Saturday, November 07, 2015


Shortly after I returned from Oxford, I went on a morning run with Pam. We talked a lot about how studying abroad changes you. It was helpful to process and listen to Pam's own college experience when she studied in Europe one semester. I think the topic came up about what I loved most about my time in Oxford (I was asked that a lot upon my return home). While it's a long list, and I think my answers vary depending on the day, one of my answers is how I could focus on one thing at a time while I was there.

The program itself had clear objectives including equipping professors for S&R research and training them for interdisciplinary work. This objective was played out by the weekly structure.

Three days a week, we had lectures, Q&As, book discussions, and workshops broken up with coffee breaks and meals. Though I was mentally exhausted by the end of the day, there was something invigorating listening to topics and ideas that I'm mostly passionate about ("mostly" because 1) some days I was pretty tired, especially the first week when I had jet lag, or was sick during the third week, and 2) some topics did not catch my interest or was way over my head). Every once in awhile, I'd realize I was in the presence of a great scholar in science & religion. Such a treat.

I had coffee and a pastry probably twice a day during our lecture days.  I tell  friends that England was a magical place. I could eat pastries and never gain weight (thankyouwalkingeverywhereandrunning).
The other two weekdays were study days. I worked on my paper for my tutor or had a mentoring session (or two). These days were more relaxed which met that I usually enjoyed a walk to the library or the SCIO building and might get sidetracked by a museum or a church. I also usually grabbed a baguette sandwich and ate lunch walking somewhere. Lots of quiet reflection and silence which for this introvert was much appreciated after the very social lecture days.

Reading in the Bodelein. Without gum chewing. The librarian at the entrance made me spit out my gum. Across from the library "because there are no receptacles here...because you aren't supposed to have food or drink!"
Evenings and weekends were busy with discussing ideas and life with friends and scholars at a local pub, sight-seeing, and a couple evening lectures that were not part of my program.

Got to walk through the countryside to find this jewel. Pretty view. Good food. Great conversation. 
Whatever day it was, I could just focus on one thing at a time. Learn about the history of science? Done. Research in the library about aesthetics? Done. Listen to a Nobel Prize laureate discuss humanities and science? Done. Share my project and get feedback? Done. I didn't have to grade or answer my daily hundred emails from students and colleagues. I wasn't multi-tasking between preparing a lecture and finding childcare.

When I told Pam the gist of all this, I remember her telling me that it makes sense I loved my time in Oxford. I was the type of person that liked to focus in on one task at a time and get it done. Then move on to the next thing. It's true. One of my struggles in graduate school was having to take care of multiple big projects at the same time: research for my dissertation, writing my proposal, and teaching. I just wanted to focus on one thing at a time.

So the focus in Oxford was part of my experience. Having a month to just focus on my work (and myself) was pretty awesome. I highly recommend it if you ever get the opportunity.

1 comment:

Kelly Roberts said...

Yes. What a beautiful luxury to focus, and learn with support and with time to get it done!