Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Today is an Oxford-y Day

Today is an Oxford kind of day.

The sky is unbleached wool. A fine mist, invisible to the eye, hangs in the air like the memory of rain. The trees are clothed in shades of yellow, red, orange, plum. The colors tremble in the breeze. A few trees have already shed most of their leaves, and barren branches stretch up to try and snag the sky. The cold wraps around fingers--I wish I'd grabbed my gloves as I hide my hands in the pockets of my jeans. The air smells of falling leaves and the city. But then another smell intrudes. The scent of a memory.

Berry scents mix with citrus, a hint of cinnamon,  the deep aroma of wine. I can almost taste it--the sugar coating the edge of the glass, the sharpness of the brandy mixed with the wine, subdued by the mulling spices. Now I can picture it. The table at the front of the White Horse, underneath the ground-level window. Sipping mulled wine with friends. There's a good-natured argument going on--we're trying to detmine each other's Middle-Earth races. We are on a Tolkien tour, after all.

The aroma, the sounds, the mental image fade quickly. Always so quickly. I'm left with the the reality of campus. Still beautiful, but despite its concrete, here-and-now reality, it feels a little like a fraud, a rip-off of a spatially and temporally distant cold day. I miss Oxford and my friends. Then I soldier on.

The day is still beautiful, in its chilly, mystic way that seems somehow simultaneously isolating and embracing. And somehow the memory has made the weather both sadder and more beautiful. Because today, in the form of my favorite weather, Oxford followed me home.

Monday, April 4, 2016


Towpath by the Thames behind my flat.
(This is an essay I wrote for a college application, and I thought I'd share it here.)

Like most days in Oxford, the sky was overcast and grayish. The streets were full of jostling crowds of people, rushing black taxis, delivery trucks, and buses. The old buildings loomed over their modern lower-level faces. I had a song stuck in my head as I walked back to my flat: “I Feel Good” by James Brown. I did not have the song on my iPod, so I put on one of my favorite playlists instead. As Michael BublĂ© crooned “Feeling Good” through my earbuds, I could not suppress my goofy smile. Once on the less-populated canal path, I danced as I walked.

I am an introverted perfectionist who fears the unknown. My introversion is partially learned. My interests as a child—history, reading, mythology, ancient warfare—did not win me friends. In junior high and high school I was reticent. But in ninth grade I joined a drama troupe. Four years of drama instruction, performing on a stage and making friends helped me become more expressive and open. In 2013 I attended a two-week long leadership and worldview conference. The old hotel where the conference was held was crowded with people. I had three roommates. I did not want to stay. But I did, and two weeks later, not only had I learned a wealth of information, I had made friends and was less afraid of new and uncomfortable situations.

My jobs have helped as well. I worked for three years as an administrative assistant and receptionist at an assisted living home. I disliked phone conversations, but I did well. I had good relationships with the staff and the residents and their families. When I helped a family member just by listening or made a resident’s day, I loved it. The job was draining, but it was not just a job; I was investing in a community. In my current job I supervise a computer lab at my college. The joy when I help a student has reinforced my decision to be an instructor. Both of those jobs provided me opportunities to grow.

My perfectionism is more ingrained, and partly based on the appellation “the smart one.” I started piano lessons when I was ten. I caught on quickly and advanced through multiple levels the first few years. I performed in three honor’s recitals. And then my progress slowed as the music I played got tougher. Anything less than perfect felt like failure. In other endeavors, from art to academics, learning I am not perfect is an ongoing process. Now, instead of letting my perfectionism drive me to despair, I try to use it to motivate me toward success.

My fear of the unknown is a struggle. Foreign experiences are both exciting and terrifying. Not having a clear plan is stressful. I applied in 2013 to study in Oxford in the fall of 2014. That semester abroad was expensive, and when I applied, I had barely a fraction of the money. I worked and saved for a year. Once I earned my AAS, I picked up more hours. I did house and yard work and mailed dozens of fundraising letters. At times I felt hopeless. Through dedication, the generosity of friends, and financial aid, I made it. In the process, I learned a little about faith and coping with the unknown. Living in Oxford for a semester, with all the new experiences and friendships that entailed, was without parallel. I found when thrown into a challenging situation, I thrived.

That is why that walk home that day in Oxford is etched in my memory. I had just left a medieval history tutorial. My tutor was impressed with my essay. As I wove between pedestrians, his words played through my head. “Be smug. But not too smug.” In that moment, I had overcome. I had overcome the financial barrier so I could walk beneath those old buildings. I had overcome my nagging feelings of academic inadequacy to write a paper I could be proud of. I had overcome my shyness to be completely comfortable in my one-on-one tutorials and to make close friends. When my introversion or perfectionism or fear of the unknown threaten to bury me alive, I can look back on that moment as I danced next to the canal while Redbone thrummed through my earbuds and know: I can overcome.

I have done it before.

I keep overcoming the odds--maybe this should be my new motto.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

True Friendship

I returned a couple days ago from a crazy, exhausting, awesome road trip from Colorado to California for the wedding of one of my of my Oxford flatmates, Kelly.

I had never been to California. I had seen the Atlantic from rocky cliffs in Ireland and the sea from the shores of Iona, but I had never walked barefoot on a sandy beach in the sun while the jade ocean pulsed against the shore. It was the longest road trip I've been on, and my amazing sister and I rocked it. But as exciting and new as that experience was, and beautiful and amazing as everything was, the best part was seeing my friends from Oxford.

I had the privilege and the pleasure not only of attending Kelly's beautiful wedding and reception, but also of participating in her bachelorette party. Seeing her again and seeing her so happy and having the opportunity to hear about her engagement and so much that had taken place since we were in Oxford was wonderful. Celebrating her and her husband's joy on their wedding day was special and incredible. But even better was the time I spent with another flatmate, Alexis, and a couple of the guys from Oxford, Logan and Nigel.

It's been over a year since I returned from Oxford. 1 year, 3 months to be exact. I haven't seen any of these people in person in that time, and we talked only intermittently due to all of our busy lives and time zone differences. Sure, we keep up with each other on Facebook, but that's not the same. But you couldn't tell. In some ways, it was as if nothing had changed. We met up at a beach and just picked up where we left off. There was no awkwardness, no time needed to settle back into our groove. There was a little bit of surreal feeling, but at the same time, being together again just felt so right.

Of course, we didn't just meet and BAM, instant deep, long-lasting friendship. In fact, no one really had a good first impression of anyone else. We were all a little judgmental of the bios we'd written to introduce ourselves online before the semester started. Almost all of our first meetings were awkward. Several of us felt we shouldn't even be in Oxford--these people were strange, we didn't fit in, the academic rigor was beyond us, we didn't belong. We were all jet-lagged, nervous, and a bit (a lot?) unsure of each other.

But then we started getting to know each other. We spent all day together in the worldview intensive discussing the course readings, the Bible and theology, and sharing about ourselves and our lives. We started to see how each other thought and who we were. We spent time together outside of class. Before long, we were doing pretty much everything together--studying, eating, travelling, watching movies and TV shows. We talked about everything--the trivial and the eternal, the banal and the serious, pop culture and politics, our families and our futures, our innermost thoughts and fears, our aspirations, our studies, our successes and our struggles. We knew what each other thought of our worldview readings through our discussions in and out of class. We told each other what we were learning in our Oxford tutorials. We knew when someone did well, and we knew when someone had been sprawled out on the kitchen floor working on their essay at two in the morning. We laughed together, prayed together, encouraged each other, and brought each other down a peg or two when necessary.

This was community and friendship on a level I had never experienced before. This was deeper and more thoughtful discussion than I had had the privilege of knowing. When we agreed, we expounded and grew in our surety and reasoning and sometimes discovered new reasoning we hadn't considered. When we disagreed, we discussed and grew. Sometimes our views changed, sometimes they just evolved, and when we agreed to disagree, we did so knowing we weren't doing so lightly or blindly, but with reason and respect for each other's perspectives and logic.

There was also laughter, so much laughter. There were movie nights and bonfires and fireworks and long treks through England's old streets. We cried, we laughed. We were out too late sometimes, and sometimes we motivated each other to leave our flats when we hadn't left in two or three days. We danced. We drank mulled wine and tried sips of each other's ale. We set off the over-sensitive smoke detector making grilled cheese sandwiches.

We traveled back and forth between our flat and the guys' house, hanging out and eating together. We saved money by making pizza or hamburgers or curry at "home" and eating together crammed into our flat's tiny living room. We watched Harry Potter and Doctor Who and then finished our essays on medieval Britain or Shakespeare or theology or math and philosophy. We read our worldview homework together when we were so tired we could barely concentrate. We looked forward to Friday nights when we went to the Bywaters for dinner and hanging out together as a big, raucous, happy family. 

We told each other our pains and then we found something to laugh about--not to ignore the problem, but to put it in perspective. We laughed at live dragons and in our laughter found the courage to slay them. And we still do. 

There is a lot I loved about my time in Oxford and that made it meaningful, special, worthwhile, and a life-shaping experience. The wisdom and knowledge I gained from the worldview intensive, Kevin Bywater's thoughtful experience and wisdom, my Oxford tutor's knowledge, and the mountains of reading are impossible to quantify. The experience of living abroad, traveling around Great Britain, and living and studying in a city and libraries older than my country is impossible to describe. I suppose that's why I can't stop talking about Oxford--I feel I have yet to convey the depth of what that time means to me. Yet, even with all of that, the greatest impact, the most importance aspect, the most valuable take-away is my friendships.

I don't make friends easily and I struggle with community. But not at Oxford. Not with these people--these people are my people. We're the same and we're wildly different. We have moments of beautiful brilliance and times of extreme inanity. The time spent together discussing every topic imaginable with people who all care deeply about learning and growing and God and each other produced some of the most important friendships in my life.

We may be separated by thousands of miles and pesky time zones, but the bonds we forged in those four months are strong enough to keep us close despite the distance. So when Alexis, Logan, and Nigel and I were together again in California, we were relaxed and natural and just thrilled to be together. We could have seaweed fights and talk about life. We could just sit in silence waiting for a table without it being awkward. We could dance like fools at the reception and talk about philosophy or theology or our current struggles in school or life with equal comfort.

We lived life together for four months, in all its highs and lows and messy glory. I didn't make friends at Summit Oxford.

I just grew my family.

(For more information on Summit Oxford, visit: Facebook: