I am writing this post in front of my window, back home in California. The sky is blue and the trees remain green whilst I’m reflecting back on the gray skies and bare branches of Oxford when I left a couple of days ago. It’s a very strange feeling to be back at home, in a climate and setting so different from the environment I grew accustomed to just a while back. Sometimes I wonder if studying abroad was a dream, something I had concocted in my head that remains foggy, obscure, and so far away. I have a tendency to forget the immediate place I was in. It’s both convenient and terrifying how quickly an individual can adjust to their surroundings and circumstance. I remember when I first arrived in Oxford, it felt completely natural to be walking on High Street and into St Catherine’s college within a few hours. Within a few days, it was like I had lived there my entire life. But this is partially why I agreed to become a GEO blogger – so I can have the space and opportunity to truly reflect, to stir up the memories and write them down. That way, no matter how far away Oxford seems right now, revisiting this post and reliving the memories through this text can allow me to forever remember a place that is so special in my heart.
At the beginning of my study abroad journey, I was fascinated with the idea of bubbles and how mine will change throughout the term. I am still fascinated with bubbles but my perception has changed a bit. First, a note on my bubble: My bubble or worldview has greatly been enriched through the expansion of my senses, my connections with people, and memories from new experiences.
My sense of taste has been enriched by my first encounter with Indian spice, British pub food (Toad in a hole?!), and my now favorite drink – Pimms! I have enriched my sense of smell with the air of the British countryside after rain, the River Isis in the morning, and the smell of old books in the Bodleian Library. I’ve touched cobblestones older than countries and pages older than me. From the spires of High Street to the English houses in suburbia, my sense of sight always had something new to take in. From Christmas lights hung over every square to Leonardo da Vinci sketches, everyday brought a fresh kaleidoscope of colors and images. And my auditory senses have taken in the peals of morning bells and the way the British frame their speech. I’ve picked up the upward lilt the British use in each sentence and question and the delightful use of “lovely” and “quite”.
In addition to the enrichment of my senses, studying abroad has expanded my bubble by allowing me to connect to the bubbles of so many others. From tea times to late night karaoke sessions, I’ve made some incredible friends who allowed me to share my bubble as they shared theirs. Unlike Amherst, undergraduates and graduate students freely intermingle at Oxford. They often live in close accommodations in college and participate in the same societies and clubs. I’ve got to learn the life experiences from students my age to 28 year olds finishing up their academic degrees. And each person brings their own experiences and memories to the conversation. I’ve learned a lot about the Hong Kong education system and life in Spain. From my tutors, I’ve gained a wealth of knowledge from military strategy to Michaelangelo. Every conversation and tutorial allowed me to fill my brain with new thoughts and enrich my sense of the world with new opinions, memories, and information.
Finally, my bubble has been enriched by all the experiences of Oxford. Joining the rowing team allowed me to understand the rhythmic beauty and teamwork of rowing. From understanding terms such as bowside, stern, and bow pair and situating myself in the complex workings of the boat to learning and failing to back the boat in while being yelled at by the cox, I learned how to think on my feet and let my body fall naturally into the tempo of the boat. I’ve found that rowing is very similar to playing an instrument, where the tempo governs the boat. I’ve found myself listening to the beat of the oars – the clunk as they are turned in the oarlock and the synchronous slide up as we prepare to take the next stroke – as I follow in time. I’ve also enjoyed walking around the city, allowing me to take paths never taken before and connect the once separate parts of the city into a cohesive map. Through my long walks, I’ve realized that the city is much more circular than I thought. Turning into one street connects another and taking a small alleyway suddenly leads me to the central road. Gradually shaping a comprehensive map of the city with its winding streets, hidden alleyways, and walled off corners gave me great pleasure as I slowly got to connect the various parts of the university into a complete, visual picture.
At the end of this study abroad experience, my bubble has definitely grown. However, my perception and understanding of these bubbles has changed. Bubbles are not only meant to be grown, but cultivated and cherished. The original bubble before studying abroad is just as precious as my bubble now. As my tutor so aptly said on this topic, one should expand and go beyond their bubble, but always return home to it – because that’s where familiarity, friends, and loved ones reside. It’s a home and a nest to fly back to once you’ve flown out to explore the world. So I have flown out of this nest and this familiar bubble, but now I’m returning to it, to my family in California and my family at Amherst. At the beginning of this project, I always thought about flying out – expansion, expansion, expansion! But now that my wings are tired and my novelty satiated, I’ve realized just how important home and this bubble I’ve already built around myself is. Coming home and sharing memories with your loved ones – and appreciating this original bubble is just as important as expanding it.
The best part in the expansion of the bubble is that it does not result in the creation of another separate bubble, but rather a larger bubble, an added layer to your original one that coexists, another bubble within, enriching your memories and life. Pub food now coexists with Chinese dim sum, Pimms with Beijing yogurt. The smell of the River Isis in the morning mingles with the smell of Amherst at dusk. The rowing techniques learned in the St Catherines boat house can now be applied to the Amherst erg machine. My lessons in Go will be applied to the writing of my thesis and the Leonardo sketches compared with the sketches in the Mead. My bubble now is one of dual worlds that have come together to create a more beautiful and enriched world. I will always remember the spires and domes of Oxford. Now, it’s time to bring and relive those memories to the people I love in my original bubble back home and at Amherst.