Oxford: more than just about Harry Potter

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Sitting in the outdoor benches of the Pisa cafe in Menteng, I have embarked on the formidable task of putting my feelings into words. The over-900 year old history of the Dark Blues has seen more than just the Harry Potter spectacles (FYI, there are only three long tables in the Hogwarts dining hall, only to be electronically modified); it has been the breeding ground of today’s leaders in education, entertainment, and politics. In this short piece, I will like to share 3 aspects of my nurturing years spent in the university, and hope it inspires you to come explore in its magical world.

 1. “Courage see me through, heart I’m trusting you on this journey, to the past”
–Anastacia movie

Imagine a world where your mode of transport is a bicycle, where a 1 km trek to the beloved St Hugh’s college is considered a pilgrimage, and where you will never find buildings higher than 4 stories tall. The traditions are even more unique to those unfamiliar with the formalities of ancient time; for the males, you are required a wear a black suit with a white bow tie, decorates with carnations for your examinations schools (think crunching through your scripts in the company of 8-metre high ceilings and ancient portraits)  – white for the first paper, pink for the subsequent ones, and red for your final ordeal. Wearing this red carnation grants you the privilege to exit the examination school through the back door, where your friends, armed with flowers, garlands, champagne (with flour, spoilt yoghurt, and rotten eggs depending on their affection) await. Even if you do not attend the university, sparing a day or two in the months of May/ June in Oxford gives you a flavor of the rich traditions that continue through generations past and present. Lastly, end off your afternoon with a trip to The Rose cafe by High Street, where you can indulge in the best scones and high tea, watching the world outside pass you by…

 2. “Dominus Iluminato Mea”
– University of Oxford’s motto (meaning the Lord is my light)

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of my education in Oxford is the two-on-one tutorials that I have been fortunate enough to experience. You do not often find occasions in which you sit in front of your tutor in a sofa coach, reading your essay sentence by sentence, with him interrupting to correct your grammar or comment that your argument is out of point. While this experience may not apply to science courses, there is no doubt that the academic rigor provided me with knowledge and strong foundation that continues to be relevant today. The fact that my final examinations is in the end of my 3rd year meant that a few peers only started their preparations shortly before 2.5 weeks filled with 9 papers that were physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging (think about coming out with the red carnation though!). My only regret in Oxford was the 6 months spent cramming all those information into my poor small brain, so my advice to future students of the institution: you will probably get away with a Second-upper (about 10% get below that), so spend more time in the spring/ summer months punting (a small boat where you place a long rod vertically into a shallow river to ‘punt’ the boat forward, pedals are only used if your rod gets stuck in the water – that most likely meant that the punter has an early shower as well!)

 3. “All of my life, where have you been? I wonder if I will I see you again”
– Again by Lenny Kravitz

With 38 colleges and 6 permanent private halls constituting the University of Oxford, I have found myself tucked into St Hugh’s College, whose most famous alum is Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. It is not the most glamorous or financially-endowed college, but it was a home for my 3 years in the UK. Stepping into the common room surrounded by over a hundred strangers, I found myself as the only South-East Asian filled with anxiety as to how to adapt to a brand new culture and environment. The first and easiest person to engage was my next door neighbor Joe, and my social circle slowly but surely expanded into a diverse community; Saturday evenings in my 2nd year were spent cooking Asian meals for them as a form of socializing. While I have lost contact after 2 years spent away from the UK, the memories of these friendships and lifetime friends have made it more than a worthwhile experience in this international community.

As I conclude, it is worth noting that in every undergraduate batch, you find at least 20-40 representatives each from Singapore and Malaysia; in my time in the UK, I have encountered less than 3 undergraduates. The principle reason may have been the recognition of A levels and IB program in the UK, but my current understanding indicates a greater shift towards these programs in Indonesia. The daunting prospect of having to undergo interviews during the application process probably deterred many from attempting, but I hope this short piece provides a ‘carrot’ incentive to the unparalleled experience that awaits you in Oxford. As I step off my evening in Menteng and hope the post-rain traffic jam in Jakarta recedes, this reflection reminded me of how fortunate I have been to experience living in this historical town. I know that a 1000 years from today, generations will share the same sentiments.

Photo by tejvanphotos via flickr