I learned a couple important things last weekend about Irish people and Oxford people. This began with an awesome four-day trip to Dublin and everything within a 40-mile radius of Dublin. I saw this with London, too– European cities are different from American ones. Okay, duh. I guess I mean that in addition to being thousands of years old instead of hundreds of years, Dublin and London both have a quieter pace than New York City and Chicago. Dublin also has a 390-foot-tall metal spire in the middle of the city, which was a huge help for my complete inability to know where I am. Ever.
This metal spire was my north star in Dublin as I blindly followed my two travel buddies around the city. I took in the general splendor without ever being able to tell which way was North. At one point I asked my friends, “Hey, have we been here before?” and found out that we were on the road we’d walked down three times that day. Another time we were looking for a certain road, and we had been walking down it for ten minutes before I proclaimed “hey! That sign says the name of the road!”
I realized last weekend that busses are my favorite places for thinking about things. Those things did not include French grammar, however, which exposed me to the dark side of the Oxford tutorial system and an intense pulverization by my French tutor. In the Oxford school system, there are no classes, but time is divided into lectures and tutorials. Lectures aren’t as relational as our classes in the States, but consist of a lecturer (not necessarily a professor; the vocabulary is different here, too) addressing any number of students. The Shakespeare lectures usually have at least 60 students, sometimes over a hundred.
Then there are tutorials, in which one student meets with a tutor, usually reading out loud his or her essay and receiving feedback. This is pretty terrifying, but the one-on-one assistance is also really helpful. The only bad situation is if the tutor is under the impression that the tutee (that’s me) frolicked around the Irish countryside all weekend without doing any French, and that said tutee has some kind of attention span problem and is unable to conjugate verbs into all the two million French tenses.
This is not the most fun classroom experience, but facing this form of mini-rejection is somehow okay. Our program director told us the first week of a recent addition to the Oxford University motto: “Oxford: where your best is not good enough.” But not good enough is an okay emotion to experience sometimes; this means the students here never reach perfection, but are always striving for it. That reminds me of Christianity, in a way—we are never going to live sinless lives, but that should always be our goal, to imitate Christ in all we do.