croquet is the only time you are allowed to step on the college’s grass (or at least a rare exception). This is a typically British game: Slow, relaxing and pretty tactical. The rules also seem to be a bit complicated. But definitely good fun.
If it wasn’t for the damn exams in a few weeks, this would be heaven on earth. But still, studying in the sun is better than studying in the rain I guess : /
Unfortunately Easter Break is now over. Although the University expects you to work a lot during this time (in German, we use the rather annoying term “lecture free time” for this), six weeks is enough do travel around the UK. Also, this is the perfect time: you have a good shot at having great weather while not many people are travelling. From Oxford, you would drive for about 5-6 hours until the land ends (in Land’s End), so you could arrange to drive two hours each day for three days and stop at same of the places named below.
So, my wonderful girlfriend and I seized this opportunity and went to Cornwall. The mythical birthplace of King Arthur offers beautiful landscapes, an infinite number of quaint villages and – on account of the Gulf Stream’s impact – very good weather make this place the most attractive tourist destination.
It is definitely worth renting a car for your travels. First, it gives you the obvious possibility to go wherever you want. And second, it is a thrilling experience to drive on the country roads. These are literally just one sided and buried in the earth so you don’t see upcoming cars.
(Yeah, our shoes got wet so we had to dry them in the window front)
Penzance is a great place to visit. There is a great hostel here: EasyPZ. Nearby is a quaint village named “Mousehole”, definitely worth a visit and in walking distance from Penzance.