Sunday, October 28, 2012

Spice Lounge & Chez Gaston - First Dining Out Experiences in Oxford

After three very hectic weeks of classes, all day- weekend research seminars, and reading, reading, reading,  yesterday was my first day - and first Saturday -  off. After Oxford Uni Kickboxing Club Friday night, I found out that I would be having visitors!  Aunty Viniti and Uncle Steve decided to drive all the way from Kent to visit me (and Kiara, of course) for the day on Saturday.

I just have to note here, that I feel extremely lucky to have Kiara here with me. She's such an adorable dog and we had a blast playing with her! 

Image of Spice Lounge

We went out in Summertown - a cute area that is where I really wanted to live, but it was way too expensive (still pretty close to it, though!) The restaurant is called Spice Lounge, where we had a wonderful Indian meal --that's right, it was NOT greasy! It had a mixture of vegetables (I ensured it did not have the three vegetables I absolutely cannot stand ---lady fingers, terra root and lotus root). This was actual my first dining (for dinner) experience in Oxford. It's funny how often I used to go out before in Edmonton ---student life really makes everything seem expensive!
Also, another traveller's note ---if you want to go out in Cowley, where all the ethnic restaurants are, don't drive!  We originally tried Cowley Road, but even as early as 5:30pm on a Saturday, there was not a parking spot to be found. Everyone here walks or bikes.

This past week, Anna, Dima, Paola and I decided to work on one of our English Language Teaching module assignments (the optional, but certificate bearing course we're taking) - at a restaurant. Chez Gaston is on North Parade, also quite close to Summertown (and to our colleges, LMH and Kellogg). It was wonderful to have crepes! I can't say the coffee was that great, but my aubergine and mushroom crepe, followed by a lemon and sugar dessert crepe was absolutely fantastic. Definitely check this place out if you're in town!

Well, since my Sunday morning was spent kickboxing, it's off to run an errand or two in town,  and then get right on to dissertation planning for me (ie: TONS more hunting for relevant literature and reading it). These two dining experiences were definitely the highlight of my week. I've been advised to try out a "fish and chips" shop ---fish for Kiara, of course, and chips for me (I know I don't normally eat fries, but I will say that chopping up some potatoes at home, baking them and putting vinegar and then salt on them makes them taste quite good!) I never liked ketchup, anyway. So, perhaps I will have a blog on authentic "chips" soon. Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Matriculation: Official Induction As An Oxford Student

Members of Lady Margaret Hall ---matriculated!
A week after our official matriculation induction as Oxford students, this is literally the first hour I've had free to describe this historically significant, unique event. According to Professor Gillian Evans, author of Oxford: A New History, the tradition goes back to the "medieval requirement that every Master should keep a Register" (Evans, 2009, Up until the 1920s, there was even an exam that all masters' students had to pass in order to be let in to matriculation. The Masters of Arts in Shakespeare's day were incredibly important and taught undergraduates, as well as ran the university administration. Apparently there were "town vs. gown" fights, and the university protected those on the Register on the "gown" side of things. 

Official Roll Call

Interestingly, despite having attended classes for a week already (last Saturday; two weeks now), we were not "officially" Oxford students until matriculation was complete. This began with a roll call, in which every new student at Lady Margaret Hall college waited to hear their name called. In fact, if you're not on the list (they email you many times in advance to ensure that you are) can't attend classes at Oxford or graduate. I wonder if they've ever had anyone fail to show up?? I must add, the commentator/speaker was quite amusing, almost comical, trying to make a pun out of any last name he could, while we waited in the (luckily sunshine, not rain) for our name to be called.

Matriculation at St. Anne's in 1941 (oldest pic I could find!)
Sapna in "sub-fusc" attire --Lady Margaret Hall
 As you can see to the left, this is basically where J.K Rowling must have had her idea for the structure of Hogwartz. It was very amusing to walk across the park in unison, in uniform, and to the Sheldonian Theatre ---only to have tourists lined up, snapping photos of us! I guess we were part of quite the event for tourists to gaze at; definitely can't say I've ever done that before! The ceremony inside the Sheldonian was quite short --20 minutes, with a few phrases in Latin, and a warm and also interesting speech in English by the Vice Chancellor.  Apparently (according to, the Latin speech is as follows:

Scitote vos in Matriculam Universitatis hodie relatos esse, et ad observandum omnia Statuta istius Universitatis, quantum ad vos spectent, teneri.'
‘Know that you are today added to the Roll of the University and bound to obey all the statutes of this University so far as they apply to you.'

Very comical roll call

Photos & Fun

At the risk of looking pretentious, Juliet, Sultana, Hannah, Dima and I took some photos in the autumn parks of LMH, while waiting for our mandatory appearance (hours later) at the MCR (graduate) and JCR & MCR combined (with undergraduates) group photo. Many thanks to Dima, for instructing us on how to stand and pose for the camera, and to Tim, for being the one to snap photos of us ladies (countless times, until we got the "perfect" shot). 

Check out the Glog below for a fun snapshot!  To view the pictures and poster more clearly, click on it or take a look at this link on

Formal Hall

Another perk of Oxford life is formal hall, a dinner that occurs every Friday, but must be booked in advance. This particular hall about a week and a half ago, was the first formal hall, where we were all greeted by the Principal of the college, and had a wonderful meal in our formal dresses or sub-fusc- and gowns. It felt like being in a moment of history - like a flashback to a previous era -- as the Principal rose to leave first at the end of the meal, followed by the head table, and then, us "regular" college members.
Dima and Lingling

As you can imagine, as traditional and wonderful as these ceremonies are, they do cut into our significantly short reading time (ie: with my optional-but-strongly recommended sessions, and French class, that's 17 hours of class time per week!). Last Saturday was a write-off study-wise, as was today (thanks to a very interesting, albeit all day seminar on Research Methods) I'm off to hit the books. I've had a request for a blog on English tea...and Juliet and Sultana have said that, when we have the time, we should go out for "English high tea", so that post is hopefully coming sometime soon! 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Settling into Oxford Life: Home Sweet Home

A month into my stay here, my house is all set up!  Many of you have been requesting pics of my new place in Marston. This just a short post of a slideshow of Kiara and I's new "home sweet home" for the year (at least!). While I didn't add descriptions of the slideshow pictures this time, here are a few quirky details:

  • Yes, I've opted for "wall stickers" to decorate; as most of you know, I'm horrible at trying to hang pictures, install shelves, or anything else tool-related
  • Since there seems to be a perfect "chimney" that lacks a fireplace, I put something else "warming" in its place....a case of wine!  Wine is incredibly cheap intro offer for Laithwaites, an online wine ordering company, was £3.99 per bottle (that's about $6.50, Canadians!)
  • Have I ever mentioned that I detest carpet? I really miss my hardwood floor in my last house...vaccuming up Kiara's hair here is quite the challenge
  • The mini-hallway, which has a door to the living room as soon as you enter the front door to the house, is GENIUS! It means that I can answer the door for delivery people, and shut Kiara in the living at the same time (so she doesn't jump over the frazzled delivery men that have what I've recently learned is a "Brommie" accent (which I can barely understand)
  • I FINALLY have my bed from IKEA, built and assembled, four weeks later. I won't go into the details of my IKEA story here, as most of you have read it on Facebook (Coles Notes version:  4 weeks to delivery and assemble a bed, 6 horrible customer service calls which I had to pay for, a wrong delivery, a wrong re-delivery, and too many assembly charges, which I will get refunded hopefully next week. I am definitely not shopping there again!)
  • I have a very strange style bathroom...weird purple and wood design....can't think which century that is from
  •  is amazing! It's like the British version of Kijiji, and I found many deals there, including a £58 wooden dining table and chair set and £50 wooden desk!
  • I love being so close to parks (just like we were at home)! The garden here is amazing though, as there is NO LAWN to mow!
Anyway, enjoy the slideshow!

Today is "matriculation day" ---kind of like an official induction ceremony into "Oxbridge" (Oxford or Cambridge) where you wear your gown and official sub-fusc attire. I'll post a detailed blog entry on the ceremony, its history, and pictures of our beautiful Autumn day in the morning. For now, I need to spend my Saturday night reviewing notes and reading literature in my field --not to mention running my poor puppy, who was at home all day while I "matriculated" and took photos. Stay tuned for ceremony details, coming up tomorrow!!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

The University of Oxford: A First Glance

"I wonder anyone does anything at Oxford but dream and remember; the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking" --William Butler Yeats.

Between the practicalities of setting up life here at Oxford, I have had a few hours to take a look around and snap some photos. Despite joining the Oxford Photography Club (on, as well as the French Speakers club, I have not had time to attend a meeting of either! 

The Department of Education took us on a tour of the Taylor Institute, the beautiful Modern Languages library. In fact, as Applied Linguistics & Second Language Acquisition students (ALSLA for short), we can get priority to take the highly coveted Oxford Language Center language courses if they relate to our research - and take them for FREE! There are two types of courses here --LASR (Languages for Study & Research) -regular, lots of homework, no exams (focused on speaking and grammar) and the intensive OPAL (Oxford Program in Languages) which has exams and certification. Given the intensive "Week 0" (orientation week, see below), I've opted for a LASR course. The placement test suggests that I'm at the (second highest) "Upper Intermediate" Level --we'll see!

Sub-fusc attire, photo from
The slideshow below is a brief overview of some scenery and a couple buildings I've seen so far. The Examination Schools are where students write exams (in full sub-fusc attire, which basically means black and white (skirts for women, suits for men), college robe, cap and gown). Luckily (or maybe not so luckily), we have papers instead of exams in this course.

When I have a chance to actually visit the Ashmolean Museum, O2 Academy (concerts) Picture Palace (alternative movies) and other places of interest, I will add more pics. For now, thsi is just a first glance of where I live now! 

Click into the photos while the slideshow is playing to see descriptions, or view it at

Orientation - A Week of Uni Culture Shock

Anyone who has been at Oxford longer than a year will tell you that if you see Oxford and London, you have not seen England---Oxford has its own culture, rules, and atmosphere. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday of this week were perhaps the most intense, information packed, stress-headache inducing orientation days I have ever attended, for anything. Since I have a postgraduate certificate, I figured Oxford would be around the same calibre as Mcgill -----think again. Apparently, getting honours ( one EVER gets over 80% at unis in the UK; it's out of 100, the orientation leader told us, but not really), will be quite the challenge, as a well a necessity if I plan to apply for the PhD program here. It is very clearly stated that although they love having Mscs go on to study for a DPhil (the Oxford word for PhD), this is highly unlikely unless you have a 70% average.

No problem, I'm up for the challenge,  I thought.  
Ha, not so easy.


  • There is no syllabus or defined reading list for each course -- just a bunch of readings that you could read; you could also read others you find yourself. Your education is in your hands. Great. How do we prepare for class, then?
  • There is one assignment "exam" for each course.
  • No work is "due" during the term, so no feedback is provided
  • There is one assignment per course that is ungraded, but feedback will only be given on format, not content.
  • Profs do not have control over your marks; only the markers do
  •  Each assignment "exam" is double blind marked. 
  • Two professors from the department, not your supervisor, mark it. 
  • Then, a third party "expert in the field" from another university marks it. 
  • Then, the exam board meets to discuss whether or not the average of all three marks is fair or not
  • Then, they tell you your mark. Note: this will be 2 weeks AFTER the application for the PhD program is due, and 2 weeks before our next assignments are due.

So...I guess I have my work cut out for me. Somehow, I will find a way to pursue this DPhil!

At the Fresher's Fair, (which was organized in a ruthless way that ensured you could not leave without visiting every single room and nearly every booth), I signed up for emails from Womcam, a women's volunteer society, Oxford's Kickboxing Club (of course!), Oxford Wine Society, Oxford German Society, The Failed Novelists (a writing club) and AIESEC Oxford (thanks to all the great AIESECers I met in Edmonton). We'll see how much of that will actually fit into my jam-packed schedule.

A Weekend Break before the Storm

Find the ball, Kiara!
Kiara with Uncle Steve
Well, in the spirit of blogging reality, I have to admit that this was LAST weekend (and I will be spending what's left of this weekend intensely reading).

Just a couple pics of our weekend in Dartford, Kent. I have to say, Kiara was thrilled to meet Sunny and Uncle Steve --her new best friends! In fact, Sunny and Nia made a trip down to visit us in Oxford the weekend before and wow...was Kiara ever excited to see them, again, just a week later!

Just a little house note --- you can order ANYTHING from here, and have it delivered for free in just a day or so. Kiara seems to love Amazon deliveries as much as I do! (I swear, this was her idea, not mine!)

Random girl at Purple Turtle
Oh and a final note from this blog post, which is getting quite long (sorry!)...Oxford does not seem the best place to go out. Bars "pubs" close at 11pm, and this, is a picture of the  "club" here (The Purple Turtle).  My new friends Juliet, Sultana and I left after a ten minute walk around, a bunch of laughs, and a few ridiculous pictures. Guess we'll be going to London, if we ever have a moment to catch our breaths and go out, girls!

Stay tuned...I promise to blog more, now that I'm a bit more settled in! I'm off to hit the books and more clearly define my dissertation topic, before wandering across the park to meet Juliet and Sultana for dinner at Lady Margaret Hall.