The green at Trinity College, University of Oxford. My room was on the second floor of the far right wing of the pictured building.
My first trip outside of the country, or even on a plane for that matter, occurred when I was 23 years old, when I went to Trinity College, University of Oxford, for a graduate summer “programme” abroad. A die-hard anglophile, I had long dreamt of Oxford, the “city of dreaming spires.” The two courses I took were seminars from dons who specialized in Austen and Dickens. For Austen, I studied with Sandie Byrne, & for Dickens I studied with Robin Gilmour. Both were lovely & challenged my mind in new ways.
Gardens in an English design edge a gorgeously patterned & expansive green, perfect for croquet.
Once there, the history of Trinity & the “town & gown” aspect of Oxford really made me feel an incredible sense of privilege, to which I had been (still am) unaccustomed. I could easily see why local residents could & likely did resent the students who populated the maze of quads & walls that closed off most of the city from public access (except during limited visiting hours).
Down this corridor, you’ll find the entrance to the Beer Cellar, a great place to quaff an ale after an energetic exchange with your tutor.
There were unique aspects of an English university programme. There was the whole concept of sharing a beer with your tutor or don, which seemed so incredibly cool to me, especially as the drinking age in the UK was 18 as opposed to 21. I was of age anyway, but it still felt like cheating the American system. That created a relaxed atmosphere, since students were completely trusted to manage their study time & their alcohol consumption. The bartender was a quite lovely older woman who invited me to her flat for tea & watching “Pride & Prejudice,” after she learned I was studying Austen.
The dining hall with the coveted spots at the “High Table,” where students rotated the privilege of eating with faculty.
The dinners were always a dressy affair, so you’d wear evening attire of dresses or suit jackets. To top off the super classy feel, I even took a wine-tasting course while there, where I learned that the high price of a vintage didn’t always yield a great taste. Since I had seen “French Kiss” like a gazillion times prior to flying to the UK, that summer, I had been well-primed for learning wine pairings. I also loved that dinners were always served in courses, with a different wine & glass for each.
Beautiful quad & private lodgings for fellows.
Walking around the city, one could see how the university simply dominated the geographical space of Oxford’s center. And there lingered something magical about the golden hues of the ancient buildings that housed some of the greatest minds of the modern western world. You could almost hear the footsteps and voices echoing through the quads.
The Bridge of Sighs.
One of the most exciting things about being an academic & scholar, at this stage in my career, is that I can now access rare books & manuscripts housed at the Bodleian Library for research. I did this when I visited Oxford in 2012. You actually have to swear an oath when you become a member, by the way, as seen below. An old tradition that’s charmingly maintained!
The oath I had to swear when visiting the Bodleian.
Looking back, I can say that the summer I first went abroad became a pivotal period of adult growth in my life. I deeply enjoyed being in a place where absolutely no person knew me. That anonymity was lovely, beyond words as an introvert traveler. And I lost myself in those dreaming spires & the grassy lawns so meticulously kept in checkerboard patterns. I couldn’t understand how a country I’d never visited before could feel so much like home to me.
Another view of a Trinity quad.
The funny thing is that when you see those lawns & the ubiquitous signs prohibiting everyone except fellows from treading on them, you start to understand why that privilege would be so desirable. Too, there are also locked, walled gardens that remain solely for the fellows to enjoy. Membership certainly has had its perks in the old university cities of Oxford & Cambridge. (And I can say that, as I’ve studied at both, a privilege I never really thought I’d ever have but amazingly did.)
Behind that wall there is a “secret garden” accessed only by fellows at Trinity.
To the left you can see The Buttery, a favorite place to dine & lodge when I’m in Oxford.