The closing gala dinner never fails to move me. I’ll be smiling away as I eat my food, thinking to myself how glad I am that everyone survived, that I didn’t have to call any parents with the news their child had been arrested, that no one got run over for failing to “Look Left” when they should have looked right … and then I’ll look down the long wooden table at their happy faces, eyes sparkling in the candlelight, everyone alive with conversation, and it always brings tears to my eyes.
No matter how you slice it, Oxford is a life-altering experience. Each year that I come, I am changed. At the very minimum, it serves as a type of “reset” button in my life that reminds me that the way I look at the world 11 months out of the year is not necessarily the “right” way of viewing it or the only way of viewing it.
When I first arrive in England, I’m always astonished at the cultural diversity. It’s a bit intimidating initially, perhaps because of fear of the unknown, fear of causing offense to people with whose culture I may be unfamiliar. But walking down Cornmarket Street yesterday, weaving through a dense crowd of people from “every tongue, tribe and nation” it felt simply astonishing to be a part of this amazing and diverse tapestry — a little white Frenglish-speaking dot in a sea of colorful people.
So why should I be surprised that such a life-altering experience brings out the best and sometimes the worst in each of us? It’s difficult to be faced with experiences that challenge us to the core of our being, to have a mirror raised in front of our faces and to see ourselves as others see us, to see our blemishes as well as our “beauty marks.” Even things like the fact that the hot and cold water come out of two separate faucets can be a seemingly insurmountable challenge to someone in the habit of having only one. But that’s when creativity can kick in! That’s when you realize that just because you’ve been doing something one way all your life doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do it.
I feel extremely blessed to be here and I’m so thankful to everyone who made this trip possible (now I feel like I’m giving an acceptance speech!). I’m thankful for each one of the students who decided that this was the year they were going to Oxford, and I’m thankful for each of their individual personalities that helped make the group dynamic and interesting. Thankful, too, to the RAs — Dan and Gabi — who worked so hard and so diligently to make sure that everything went smoothly and that there was no shortage of fun or educational activities for our spare time.
And now the time has come to say goodbye to Regent in Oxford. We woke up to a cold, steady rain this morning and the mood was rather gloomy as we said goodbye, put people in taxis, then Gabi, Dan and I went around to each room picking up ethernet cords, keys, and taking down name tags from the doors. I went back to my room, feeling rather melancholy, and took a 2-hour nap (none of us have been getting much sleep!). When I woke up, the rain had passed and the sun was shining brightly again. Though it’s sad to have to say goodbye, we all have lives “back home” to lead. But now we have these rich memories to go back to in our day-dreams.