Alumni Spotlight: Emily Solis-Cohen, CFI'10
Greetings from Oxford! I can't believe that I've only been here for three weeks. It really does feel like home, but each day continues to bring new excitement, experiences, challenges and opportunities. I wanted to wait until the term really began to send you a full update, so here it is.
To start, I have made terrific friends — especially in my college, St Cross. My closest friends at St X come from literally all over the world. It's amazing how well we all get along even though we've known each other just for a couple of weeks. I also have many friends at St. Antony's, which is coincidently where the Middle East Centre makes its home. On top of that, all of the other graduate students at the Middle East Centre are really friendly and there's always someone to chat with when I go to the library. (Speaking of which, the Middle East Centre has a twice-daily coffee/tea break that is very popular, and you never know what type of exciting research you’ll hear about on any given day.)
I would be remiss if I did not mention how warm and welcoming everyone at St Cross is. From the moment I arrived (with two enormous suitcases in the pouring rain) after having met another Hoya on the flight from the U.S. to England, the returning students and administrators have gone out of their way to make sure that we “Freshers” know where to go/what to do/how to do things. All of the Freshers also were invited to a personal meeting with Master Goudie, who made sure that we are settling in well in terms of academics, social life and those practical details like opening a bank account that seem to take over your life. One of my favorite experiences so far was the Week 1 Hall Dinner where we wore our gowns, of course. Although 120 students and fellows attended, it felt as intimate as a family dinner. And St Cross rightly has a reputation for some of the best college food at Oxford! I have dined at several of the other colleges, including having Sunday brunch at Christ Church with a huge contingent from St Cross – we went largely to experience and admire first-hand the setting which is familiar to any Harry Potter fan. (The Christ Church Hall was used as the dining hall in the Harry Potter movies.)
Academically, I could not be happier. The Middle East Centre within the Department of Oriental Studies is the perfect place for me, since my program allows me to study history, culture, language, politics, anthropology, etc. all in one. When I need to go to the Oriental Institute, I literally walk out the back gate of St Cross and it's right next door. The Middle East Centre is just a 10-minute walk down Woodstock Road. The theme of our induction meeting was how the Centre is a community of scholars -- which was very comforting to hear and has proven true already. I wish that I could take more than two “options” (classes) because I want to take all of the tutorials offered. Right now I'm taking North African Politics with my supervisor, Michael Willis. The tutorials are composed of just a 2nd year M.Phil. student and me. The one-on-one attention here is remarkable. Our first tutorial was last Thursday and lasted a full two hours. I will admit that I was a bit nervous going in since I wasn't sure what to expect and how much to prepare. (Dr. Willis said he once had a student who literally read EVERYTHING on the huge syllabus and he was frightened that the student never slept or did anything social.) But I settled in right away and felt like I demonstrated my understanding of the readings while learning a lot from Dr. Willis and the other student over the course of the session. This week’s tutorial lasted three hours, and we were all having such fantastic conversations about the readings we did not realize it had been that long. Dr. Willis is also giving a lecture on North African politics on Monday afternoons at the Oriental Institute that I am attending, which is very fortunate since it's the only Middle East Centre lecture this term. Next term I am torn between taking the "International Relations of the Middle East", "The History of the Middle East”, or "Political Islam, Islamism, or Modern Islamic Movements”. The Middle East Centre also holds a weekly seminar with guest speakers on Friday evenings. They ask students to help set up the room and those who help on a given week get to go to High Table with the professors and guests afterwards. Last week's seminar was really interesting (Islamist political parties, mostly focusing on Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood), and I was happy that I was able to get a question in during the Q&A. I signed up to help out for two different seminars in November. It's nice to have the opportunity to go to High Table at St Antony's since St Cross doesn't have a High Table -- which is one of the nice things about St Cross in its own way.
In terms of other activities, I went to the annual "No Confidence" debate at the Oxford Union last Thursday night. The debate was open to all students since the Union is trying to attract new members. The debate topic was "This House Has No Confidence in Her Majesty's Government" and featured both student and MP debaters. I could really sense how this is where the future leaders of Britain get their training for PMQs and other aspects of political life! I was extremely impressed by their public speaking abilities and of course how the students wore black tie for the occasion. It's also always fun to be walking around town seeing students in black tie and gowns.
I have also been to many bops at St Cross and various other colleges (apparently “bop” it stands for “big open party” and is just that) and other social events. I signed up for eight or so Hall Dinners and Special Dinners, including Founder's Feast. I have also gone to two Shabbat dinners here and brought along two non-Jewish friends. We all had a great time and really enjoyed the delicious multi-course meals.
This past Saturday, the last day of 1st Week, was Matriculation, which is the ceremony that marks our official induction as students of the University of Oxford and is quite a thrill. Although we had to be in the Common Room at 8 am in our “sub fusc” attire and everyone was tired from waking up early on a Saturday, we had a blast. (The ceremony itself started at 11:50 am and was over quite quickly, but we had lots of photos and other activities at St Cross before walking over to the Exam Schools where Matriculation was held. I think that the Sheldonian Theatre is under renovation, which is why the ceremony was not held there.) For women, sub fusc attire consists of: dark skirt or trousers, white blouse (or shirt with collar), black tie, or ribbon, black stockings and shoes and (if desired) a dark coat. For men, sub fusc is: dark suit and socks, black shoes, plain white shirt and collar, and white bow tie. We wear sub fusc for events like matriculation as well as exams. That’s right — no more sweatpants and flip flops! The most hysterical part of the day was watching all of the tourists watch and photograph us walking over to the Exam Schools. It was as if they were expecting us to pick up a wand and start doing spells like in Harry Potter. We celebrated matriculation that night with a bop in the college bar.
Speaking of St Cross events, I can't emphasize enough how fortunate I feel to be here. There is a huge backlog for Degree Days (graduation ceremonies) at Oxford, and the first open slots are in July 2012. To accommodate students whose degrees will be complete in June 2011, St Cross is holding its own degree ceremony in July 2011, for students and their families, which got rave reviews when last held in September. I'm so happy to be able to have a ceremony while I'm here this year rather than to wait an entire extra year — and to have it in the intimate and familiar setting of my own college. On another note, my room at the main site of St Cross is great and has a magnificent view of the quad. (Folks who live elsewhere are jealous of the view!)
There really is a wealth of academic/social/extracurricular pursuits to experience here, and I feel really spoiled by everything that is on my plate. I've resolved to savor the many aspects of life here in addition to the academics. (Of course, I'll make sure to still do my reading and write my papers.) Speaking of which, I'm headed off to Copenhagen this weekend to visit two friends of mine from my campus job Georgetown who are doing their semesters abroad right now. It'll be fun to play Georgetown undergraduate and catch up with some of my favorite Hoyas.
I can't thank you and Georgetown enough and for helping to make possible for me what I know will be an incredible year at Oxford. It is a remarkable place to be a student and continue the studies I began on the Hilltop.
I'd love to hear what you have been up to at Georgetown, so please send updates my way too!
All the best,
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Click above to view Chris Griffin's speech
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