I didn’t know what to expect from Trinity Term – it was the first time in my life that I would be responsible for a single, mammoth assignment with no classes, no fixed schedule other than to research, read, and write write write!
In some ways, my time at Oxford began anew this term, as relaxed restrictions prompted a flurry of renewed gatherings and opened new doors.
My alma mater gifted me with a reflective retrospective via their career services podcast: the Hillsdale Bubble. You can listen to my interview with the very gracious host here.
The term opened on a hopeful note when my dissertation supervisor invited me to meet in person – at her office in Queen’s College! I seized the excuse to peek into the forbidden lands of other colleges (all sealed from foreign intrusion this year due to lockdown measures).
Audrey enlivened my weekly volunteering at Emmanuel Christian School by escorting me home via the scenic route along the Thames.
Permitted to gather in person for Bible study again, my church hosted young adults and students in the garden of our assistant pastor – tucked among the pastel facades of Holywell Street, an emerald jewel that the family built with their own hands. This gathering marks the third occasion of s’mores in far-off lands for me: first there was the classic experience of Hershey, graham crackers, and white puffs under dripping pine trees in Philadelphia, then the sunny mix of strawberry mallows, assorted chocolates, and biscuits in South Africa, and now a creditable effort with biscuits and bars here in Oxford.
In the courtyard of St Cross College where we took our lunches this term while joining the Scriptorium (a Christian study group newly restored to meeting in-person), Audrey pointed out the embodiment of a long-time favorite word of mine: wisteria! I don’t know what it is about England, but they seem to excel in purple flowers of every shape and hue.
Upon hearing of my hopes to teach in Japan this fall, a friend connected with a DPhil student here who traveled with JET ten years ago. We looped Christ Church meadow while he filled me in on all the mishaps and magic of his time there.
Precipitating an encounter that evolved into the crowning experience of my time at Oxford, my friend Jarek invited me to a literary criticism reading group. Visiting the Canterbury Institute for the first time, I little guessed how this place would redeem my time here and bless me with everything I had been missing all year – warm fellowship, deep discussion, and food for the body as well as the soul!
The Pusey Pilgrims walking club added local flavor to my term with excursions beyond the city limits. We tramped through rain, mud, and sunshine (all within minutes of each other) to visit Nunneham Courtenay via the public walking paths.
Mid-May the Lord answered a long-time prayer request: a friend from South Africa found a job! After some 18 months of applications and disappointments, this came as a much-needed reminder of God’s graciousness to us.
Alex, a fellow Keblite from Spain, put me in touch with a collection of ladies who sketch on Sundays in the Ashmolean museum. I joined their party for a refreshing afternoon of soaking in the masterpieces.
Another cause for celebration: Reel Talks, the Pusey House film club, recommenced this term! They hosted us for a pizza dinner and a viewing of Being There, A Man for All Seasons, and the Studio Ghibli collaboration Red Turtle – this last presented by myself.
The Pusey Pilgrims rounded off the term with an even more ambitious trip: to Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill.
Meanwhile, Audrey guided me around the sights even closer to home.
By June, some of the colleges reopened for limited guest access. Anya from Bible study welcomed us for an evening tour of New College.
My Hillsdale friends Audrey and Ashley indulged my desire to make up for an earlier miss (when we arrived too late in Michaelmas) and climb the University Church tower.
To my surprise and delight, the Canterbury Institute welcomed me as a Middle Reader! I capitalized on the privilege of attending their evening receptions with a visiting scholar, where the director Dominic Burbidge and I debated judicial reform in African republics.
In a final flurry of high spirits before my dissertation deadline, I dared to punt a skiff on the Thames with Audrey and fellow Keblite Taman.
To complete my list of missed Oxford experiences, Keble Hall hosted the first formal of the year. We donned our gowns for the occasion.
Somewhat flummoxed by finishing the bulk of my dissertation a week before the deadline, I received my supervisor’s encouragement with gratitude and made a final round of corrections after my course mate Chris’s invaluable guidance. On Monday, 14th June, my course for all intents and purposes concluded. I’m thankful to God that no matter what else happens, I can safely expect to graduate with a Master of Studies in Comparative Literature and Critical Translation.
I’m also thankful that my time in England isn’t over yet – for the next two months, I will be making up for lost time in an extended tour of the British Isles!