Influences on Bubbles Abroad
It’s been a full two weeks since I stepped off the taxi into the grounds of St Catherine’s College here at Oxford University. The days from then until now have been a blur of meeting new people, figuring out the dining hall, and wandering the city of dreaming spires. I’ve made many new friends, bought Cherry Bakewell tea, and fangirled over the extensive libraries. And throughout it all, I have noticed certain patterns, subtly and unconsciously shaping our bubbles.
The first week here was a hectic craze of orientation activities and iterative cycles of “Where are you from?”, “What are you studying?”, “How do you like it here so far?” The quintessential freshers week, the beginning of every new program or experience always begins with showing your best self in hopes of making friends. In this first week, people open up their bubble much more. After all, we have to reestablish our bubble after having our old, familiar one broken in a new environment. And thus, you open up – allowing new people into your life, being more open about experiences, and trying new things. In the two weeks I’ve been here, I joined the rowing team for the first time, went to my first pub, and met people from all over the world. From 18 year old freshers beginning college for the first time, to 26 year old graduate students pursuing their academic thesis, I’ve had the pleasure to speak to people from all walks of life. And within those conversations, I learn bits of pieces of lives so different from mine. Yet in that moment, our lives intersect and we are able to connect our bubbles to learn about each other. The first week was certainly tiring. I would laughingly joke that it was my freshman orientation all over again. But, through it all, I refound the same energy and excitement I had when I first entered Amherst. The thirst to explore a new city, the opportunity to meet new people, and an openness to try new things was a heady mixture that left me both exhausted yet happy. I finally feel like my bubble, that has been lying fallow for two years, is growing and flourishing once again.
Additionally, I would like to note how Oxford University is structured and the curious way it interacts with our bubbles. Oxford University comprises of 39 separate colleges. The colleges are where you live, study, and dine. Many colleges have their own dormitories (or stairwells), dining hall, facilities, porter’s lodge (kind of like a package office, residential life office), and library. Each college also has their own motto and arms / colors. For example, my college is St Catherine’s, and we have our own bar, library, common room, etc. And there are many other colleges dotted around us and throughout the city of Oxford. And so in a way, there are many chances to expand your bubble since there are so many different colleges and backgrounds within the University. However, the separate colleges under Oxford can also greatly diminish your bubble. Many colleges are exclusive and do not allow outside visitors or students from other colleges, insulating their community from the rest of Oxford. Certain cultures bred in colleges also create a social divide. The colleges within the University create a very interesting dynamic that is vaguely reminiscent of fraternities and sororities, where students can identify with their college much more instead of Oxford University as a whole. Oxford’s structure is definitely something I will continue to observe and see how it either expands or diminishes (or both!) our bubbles.
Lastly, I’ve realized that bubbles don’t only expand when meeting new people. One is also fully able to grow their bubble through losing and finding themselves in new surroundings. I found that wandering around the city and finding bits and pieces of the architecture and scenery that astounds you, or resonates with you fills me with the same happiness as being with people. There’s something about being alone to reflect. Your senses are heightened, you become more observant, and you have the freedom to set yourself in whatever mood you would like. One of my goals this semester abroad is to really reflect on everything – what this place means to me, what I want to remember, how I have changed, how the city has changed, and how my life briefly intersects with Oxford for two months. Thus, I want to learn to spend more time with myself, wandering the streets, admiring the spires, reflecting, and slowly, quietly, expanding my bubble even more.