Megan Braun: Rhodes Scholar, Oxford, England

Megan and other Rhodes Scholars matriculating at Oxford

Megan and other Rhodes Scholars matriculating at Oxford

First post: Oxford is a series of contradictions- both ancient and modern, charming and exasperating, intimate and aloof, egalitarian and hierarchical. The system of exams and tutorials dates back centuries and yet Oxford is in the grips of the modern higher education funding crisis. The slow-paced lifestyle of a small town is charming and yet the amorphous and ill-defined bureaucracy of the university leaves you wondering what is expected of you, much less who to ask. The college system creates small, intimate communities where you see the same people at meals and wave while you walk through the quads on your way to the library or your room but this can also make you feel disconnected from the rest of the university. And while the system of academic advisors provides a unique level of access to professors, the university is overtly hierarchical as epitomized by the “high table” where the faculty sit during meals.

 The amazing talks and lectures hosted every day at Oxford are enough to keep my calendar full, but the English seem to eat a disproportionately large amount of potatoes and mayonnaise and a dearth of fresh vegetables, so I figured that some physical activities were in order. I joined the water polo club at Oxford and after playing competitively at UC Irvine, adapting to the laid back and recreational atmosphere has been an adjustment, but I am eager to see the team improve and the Cambridge match will be a great way to take part in one of the world’s oldest sports rivalries. Rowing is also a quintessential English experience and one that I couldn’t pass up. Even at the novice level it is clear that this is a sport that fetishizes pain- the early morning practices on the frigid river, blisters all over the hands and agonizing sprint sessions on the erg machine are all part of its weekly charms. This week my boat finally got to the point where we could get all eight people rowing at a time and that has been a comedy of errors- people get out of synch on the strokes, then the boats starts rocking violently and eventually someone’s oar loses traction with the water and the handle comes sailing towards their head. And they say rowing isn’t a contact sport!

 The other highlight thus far has been the Rhodes community. Rhodes scholars are a dime a dozen at Oxford. There are approximately 200 of us in residence here at any given time and several thousand have passed through these halls in the last century so no one is automatically awed by our brilliance or taken aback by our curriculum vitas. But on the whole, I can’t say enough about how much I have enjoyed getting to know the other scholars. They are a truly exceptional group of people. And it has nothing to do with overt displays of intelligence. Everyone is incredibly understated but has a fascinating life story and a vision for global change. There are frequent opportunities to get to know the other scholars, whether it is the weekly gatherings for tea, the monthly Meet and Mingle nights or the ad hoc pub crawl or touch rugby match. This week at tea, my conversations ranged from the ideal flour for baking bread and research on using beta-blockers to inhibit memory retention in PTSD victims, to perceptions of female education in rural Pakistan and comical mishaps during block-starts at swim meets. I can’t imagine a better depiction of what Rhodes scholars are like and am increasingly convinced that these small exchanges, more so than any curriculum or grand adventures, will prove to be the most cherished element of the Oxford experience.

 

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