August 21, 2019

Audrey Erker – Oxford Global Immersion Blog

Audrey Erker – Oxford Global Immersion Blog
Audrey Erker, a junior business administration major from Omaha, Nebraska, studies abroad in the Nebraska at Oxford program in England from July 21 to August 17.
Audrey Erker, a business administration major from Omaha, Nebraska, who will be a junior this fall, studies abroad in the Nebraska at Oxford program July 21-August 17. She chose the business abroad program because she loves its history, a 31-year collaboration between Nebraska and Jesus College at the University of Oxford. Audrey looks forward to meeting other people who are challenging themselves to explore a new culture together. Before the program begins, she plans to visit her host sister in France from when she studied abroad in high school. Follow Audrey and her journey on Instagram @audreyerker.

A Trip to Remember - August 18, 2019
 
I don’t know which photographs better: Buckingham Palace or this group of people.
I don’t know which photograph is better: Buckingham Palace or this group of people.
It feels bittersweet writing this post from Omaha and not Oxford. Yesterday I began my long trek home, and I had a lot of time to think about my trip.
 
My last week at Oxford made me feel like an actual student there; this was primarily due to finals at the end of the week. I lived and breathed economics for three full days as I prepared for the end of the week. Thankfully, everyone else was in the same boat as I was, and we worked through the past few weeks of material while taking ample study breaks to walk to Ben’s Cookies. Between the endless economics memes, board games in the pub, late-night trips to Tesco, and extremely off-topic conversations, the week was easily my favorite finals week. Though the finals were challenging, walking out of each one made me feel like a fully-fledged Oxford University scholar.
 
I don’t think the whole weight of the trip hit me until I was catching the bus on Saturday at 6:30 a.m. for the airport. As I sat there, trying not to cry as I left the place I called home for the past month, I thought about my experience throughout this program. It is easy to point out the big things during the trip: the sightseeingin London, traveling to Scotland, visiting far too many castles and palaces to list, and on and on. Though those things photograph well, they won’t be what I think of first when I think about my trip. Some of the best moments will be the ones that went undocumented. These are the moments that you just can’t describe for some reason, because — and I fully understand the cliché I am about to make here — you had to be there. It isn’t for lack of trying either; I poured many hours into writing this blog, trying to put into words all of my experiences, but felt unsuccessful. There’s no way to explain why the best way to end a day was watching “Lord of the Rings”/“Scooby-Doo”/“Chernobyl” with half-price sushi in a room full of people you feel like you have known for longer than a few weeks. I don’t know what brought us together so quickly. Maybe it was the consistently palatable breakfasts, enjoyable nights at Spoons, or getting in a sketchy white van for an interactive play. It would be misleading to say the past month was absolutely perfect. But even in the imperfect moments, we were usually laughing and making the best of the situation. I will be forever grateful for the trips to Hassans, long bus and plane conversations, and coffee runs between classes.
 
For a long time, I felt like I didn’t change much; I thought I was pretty much settled into my personality and lifestyle. Considering we talked about hysteresis about every other day in class, I couldn’t help but think about how it could apply to my life. Hysteresis means “path dependency,” or the tendency to follow the same patterns because that is what we are used to doing. Though I push myself to try new things, I usually have a backup plan, and I always have my friends and family around in case I struggle. As I alluded to in previous posts, this trip felt like a fresh start. Yes, I did know a few people on the trip beforehand, but I knew that if I was going to enjoy my time at Oxford, I would have to make more friends very quickly. Though I’ve never been one to shy away from meeting new people, this sort of experience still evokes some anxiety.
 
For anyone thinking about doing a similar experience, I can tell you not to worry, friendships will form naturally. Friends will push you to do things, to experience more, to make the most of your trip. They will be in all of your stories. They will be in all of your memories. They will be the reason your month was as close to perfect as it could be.

Shakespeare! Karaoke! Castles and Palaces! - August 12, 2019
 
Four Nebraska students on stage.
Four Nebraska students on stage during the performance of “As You Like It."
“I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.”

The eloquence of Shakespeare goes unmatched, and this quote from “As You Like It” is no exception. It felt remarkably applicable to our time in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace. On Thursday, we visited the town and watched the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performance of “As You Like It.” Before the performance, I went with a few people to visit Shakespeare’s childhood home. Though it closed just eight minutes before our arrival, we were able to look at the outside, which looked exactly as you would imagine. It was faded, but kept up, with flowers on either side, like a cottage from a storybook. We stopped and listened to a singer on the street before heading to the theater. The play was hilarious, and after so many tragedies, a comedy was a welcome relief. It even had some audience interaction where they picked four people from different parts of the theaterto come up on stage and hold signs. Astonishingly, all four people happened to be Nebraska students from different parts of the theater. They played their roles exceptionally well, and I am pretty sure now they can put “Shakespearan actor” on their résumés.
 
The next night was the night of the “beach bop.” Most people took a quick trip to the Primark store for a beachy outfit — some of my favorites included a rock, a life preserverand sand. We hooked up a karaoke machine and sang the night away. I ended up at the mic for “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and a very special edition of “Livin’ on a Prayer” with my cousin, Charles. I didn’t mention it before, but Charles and I had the good fortune to go on this trip together. Fortunately for us, we have a lot of experience singing when our families get together.
 
Saturday morning, I woke up bright and early to go to Windsor Castle. We took a train and “queued” (waited in line) for quite a while. Windsor is the oldest castle in the world, and the part-time home of the Queen — though we did not see her on our visit. The State Apartments are still functional, and though we only saw a glimpse of the estate, the rooms we walked through were breathtaking. My overactive imagination ran wild again with thoughts of all the events held there. I wanted to explore past the red ropes and see the rooms not open to visitors. I wondered if I could get away with saying I was lost and that I would never intentionally walk through a secret door. In the end, I decided not to end up in jail in England with one week left of my trip.
 
Next up was St. George’s Cathedral. All I could think about before the tour was how overrated I thought the most recent royal wedding was. While inside, however, I didn’t see it as a symbol of frivolous British ceremonies. I saw the history enshrined in the walls. I saw the meticulously carved stone and the tombs of remarkable leaders. It was impossible not to recognize the importance of the final resting places of the rulers I had learned about in history classes. After visiting the castle, it was about 2:30 p.m. and we had not eaten lunch. Luckily right next door there was a BBQ place that sounded perfect to a bunch of Nebraska students. I don’t know if it was the extreme hunger or if it was just that good, but I demolished my plate of ribs in a manner that would make my father proud.
 
To continue to skew my perspective of what my future house should look like, Sunday we visited Blenheim Palace where Winston Churchill was born. Fun fact: It is also the only palace that is non-royal in England. Some of the rooms in the palace have stayed the same since its earlier days, but what I found interesting was when the rooms shifted into a modern 19th-century style. This was due to renovations by Consuela Vanderbilt, heiress to the Vanderbilt railroad fortune, and her marriage the then-Duke of Marlborough. Also on the grounds were some incredible gardens and a path alongside a lake. After being stuck in cities for so long, the lakeside walk was a nice change of pace. Now I have to add a private lake and life-size painting of myself to my ever-growing list of “wants” for my future home. 

An American in England - August 6, 2019

Win or lose, I saw some horses, so that’s enough for me.
Win or lose, I saw some horses, so that’s enough for me.
WOW, last week was busy. On Thursday, we went to Sandown Park to watch a horse race. We got a crash-course on how to bet from Professor Horsewood and learned the favorites from Dr. Holmes. We dressed up in our most opulent attire and set out with high hopes. We spent the night watching the races with an amazing view from the finish line. It is one of the moments that you can never truly experience the same way in the United States. Sure we have the Kentucky Derby, but that feels very exclusive – less universally enjoyed. Adding a British accent to anything automatically gives it a sophisticated aura. I could feel myself becoming more cultured, more refined.

We went on a riverboat cruise on the Thames River the following Monday, a beautiful day. Everyone who bought hats for the horse races brought them out again, giving the full effect of our gradual evolution into our new faux-British personas. The only thing that gave us away was our music choice. (A sure-fire way to make your American identity known is an obnoxiously large group singing along to “Sweet Home Alabama.”) The most memorable parts of these excursions have less to do with the actual trip themselves, and more to do with the random conversations and inside jokes that come from them – it kind of feels like what I imagined summer camp to be like. You go somewhere fun during the summer, get super close to a bunch of people because of all the activities, then go home and try to explain it to your friends, who just can’t quite wrap their heads around it.

I feel like I should mention the various competitions also taking place throughout the program, like the annual Nebraska at Oxford chess tournament. Because I had not played chess since the second grade, and I forgot how to play, I did not sign up. However, I did take the opportunity to re-learn. I lost my first game and drew in the second, which is technically an upward trajectory. In the final match of the tournament, Justin Meyers gave a valiant effort, but Dr. Holmes claimed victory.

Another day, I felt more inclined to explore Oxford University than to embarrass myself in basketball, so we gathered a few people to explore the other colleges. We started at Christ’s Church, which has notable alumni such as Lewis Carroll, John Locke and 13 prime ministers of England. It is also one of the inspirations for the Great Hall in “Harry Potter.” Next, in New College, I felt immediately transported to Hogwarts. I walked through the hallways and saw the courtyard tree where Draco turned into a ferret. New College recently was featured in another movie: “Mamma Mia 2.” I slightly regretted not bringing my Halloween costume inspired by the movie, but being in the room where they filmed it was enough for me. I put my headphones in and listened to a few songs from the soundtrack before I continued. I enjoyed taking time to let the history of the building sink in. It was refreshing to feel the history around me instead of trying to make my own history. I tried to imagine how these buildings have been the center of learning for hundreds of years. It’s hard to fathom how many great thinkers walked through these halls. 

Scotland and Second Chances – August 4, 2019 

Visiting the Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. Don’t blink!
Visiting the Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. Don’t blink!

With no classes Friday, this weekend was the highly anticipated long weekend when we could travel around England or other countries. Before the trip, my parents and I decided I wouldn’t go anywhere else on my long weekend because of my trip to France before the program. As the weekend got closer, I struggled to let go of my opportunity to explore more of Europe while I had the chance. People were going everywhere from Barcelona to Amsterdam to Paris. Eventually, I talked to my parents and, much to my delight, I had a new destination for the long weekend: Scotland. 

I joined a group of about 12 people going to Edinburgh. After class Thursday, we took a bus to the airport and caught a plane to Edinburgh. After traveling by myself for so long, I felt relief traveling with a big group of people. We grabbed dinner at a terrace restaurant in the airport beforehand. The flight was a quick hour and relatively painless. At least until about 10 minutes before we landed when my ear wouldn’t pop. I’ll spare you the details, but my ear never did pop, from Thursday night through Sunday morning when we went home. Parts of this time were painful, and others were more of a mild inconvenience. (Writing this after my trip, I can tell you I am in better shape now.) This was a reminder that traveling will always have a setback or two. By myself, I probably would have spiraled into a crazed-hypochondriac state, but since I was with other people, I put on a brave face and didn’t let it get to me.

We started our trip Friday by walking to a cute little shop with some of the best bagels I’ve ever eaten. The cream cheese was so smooth, and the bagel was toasted to perfection. By a stroke of luck, we somehow went to Scotland at the best time imaginable: during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The Fringe has been called “the most famous celebration of the arts and entertainment in the world” and showcases thousands of artists over a month. We walked down the Royal Mile and saw guitarists, jugglers and bag-pipers in kilts.

Saturday morning most of the group climbed Arthur’s Seat  an extinct volcano in Edinburgh  but I stayed in bed and missed out on a fantastic sunrise. (I’ll get back to this.) I woke up at a reasonable hour with a few other people, and we climbed it mid-morning. MAN, was it a hike! The scene was worth it though; we had a 360-degree view of the city and could see everywhere we walked the previous day. After our hike, we went to Edinburgh Castle. As one of the many girls who grew up swearing they would live in a castle one day, this was one of the highlights of my trip.

Feeling like I had missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime sunrise opportunity that day, I decided I wasn’t going to miss a sunrise hike of Adam’s Seat. Lucky for me, it wasn’t “once in a lifetime,” but more like an “extended opportunity for people who made a mistake but are brave enough to admit it.” So, Sunday morning, I woke up at 4 a.m. with another person who also regretted missing the first sunrise, and we started our trek up the volcano. Climbing up the second time, I began to question my choice, but at the summit I felt justified. Between the rolling fog over the city, lone sailboat floating in the distance, and the intensely pink sunrise, I couldn’t decide which part was my favorite. The only thing I knew for sure was that my phone camera was insufficient to capture the beauty. A piece of advice to everyone reading this: Climb the mountain. Even if it’s hard and your legs hurt and it’s early, and you literally climbed it the day before. Find people who are ready for adventure and take a leap  you might not get a second chance like I did.


An Interview with My Professors – August 1, 2019

A typical class for the Nebraska students at Oxford University.
A typical class for the Nebraska students at Oxford University.

In a twist from my usual blog posts, I decided to interview two Jesus College professors, who teach the Nebraska students at Oxford University, to learn and share more about them. Below are some of the highlights of my conversation with Dr. Martin Holmes and Dr. Nicholas Horsewood. To read the full interview, go to my Facebook post

What do you believe is the most important topic you cover in class?

Horsewood said Brexit because of its importance in the world right now. He thinks it’s important to discuss ramifications for both the United Kingdom and the European Union as the conversation tends to focus solely on the UK.

Holmes believes that covering England in the 1970s is crucial because of how inflation wrecked the economy. The winter of discontent, which included the lights going out and garbage piling up in the streets, were just some of the short-term effects that students should pay attention to.

What’s your most embarrassing moment?

Horsewood got the name of a former dean wrong while visiting Nebraska, which would have gone unnoticed except his learned and distinguished colleague picked up on it.

Holmes was invited to a reception in the House of Commons and spilled wine all over the dress of the keynote speaker.

How do American students differ from English students?

Horsewood said in England, students tend to specialize in studies a bit earlier, so they know more background than American students. On the other hand, American students have a wider range of questions because of their breadth of studies. English students also write good essays but sometimes miss the point of their argument, where American students are exceptional about making their point clear.

Holmes tends to focus on the similarities, but he said he is “continually impressed at the ability of American students because of how they respond to the intellectual challenge of the course. Packing up your bags to go study in a different country and learn under a new education system can be daunting

Dr. Martin Holmes plays in the annual chess tournament.
Dr. Martin Holmes plays in the annual chess tournament.

What’s your favorite part about visiting Lincoln?

Horsewood likes going to reminisce with old friends and learn about what the students have done. He also enjoyed watching a Husker football game in the skybox with then-Chancellor Harvey Perlman.

Holmes replied “I have a favorite place in Lincoln – it’s called the Brass Rail.

What makes Nebraska at Oxford Program special?

Holmes said he looks forward to July every year because of the Nebraska at Oxford program. He loves interacting with the students and the impact it has on their lives. When else would they be able to live in a place built in the 16th Century? Horsewood agreed. He thinks it’s amazing that after 31 years of the program, many students who participated in the program still consider it the best time of their lives – ranked up there with their wedding day and the births of their children.

Other highlights of the interview included:

Holmes responding to any rumors students may have heard about him by saying “I only deal in knowledge, truth and wisdom.”

Horsewood claimed he has known Dr. Holmes “Since the dinosaurs roamed the earth.”

Holmes’ love of cats and his advice: “Every day is better if you stroke a cat.”
 

Then, the professors turned the tables and asked me a question: “Were your expectations met on the trip?”

I tried to come into this trip with few expectations, but the thing that I thought about most was how long it would take to feel comfortable on a trip with more than 50 students. I felt comfortable almost immediately. The excursions really helped us get to know each other better and by the end of the first week, I was spending a night in London with eight people. By the end of the second week, I took an impromptu trip to Scotland with 12 others. All this goes to say that the program is carefully planned for the students to make the most out of their time. Every person involved is as excited about the trip as its participants. 

Small Things - July 29, 2019

Audrey and friends enjoy punting down the river.
Audrey and friends enjoy punting down the river.
Though there are many big differences between my life in Nebraska and my life here in Oxford, the small differences are what stand out most to me. They’re the things you take for granted.

Last Thursday was the second hottest day in Great Britain in its history, topping off at around 101 degrees Fahrenheit. It is easy to scoff at this coming from Nebraska, where we reach temperatures over 100 regularly in the summer, but there is one thing I didn’t count on: no air conditioning. As a result, I ended up taking a lot of cold showers and holding frozen bottles of water to my head. It was a very enlightening experience, realizing how a seemingly small inconvenience was more tragic for me than the Shakespearan plays we watched. Don’t worry about me though, the heat wave has passed, and we see comfortable high 60s to 70-degree temperatures for the foreseeable future.

Another small inconvenience is more self-imposed. Coming to the U.K., my parents and I decided I would not use a data plan on my phone, and instead would only use Wi-Fi. As much as I hate to say it, I depend on my phone for many things in my life. Though many reasons to use my phone are practical, I most often use my phone when I am bored. I think it is practically impossible to find anyone in their early 20s who can say they’ve never pulled their phone out during an awkward silence. Somehow, everyone has the same habit of pulling their phones out; it’s essentially a security blanket. I often try to unplug in America, but find the “fear of missing out” always pulls me back in. Here, it is much easier to put my phone away because I can’t text people or go to social media or look things up. To my parents reading this: No, I am not complaining about not having data. It is possible to live without it and, if anything, it’s making me more present on my trip because of it.

There are positive differences as well. It’s hard for me to fathom that in England you can probably travel anywhere in the country faster than crossing some states in America. This past weekend, we took a trip to London to see the Broadway version of “The Lion King,” which was unbelievable. The rest of the weekend, I was singing “The Circle of Life” under my breath everywhere we went. We went to the Shard, a tall tower in the middle of London with breathtaking views of the whole city. The next day, we went to Buckingham Palace. As someone who drives around Omaha and Lincoln to look at “big” houses, this was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I had to tell myself repeatedly: “No, Audrey. You cannot try to sneak into that secret passageway behind the mirror. They will 100 percent find you and will not be happy.” Luckily, I have a vivid imagination and could pretend I was walking down the ornate staircases in a gown like I was in “The Princess Diaries.” 

One of the best parts of the trip so far has been how easy it is to make friends here. I always love seeing how trips like this can put together interesting people, who in other circumstances might never talk, but because of a shared experience become good friends. This was one of the main reasons I wanted to come, and I have not been disappointed. Though I knew a handful of people before the trip started, it felt like the fresh start I never had in college. Staying in-state for college, many of my close friends did the same, and I always felt like I had a safety net. Though I would not want to change my time in college so far, I wondered what would have happened if I had moved far away from my friends. If this trip is any indication, I wouldn’t have had a problem. 

Nebraska Nice does not stop once you leave Nebraska. 

The Beginnings of My European Vacation - July 24, 2019
 
The first of three visits to the Eiffel Tower.
The first of three visits to the Eiffel Tower.
On July 16, I landed in France. My excitement and inability to sleep while traveling meant that I would be navigating on about one hour of sleep, but it didn’t feel like that. I was thrilled to meet my friend Margaux, and we chatted all the way home from the airport, catching up on the past three years. I stayed with her family for three weeks after my junior year of high school, and we grew very close. A lot has changed for both of us, but we picked up right where we let off. We enjoyed a packed week full of sightseeing in Paris and revisiting my favorite spots. One of my favorite parts was visiting the Eiffel Tower three times, including one visit to see the tower glimmering in thousands of lights, and my brief dip in the Trocadero Fountains. My trip to France felt like it was over before it began and after just four days, I had to say “au revoir” again.

My trip to Jesus College in Oxford was a breeze from there. One flight, bus ride, and a short walk later, I arrived. Our program coordinator and student staff greeted me immediately and showed me to my room — with a view that makes me feel like a princess. We had a short orientation and were ready to start the week. 
 
Every day we have two classes in the morning, Political Economy and International Economy. Our professors’ approach to teaching reminds me of some of my favorite teachers who engage the class through stories and inspire questions even at 9 a.m. We have already heard many stories about each professor from their counterpart, but somehow they always manage to tie it into the lecture. 

Though we’ve only been here about three days, we keep busy. We learned how to play “Rounders,” a game described as similar to baseball but with fewer rules. Their bases are a little different; you can only score points when you are the one hitting (and you can get half points); and regardless if you hit the ball, you have to run to first base on your one pitch. We also went to an interactive play for Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” It was unlike anything I had ever done. They set it up like a we were on a cruise ship wrecked on an island, like one of the characters in the play. We walked around to different locations and tried to figure out the murder plot with instructions from the actors. Yesterday I went punting, and no, that does not mean I was playing football. It is essentially the equivalent of a Venetian gondola ride. It was quite relaxing, and I applaud the brave few in my group who decided to try pushing us along the river.
 
Then today, I just returned from a walking tour of Oxford, led by our tour guide, Jo. We learned more about some of the different colleges and the history behind them. Jo also pointed out many spots that inspired famous authors like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien to write about “Alice in Wonderland” or the fortified castles of Middle-Earth. Most exciting to me was seeing the halls and libraries featured in “Harry Potter.” I’ve been surrounded by the world of Harry Potter for most of my life and being able to see some of the places that inspired the film was indescribable. 

I enjoy having all these events planned for us. There are many I wouldn’t have thought to do on my own, but I enjoyed. Pretty much all of the activities are optional, so if you want to take the night off and go somewhere without the group, it’s not a problem. So far, I am excited about the variety of outings we have. I have not missed one yet, and knowing my structure-oriented self, I probably won’t. I look forward to exploring the city more and I can’t wait to see what other opportunities pop up. 
 
Wanderlust – July 1, 2019
 
Wanderlust
Noun. “A strong, innate desire to rove or travel about.”
 
Yes, this is an actual word according to dictionary.com. I am not sure when I learned this word many years ago, but when I heard it, something clicked. It was magical, somehow it captured how I felt and even sounded amazing. Since I was young, I always wanted my head in the clouds. Most find this saying to be negative, believing it has impractical connotations, but to me it signifies dreaming big and being optimistic instead of limiting myself. I loved flying, regardless of where I was going. Aside from the nagging from my parents and the craziness of most airports, I always found a sense of calm once we took off through the sky. Looking through the window as we break through the clouds, my mind begins to wander, thinking about all the adventures I will have once we land.

Audrey Erker packs for her trip, recalling American Girl by Tom Petty: She couldn’t help thinking that there was a little more to life somewhere else. After all it was a great big world with lots of places to run to.
Audrey Erker packs for her trip, recalling American Girl by Tom Petty: “She couldn’t help thinking that there was a little more to life somewhere else. After all it was a great big world with lots of places to run to.”
Unsurprisingly, this feeling has stuck with me, but as I gained more control over my life, I had fewer reasons to ignore it. No longer could I unfairly put all the blame on my parents for not planning a super fun trip to some exotic destination. I could make the choice to go anywhere in the world, the only one stopping me was me.
 
My study abroad journey actually started many, many months ago, all the way back in October 2018 when I finally decided to start my application for the program. I had procrastinated this moment for months, not putting much thought into it. I knew I wanted to study abroad and thought that Oxford's program was perfect, yet I couldn't pull the trigger, subconsciously something was holding me back. Reflecting back now, I think I held off completing my application for many reasons, but mostly because of the uncertainty that came with it. “Who would I know on my trip? How hard would the classes be? Would I even get accepted? How am I going to pay for that?” These were just some questions I had bouncing around in my head. 
 
A textbook over-thinker, I tend to get hung up on the details. One day I finally ignored my rational brain and began putting my head in the clouds again. I forgot about everything else and thought about flying. I thought about all the adventures I would have in England. I asked myself the only question that actually mattered: “Do I want to go to Oxford?” 
 
Yes. 
 
Then it was settled. While it can take forever to make up my mind, after I decide on something, good luck changing my mind. I finished my application, which was accepted. I ate sandwiches every day at work and saved my money to show my parents that I was dedicated to the trip. I bought a travel journal so I won’t forget one memory I make on the trip. I dug up my passport, featuring a photo that can only be described as my mugshot. I put all my travel dates in my calendar, which serendipitously shows a girl traveling to London in July. I started coming to terms that I cannot pack my entire closet and have been strategizing the best way to pack my suitcase. The Marie Kondo craze could not have come at a better time. 
 
With two weeks until I leave Omaha, and still a lot to do, I am making sure my head stays up in the clouds where it should be.

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