When I saw that my law school offered a program to study during the summer in Oxford, England, I was determined to take advantage of that opportunity. I was fortunate to be attending the University of Oklahoma on a needs-based scholarship, but I was willing to borrow money for my first trip abroad.
Despite being jet-lagged upon my July 4, 1983, arrival in Oxford, my senses were invigorated by the carnival-like atmosphere of all the food vendors lining the street. I wondered whether England might be celebrating American Independence Day, which didn’t make a lot of sense, but I would later find out that the food vendors were there every day.
As I walked by one particular seller, he called out to me, “Would you like some Fish’n’chips, Mum?” I was happy to hear him speak in what seemed to me to be a thick, English accent, but I shook my head to indicate no. I was even happier when the vendor responded, “All right then, cheerio.”
Wow! I was in England, and someone had actually used the word “cheerio!” That was the standard word we always used at home when we were imitating British accents. I loved hearing the traditional English word.
Although the vendors were not celebrating anything having to do with the United States, the cooks at Queen’s College (where my colleagues and I were staying) had gone out of their way to provide what they viewed as a proper American dinner in honor of our Fourth of July arrival. Our cafeteria was a vacuous room lined with long, wooden tables and armless, mahogany dining chairs. The windows were covered with thick, velvet drapes pulled together with gold cords. Unlike the buffet style of most American college cafeterias, this dining experience, to be replicated every morning and every night during our stay, came with actual servers. The luxury of it all made us feel like royalty!
The main portion of my first meal in Oxford consisted of a British interpretation of an American hamburger. The burger was sandwiched between two huge sourdough pieces of bread and stood at least half a foot tall. We all laughed as we smashed down the “burger” as much as possible to even form our mouths around it. We saw the servers laughing, too. Perhaps this imitative cuisine was a sly joke on the Americans, a subtle revenge for our successful rebellion so many years ago.
On a raised platform in the area, certain people dined at what was known as “High Table.” Dining at High Table was by invitation only, where several law students would have the privilege of engaging in casual conversation with luminaries from the Oxford world of academia. The program was arranged where each student was invited once to join the High Table.
Academia is quite a different affair in Oxford than in the United States. I was impressed daily as I saw the students walking through town to go “sit for their exams,” as the British expressed it. Such a student did not simply show up in jeans; full regalia was required. This regalia included a gown (such as those worn at graduations in the United States) and caps or hoods.
The summer I visited Oxford was the hottest summer on record there in the past 100 years. Having been told to pack for “sweater weather,” I had to shop for lighter fare. I loved the way the store clerks substituted the word “lovely” for “thank you.” That always made me feel quite lovely, thank you very much.
Oxford is not set up with air conditioning, but one unforeseen benefit of the sweltering heat was that my International Law Professor usually dismissed class early due to the temperature. I was fortunate to be able to long spend weekends exploring parks, art museums, and London.
In London, I visited the crown jewels, and though we tourists were jostled past the display at a rapid clip, the pomp and circumstance related to all the jewelry was undeniable. I also toured Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, and marveled at the posh surroundings. In Oxford, I was able to peek into the room of the famous theologian, John Wesley, at Lincoln College.
What I learned from that journey cannot be measured in dollar amounts. I never regretted the money I borrowed to take the trip. In fact, every month after graduation when my student loan bill came due, I was happily reminded of the time I spent in Oxford, England. Even more than thirty years later, my memory of the wonderful summer there still shines as brightly as the Crown Jewels.
About the Author: Lisbeth L. McCarty is a practicing attorney who specializes in criminal appeals. She also enjoys free-lance writing.
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