I arrived at the school this morning about a half hour before I was supposed to meet with the Principal. He invites each individual student to his office before the start of a new term. To meet. To say “hi.” And to wish them the best with their studies.

Usually a meeting with the principal is not a good thing, but I was so impressed when I heard he makes time to meet with each student. I thought that said a lot about him. Which is funny, because this is the same guy who has a painting of himself hanging on the wall over the head table in the dining hall. I’m not sure if he has a say in it or not, probably not, actually, as there are many other portraits on the walls, most likely including past principals, but I’m not sure I could do that. Eat with a picture of myself hanging over my head, I mean. I’d probably asked that it be turned to face the wall while I ate.

Since my meeting wasn’t until 10:55 in the morning, I had planned on being about an hour and a half early  to study, but I’m quickly finding I need to give myself more time in my planning for the day. Something always comes up. Everything always takes longer than expected here.

The Canlis of colleges

I’ve said this before, but the people of Oxford University really are amazingly kind. Particularly those at Harris Manchester College.

I arrived at the school this morning and made my way through the college halls en route to the bathroom to dry off my sweaty forehead (which has become the norm anytime I arrive anywhere in Oxford, it seems, from all the walking), and I was stopped by Leslie (the Senior tutor).

“Rrrryan?” she said with a hint of question in her voice, pointing at me with her index finger and a look of hopefulness on her face.

“Yes,” I said with a smile. “And. . .Leslie?”

“Yes,” she smiled.

“Good. Good.”

I climbed the stairs to the library to get a bit of studying done before my meeting, and I was approached by the Assistant Librarian, Katrina, who acknowledged me by name and wished me a good morning. Just a few minutes into my studies, the Head Librarian, Sue, wandered through the aisles with a smile on her face.

“Good morning, Ryan,” she said with a smile and a hushed voice as she passed by my desk.

This place really is amazing in the way they make you feel at home. It’s incredible, really, that the faculty know my name after less than a week. Harris Manchester College is the Canlis of colleges.

Meeting the Principal

At about quarter till 11, I made my way out of the library and toward the Principal’s office for our meeting. I was walking out of the library like it was no big deal when my eyes caught sight of the stained glass windows at the east end of the open room and I was shaken back to the beauty of this room. But it’s everywhere, that’s the thing. It’s not one room, one hall or one building, it’s all over. It’s almost too much to take in.

After arriving early and waiting for the meeting before mine to wrap up, Professor Waller opened his office door and welcomed me in. It was a beautiful office. Not huge, by any means, but it had large windows that overlooked the college’s courtyard. Green gardens and trees and stone buildings provided a beautiful backdrop for our meeting as the late morning sun shone through the windows.

He is obviously a very bright guy. Quickly, but still very warmly spoken. Immediately he made me feel welcome and at ease.

He began by asking how my transition was going (something each of the faculty who meet me seem to be genuinely interested in).

“Well it really is a dream come true to be here,” I told him. “But it has been a bit overwhelming. It’s a lot to adjust to. More than I thought it would be.”

“Yes, I believe it’s a bit like putting on a damp swim suit,” he said. “It’s uncomfortable at first, but you won’t even notice once you hop in and get going.”

He asked where we were living, encouraged me to bring Jen by after she arrives for a meal or two and to meet everyone. Then he told me he had two things he wanted me to know.

“First, we are very excited to have you here.” He spoke with the most sincerity, that even though this seemed like something that might be expected to be said by a college Principal such as himself, if he didn’t mean it, he had me fooled.

“We really do think you’re going to do great here, and that you’re going to have a great time,” he continued.

“Secondly, I want you to know that you can always come speak to me. If ever there is anything you’d like to discuss, please just let me know. And, of course, we will undoubtedly run into each other around campus.”

He wrapped up the meeting with a beaming smile and more warm wishes before sending me on my way. Leaving the sunlit room, I felt like I was walking out of a little room of happiness. Incredible guy.

Meetings, meetings, meetings

My days this week have been filled with a lot of meetings. Introductions to how to use the many different libraries. Meeting our professors. Meeting Theology faculty throughout the university. Meetings. Meetings. Meetings. Papers. Papers. Papers. And, after each meeting, you wonder how much of the fine print is really necessary, and how many important things you’re going to miss if you don’t read it all.

Following lunch at Harris Manchester I had a meeting with the rest of the Theology students at the university, as opposed to just our college. It was in a new, modern building, which oddly felt like home, after being in buildings that were built centuries ago.

I met another “Tim” after the meeting. (I promise I’m not just repeating names to make it easy on everyone). He’s a really nice, British guy who is preparing for ordination. After hearing where I was from, he mentioned that his parents loved vacationing in the Pacific Northwest.

“They just got back from… Mt. Rainier, is it?”

He said he and his wife often listen to a pastor from Seattle.

“Mark Driscoll?” I asked, before he could finish his sentence.

“Yeah,” he said with a grin. We shared a lot of the same interests in different speakers and teachers. It was refreshing to find someone so far from home who enjoyed many of the same teachers I enjoyed from back home. He gave me some tips on ways to get plugged in at the school, and suggested some things to check out, after hearing about my interest in CS Lewis.

“You can still visit his office over in Magdalene College, you know.” He said. “And you can take the bus ride up the mountain from his famous conversion, where he said he began a non-believer, but by the time he was on the mountain, he was whole-heartedly a believer in Christ.”

An American voice

After wrapping up my final meeting of the day, I made my way to the Lower Radcliffe Camera. It’s a beautiful, rounded building that’s part of the Bodleian Library.

It’s where much of the Theology books are kept, and so it’s a great place for me to catch up on reading for class. It’s also one of the parts of the library that only students can enter. You show your Bodleian Library Card and your bags are checked upon entering. You’re greeted by a sign that makes sure you know pictures are not to be taken, and you enter through two large wooden doors.

The ceiling is a beautiful arching ceiling of stone. Books line the walls of the library, while stone columns climb into the ceiling. It’s dimly lit, kind of like a casino, so you never actually know what time of the day it is while you’re there. Probably for the best. Long wooden tables are kept in each aisle, with lamps peering over each student catching up on their reading.

There’s a reserve section in this part of the library that keeps some of the more rare books. It’s also where the staff are seated. I asked about getting some help with some copies before leaving and about halfway through the conversation I stopped mid-sentence and said, “Wait, you’re American! I’m Ryan, and I’m from Seattle!” (Seattle = Bellingham when you’re in England, by the way)

“Lisa, Kentucky,” she said with a smile.

It’s funny, I actually noticed something didn’t feel quite right about the conversation until I realized it was her lack of a British accent.

Oxford is such a diverse place, though. I hear more languages spoken in a day than I’ve probably heard most of my life before arriving here. People literally come from all parts of the world.

Cornish Pasties

The reason I was late arriving to Harris Manchester this morning was because I was looking for an office supply store I had been to a few days before. To pickup flash cards. But I had a heck of a time finding it again. When I finally did, I was met with a bit of a language barrier.

“Hi, where are your flash cards?”

“Postcards?” the employee asked, pointing to a wall obviously lacking flash cards.

“No. Uhh… how about index cards?” I asked, trying to think of some other word they might be called. Maybe punters. Seems like everything is called a punter over here.

On my way to Harris Manchester for my meeting, I passed a place advertising something called “Cornish Pasties.”

“Sounds awful,” I thought to myself. But, a woman was grabbing one for breakfast. So apparently someone must like them.

Somehow the idea of a cornish pasty had become engrained in my head, because when I left the library this evening, all I could think about was grabbing a cornish pasty for dinner. It was after 7 at this point, and I knew I had much more studying to do once I got home. This would save me some time, I thought to myself.

After a bit of wandering, I found the cornish pasty stand. Only to find it closed. My cornish pasty introduction will have to wait for another day, it seems.

On my way out of the city, I passed a woman with a pipe. The curved kind, that slopes to the grown before curving back up to allow smoke to rise to the sky. Walking passed her, it smelled wonderful. It smelled like my grandfather, and for a brief moment, I almost felt like I was back in his living room, as a child.

Coming up for air

I stopped by the market to pickup something to prepare in lieu of cornish pasties for dinner. My second trip was much smoother than the first.

Walking home along the cobblestone road leading out of Oxford Center, groceries in hand, I found myself thinking, “I might actually pull this off. This might actually work out.”

And it was a relief. Like I had just come up for air after holding my breath all week.