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Oxford 6/2/2009 by Patrick G. Wilz

MY FIRST MOMENTS ABROAD were enjoyed nearly a week ago—I endeavored to experience London before I began my research and am now thankful I'd done so—but this will be my initial response to Oxford, my home for the next several weeks. 

I hope it won't be too odd when I say that it has met every one of my expectations and—here's the curious part—it is almost exactly as I had envisioned. Looming spires are themselves an anachronism to the Starbucks and clothing shops which share streets and sometimes walls, but the craggy and weathered facades of the various colleges and cramped alleyways serve as a more potent advertisement of the city's age. Oxford and its inhabitants are both charming and inviting its cosmopolitan patronage.

Of course, I’m not the only foreigner here. Oxford pulses with skittish travelers and tourists snapping photos and pointing awkwardly at maps. The University must anticipate these visitors because in front of nearly every door there are signs that read, “NO VISITORS ALLOWED,” and ask that all cameras are returned to their cases. This restraint has made it difficult to manage access to archives and libraries here, but a bit of explaining has, so far, ameliorated all previous misconceptions of my intentions. 

It is, after all, finals week here and I don’t blame them for their heightened attention to regulation. I think it might have been George Bernard Shaw who first said that England and the United States are two nations separated by a common language, but I'm sure Oscar Wilde later repeated the same sentiment. Regardless, the point carries. Idiosyncrasies that are easily recognized in the States can be jolting when they aren't understood abroad. You'll never have a 'to go' order in the UK, but you'll certainly be offered a 'take away,' which is a good idea because they'll charge pence if you 'sit in.' These lessons have been painless, but unexpected. 

After two weeks here, I will enjoy the respite in Belgium with my fellow EU mates. A tour of Brussels and the European Union are sure to be a welcome change of pace from my daily research in Oxford. Until then . . . 

Best, Patrick G. Wilz