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A Whole Month of Christmas

An Oxford term goes by very fast.  Only eight weeks in length, one feels as though they are finishing only just after starting.  Like many schools, this puts the end of the first term (called Michaelmas here) at the beginning of December.  Unlike any school that I had been to before, Oxford actually celebrates Christmas at this time.  This means that by December 5th I had already been to three Christmas dinners, each complete with Christmas crackers, cranberry sauce, and carols!  

To top it all off, the city of Oxford decorates the city with lights at the beginning of advent.  I think it is going to be a strange feeling getting back to Canada and be faced with the fact that Christmas is still half a month away!

Here are a few pictures of festive things:

The city’s tree on Broad Street:

Torches out front of the Ashmolean:

Jesus College carol service by candlelight in the chapel:

The tree at Magdalen College:

Jesus College hall with its tree:

Christmas meal in hall.  Good food and good friends, what Christmas is all about:

This will be my last post for a little while as I am heading back to Canada in a few days for the Christmas Break.  With eight week terms we get six weeks off in between each term!  Please check back for new posts in the new year.

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Many Faces of Jesus College

One of the greatest things about living in Oxford is the buildings.  When knee deep in complicated academics, and in desperate need of clearing the mind, there is nothing better than strolling around some of the University buildings.  One of the greatest things about living in Jesus College is that one doesn’t even need to leave the campus to find an assortment of architectural delights.  Here is a sample of some of the many faces of Jesus College.

This first one stands guard on the side gate:

His companion:

A jolly friar:

Not really sure what this one is doing:

Making faces at the people below:

This guy helps me feel safe at night:

I’d probably look a lot worse if I had been vomiting lead pipe for centuries:

Finally my personal favorite.  In fact there is a bit of a story with this one.  Ever since arriving at Oxford there was a particular carving that I had wanted to find.  It is often found in guidebooks and I think it is really funny.  In the first few weeks of being here I had gone for a number of walks with people around various colleges and searched for this carving, never with any luck.  I once joked that maybe its actually on Jesus college.  Well, it turns out there was something behind that joke.  While waiting to meet up with someone from college, I found the carving on Jesus College!!  He is picking his nose!!!:

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October 18th is the day that I became an official member of the University of Oxford.  This is marked by a ceremony called ‘matriculation’.  The word is from the Latin matricula which translates to little list, and means in this case ‘to be added to a list’.  So, as of that point in time, I’ve been added to the long list of Oxfordians!

This is the first day that we have been made to wear our full gowns and sub-fusc:

The gown is the same one worn by all graduate students, and sub-fusc refers to the dress code for what is underneath.  For men this means a black suit, dark socks, white shirt, and white bow-tie.  And you don’t want to mess around when it comes to sub-fusc.  One of the guidebooks made an example of a student who wore the wrong colour of sock and was promptly fined 10 pounds to his college bill!!!

It was a nice day out and a good opportunity to get some photos with some of the people I’ve met.  This first one is of Matthew Albert.  Because his name and mine differ by only a few letters, we decided to distill our names down to the only parts that are different: I call him “Bert”, and he calls me “Lard”.  I definitely got the short end of the stick on that one:

This is Rebecca.  She is from New York.  Luckily we don’t have to alter our names to communicate:

There are quite a few Canadians studying at Jesus College (to my surprise!).  In fact there were seven of us starting this year.  And we represent various parts of the country from the west to the east coast.  This photo is of three of the Canadian girls:

Before leaving the college to move on to the examination schools where matriculation was to take place, all the new students of the college met in the college hall.  Just before this, a few others and myself took the opportunity for a little photo shoot.  

The first one is of me in the hall.  You can see the large portrait of Queen Elizabeth the First (the college founder) on the wall behind me.  For years this portrait was thought to be a copy and was kept in the fellows’ library.  Until a restorer saw it and found it out to be an original from Lizzie’s royal portrait maker.  It is incredibly valuable and rumor has it that in case of a fire the home bursar is responsible for rescuing it!!:

Here is a nice group shot of some of the friends I’ve made:

After the meeting in the hall all of the students were corralled through the city streets to the examination schools:


After weeks of walking around the city and being a bit of a tourist, it was a bit surreal to be part of the scenery!  There were groups of people out snapping photos of us as we walked:

Continuing along to the examination schools.  I really think its funny seeing this many students, all wearing their gowns, parading through the streets:

Once arriving we entered the exam schools through its east entrance.  If you recall another post of mine I had some pictures of the north entrance.  Well, the east definitely wins the beauty pageant:

Photography was not permitted during the ceremony, but there was not much to see anyways.  A number of dignitaries from the university marched through the room, said a few things in Latin, gave a short speech in English, and in about 3 minutes the whole thing was over.  

The short talk was actually quite informative.  Although matriculation now really only has a ceremonial function, at one time it served as the university’s quality control.  Back when the constituent colleges were responsible for their own admissions (which is now done by the various departments and faculties), the university wanted to ensure that the colleges were admitting only the best students.  So, matriculation consisted of a written and oral exam.  Upon completion (and success) one would be added to the list of university members.

Luckily for me, there was no need for all that.  All I had to do was stand there and listen.  Despite not understanding a word of the Latin, I felt very proud standing there being ‘matriculated’.  I was now officially a student of the University of Oxford.

Oh, and before I finish this post, I would like to share on more photo with you.  Here is me having some difficulty with my gown:

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Pretty Things

There have been a few times that I have gone for long walks through various parts of the city.  It is relaxing to just stroll along the sidewalk at a slow pace, taking in all the sights and sounds.  I won’t write much more, but instead show some photos that I’ve taken along these walks……




Looking at the front door - form the inside- of Jesus College

Looking at the front door - form the inside- of Jesus College

The first quad:


The first quod at Jesus.  The clock is over the outside of the meal hall.

The clock is over the outside of the meal hall.


The hood over the door to the Principle’s lodgings:


One of its kind in Oxford!

One of its kind in Oxford!


A cemetery I happened by:



The original faculty of music, dating from the 17th century:


Now part of the Bodleian Library

Now part of the Bodleian Library

My college crest on the wooden gate of the Bodleian:

New friends:

White deer in Madgadalen’s famous deer park:

A path along the deer park:

C.S. Lewis taught at this college.

A hall along one of the quads of Magdalen:

Finally, no series of photos from Oxford would be complete without an image of punters:


Please check back soon for more updates.




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It’s all in the context…

My first week at Oxford has been absolutely amazing.  I’ve met some very interesting people who have come from many different places around the globe.  There are people studying all sorts of things in the college – some things that I’ve never even heard of.  It’s pretty common, when eavesdropping on conversations to hear an exchange like: “What do you study?” “I study …….” “Oh, cool.  What is that!?”

I still feel giddy every time I leave my room and see the beautiful buildings around me – I can hardly believe that this is where I live, at least for now.  It all still feels very much like a vacation.  Not because there aren’t things I need to be doing for my course – there are – I’ve already been given a reading list.  But rather because it has not sunk in that I am actually here.  It’s been a dream so long that even as a reality it has a dream-like quality.

In the first week the University held an international student orientation.  This was carried out in what is called the Examination Schools – the name given because it is where all students from all subjects write their final exams (at different times of course!).  The exams here consist of a three hour essay on a topic given to you at the exam (and not before), where you are meant to essentially put in words your understanding of the topic.  If the adjudicators believe you do in fact understand, you pass.  If not, well…. I won’t get into that!


The Examination Schools

The Examination Schools

This photo is of the front face of the examination schools.  It is a magnificent building, and quite large as well.  

This comes from inside the exam school.  That is literally just a regular door leading from the main hall into the room where I – and all my fellow students – will be writing an exam.  It is a good example of the sort of opulence Oxford has in just about everything.  This building is designed solely for people to sit and write for three hours a few times a year, and yet immaculate carvings and beautiful paintings adorn each room.

Yet another doorway leading to (or from) one of the exam rooms.

As beautiful as they are, I’m sure this building and the rooms inside will take on an entirely new characteristic when I am entering them not as a fresh faced international student, but a weathered one about to engage in an exam!!  I suppose it is all in the context.

I should also mention that if one were to visit Oxford, they would only see the front of this building as it is closed to visitors.  The same is true of most buildings.  The school seems very protective, some would say secretive, about its buildings and procedures.  Everyday there are hordes of tourists who take walking tours around the city, snapping photos of the facades of buildings.  Perhaps this is a little sick, but I take pleasure in being able to flash my student card and walk past them into the insides!


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First Impressions of Oxford

I flew out of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport at around 9:30 the night of September 29.  It was difficult, leaving behind my fiancee, friends and family.  Nonetheless, my little trip got off to a great start.  At the desk of the airline I was asked if I would prefer a window or aisle seat.  I responded window.  As it turns out, that was a good choice – when I got onto the plane I discovered that I was sitting in the aisle that contained the emergency exit and therefore had a great deal of leg room!  This, as you might imagine, was invaluable on a night flight.

The plane arrived at Gatwick airport just outside of London at 9:30 (British time) on the morning of September 30.  Although it took some time to get through the baggage retrieval, immigration officer, and find the bus to take me to Oxford, everything happened without a hitch.

The bus was a direct service from Gatwick to Oxford.  I had forgotten from previous travel how long it takes to get to Oxford from London (longer from Gatwick I suppose).  Britain has a great deal of very beautiful farmland, which I got a small taste of while on the bus.  Our first stop was at a bus station in a suburb of Oxford – nothing special really, it was just off the highway and looked very much like a modern bus station one might find in a suburb such as Brampton.  Very quickly the scenery changed.  

As soon as we began to enter Oxford the architecture became unbelievably beautiful.  Even regular houses built along the road have a certain charm that is difficult to articulate – I don’t think even a photo would really do it justice.

Finally, my stop was called (High Street).  I exited the bus and was confronted by this image:


Queen's College

Queen's College

It immediately struck me: I am actually going to Oxford!

It had been a little while since I had been in Oxford and did not have a map.  I dragged my luggage in the direction that seemed to have more people (knowing that my college is in the centre of town) and started to walk without knowing where I was going.

I continued to walk along the Hight Street – a shopping street that is very busy, until I found a small map mounted to a board on the street.  I found the cross streets of Turl and Market (the location of my college) and discovered that it was nearby.  According to the map, I needed to walk down a small alley (pictured), which led me to the Radcliffe Camera (also pictured).


Radcliffe Camera








I continued along the side of the camera and bent around it to the left.  I found Brasenose Lane, which, according to the map, turns into Market street – one of the streets alongside my college.  

My next experience is difficult to describe – it was like a dream.  It felt surreal to be walking along an amazing little road on my way to what is going to be my new home!

Brasenose Lane

Brasenose Lane


Brasenose Lane

Brasenose Lane

I arrived at the end of the lane and was not sure which way to go.  My view to the left was:


Turl Street

Turl Street

And to the right:


Jesus College

Jesus College

Jesus College, my new home!!

I entered the front gate of the college and was greeted by the porter.  He gave me a small pile of papers to go through, and a keycard giving me entrance to the various entrance points around the college (all very similar in look to the one you see above).

I had a great deal of questions regarding what my accommodation might be like.  Many people had told me many things and I really was not sure what to expect.  Well, as it turns out, I had nothing to worry about – as a matter of fact, my new residence is one of the nicest places I’ve ever lived!


My Room

My Room

Yes, I have a fireplace!

Yes, I have a fireplace!

The view from my room, looking north

The view from my room, looking north

The view from my room looking south

The view from my room looking south

All in all, if my first impressions of Oxford are any indication, I believe that my time spent here is going to be some of the best times of my life!


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Photo Journal

This will be the location of my photo journal. It will chronicle my experiences preparing for and attending Oxford University. Please check back soon for postings.

In the meantime, you can check out my story and learn of ways in which you can help me make my dreams a reality.



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