I haven’t begun to start to think about packing yet. Well, maybe I’ve thought about it. By the time you read this I will be in Oxford, England. And, for the first time, that thought has begun to scare me a bit.
I’m not even entirely sure what or how to pack. It’s one thing to stuff all of my belongings into a car and drive from Long Island to Williamstown, secure in the knowledge that I have just about everything I own and if I forgot anything, it’s only a three and a half hour drive, or a quick package delivery away. It’s another thing to be travelling across the Atlantic Ocean, to another country, with a few suitcases and hope that I didn’t forget anything. It probably would have been a good idea to ship some stuff early. In fact, it was recommended. I did not do that, though. Maybe the first year students can best relate to my situation. Going to Williams for the first time can be a pretty intimidating experience, as I remember. Getting used to living in a dorm, being away from home, taking college classes, being awake at 3 am and asleep at 8 am, takes some time.
The vast majority of first years were at least somewhat familiar with Williams before they came in late August. Just about everyone visits before deciding on Williams, and in so doing, gets a sense of the people,of the campus, of the town and maybe even a sense of what their dorm will be like. While I know the other Williams people who are going on the Williams-Oxford program, that’s about it. What do I know about the town of Oxford, exchange rates, English slang, Manchester United, the Chemical Brothers? Not much, I’m afraid. I know I should have followed Tony Blair’s tenure more closely. And while the thought that I will learn about all these things is exciting, it’s also a little scary.
Even day-to-day life will be completely different from life at Williams. For starters, instead of 2,000 Williams students spread out over an entire campus, there are 27 of us living in three houses. We don’t have a meal plan per se: we get two catered meals per week and each once a week in Hall at Exeter College. The rest of the time we cook for ourselves. No Carla in Baxter, no Snack Bar points. I have grown accustomed to class meetings two to three times a week, handing in papers or problem sets, etc. Now, I’ll have to get accustomed to the tutorial system, where I will write a 10 page paper per week and discuss it with my tutor for an hour. This all translates into having much more unstructured time than I’ve ever had before.
I’m thankful to Williams for providing the 27 of us with a good bit of information. We got a little booklet with some tips, were introduced to Williams-Oxford alumni, and even got a letter from the Program’s director, Professor Bloxam over the summer. All of these things have helped to set my mind at ease but, when it comes down to it, even with all that information, there are still so many things I do not know about.
Only lately have I given any thought to the very real physical separation being in England brings. There is the six-hour time difference for starters. At Williams, communicating with my family and friends was never that big of a deal. Three was the phone, regular mail, and email — all of which were very easy to use, and for the most part, relatively inexpensive. Email is free, regular mail is the price of a stamp, even the Williams phone service isn’t all that expensive, and you can usually carry a bill over a couple of months. In England, though, the scenario is a bit different. The Program is furnishing us all with cellular phones, and there is one phone per building, but this makes calling the US a somewhat tricky, and certainly expensive, enterprise. With regular mail, there is international airmail postage. Of course, there is email, but the time difference throws things off a bit when trying to figure out when the email will get read. As I said goodbye to three friends recently, I realized it would be the last time I would see their faces or hear their voices until I come home in December. From January until July, I won’t be home at all.
This anxiety is natural, I think. The long summer I’ve enjoyed from June through September has very rapidly come to a close. When you read this, not only will have I thought about packing, I will have done it and gone to England. In the year ahead, I’ll keep you posted on how everything goes.