12 8 / 2013

Do you remember when we took 
Light hearts and full bellies to the park?
Our course was set at 51º N
And so it wasn’t yet dark.
And so it was that I saw your serenity in
The heavenly light under threatening clouds.
There was none of your sullenness to be had.
We trekked on.

We didn’t climb high, but we climbed far,
All the better to see from a distance.
The agoraphobe in me
Thought how nice the open space felt
After months and months within walls.
I had the patience that Orpheus lacked,
I didn’t look back. 
"The best view you can get," he said. "We’re here!"
And there we were.

The city was made of toothpicks,
The sky of faded warpaint.
I stood on a bench to see it 
And you pointed it all out to me,
Every lofty dreaming spire.
Merton. Christ Church, Radcliffe, Balliol.
All these names of celebrated old.

From my bench I could see the tops of those buildings
And the top of your blessed head.
I wrapped your shivering arms up in mine, 
Thinking, bemused, that we’d come full circle
From floating down the rainy river.
Why are we always cold?

We set off again when the sky grew dark
And the winds grew strong.
The New Yorker in me 
Heard the pop-pop-bang in the distance,
Thought that terror had followed me where I’d fled,
Until I saw green light on the windows—
A dragon!
And like children, we were off.

We never found the great medieval beast of those Oxford streets.
We were undeserving of its absolution,
We irreverent children of revolution.
Still, we saw its smoke and flame.
We felt its roar echo in our chests.
It didn’t matter where the dragon lay,
Those fireworks were for us.

18 4 / 2013

Anonymous said: could you provide some insight into what the tutorial meetings are actually like? what would it be like for students who aren't very comfortable speaking out loud but love to write?

Great question, anon!

One’s experience in a tutorial can vary hugely. You might have heard the usual tute spiel that every WEPO alum gives whenever someone asks: You meet with a tutor once a week for an hour, read out a paper that you’ve prepared, and then use the paper as a jumping off point for discussion. 

How this actually plays out in practice depends on the tutor. First, I’ve so far never been required to read my papers aloud, which is great because I get rather self conscious when reading my own work and would surely be mumbling into my collar by the conclusion. Tutors strike me as quite understanding of the different challenge presented by WEPO students. They know we’re American and that we may come from an educational background that perhaps didn’t involve standing up to speak or calling teachers ‘sir’. This isn’t to say that we confirm their stereotypes or that they dumb down tutorials for us, but rather that they are prepared to accept whatever personalities that this cultural difference has fostered. My Pathology tutor understood that I was very uncomfortable talking about the technical ins and outs of his subject; he acknowledged those hangups in my final evaluation, but he graded me based on my effort.

Second, some tutors are excellent at encouraging discussion—a trait of teachers that I’m sure you’ve both witnessed and wished for back at Williams (I assume you’re at Williams)—while others are not. My favorite tutors have been ones who control and direct discussion, keeping it close to the topic of the essay without spiraling out of control. This allows me both to show that I’ve worked hard on my essay and also to have some prepared phrases to use in dialogue. My tutor for Ecology always came to meetings with a sort of lesson plan, not because she was inexperienced but because she wanted to make sure she covered everything important. She also read our papers very attentively, took note of where we made any brilliant insights, and cued us to talk about those in tutorial. My tutor for Victorian Literature was a little different; she would spend about half the tute on subjects we wrote about, and then she would pull out these fascinating sort of lectures to cover all the important bits of the literature that our papers didn’t touch upon. Discussions for Medical Law and Ethics were the best because my partner and I ended up debating for a lot of it, and whenever there was a lull, my (wonderful, enthusiastic, brilliant) tutor would just pose another provocative question. At the worst extreme, I’ve heard of tutors who use tutes as an opportunity to cover more ground, assuming you’ve studied a topic well enough by writing a paper on it and then discussing a different topic in tutorial. This is rare, and if you get this I think it’s totally acceptable to subtly steer conversation back to your topic with a “I was hoping to discuss x, which came up in my research and really fascinates/confuses/frustrates me.”

Having said all this, don’t allow the tutors’ understanding to put you in a mode of complacency about public speaking. “Students who aren’t very comfortable speaking out loud but love to write” describes me exactly. I’ve been using WEPO as a sort of essay writing bootcamp (lots of essays, lots of ideas; getting comfortable writing REALLY quickly while being consistent, clear, and organized). But I’ve also taken this, the tutorial setting and the implicit understanding of my tutors, as an opportunity to improve my speaking ability. At the very least, I’m much better at making small talk.

Hope this helps, anon!

11 4 / 2013

Anonymous said: Have you gotten the chance to travel while at Oxford? What have you done during the long-ish breaks between terms?

Whoa, when did this ask come in? Sorry, anon!

And yes, I have been able to travel! The breaks are about four weeks each—six, if you count the outgoing 9th week and incoming 0th week, which a lot of people do in the interest of maximizing travel time. Very few WEPO people stay in Oxford during breaks.

For the first holiday, I went home for Christmas and New Years, which included a finals week visit to Williams.

Though the concept doesn’t really exist over here, this second break was spring break (WOOOOOOOOO), and WEPO observed in true American fashion. I basically did a Eurotrip: Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, Athens. Sounds crazy, but with such a long break, such a loaded itinerary is totally feasible! Some friends studying abroad at NYU London and University College London had concurrent breaks, so we all traveled together. I had intended to blog about all of this right after I returned, but life got in the way and I got a stomach bug and I have to apply to things for this summer and I have to start reading for next term. Ah!

Posts soon, I promise. In the meantime, here’s a picture of one of my favorite places from the trip. This is in Montjuïc, Barcelona. That’s the Palau Nacional, an art museum that we unfortunately didn’t get to see. 

And this is the Magic Fountain that’s opposite the Palau Nacional. They put on a light show most nights, and it’s absolutely breathtaking. 

10 3 / 2013

Anonymous said: Was it extremely difficult getting into Williams in the first place?

AASLKDJAKDJF SORRY, I saw this ask earlier, but then I went on hiatus before answering it because it’s kind of an involved answer, and I was drowning in tutorial work.

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: No, but my experience was weird. I applied to Williams because it was ranked first among liberal arts colleges by US News & World and back in high school, I was one of those people. (Still sort of am, as evidenced by my current surroundings.) The application itself asked only for SAT scores, teacher recommendations, the common app, and a short personal statement: looking at yourself through a window of your choice, what do you see? I thought about it honestly and wrote with no pretensions because I honestly didn’t care too much about this application. I wrote about being a late bloomer and slowly losing my self-consciousness in a high school ballroom dance class. Little did I know that sincerity, humility, and enthusiasm would fly with Williams; and after the financial aid offer arrived, I was sold. Almost three years later, everything that I am I owe to Williams.

But to say it was a piece of cake just because I didn’t try too hard on the application would be reductive and naive. I had really good SAT scores and exceedingly decent grades in high school, so that bit was rather difficult to achieve and maintain. If you don’t have those things going for you, you can cross your fingers and hope that sincerity, humility, and enthusiasm take you very far. One thing I didn’t have going for me, strangely, was a strong base in extracurriculars. My floormates in freshman year constantly got on my case for being a total uninvolved recluse in high school (I do not recommend it!). But that goes to show that there isn’t a formula for ideal candidate. I spent high school focusing assiduously on my studies and dabbling only in a little bit of musical theater and volunteer work. I used my essay to express my earnest wishes for the future, not even in academics but just in personal growth—no sob stories about past strife, no cliched rants about inspirational figures. I guess it worked.

Having spoken to some Oxford students and tutors this year, I’m especially amazed at the disparity between selection processes. To get into Oxford, you have to go through a rigorous interview series in which you’re tested not only for aptitude in your field but also for experience and knowledge. Imagine that. If you were applying to Oxford to study English, you’d have to demonstrate both that you’ve read and thought critically about a nice, wide range of literature and that you really liked doing it. There’s none of that for Williams (or in America, for the most part), where you don’t even have to declare a major until the end of sophomore year. So when you’re agonizing over the college application process and wringing your hands waiting for college acceptances, be comforted by the fact that most colleges are looking for sincerity and strong character and all the traits that those entail rather than, say, your mastery of symbolism in James Joyce. 

Anon, I have no idea at what point you are in your consideration of Williams—or in their consideration of you, as it were—but I hope that was at least a little helpful. If you’re considering applying in the future, please do! Though it has faults, Williams is a fantastic and formative place. If you’ve applied and are waiting for news in late March and early April, best of luck! I’m sure Williams will be happy to have you. (And if you do get to see this and have more questions, perhaps you can anon-message me again.)  

Your loyal Eph-Oxonian ‘14,


15 2 / 2013

I don’t normally do these daily-happenings kinds of blogs. Though I hardly fare better with the bottom-of-the-soul-scraping pseudosophical posts that I do. But whatever. It’s Valentine’s, and I have a tradition of blogging on Valentine’s Day. Usually dismal, depressing, grotesquely self-referential posts. I’ll dredge up some evidence for your casual perusal and amusement. 

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05 1 / 2013

Happy New Year!

December 21st, 2012 come and gone, the world goes on. And though I doubt anyone seriously thought the end would be nigh, 2012 still carried with it a looming uncertainty. With the possibility of an end, we started to acknowledge our own mortality. We lived faster and loved freer. We YOLO’d. A lot.

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24 12 / 2012

For the long holiday between Michaelmas and Hilary terms, a lot of WEPOites are traveling around Europe and doing cool things, like biking around Amsterdam, couch surfing in Portugal, soul searching in Rome.

And me? Well, I’m back in my quiet neighborhood in Brooklyn, eating tons of chocolate and stoking my new British actor obsession (the thesp du jour is Eddie Redmayne because how can you not). Michaelmas really beat me up, but I’m not back home to retreat into a cozy little niche. I’m here to get a second wind in my sails, to find some extra motivation, and to see family and friends. 

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15 11 / 2012

Anonymous said: Is it hard to get into oxford from williams?

Hey, anon! So I assume you’re a Williams student, and you’re interested in the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford? Coolios.

The acceptance rate varies across the years, depending on how many people decide to apply. I don’t think my year was particularly competitive because the prospective applicants were sent an email once, and I counted the number of recipients to be about 60. They accept 26 every year, so that’s like a 40% acceptance rate. Not bad, right? During the application process, I knew of four friends who were applying, and all four of them were accepted. I only personally knew two people who were waitlisted or rejected. In terms of numbers, acceptance is a pretty promising prospect. 

HOWEVER, acceptance promising because this program is self-selecting from the start, and plenty of people decide early on that it is not for them. The best strategy for you, both to get accepted and to have a kick-ass junior year, would be to truly consider whether or not you would enjoy and benefit from this program. Believe it or not, I’ve had moments of doubt during this first term. 

So I’ll give you the boring bits, and then the more important bits. To apply you’ll need:

- a 3.0 GPA (I’ve heard conflicting information about this, but the crux of this is to be intellectually curious, and to show it in your application materials.)
- pretty much all four of your PE credits and your divisional requirements done
- a personal statement
- two recommendations from professors who can comment on your independent work and writing ability
- a good interview 

You’ll know what to write in your personal statement (or even whether or not you want to apply) when you consider what the program is, what qualities and virtues would flourish under it. Here, you have a whopping two hours (sometimes more, if you have lectures, as in the sciences) of class time per week. TWO HOURS A WEEK, compared to, what, roughly twenty hours a week at Williams? That sounds great, but what it ends up demanding of you is that you plan your own time really well—the way I’m not doing now—so you can crank out those two weekly 2,000-word essays. (That self-selection kicks in right around here.) On top of that, you have to consider that you’ll be taught pretty exclusively in tutorials, so if you’re uncomfortable with that format (you are none the lesser for it!) or if it doesn’t lend itself to your field of study (no matter how much WEPO pimps the benefits of tutorials for all majors, it really doesn’t make all that much sense for science), you probably won’t enjoy or benefit much from this program. 

So that’s academics.

The social aspect is really important too. Unlike other study abroad programs, this one will put you in a tight community of 26, a lot like a second crack at a freshman entry. And so, the Powers that Be who are in charge of your acceptance will consider your chemistry in the group. If you didn’t like the entry experience, simply the construct of twenty-odd people living together regardless of personality types or quirks or whatever, be prepared not to like living in the WEPO compound. However, if you’re like me, and you’re like, “PEOPLE ARE SO COOL AND INTERESTING. YOU’RE A BEEKEEPER, WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK, THAT’S SO COOL. YOU’RE INTO ACTING, THAT’S SO COOL, I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE YOUR SHOWS.” you’ll love it. (And you’re on Tumblr, so you’re probably in the latter camp, right?)

Here, I’m surrounded by many more political scientists than ever before, and it’s quite different for me. One of my friends said that everyone in WEPO is “power hungry.” I’m not so certain myself, but be prepared to be around people with very strong political and social convictions.

The culture will also be a deciding factor for whether or not you like it here. A lot of WEPOites came here for the education and couldn’t care less about the culture. But I’m all about it—the accent, the mannerisms, the demeanor, the way they say “pardon?” and not “whut?” when asking you to repeat yourself. And again, since you’re on Tumblr, I’ll presumptuously assume you like British culture too. Some people don’t; some people want to go to some far-flung corner of the world that they’d never get to see otherwise, and that’s totally fine. (Note that you’ll also be able to travel a lot during the two breaks, which are about four weeks long. All of Europe is basically a stone’s throw away.) But just know that you’d be entering a society that boasts a really fascinating duality of self-deprecation and self-obsession that I can’t do justice in this post, and you should be willing to embrace it. 

Finally, if you’ve ever been on thetimeistudiedabroad.tumblr.com, you will have gotten a sense of study abroad experiences that are the perfect antithesis of WEPO. My friend here pulled an all-nighter once a week for five weeks. Sure, you’ll go out to pubs and clubs every now and then, and you’ll have your fair share of fun by way of balls and bops (fancy dress, meaning costume, parties). But it’ll be a lot like Williams, where the carriage turns into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight, and you’ll have to go back to work the next day. 

All these things considered (and other stuff you’ll consider on your own), you’ll know whether or not this program is right for you, and if it is, how to convey that you are right for it. That’s my long-winded, roundabout way of saying, “no, it’s not very hard to get into Oxford from Williams, if you’ve done your research and you know what you’d be getting in to.” I don’t mean that it’ll be a breeze to get in. What I do mean is that your best strategy should be to do a little bit of research and a little bit of soul-searching, and hopefully WEPO will prove to want you as much as you want it. 

I hope that helps. Feel free to hit my ask again if you have any other questions. As they say here, cheers!

21 10 / 2012

Nine hundred pages of Dickens, a presentation on tetanus exotoxin, six hours of ballroom practice, and a low-sleep week culminating in my first veritable all-nighter.

But she liked my essay.

How much does this pathetic grade-grubber crave approval?

This much:

(Jin, does this make you think any less of my .gif usage?)

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13 10 / 2012

So… that’s good. File it under “Perks of Being in the UK”? Also in that file folder are: “I’m surrounded by sexy accent” and “I’m saving so much money because I can’t afford to buy anything.” 

But it’s not all coming up roses, as I may have naively expected. It’s been mostly challenging and occasionally beautiful, and the ultimate consolation is that I’m getting a thorough—at times harsh—cultural, social, and intellectual education here.

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