Tuesday, July 10, 2012

....and that's a wrap!

Greetings from Paris! I'm currently on a post-exam tour of the Continent (think of it as the poor (wo)man's Grand Tour), where I'm planning on hitting up France, Germany, Sweden and possibly also Norway in the next two weeks. Wait, you say, aren't you just revisiting the same spots that you saw exactly a year ago, and in the same order too? Yes and no. Gothenburg and Oslo will be brand-new to me, but as for Paris, Baden-Württemberg and Berlin...well, I happen to like revisiting old haunts and seeing my friends again. Makes everything more relaxing and comforting. 

But! Before I left for the Continent - which was this afternoon, actually - much has happened in Oxford since my last entry. Namely: I. FINISHED. MY. EXAMS.

*cue hysterical tears of relief and happiness*

Well, to be cautious I shouldn't count my eggs before they hatch, because the last exam went awfully and the marks don't come out for another week. So, really, I should be keeping my fingers crossed and coming up with contingency plans and whatnot.

In reality, though, my thoughts are more along the lines of "THANK THE LORD THIS ORDEAL IS DONE I CAN NOW SLEEP AND EAT AND BREATHE NORMALLY ONCE AGAIN WITHOUT WAKING UP IN COLD SWEAT AND THE PARALYSING FEAR OF FAILURE!!!" In all seriousness, I had never been so stressed in my life. Something about the place, and the exam format, and the pressure of it being, ya know, bloody Oxford just drove me up the wall. I was quite honestly losing my mind.

However, that is all behind me now. (Unless I failed that last exam, but apparently it is incredibly difficult to fail the BCL/MJur? Why yes, do allow me to put that to the test!) As I walked out of the Exam School on that fateful June the 28th two-thousand-and-twelve, I was calm, composed, ready to deal with the fallout from a potential failure, but also incredibly relieved and exhausted.

And then I got trashed. Massively, messily, wonderfully trashed. By that lovely and highly enthusiastic bunch of people that I call friends.

Due to the dwindling number of exams, they took away the barricade on Merton.
Hence, people congregated in front of the Exam School, waiting to pounce of their 
poor, unsuspecting friends. 

CASE IN POINT. (Yes, that is me covered in silly string.)

"Somebody give me a huuuug!!!"

But my friends didn't stop at just silly string. Oh no.
Bring on the confetti, champagne, luau and more confetti! 

And by champagne, I mean that the stuff THEY POURED IT DOWN MY SHIRT.

This pictures captures my and S's relationship perfectly.

At some point, cupcake frosting got involved...? (It was S's fault.)

"I'm a champagne/confetti/silly string/frosting covered
Hildabeast who probably smells awful, whee!"

You'd think that this would it be, right? Like, barring duct-taping me to a park bench, WHAT ELSE COULD THEY DO?

And then, M, who finished 45 min after me, walked out. 

SO IT HAPPENED ALL OVER AGAIN. (Just so you know, 
I'm still finding confetti two weeks later. On my clothes, in my
 bag, on my floor. Even in my shoes. Everywhere.

M and I comparing battle - erm, confetti scars. Erm, tattoos.
Because, it turns out that confetti + champagne = dyes that transfer
 and stick to your skin. Ah, things that you find out during trashings.

"WHOHOO!!! We are done! OMG! Let's pose for some--"


So yeah. All in all, an epic and prime specimen of fine Oxford exam trashing. A+ for effort, enthusiasm and execution. (People looked at M and I a bit funny while we were walking back to our houses to shower and change.) Regardless of how well or badly I did in those exams, I will always have the memories - not the mention the tremendous dry-cleaning bill - of my trashing.

So thanks guys. Honestly. From the bottom of my heart.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Examining these exams

Oh, Oxford exams. Ye of little educational content, much strategising and ridiculously amount of Traditions-with-a-capital-'T'. Some said Traditions are ridiculously antiquated and dysfunctional - seriously, why must we write these essays by hand? It only induces great bodily pain while diminishing the quality of our work. Others are slightly bothersome but generally harmless (see: sub fusc). And then there are those which I think are totally awesome.

Case in point? Trashings. No, not the "let's-get-trashed!!!" post-Exam drinking binges. (Though these also happen rather often as well). I'm referring to this great Tradition of waiting for your friends behind the Exam School, balloons and confetti in hand, so that you can throw everything at them when they emerge triumphant from having completed their last exam. No seriously, there's a barricade and screaming and everything involved.

The crowds gathered on Merton Street, waiting for their finisher friends.
(Yes, 'finisher' is totally a word here.)

Having been to a couple of Trashings (no, I have nothing else to do - what is this revising that you speak of?), I can say that it's a lovely and heart-warming thing to do. Finishing exams is a big deal, no matter your degree. For us taught-master students, it represents the culmination of a year of studies and, oh, only about 100% of our degree. But for undergrads though, and get this, last-year students write Final Honour School (FHS) exams which account for the entirety of their bachelor's degree! No really, they write something like 9 exams in 2 weeks, so understandably it is a BIG DEAL when they're done with their last one.

Trashings occupy a spectrum of, erm, messiness. Compare and contrast J's, on
 the left, v. A's, on the right. (Yes, they duct-taped him to a bench. Don't ask.)

But how does one know who is a finisher (or a finishing finalist for that matter), you ask? Why, never fear my friends, for Oxford has another Tradition for that exact purpose! Indeed, allow me to introduce you to the carnation system. Basically, exam-sitters pin a different-coloured carnation flower to the lapel of their sub fusc, depending on how which of their exams they're about to take. White for the first exam, red for the last one, and pink for all the ones in between. Oh, and apparently the Tradition dictates that you're not supposed to buy your carnations yourself, so there's a lot of meaningful glances and not-so-subtle suggestions taking place near florists all over Oxford in May and June.

Oh look, exam carnations held in an RBS cup with an
terribly appropriate tagline written on it. Ha bloody hah.

So what do I make of Oxford exams, so far? Well, for one the timetable is both a curse and a blessing. One of my coursemates had four exams in four days, which sounds and was predictably hellish. On the other hand, my own examination schedule is quite spread out, which does me quite some time to study in between. But it also means that I'm pretty much at the end of my rope right now. Two exams down, one more to go this coming Thursday - but I feel completely burned out and utterly unmotivated. This will be fun. Or not.

The face of exhaustion, as demonstrated by A & A & myself after our
first exam. (And yes, I am carrying my sub fusc gown here - what a rebel!)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Weathery heights

This is a post about the weather. Yes, the weather. Only the weather.

Become I moved to England, I never quite understood what people meant by "talking about the weather". Sure, it's a good neutral topic for small talk. But, c'mon, it's pretty boring, as far as conversation subjects go. And really, there is only so much one can say about the bloody weather.

Boy was I wrong.

They say that Brits love to talk about the weather. Having lived here for about 8 months now, I understand why. Hell, half the time all I talk about is the weather. More specifically, I constantly bemoan the lack of sunshine, repeatedly point out that it's still raining and act all surprised when it's actually nice. Even with my friends. You know, those brilliant, intelligent, funny people that I go to school with and could have a fascinating conversation about anything from politics to movies? Nope, we're discussing the weather. Complaining (the non-Brits/Irish). Or pointing out that it could be, gulp, even worse (the Brits and Irish).

Really, I'm always surprised to find myself having so much to say about the weather, of all things. It's either too cold, too overcast, too wet or too hot and humid. But most of the time, it's TOO MUCH OF THE SAME. Case in point: it's currently the 10th of June. Which, in the Northern hemisphere, puts us smack in the middle of summer. But if it is indeed summer (and my calendar confirms that I haven't gone crazy, thankyouverymuch), then why for the love of God did I just TURN ON MY HEATING AND DIG OUT MY WINTER COAT. The latter being the coat that I was wearing six months ago. In December.

...and in November. And January. February. March. April. (Not in May because the weather actually made sense.) And, oh yeah, JUNE.

There is perhaps some economic/sartorial benefit to extract from this situation, but the downside is that I. Am. Going. Crazy. Over the weather. The bloody, rainy, overcast, depressing English weather. These grey skies finally succeeded where 17 years of harsh Canadian winters failed, namely in driving me 'round the bend.

(Or possibly that's what upcoming Oxford examinations do to you.)

(In either case...bloody hell. I can't tell if I've gone native, or if this tirade is the product of me being, well, under the weather.)

So. How's the weather for you?

Friday, June 8, 2012

T is for Tutorials

The tutorial system at Oxford is a big selling point: arguably the best small-group teaching method, close interactions with your tutors and classmates, a 2-in-1 essay-writing and intimate discussion opportunity.

At the undergraduate level, from what I've gathered, teaching is dispensed mostly through lectures (the type that we're all familiar with) and tutorials. That is, students are given reading lists and then sent off to research and church out essay after essay. The tutor, which can be anyone from a faculty member to a graduate student (but usually someone within your college when you're an undergrad), will read the essay, give you constructive criticism and a mark of sorts. At the tutorial, you and fellow tutorial groupmates will either discuss your essays or some related topic. All of this, I understand, prepares you awfully well for the Oxford exams where you have to churn out 3 wonderful, original and well-argued essays in 3 hours. From memory. And handwritten. (And in sub fusc of course, this is Oxford we're talking about!)

The Examination Schools, where said exams usually happen. This is an
old picture from 1905 (source), but trust me, it still looks exactly the same. 

At the graduate levels, things are a bit different. For one, teaching is mostly done through lectures and seminars (but mostly the latter, as lectures are reserved for courses where they think you have vast amounts of new material to learn before being able to debate about underlying issues). Tutorials, therefore, serve the practice-writing-essays function, as well as a hey-remember-this-material? review one. This would explain why most of my tutorials have been at the end of a semester, or at the end of the academic year altogether. Of course, as they are in small groups (usually no more than 4 students and 1 tutor), they do also foster dialogue and academic friendship (academship?). And I must admit, I get a kick out of seeing my different tutor's offices, which are usually located within the college to which they are attached. (Ah, the college system. That'll be for a different post, I reckon. 'C is for Colleges', upcoming.)

...or sometimes, they're n the Law Building. A.k.a. St-Cross Building,
possibly the ugliest building in the world

In total, I've had about a dozen tutorials this year. For me, the most striking ones were the Jurisprudence tuts, where I finally gained some understanding of the material and relished the discussions my discussion group (myself, a fellow Canuck and an Aussie) had in, and out, of our tutor's office. And the essay-writing does make a huge difference, as can be expected. Unfortunately, not all tutorials have mandatory accompanying essays. (The rationale is that we're mature graduate students who will get out what they want from this degree. Oh dear.) And, even more importantly, not all tutors give out actual marks. Now, while it's true that every tutor is different, I think that, as we have no evaluation whatsoever throughout the entire year, a bit of feedback and a number scribbled in the corner would be beneficial to all. Finally, if I had one last complaint to make, it would be the scheduling of tutorials: I myself had the great number of them all squeezed into the middle weeks of Trinity Term. I appreciate the revision opportunity that such tutorials afford, but if they're too many of them too close by, then I really can't adequately prepare for them and thus kind of defeat their entire purpose. (Arguably, you could say that this was simply a sign for me to study more assiduously and continuously throughout the year. La la la, I can't hear you.)

Well now, this was a rather longer post than I had anticipated. Hm. Can you tell that I'm preparing for my upcoming churn-out-3-essays-in-3-hours exams? Jolly good, I shall now go prepare more flashcards and practice my speed-handwriting.

(P.S. By the by, if the non-orderliness of my abecedary of Oxonian odds and bobs confuse you, you can see all of them - though still not quite in alphabetical order - by clicking on the 'odds and bobs' label below.)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

P is for Punting

Remember that lovely, sunny weather that we've been having for the last week? Well, it lasted just that. A week. We're already back to overcast skies, sub-15C temperatures and humidity galore. In other words, welcome to England!

But while it was still nice out, tourists and Oxonians alike took to the punting in the river like, say, fish to water. (Or finalists to libraries, to draw from daily experience.) So what is punting, you ask? Well, from my limited technical knowledge, it consists of pushing a wide, flat-bottomed boat along shallow rivers using a long metal pole. In my head though, I equate it with leisurely sunny afternoons, quaint English countrysides and Pimm's. Not warped at all, nope.

Punts passing by our college grounds. 

 And under Magdalen Bridge, too.

2pm on a warm Sunday = rush hour on the Cherwell.

As for me, I have not yet had the pleasure of punting first-hand. I had every intention of doing so last weekend (and indeed I practically had one foot in the boat), but sadly a friend of mine got hit on the head with the punting pole and we ended up spending the evening at the A&E waiting room. (She's fine now, but did suffer a mild concussion.) I also know of someone who fell while punting on the same day and cut his foot badly enough to require stitches. And a tetanus shot. 

So let this be a cautionary tale about idyllic and leisurely appearances: please remember that punting remains a physical activity, one which involves a heavy metal pole and traveling over dirty, rocky waters which contains God-knows-what-has-been-languishing-there-for-the-last-800-years. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Eat, drink and be merry

I assure you we do far more at Oxford than simply dress up and go to fancy parties (indeed, we also go to bops and 5am breakfasts and...oh yeah, sometimes the library), but sadly this post will do nothing to disprove that belief. The month of May is famous for its May Balls (and May Morning), and though we only made it to one ball - my god does this sound indulgent! - we did, in fact, have quite a ball, all May long. 

It all started with yet another exchange dinner, with St-Hugh's College this time. Hugh's and Hilda's are similar in both size, scope and geographic location (as well as sharing a first letter), so it comes as no surprise that our student bodies are rather kindred in spirit and ... lifestyles as well. Their food is however much, much better than our dining hall's. And so is their port.

The Hilda girls at St-Hugh's. 

And then the next day, much to the detriment of...some people who shall remain unnamed but might have overindulged the previous night on wine and port and beer and liquor, it was St-Hilda's Ball. (Not wanting to go to a bloody BALL because of a terrible hangover is incredibly gauche. Not to mention ridiculously flimsy, no matter how head-splitting said hangover is. Or...erm, so I hear.) The theme of the Ball? Fantasmagoria. Dress code? Black tie with a dash of surrealism.

Our homage to Magritte.

Bowties are cool, too.

I also attended St-John's Guest Night the following week, where I attempted to channel Tudor fashion (I'm not sure I was entirely successful) and enjoyed a wonderful evening of period food in a most fitting environment. Lemons is to lemonade as old English buildings are to...Tudor-themed parties?

With B, who kindly invited along to her college's Guest Night.

After dinner, we asked whether we could visit St-John's legendary wine cellars. (They're supposed to hold some 150,000 bottles!!! Goodness, I suppose that they aren't able to spare a few to give to Hilda by any chance...?) They accepted, we swooned at all that lovely wine and couldn't resist having an impromptu photoshoot. As you do when you are surrounded by crates and bottles of stuff you can't afford.

"This week on Oxford's Next Top Model...a wine cellar!"

Finally, last weekend we had the motherlode of all exchange dinners, namely an exchange dinner with Peterhouse College of THE OTHER PLACE! That's Oxford lingo for that Bridge-over-the-river-Cam place, though I believe that they also call us by the same name. We bussed over, dined and wined with some lovely Cantabrigians (makes "Oxonian" not sound so simple, no?) and generally enjoyed our overnight stay in Cambridge. Cue the gasps and shouts of "Blasphemy!", yes I know.

Peterhouse is the oldest college in Cambridge, so they have all the trappings of
 a medieval college, such as a quad (or "court", as they say in the Other Place).

Seating chart for the dinner. 

Despite all of its similarities on paper, I was surprised at how different Cambridge felt in person. If Oxford is the stately, poised and square older sister of a town (and it is quite literally square, in its street layout), then Cambridge is the hipper, artsier younger sister. Even the town is laid out in a quirkier, circular manner. Oxford is probably more beautiful, but Cambridge more charming.

The river Cam, as seen from our hotel's balcony.

King's College, which is comparable to our Christ Church except much
more difficult to photograph. 

The differences between the two places were all the more surprising because I had hardly discerned any such distinctions during my previous visit to both towns, a year ago. (Those in the know may recall that I had applied to both universities for my current master's programme.) At the time, I had only sensed that there was some vague difference in atmosphere between the two, and that Oxford was by far the larger city. And though I think that I ultimately made the right choice, I also believe that I could have very, very happy at Cambridge. 

Friday, May 25, 2012


Well, not quite. But summer has definitely arrived to Oxford and boy has it arrived with a vengeance! Last week was still all gloomy skies and jacket-wearing weather, and then on Tuesday...boom! Sunny blue skies (there's been nary a cloud in sight!), an almost hazy kind of...erm, haze in the air, and this being England of course, the humidity has been cranked up to 300%. The heat itself isn't bad at all - we've been hovering around the mid-20 degree Celsius, which is normally ideal. However, throw in the humidity and unrelenting sunshine (I know, I can't believe that I'm complaining about sunshine of all things), and the result is one sweaty, sticky student making her way to tutorials and libraries. And, as air conditioning is nowhere as prevalent on this side of the pond, plus the fact the average age of buildings in Oxford is "oh, a couple centuries old"...well, let's just say that libraries are currently HOTspots in more ways than one.

Oh, sunbeams, I have missed you! (Although I hear that
absence makes the heart fonder...?)

My fellow lawyers M & S went for milkshakes and dinner post-faculty photo.

Speaking of the faculty photo... 

Squeezing some 200-odd law grad students on a bleacher on a hot, humid day?
Logistically entertaining, physically...intimate. 

Of course we had to take our own photos too!

Also, I had forgotten how far North latitude-wise Oxford is, at least compared to Montreal. As a result, the sun rises and sets at surprisingly early and late hours - this week, it's been around 5am and 9:30pm. 9:30pm, already in May! It's not quite Sweden of course, but still amusing for myself. My days feel so much longer! (Unfortunately, that has not correlated into more productive days...huh.)

Summery, colourful punts at Magdalen Bridge.
Picture taken at 9pm - look at all that light!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Roman Holiday

In a continuous attempt to escape the English rain (bloody hell, just stop raining already!), I decided to take a week-end trip to Italy this last week-end. No, it wasn't entirely impromptu, and yes, I will miss ridiculously cheap cross-continent airfare once I leave. 

Destination? The Eternal City. Approximate flight time from Birmingham to Fiumicino? 2.5 hours. Time I actually spend at Birmingham International? A whopping 9.5 hours. It had to do with not nearly enough buses going from Oxford to BHX, something about "technical issues" with Monarch Airlines, departing at 12pm instead of 7am, plus an surprise stop at Milan Malpensa on the way. It was horrid, I don't want to talk about it, and I'm never flying with Monarch. Ever. Again. (The flight back was mildly better with "only" a 1.5 hour delay and aboard an supposedly "last-minute" Air Finland plane.)

Unsurprisingly, Air Finland's safety cards are written in Finnish...

Although, perhaps my flight delay was a (tortuous, miserable, inhuman) blessing in disguise because I landed in Rome just as a city-wide transportation strike was ending. I would have been stuck once the airport bus dropped me off at Termini, staring at the chaotic traffic and unwilling to take a Roman taxi. There is something to be said about Italian chaos, however, in that I found it strangely comforting and relaxing. I swear that as soon as I set foot on Italian soil I instantly felt 300% less stressed and more patient. Was there an essay that I had to write, or books that I had to read? Pfft, domani, domani

Arriving at Termini. Blaring car honks and flexible car lanes, I've missed you!

My goals for this trip were pretty simple. Get some sun, eat obscene amounts of Italian food, hang out with my friend D (I had previously visited her in Rome last year - it rained almost the whole time, alas), and generally enjoy la dolce vita. And so, I did. Stupid flight delays shall not get in the way of such noble goals!

Fountain of Trevi - March 2011 v. May 2012. I threw a coin in last time to
help me make it back to Rome; I guess it worked!