The quote I'm using to title this post is shamelessly stolen from fellow student Jesus Avina. It's what he said when asked how Oxford was. I have to say, I quite agree with him.
Academically, my semester in Oxford was the most challenging and difficult thing I've ever faced. I'm still not sure how I got through it. At one point, I was putting forty five hours a week into my academic work, and was still struggling. Talk about an overload. I think i burned out about halfway through.
But then, something awesome happened. Oxford happened.
Halfway through the semester was when I got fed up with trying so hard and feeling like I was failing. I could do better than I was. I knew that. But there was this wall in the way, and I couldn't seem to climb over it, and plowing through it had proved to be even less effective.
So I took a day off.
One of my new friends who lives in Oxford is named Hannah. She's amazing. We met at the first Go Society meeting, and immediately hit it off. Then we met again the following night at the character generation meeting for the RPG Society. Yes, we're colossal dorks. We revel in it.
Anyway, I spent the morning of this particular day sleeping in, eating a proper breakfast, and practicing some songs on my recorder. Then I met Hannah near her college, where the pavement (that's what they call the sidewalk in England!) dips down beneath the level of the road, and there's this wall with tiny adorable doors. From there, we walked up the street to my favorite cafe in all of Oxford: Zappi's.
Zappi's is the tiniest cafe I found there. The absolute tiniest. There's a table you can fit five around, and three stools at the windowsill. And it has the only pizza I've ever actually liked. Delicious stuff, and cheap, too. That's where Hannah and I went for lunch and planning.
I hauled out my map of Oxford, and we marked a bunch of places on it: all second-hand and charity shops that we were going to take a look at so Hannah could find some role playing kit. We'd both been feeling out of place because almost everyone else had costumes for their characters, but neither of us did. I didn't want anything, since I'd have to find a way to shove it in my suitcase to come back to the US, but I'd offered to go looking with Hannah.
After lunch, we spontaneously started costume hunting. There were a ton of cute little shops nearby, and we searched through all of them, trying on jackets, hats, laughing at some of the strange treasures we found but could not afford. Then we walked into Uncle Sam's. There was a hat in there that Hannah picked up and plopped on my head. Then she gasped and shoved me in front of a mirror, saying, "Sara, you have to get that hat. That is Caleyll's hat." (Caleyll is the name of the character I play, if you were wondering.) That hat looks something like this:
Hannah was right, of course. This is an explorer's hat. She even haggled the price down from eight quid to six, and only made me pay her back five. We never found anything for her, but we then spent the rest of the evening standing on a street corner talking about everything we could think of.
Then I wandered home, and got chips from my favorite kebab van on the way. There's something magic about British chips. They are not french fries. They are better. I munched on them happily, played some Minecraft, then got a good night's sleep.
That was the first time I decided to have some fun instead of trying even harder on my academics. Hanging out with my new Oxford friends became more frequent. And guess what happened! My academic work got better in the process! Did you know it's possible to try too hard to be a good student? Yeah, I hadn't known it either.
Instead of trying to go over or through the wall I'd hit, I went around it. I took detours to museums, to pubs, through windy alleyways and over bridges, down footpaths by the canal, acquired a bike and rode it everywhere, and even organized a pancake party in which I was thoroughly educated on the topic of British pancakes.
It was fun. Really, fantastically, wonderfully fun. I stopped being frustrated with myself, learned the value of occasionally shirking responsibility in order to unwind, and all around had a blast. I think I grew up some. Maybe a lot. Which is good, because that's why I wanted to go to Oxford in the first place.
So yes, Oxford was kinda like boot camp. Yes, I got my butt kicked big time. But it was worth it. Every moment, totally worth it. I've come back with a better sense of me, of my capabilities, and what I want to do with my life. Sort of. I know what I don't want to do, at least, and that might just count for more than knowing what I do want to do.
It was an experience I wouldn't trade for anything. As I told my family, I went to Hogwarts, and I came back a wizard. A very happy, much more confident, and much less anxious wizard, ready to face the future and see what adventures it holds. And you know I'm going back to Oxford one day. I've got some amazing friends there, who offered to marry me, adopt me, or kidnap me and hide me in the crawl-space under their stairs so I didn't have to leave them.