Saturday, February 5, 2011

Turbulence and Time Balancing

Ahh those first few weeks at Oxford -- the heady combination of ill-contained excitement and almost no work (where in general the biggest challenge was finding my way to the supermarket). Big adventures included eating lunch at Olive's (still sooo wonderful) and going a whole day without looking the wrong way when trying to cross the street. I had my first meetings for my tutorial, and it all seemed quaint and not too difficult. Event as the work started to pile up, it was feeling like smooth sailing.

And then... turbulence. For reasons I won't go into here, I ended up having to change tutorials at Week 4, a pretty much unheard of occurrence and one that means even more work going forward. I've been scrambling the last week to start familiarizing myself with an entirely new subject (20th century Art as opposed to Ancient Sumer - pretty much as distant periods as it's possible to find, I think!) and trying to get on top of the work for that class early in order to make a good first impression all while dealing with an increased workload from my other classes and the thrown-in addition of the Bing Trip, with fairly mixed success.

I really felt like an Oxford student on Thursday, studying for 7 hours straight with just 2 bathroom breaks and no food or water breaks at all and remaining in the library until I was actually escorted out by a librarian. When I first arrived at Oxford I saw all these people studying so intently, without ever seeming to get up or even stretch, and I wondered how on earth they did it-- normally I have to get up and take an amble around at least every half hour, and can't go more than a few without my stomach taking over all thought centers of my brain, requiring a snack break in order to continue. But, after feeling the intense adrenaline rush of feeling like I HAD to get almost 200 pages of extremely dense Art History literature finished by closing time (especially since I can't check books out of my library!), I understood at last how they could do it. Of course, it would have been more badass if I actually had been able to finish in time... but alas, I think I'm the world's slowest Art History reader, and so I've still got a few more hours to put in on Monday morning (giving me a whole extra day to stress, as my library is closed on Sundays!).

The level of work at Oxford is very strange, and still something that I'm getting used to: it doesn't feel like Stanford, where everything is moving so quickly and I've got eighteen different places to be at once and I think my brain will explode from the mere logistical level of my commitments, let alone the academic nature of them on top of that. I think Stanford professors must recognize this, because the assignments I normally get on campus seem to be accordingly bite-sized, the sort of thing that can be completed in one or a few tiny and intense windows of activity: a five page paper on readings you've already done (well or should have anyway), an essay on a painting you've been studying for a few classes now. There are a few biggies that require a great deal of preparation, but in general most things seem designed to with the acknowledgement that the average Stanford student probably isn't devoting their entire lives to this course, or even to academics in general.

At Oxford, on the contrary, everything gives the distinct impression of moving at a slow and regular pace, and I never have more than one or two places that I need to be on any given day. Within that slower pace, however, is the undeniable expectation that most of my waking hours are being devoted to study. It takes on the feeling of finals week all the time, where I have simply enormous amounts of information to process but also relatively large chunks of time within which to process it. And yet still, just as in finals week, despite that much larger amount of study time I find myself with fewer and fewer opportunities to get out and do other things. Everything seems bound up in libraries and books, in making my brain do the most impressive acrobatics while the rest of my body slowly turns to sedentary mush. While I am certainly enjoying the satisfaction of learning such a huge amount largely on my own--a fact my independent side grins about regularly--I also miss the (if at times absolutely crazed-feeling) balance of priorities emphasized at Stanford.

If I were a full-time student at Oxford, these would be some troubling issues to ponder. Since I have the very happy knowledge that I'll be returning to that wonderful other turbulence that is daily life at Stanford in just a few short months (well, ok, perhaps nearly nine months isn't a short few, but you get my drift), however, it feels good to dive head-on into this vastly different academic approach... even if my languishing muscles would slightly disagree =)

In the meantime, I've completely dismissed talking about the awesome trip to the Imperial War Museum I took last weekend and the Bing Trip from just yesterday, but I think I'll wait until another post to do so. I've got to scour my room for my Corpus library card (something I use very rarely, as 98% of my books are in a separate library with a different card system) so I can go do some studying there for one of my non-tutorial classes. Given the current tornado-status of my room, giving it a good clean would probably be good for a number of reasons . . .

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