Rowing On and Off

1 May

For almost the entirety of Hilary term the Regent’s rowing teams have been gearing up for the Torpids Regatta, a university-wide competition taking place in the latter half of 7th week.  Due to the shortage of time and of space on the river, placements in this year’s Torpids are determined by last year’s rowing results.  Those who did well last year (aka. Regent’s men’s crew) are guaranteed a spot in the regatta, but those who were not on that level (aka. the Regent’s women’s crew) had to compete in a preliminary race to qualify for a spot in Torpids.

This preliminary qualifying event, known as Rowing On, occurred on the Friday of 6th week, after we had only had 2 (just TWO!!) outings going at full or what we call ‘race’ speed.  At this point I had barely learned how to feather my blades and had just begun to keep up with the other seven crew members.

Let me remind you that the other seven girls had the benefit of rowing for an entire term already: beginning with basic instruction then gradually honing their technique and increasing their speed as a team over the course of 8 weeks prior.   I had not. I had been squeezed into the line-up come January, after Regent’s crews had already logged hours of practice and one regatta.  In fact, I wouldn’t have even been able to join the team had not my expressed interest luckily coincided with a team member dropping out of the team.  My late arrival to rowing made the learning curve quite steep, to put it mildly.  It was like learning to swim by being thrown into the deep end.  After the panic sets in and you think you’re about to drown, your gym teacher leans over the side of the pool and says, “Paddle!”

So paddle I did. It may not have been a matter of ‘sink or swim’ in this case, but of ‘paddle or be paddled.’  There’s a whole host of metaphors I could use to describe the way I felt but the primary theme was simply that of survival.

Honestly, I didn’t even really care if we qualified for Torpids or not, so long as I personally could complete the race without getting my blade stuck in the water and/or falling in the water myself.   I really wasn’t sure I’d be able to accomplish even that, because as I mentioned, I was the newbie in the boat and knew it would take every ounce of concentration I had in my being to just stay in time with the other seven girls and — preferably — avoid becoming part of the Thames.

But I tried my best to ignore my fears, to ignore the cold and relentless drizzle that always hangs over your head in the most convenient of moments.  The clock started, the horn went off, and we rowed on.  We rowed as fast as we could down the river while trying to stay at a steady pace with one another — something always easier said than done.

My focus was completely consumed by the flipping of my oars (“blades”) at the  right moment.  Too fast and my stroke would have no power.  Too slow, and my oar would get stuck.  This getting stuck or  “catching a crab” as they say is a very unfortunate and dangerous occurrence that creates disruptive drag and can even catapult you out of the boat and into the water  if the force is strong enough.

The fear of catching a crab was sufficient enough to keep my head in the game — or in the boat– the entire time.  The intensity of my concentration faltered slightly towards the end of the course when my arms were aching and my hands were numb.  But the success of my inaugural race experience was that I completed the course (a)without dying and (b)without catching a crab.     I was thoroughly exhausted and my arms seemed permanently stuck in rowing position for a few minutes afterwards…but once we all gained feeling in our limbs again we celebrated by high-fiving and singing “Row Row Row Your Boat” in a 3-part round.

The bad news is that we didn’t make good enough time to qualify for the race, but it cannot be denied that we had fun and were free from the all-consuming Torpids schedule of 7th week.  In fact, on of my sorority sisters from CSU, Becca Holman, came to visit Oxford during 7th week so I was able to spend more time exploring England with her!  The wild Adventures of Becca and Claire will be detailed in posts to follow…but if you want a good laugh in the meantime, check out our team’s pictures from Rowing On by clicking on the link below.  I’m the one in the middle (“Bow 5”) in the garish green shirt. Can’t miss me, because everyone else is wearing red and white like we’re supposed to be wearing.  (woops)


Oxford’s Got Talent! …and other stuff.

23 Apr

Open mics, talent shows, and the like…I can’t resist them, no matter how crazy or cheesy it seems.   Maybe I’m just a glutton for applause (or possibly punishment?), but I think it’s more likely that I do it because I adore music and love to perform.  And I perform with high hopes that others will enjoy listening as much as I enjoy playing and singing.

So I caught wind of a Regents Park’s talent show coming up in third week and decided, after about 4 whole seconds of careful deliberation, that I would do it.  I had just purchased a new (PINK!!!) electric Fender and was dying to put it to use.  What better opportunity?  Of course, this was still pretty early on in the term and I imagined that playing in front of all my new classmates could successfully impress or could equally go horribly wrong.  After all, first impressions are lasting ones…They should also add to the canon of proverbs that fear is a great motivator.  So for the next few days I practiced furiously, with both of these nuggets of wisdom lodged firmly in mind.

I decided to perform a bluesy-folksy song I had written several months prior and had performed a few times back in the States.  I even convinced my friend David to play violin along with me.  And so our musical act was born.  1 song, 2 instruments, and about 3-ish minutes of music total.  Perfect talent show material.  (At least we hoped).

Thankfully we rocked out at Regents that Friday night and were relatively well-received by the crowd.  The music was going full blast and so was the bar, so perhaps we can’t take all the credit for our outstanding performance.  We were not the official winners as declared by coin donations and popular vote, BUT  we still got invited to compete in the upcoming ‘Oxford’s Got Talent’ competition the following night, so we pretty much felt like winners.

We were scheduled to perform in the ever-so-posh Lecture Hall inside the Oxford Union on Saturday night.  I was happy to get a chance to go to the Union, because normally you would have to pay 200 pounds to become a member and go to the events.  But because it was a student talent competition and we were performing, I could get in for absolutely free, sans the illustrious badge of membership.  Cool.

**Just a side note: Guest lecturers at the Oxford Union have included Natalie Portman, Jimmy Carter, Ian McKellen, and other famous people.  In short, the perceived prestige of the Oxford Union is not to be underestimated. The actual prestige is something I’m not qualified to judge. But, given the amount of keynote members, mingled with the high concentration of high-priced cuff links and cocktails, I can only assume that membership costs 200 quid for a reason. *

Back to Oxford’s Got Talent:

The entirety of the competition lasted sooooo long.  Our actual performance was only a few minutes long but we must’ve been sitting in audience for four hours or more.  Of course, it was a very entertaining four hours so the time didn’t pass excruciatingly slow.

Our performance, unfortunately, was a little lackluster compared to the previous night, because we had some major sound and balance issues to fight against.  We didn’t do as well as we would’ve liked, but we did perform with confidence and chalked it all up for experience in the end.

Among some of the other acts in the competition were comedians, dancers,  a rock band with a one-armed drummer (a la Def Leppard), not one but TWO ukulele players (?), and — my personal favorite — a guy who showed off his lightning-speed Tetris skills via projector screen.  I, like the rest of the people in that auditorium beamed to see nerdiness so keenly glorified.

There were a few acts, including a cross-dressed version of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” which fell a bit shy of what one might call “talent” in the traditional sense. But what may have failed to impress did NOT cease to entertain.

I left the Union that night delightfully entertained and fully convinced that Oxford students possess a whole lot more than just academic talent, but an abundance of creative talent as well…and a few other interesting things.

Welcome to Think Week 2011

21 Mar

(From February 23rd, 2011)

It’s sounds like joke, but this week is “Think Week” at Oxford.  Not quite sure what they believe we’re doing in all the other seven weeks of term, but nonetheless this week has been dubbed so and is characterized by special guest lecturers centered around athiest, humanist, and secular themes.  This makes sense once you realize that these lectures are sponsored by none other than the British Humanist Association and the Richard Dawkins Foundation among other private donors.

Now we have yet another problem with the title; for calling this week “Think Week” implicitly implies that athiesm/humanism/secularism all support the activity of thinking more than those of more religious persuasions.  Hmmm, interesting.

The reason I bring up “Think Week” is because last night I went with some friends to hear a public discussion between famed evolutionary biologists and researchers Richard Dawkins and A.C. Grayling.   Disappointingly, it was not a debate, since it’s hard to have a debate between two people who agree with each other. However, we did enjoy watching a very interesting and very cordial armchair discussion between the two high-profile scholars.

The event was held at the Oxford Examination Schools — a huge and magnificent building full of multiple floors of classrooms and lecture halls.  All tickets had to be applied for or bought in advance and even then, the line to gain admittance stretched halfway down the street.  There were too many people to fit into one of the large lecture halls so many people had to sit in the overflow room across the hall…including us.  It wasn’t bad though, after finding a seat that was strategically close to the overhead speakers, we simply watched the discussion unfold by way of video camera and projector that was connected to the other room.

The discussion commenced in typical British fashion, both characteristically friendly and characteristically verbose, in which both scholars entertained what it would take to make them believe that God (or the supernatural in general) exists.

Their discussion was interesting, but — as several people pointed out during the time for questions — Dawkins and Grayling’s processes of reasoning seemed rather circular.  “Supernatural” by their definition refers to anything that defies or supersedes the laws of physics.   …but then they later stated that, as scientists, they only take into account laws of physics when viewing the world…so in other words they require physics to explain something that exists outside the laws of physics.  Anybody detect a possible problem here?

I’m not always one for philosophical debate and I try not to get myself wrapped around theory but it was definitely an interesting discussion and I’m glad I went.

(For more info go to


21 Mar

As an American in the old motherland it’s easy to feel that you have relatively little claim to cultural sophistication. It’s not even a contest really:  England has castles and cathedrals; America has Super Wal-Marts and burger joints.  However, lest you feel discouraged by such seeming cultural inequity, don’t forget that there’s at least one day reserved to revel in our unique American heritage.  I’m talking about the Super Bowl of course!  Even the Brits are jealous of it.  I haven’t heard them say as much, but I am almost sure that they envy our new-and-improved take on football.  They’re football teams don’t even have mascots…Clearly inferior.

Anyway, there was about 15 of us that piled into Rowena and Andrew’s apartment to eat and watch the game together.  Because of the 5+ time difference the game didn’t start here until 11 pm.  And, yes, we stayed up for the WHOLE entire thing.  We didn’t go home until 4 am.  Sure, most of us had class/schoolwork the next day but collectively agreed that it was totally worth it to stay up.

The group was pretty equally divided between Packers fans and Steelers fans.  I had decided about a week before that I was going to be a Packers fan for two reasons: (1) I’m friends with Chris who’s from Wisconsin; I even watched a prelims game with him to show my moral support. And (2) the Packers are the only team associated with food. Cheese! Yummmm.

So we sprawled out in Rowena’s living room, ate cheese, and watched the game…peppered with explanations of the rules to our British friends…and criticisms of the ridiculous halftime show (“What the heck is Fergie doing?” “Black-Eyed Peas need to quit” and “Thank you, Slash and Usher for being the only redeemable qualities to this halftime”…etc.)

By the end of the night the mixed crowd became rather segregated, with the guys sitting on one side of the room, intently watching the tv, and the girls (a.k.a. the FUN people) goofing off and eating chocolates on the other side of the room.  Oh, how I love the Super Bowl.

1 Term Down! Celebrations and Musings Upon Hilary…

18 Mar

Today is my last full day in Oxford. Tomorrow I’ll leave behind the city of dreaming spires and embark on a 4-week long adventure that will take me through the Irish coast, the Scottish Highlands and eventually the countryside of Eastern Europe. My anticipation mounts and thoughts race ahead to the next few weeks as I sit here amongst piles of scattered clothes, suitcases and papers I’ve managed to accrue over just one short term. But even as I thumb excitedly through guidebooks and fresh Euro bills, I cannot forget the fun I’ve had so far and all the events that have led up to this very moment. I’m speaking of all the friendships, all the sights, all the lessons learned inside of the classroom and out, that have made the last 3 months some of the most colorful and enriching months of my life.

So I now take time to reminisce about such events…and I hope that in doing so I can make up for my lack of frequent updates and terrible blog neglect! Maybe once I master the evasive art of self-discipline (my official project for Trinity Term!) then you’ll actually be able to read the ‘Daily Tea’ on a daily basis, BUT for now here’s the reader’s digest/comic book version of my last few weeks…enjoy!

See you in Ireland next!  ❤

Fifth Week Blues

18 Feb

Dear Faithful Followers of Blog-dom,

My HUGEST apologies for letting the hectic pace of life get the better of me and have turn The Daily Tea into more like The” Bi-Weekly”  Tea. But I sincerely thank you for your patience, and since I’m sure you’re thirsty for the next cup of Oxford knowledge, I’ll do my best to catch you up on all the exciting things that have been happening!

We’re now entering the fifth week of our 8-week-long term which means we’re more than halfway done!! AAAAAAAUGH!  <– This cry is a cry of agony and panic (due to the amount of work to be done and pending fun to yet be had), mixed with sheer excitement for our extended Spring Break.

They say that time flies when you’re having fun, right?  Well, if you’re having fun and working your butt off AND being challenged in every way possible everyday then time doesn’t just fly — it soars.  I honestly feel like it was yesterday that I arrived here and hopped the Spencer House wall and scared Callie to death by knocking on her bedroom window.  *sigh* Oh, memories…


Now that we’re in Fifth week, I’ve had multiple tutorials under my belt, as well as triple that amount of rowing outings and soccer (“football”) games; 4 formal halls, 1 new bicycle, 1 rockin’ birthday night, 1 SuperBowl party, 6 of Austen’s major novels…and countless cups of coffee/tea to help get through it all.

So why the blues?  This week is, according to Oxford tradition, officially labeled the “5th Week Blues” because it’s the time of term when the pressure of exams draw nigh  and people begin to get sick, tired or otherwise burnt out.

But I think I lucked out this week: All early-morning rowing outings and my one tutorial got canceled so  my week was relatively stress-free! And, by some miracle, my immune system has weathered the onslaught of colds and flues that have been circling throughout the Spencer House and the college at large; (knock on wood!)


As I was cycling to class on Wednesday I thought, Today is the mid-way point of fifth week, so – technically – this should be my absolute bluest day in Oxford, right? But to my happiness and to the dismay of the study-gods, I was actually feeling quite wonderful! The sky was clear and (*gasp) sunny…and I spent what was supposedly the “bluest” day in Oxford on the football pitch basking in the 45-degree weather! Aaaahh….

Take that, fifth-week blues.



NOTE: We think of chronology here in Oxford in terms of weeks (i.e. Week 1, Week 2, Week 6 etc…) Ask any given Oxford student what the date is and they will probably look at you with a bewildered expression or have to shuffle around in their pockets a few minutes to check their phone for the numeric date.   This is because we don’t operate in terms of dates here; we say “Today is Friday of Fifth Week” or “Monday of Second Week” and dates aren’t ever part of the equation.    (February 17th?  When is that??) Although I’m not exactly sure when or how this system arose, but it does reflect the fact that the entire system is dominated by the academic calendar.






Burns Night!

8 Feb


Week 2 Formal Hall was no ordinary formal hall; it was Burns Night (I hope you will soon believe as I do) is the most FUN British holiday to celebrate!  With food, poetry readings, and a lively “ceilidh” dance, this easily ranks as one of the most light-hearted of all our formal halls to date.  (See video link above for major proof).

“History, Lads!”

Burns Night is a celebration of the life and works of Scottish poet, Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796).  Although celebrations can take place any time during the year, Burns Night is most commonly celebrated towards the end of January, around his birthday.  As dinner commences,  the staff and guests are “piped in” by a bagpiper who provides them with a sort of ceremonial entrance.  Once everyone has been ceremonially “piped” to their seats, the host (in our case, the college president) says a few words of welcome and recites the Selkirk Grace, a thanksgiving said before meals, using the Lallans Lowland Scots language.

The Selkirk Grace:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.

Prayers said, we began with a bowl of Scottish cock-a-leekie soup., made with leeks and chicken broth.

After much anticipation — and hunger — we waited for one of the most exciting moments of the evening: the Salute to the Haggis!

Haggis is THE traditional Scottish dish, so it’s most appropriate that it is to be served on Burns Night.  I would tell you what’s in it, but honestly it’s better not to know.  Trust me, ignorance is bliss on this one.  But the important part is that it’s very very tasty.  I loved it and purposefully did NOT ask what was in haggis until days later.    Like most culinary experiences abroad, the best thing to do is just smile and eat it then ask questions later.

So when an excited hush fell upon the room and the bagpiper started playing, I leaned in to the person next to me and asked what was happening next.  “The Salute to the Haggis,” she said, matter-of-factly, and I burst out laughing. (Perhaps a little too loudly.)  My first thought was Are you serious??! And the solemn procession of the chef walking in holding a glistening plate of haggis high above his head told me, Actually yes, we are serious. We are Scottish and we take our Haggis very seriously. From that point I knew better than to laugh (at least not out loud anyway).

The Haggis salute, subsequently vigorous Haggis consumption, was followed by a poetic and amusing “Toast to the Ladies” given by one of our very own undergraduate guys.  Actually, it was less like a toast and more of a stand-up comedy routine.  This was followed by an equally poetic response, a “Toast to the Laddies,” full of flirtatious banter and coy remarks in rhyme given by one of the undergraduate girls.  Both were quite fun, witty, and thus delivered in a very Robert Burns-esque style.  This sort of public speaking — in the form of a toast or a poetry reading — is another staple Burns Night tradition.

(My friend Barbara and me at dinner)

But of all the traditions mentioned thus far, including even the whiskey and chocolate tasting following the meal, my favorite of all the Burn’s Night festivities has to be the ceilidh (pronounced “keh-lee) or the traditional Scottish folk dancing, very similar to the square dancing we have back home in the States. There was a band with a violin, percussion and accordion, who called the different moves and we all had fun circling and skipping around; a kick here, a do-si-do there…Of course, it was a little difficult to get an entire hall full of people moving in the same direction and at the same time, especially after the whiskey had been circulating.  But despite varying levels of coordination and sobriety, everyone in the hall danced and seemed to have a great time.

I probably got into it more than most people in the room — which is what often happens when faced with the opportunity for dancing.  I The only problem is that I have a greater tendency to lead than to follow, so I dragged my poor housemates Tim and Bryn around the dancefloor and pushed them around as needed; I was generally quite bossy, but nobody could’ve accused us of being out of time — I made sure of that.