In spite of being extremely excited about my return to the good ol’ US of A, it was surprisingly hard to say goodbye to Oxford. I spent my last afternoon with Alastair, catching up on the conversation that takes place outside of academia. It will be the conversations and people in Oxford that I will remember most fondly.
As I waited for my connecting flight in Charlotte, I called home to discover that Columbus was covered in a nice slick sheet of ice. My mother was deeply concerned that this would lead to the cancelation of my flight. She gave me the number of an uncle to call in case this happened. Fortunately it didn’t, and less than 2 hours later, I was at Port Columbus swamped my her hugs. Families come in all shapes and sizes, but they are what make places homes and it was good to be back home.
And now I begin the frightening process of re-acclimating to America. What scares me the most is that I will be graduating in May. Basically this means that I have t-minus 4 months to figure out what my next step in life will be. This has been one of the issues that I did not anticipate being such a big deal as I was applying to study abroad. I am still optimistic that I will be able to manage, and I absolutely do not regret the decisions I made to study abroad but the next few months will be a bit of a struggle. For example, many graduate school application deadlines have already passed.
However, coming back for Christmas is amazing. The holidays are just an absolutely phenomenal time, and getting to spend time with family after 6 months away has helped me to appreciate my family relationships all the more. It was hard trying to find gifts that could fit in my suitcase, but I managed and it has been a great couple of days. It was a good year for the tie.
I don’t think it is possible to sum my experience down to just one event, one word, or one relationship. However, there is an amalgamation of miscellany that I do plan on taking with me. Memories, unlike physical baggage, can be packed into much smaller areas.
In my time studying in England, I have learned that there are a lot of decisions that cultures make about the proper formation of society. I have learned that being patient and open-minded and smiling and grateful and friendly is extremely beneficial. Listening carefully to people gives them a sense of dignity, and this respect is essential to build relationships across cultural barriers. For example, in my final days abroad, I was able to do some traveling and got down to Spain to visit a cousin. While there, I learned about the tremendous amount of pride that Spanish people have about their culture, their art, and their sports teams. Last summer, I worked with a number of Spanish students who appeared to struggle with authority and playing by the rules. After experiencing their culture, I have realize now that what appeared to be “insubordination” or “disrespect” was more a clash of cultures and the students struggling with reconciling the American educational-social system and their Spanish heritage.
The attitudes toward colonialism within this country are also something that I will never forget from the IFSA Butler study abroad England program. Maybe I was a little too acutely aware of colonialism because of its relationship to different kinds of Shakespeare criticism, but there seemed to be some sort of remorse or regret associated with colonialism and the role that England played in that practice. I remember walking back from a rowing outing and talking with my boat’s cox, Amelia, about what colonialism and empire building mean today. I’ll never forget how apologetic and frustrated her response was. It was honestly like she just felt sorry that her country had done all of that. Even though colonialism never affected her personally, she sounded like a child whose hero turned out to be criminal. Her face was pained and she was clearly sickened by the practice. It was a powerful response that stands in stark contrast many perceptions of empire building stateside.
And with that I believe I will conclude my Oxford blog. Thank you all for reading. I hope that it has given you a small picture of what it is like to study in the city of dreaming spires.
Wishing you all the best in the season of good cheer,