We Go to Oxford

Wanting to take advantage of the tremendous places within arm’s reach of Bristol, six of us  MA students left Temple Meads Station on a bright and sunny Saturday to explore the haunts of Oxford, the city home to the second oldest and arguably best university in the world. The distinctive atmosphere of Oxford was palpable within minutes after stepping off the train. As we  left platform two and and walked into the city, the air tasted different. In the words of Miss Genevieve Gardiner, a Canadian beauty and fellow Romantics student, “I can just feel my IQ going up!”  Anyone could increase their intelligence in this place, whether from the pristine beauty of the lecture halls  or the pressure of living up to Oxford’s expectations.

Of course, the city was lovely not only due to the immaculate architecture and cathedrals, but the green, green grass and beautiful gardens seemingly waiting behind every small corner. Of Oxford’s thirty-eight colleges, we toured just two; Balliol College, the University’s oldest college, and Worcester College. We also enjoyed visiting Christ Church and the University’s Ashmolean Museum, Britain’s oldest public museum.

At Christ Church with Gen, Ashley, and Caro

I enjoyed the train ride as much as anything.  Life feels purposeful on a train, which probably explains why I enjoy traveling as much as I do. For once, I can put away the books and to-do lists, tell my mind to be quiet, and just look out the window and know I’m moving forward. Better than even the train ride and exploring Oxford was getting to know my classmates better. I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bookish individual who can easily withdraw from large groups of people, and coming to Bristol, I feared my classmates might also be introverts. Not just anyone endeavors to earn a masters in English, particularly when the practicalities of finding a job with an arts degree are not so hopeful. I should have known not to worry as it was He who brought me here, and of course, the individuals I’ve been meeting from my program are wonderful.

Genevieve is a gorgeous girl from Toronto who wanted not just a masters, but an international adventure. So she came to Bristol. We instantly bonded when we learned we both left boys at home.

Me: “Yes, I felt really bad leaving. It’s always harder being the one who stays…and Brady’s a little needy.”

Gen: “Jon is too! He won’t let my sign off Skype.”

Then there’s Caroline, or ‘Caro,’ a proper British girl with the loveliest red hair and freckles (and green eyes!) I’ve ever seen. She is also frequently hilarious and wears the most darling outfits, because of course, in the words of Caro, “The worst thing a lady can do is let herself go!” While in Oxford, I took the opportunity to record some ‘Caro-isms.’ Here are a few of my favorites (please read in your best British accent:

“I quite like poodles.”

“I want to live in an old estate and wear period dress. I was born in the wrong century! But, I’d want modern technology and plumping and make-up, so I guess I just want to live in a renovated old estate and wear period dress.”

“Daddy is taking Mummy to a hotel in the country for the weekend, and Mummy will be so happy!”

It’s quite helpful having a British friend to help navigate the many cultural differences here, and Caro is quite the expert. We also miss our terriers very much, who happen to be cousins, or so we’ve decided.  Caro has a Westie named Soda (in honor of cream soda) and of course, I have little Audrey who may or may not live up to Ms. Hepburn’s reputation.

I met Ashley by chance during my second day in Bristol when she heard my familiar American accent. We couldn’t believe our luck when we realized we were in the same program, and celebrated by going shopping. It’s been a luxury to bemoan the small cultural problems I’ve encountered with a fellow American (yes, we miss our cars), and to excite each other about studying overseas. Ashley is here with her husband Brian who took his only year off from working in the military to study archaeology. I love that they’re experiencing Bristol together and, though it makes me miss Brady, Ashley and Brian are quickly becoming one of my favorite couples.

I’ve also enjoyed getting to know Hikari, a self-deprecating and brilliant character also studying romanticism. Boasting dual citizenship (from the UK and Japan) it’s very interesting to talk about his ‘dual-upbringing’ of sorts and his many life experiences. He has every right to be snobby, but isn’t in the least.

Being in Brisol, an ocean away from the Gotta Hotel (home to my large family), has also reminded me of how much I enjoy doing things by myself. This has probably been the greatest luxury of being in England. I only have to look after me; get to buy whatever groceries I like, which lately has been loads of Brie, clementines, dark chocolate, noodles and curry); and have complete freedom over how I structure my time. When I first arrived I was set on finding a job, but the pleasure of having everyday to do just what I like is becoming a bit too hard to give up. Even if the majority of my time is spent in the library reading Keats, Wordsworth and Coleridge, I get to spend most of my time in the library reading Keats, Wordsworth and Coleridge!

Now to make some dinner and brace the rain,




Clotted Cream and Keats

My eyes are telling me to fall asleep rather than sit by a drafty window at this late hour, but it’s raining and the wind is moving the trees and rustling the leaves and tossing the night air to and fro, so it’s a good writing night. Needless to say, I am tired. I woke up yesterday without any voice at all and though it returned from hiding today, I sound raspy and smokeresque. But have I reason to complain? Nope! I’m in England and with the help of anaesthetic throat spray (thank you, BOOTS!), my throat may be sore and hoarse, but I can’t feel a thing.

I’m sure whispering in the library all morning with Miss Genevieve Gardiner and Caroline Cant didn’t help my current state of affairs, but there is something about conversing in low voices that feels deliciously illicit, especially when on the library’s top story overlooking British chimneys and windows. It’s not hard to picture Mary Poppins suddenly appearing and pulling chimney sweeps from her magic black purse to perform a little jig. One of the student librarians, however, did not share in our excitment. “Excuse me, but this floor is not meant for socializing.” So, we left for afternoon tea. Cream tea.

Anyone who claims perfection doesn’t exist hasn’t tasted a proper English scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam::heaven in my mouth, particularly when paired with a piping cup of tea. I let nineteen days pass by without trying a scone here, and whether good or bad, this will change. I could certainly get use to having afternoon tea everyday, reminds me of when I was little and would come home from school famished and the only thing that would do was hot cocoa and a cinnamon raisin bagel with butter and  sugar.

Despite clotted cream and tea, this year will be a great deal of work. My reading list for this term alone includes over sixty books and a mere four hours of class a week. The trick is that the department expects MA English students to create structure and a schedule for themselves, with the ideal goal of reading everyday from nine to five, attending any and all English relevant seminars, faithfully attending lectures, joining critical reading groups, and turning in well-thought out, relevant essays. Give me a week or two perhaps, but as of yet, I really can’t whine about having all day everyday to read the Big Six ( Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats) and to immerse myself in Romanticism. I’ve never had this much time freedom before. Ever. Having worked full-time during undergrad (Hello, welcome to Starbucks! This is Emily. Would you like to try our new salted caramel hot chocolate?), focusing only on school is such a luxury. As is being able to study something I’m really passionate about. I don’t regret studying communications at Concordia, but I chose it for practical purposes and not because I found it inspiring. Maybe a masters in English will only bring me further into debt, but I know this year will count towards something. Just not sure what.

Ah to bed,


Clifton Discovered

Ever since I settled into Sinclair House, I’ve been told  I live very near the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge (as pictured above). The bridge has become the symbol of Bristol ever since its creation in 1864, and is considered the must-see spot of the city. Last night I met my friend, Paul, for dinner and after remarking that I didn’t understand the fuss over Clifton Village (my neighborhood, which ironically happens to be the posh part of Bristol), he lead me through a park only a minute from my flat. After walking through the quaint stone pathway, I immediately felt silly and unimaginably lucky as I looked out over the row of lovely shops, cafes and ‘Austenesque’ houses before me. So, this is Clifton!

Following Paul down the cobblestone streets I soon realized we were headed towards the Bridge.  The sky was misty and though it wasn’t dark yet, the lights outlining the Bridge gleamed against the impossibly green hills.  “If you’re afraid of heights you might not want to step on the bridge. The first time I came here was when I was little and I wouldn’t let go of my father.” (All of the British men I’ve met here are such gentleman). It wasn’t until I stepped on the Bridge and looked down at the Avon Gorge that I realized how high we we really were; thousands of feet off the ground. All of the corners of the globe I’ve been blessed to see, this one hands down, beat them all. On one side I could see the stony bluffs with a castle-like structure resting on top, and on the other the greenest hills sprinkled with Clifton dwellings (mansions, really). Anyone would feel tiny looking down at the river and up towards the hills and bluffs. As I took in the beauty, I noticed a sign: “Samaritan’s Care, Call Day or Night” with a number listed. Even in the midst of such deep beauty, the Bridge is also home to tragedy.

I couldn’t be a better spot to study Romanticism, and it’s really no wonder it all started here. Despite the alluring architecture and charm of the shops and homes, its the hills and bluffs and rivers that make Bristol special. The beauty is humbling and satisfying all at once. The Bridge is certainly wonderful, but even more wonderful is that not one can take credit for the view but our Creator. And the wonder and sheer delight of the scene surprised me. Modern life, for all its achievements, cannot imitate that natural beauty.

Rainy, Windy Days

It’s been raining all day here and the wind has recently picked up,too. It certainly makes good weather for beginning the sixty+ books on my course reading list, and I’m afraid I need to get use to this ‘gloomy’ atmosphere whether I like it or not. Most days here have been wet and windy; even a quick trip to Sainsbury’s for a carton of milk has begun to feel like an ordeal as I bundle up in boots, extra layers, and always a scarf. But it’s the best kind of weather for drinking cup after cup of tea and having the occasional ‘biscuit.’ I think personalities, also, ‘pop’ on this grey backdrop. A simple ‘how are you’ text on my archaic UK mobile adds more color to my day than anytime I can remember.

This morning I had the privilege of getting introduced to Woodlands Church and instantly felt at home, mostly because of all the little children and babies inhabiting the pews. Those little British accents would melt the coldest heart. The message wasn’t bad either. It addressed how we as Christians are not called to live lives of comfort, yet so often we plan our days and weeks around what will cause the least stress to us. This came at a time when I’ve also been reading Boundaries, but I don’t think the two concepts are at odds. We need balance, but if we’re living lives strictly devoted to comfort, then there isn’t real balance. Only giving our time and energy to others at our convenience is hardly sacrificial. And I’ve been so guilty of this. Just looking at my courses and essays and the countless books I’m required to read really caused me to consider how to organize my year here in Bristol. I could certainly spend every minute in the library, but I’m excited to think of what God will do if I give just some of this time back to him. Because everyday, every hour is His after all.

Well, that was me processing today’s sermon! So, in other news, classes start this week. The MA program here is structured so differently than U.S. courses.  While I’m only in class four hours a week, there is immense reading and writing expected outside of class. It’s entirely up to us as postgrads to establish a routine and structure for ourselves. So, when the syllabus simply says “Tennyson,” we’re expected to have read everything ever written by Tennyson, and as many commentaries, criticisms, and biographies as possible. At this point I’m up for the challenge. Can I really complain about having to read everything Tennyson ever wrote?!

Alright no more loitering, back to the books.


Mornings in Bristol

There is an excitement in getting ready for the day here I haven’t felt in months. Classes don’t officially start until Monday, and so everyday this week has unfolded with something new and unexpected. In between attending several hall meetings and graduate school introductions (though not all—getting lost is a daily experience for me), any opportunity admire Bristol’s BBC Headquarters on Whiteladies Road  or pick up 19p curry sauce on Queens Road is an adventure. And the weather here has been cooling down with light mists of rain in the afternoon, making it the ideal time to bring out my boots, scarves and  autumn jackets.

Hailing from Minnesota, changeable weather is nothing new to me, but the changes here feel different. The weather here is moody; wind is harder, rain is lighter, and the sunshine much more fleeting. Living here only a few days it’s natural to see why the weather plays such a pivotal role in English literature (think Wuthering Heights). The layout and architecture of the city is romantic to say the least. History is so palpable here and despite being in a city with a half a million people, Bristol feels quaint and cosy. Many of the sidewalks are lined with beautiful stone fences smothered with colorful ivy. Once classes begin, I’ll be spending most of my time in stunning stone Georgians updated to accommodate classrooms and students. Pubs and cafes are not hard to find, and it’s a good thing I walk everywhere here. Between the delicious cream teas and scones and pastries and pie, I’m in heaven.

The Brits and ‘Bristolians’ I’ve met are friendly and so willing to help a  grad student continually mistaken for a “fresher.” I don’t know if being asked out the other night by a freshman should be taken as a compliment or an insult to my maturity level. Fortunately, he was handsome.

Discovering Cabot Circus, the shopping district here, and rediscovering Top Shop took away any homesickness I might have been feeling. Conjuring up images of Becky Bloomwood in Confessions of a Shopaholic, I began to feel deeply affected by the clothes around me. All so pretty! And the right size! And so unique! But do I need this? DO I NEED THIS! In the end, I got a birthday present for my sister and a few postcards. Yes, my discipline was tested.

Keeping this short because I’m meeting other Romanticism students to see a play about the Bronte Sisters. And then it’s off to scour Bristol for the sixty plus books on the course reading list. Good thing I didn’t shop too much yesterday!


Why I Need to Pinch Myself

Four days ago I said goodbye to Minnesota and all I hold dear (namely my dog Audrey) and stepped on a plan headed to Bristol, England. With one purple suitcase bulging at the seams and my boyfriend’s backpack carefully packed with reading material around my shoulders, there was nothing else I could do but leave.  And fly away I did.

Of course, Audrey isn’t the only one I love across the Atlantic. As the second oldest of nine children (yep, all natural), the aunt of a beautiful one month old baby niece, the girlfriend of a stubborn boyfriend, and a friend to a few wonderful girls, wandering away for a year was no easy decision. But God called me to Bristol and to Bristol I went!

Fortunately, I do have a purpose for being in a city so new and even strange to me. For more than a year now I’ve been plotting this escape to England to study my masters in English literature at where else than the gorgeous and Idon’tknowhowIgotin Bristol University. With the chance to study my masters in an historic city among rolling green hills and cobblestone paths, how could I go anywhere else? I simply couldn’t.

You might want to know that actually getting to Bristol was not so simple. Up until only a couple of months ago, this dream of mine seemed it would remain just that. God kept his promise, though.

Just this yearBristol formed a relationship with the U.S.. Department of Education, which meant I could receive federal loans after all. Going into further student debt had been something I tried to avoid. My older sister Maria and I once discussed that I might be “a scholar by the week, scoundrel by the weekend!” to bring in some sort of scandalous income, but after further thoughts, a year at Bristol seemed worth the loans and interest. And I have tingles under my skin and dimples on my cheeks telling me it is.

I hesitated over the idea of blogging about this experience. I’m an introvert and a fairly private person about most things. And being accustomed to sharing my clothes, my room, my toys, my books, etc. for  my entire life (with eight siblings it’s inevitable, you know), I didn’t want to share Bristol. On the plane ride over I had the delicious impulse to keep this year all to myself; to keep this experience  a delicious secret that only I knew.  Despite having a major in communications and minor in English writing, however, when it comes to filling out my journal, I am the worst. I have the best intentions and have a collection of the prettiest journals, but most of them are three quarters empty at best. So! In an effort to really record my experiences, I thought a blog would force me into accountability. This blog will be a journal of sorts to me, but it’ll be primarily focused on the wonder and beauty of Bristol.

Now without further ado, I want to tell you my five favorite moments thus far:

#1 Discovering that my rich neighbors (there’s always a Hummer and BMW parked inside their stone fence) have two Scottish Terriers.  Don’t worry, Audrey, they’re not nearly as cute as you!

#2 Manor Hall’s fall play this year is Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” which happens to be one of my favorite books. Crossing my fingers I might snag a part.

#3 Lost on my way to the International Student Centre, I asked a random dude for help. We started talking a bit and when he learned I was from Minnesota, asked if I knew John Piper. Long story short, I’ve found a church in Bristol.

#4 BBC Bristol is the largest BBC headquarters outside of London and it’s just down the road. Cheers to internship opportunities!

#5 On my way to an orientation lecture for new MA students today a little lady was standing on Woodhaven Road passing out powdered doughnuts and coffee.  How could this not make someone’s day?



“If I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.”

-Psalm 139: 9-10

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October 2011