Exploring Oxford University, Day 1

My son is currently on a study abroad at Oxford University for two quarters. Oxford seems like one of those dreamy universities that only exists in the movies and if you told me a few years ago that my son would be attending classes there (even if he was only an exchange student), I would have laughed and wouldn’t believe you.

I decided to leave a day earlier because Oxford is preparing for a spring break and things will be closed around the university on the day I was originally going to arrive. Everything worked out with my flight arrangements in spite of going on standby. But before the plane could take off, there were a few obstacles. First, there was a slight maintenance issue, and then the captain announced he can’t legally fly the plane because it would put him over 12 hours of working that day. We waited if they could find a replacement and fortunately someone was available. We finally took off around 7:30 pm (not too bad since we were only delayed for 1:40 hours). During the dinner service, a man was walking wobbly past me and slammed his body towards the wall and fell by the exit door. I saw him grabbed the lever and I immediately yelled not to touch it for the fear of blowing the slide from an altitude of 35,000 feet. Everyone was panicked around me and I almost shit my pants thinking he was drunk and might do something stupid. Turned out he had low blood sugar level and became dizzy hence the fall. The 8 1/2 hour flight time seemed like it went by fast but being in coach is never a pleasant experience regardless of the length of the flight.

The immigration line took forever! There must’ve been only two officers working in spite of the thousands of arriving passengers. After leaving the customs area, I followed the signs to the terminal bus station. It’s just the most confusing thing where I enter a glass building, then take the elevator down, walk in a long tunnel, then take the lift back up again. I also got ripped off exchanging money at the airport. I only got £52 for my $100, and £24 went to the cost of my bus ride to Oxford! In only a few minutes, half of my money was gone! 😂

My son met me close to where the bus drop off (at Queens Lane). Oxford surely doesn’t look anything like London. It’s very quaint and expectedly has a vibrant university feel. He showed me where he lives, the Stanford house (where Stanford students on study abroad at Oxford live).

He toured me around Brasenose College, one of the colleges in Oxford University, where he did his classes.

**Fun fact: do you know that there are 38 colleges within Oxford University?

I haven’t really seen the other bigger colleges yet but I was already falling in love with Brasenose. He showed me all the places inside—the pub, the dining room where all the formal dinners were held, etc. but some of them were already closed.

On the way to Brasenose College, we passed by what everyone refers to as the C.S. Lewis door

This is where all the formal dinners are held

**second fun fact: spring break in Oxford is one whole month!! Compare that to our one week spring break in the States!

Following a British tradition, it was time for us to have our afternoon tea. We went to The Grand Cafe, one of the oldest cafes in Oxford. I chose one that included salmon and tuna sandwiches and scones. But ever since I had my afternoon tea at Harrod’s, I really couldn’t enjoy this one as much. I remember the scones at Harrod’s were to die for. I’m almost tempted to go to London just for that lol! My son told me I can’t go all the way to London just to have an afternoon tea but I reminded him I flew all the way from Dallas to London a couple of years back just to do that!

I went back to my hotel, the Tower Guest House (that’s situated on a 17th century old building), to get a few hours of sleep. We planned on going to Turf Tavern later in the evening for dinner. Turf Tavern is a historical pub, known for their famous patrons in the past including former US president Bill Clinton. As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, rumor has it that it was in this tavern where he smoked but did not inhale. 😜

One can’t visit the UK without having fish and chips. The only problem is I haven’t had great fish and chips yet with the few times I’ve been to England. And fish and chips at Turf Tavern was another disappointment. I’m not sure what it is but something was just lacking in taste.

Walking back towards the hotel, the night seemed silent. My son pointed to me the Bridge of Sighs, a skyway that connects two colleges, also a city landmark.

Quiet walk from the tavern to my hotel

Bridge of Sighs

I was very tired from all the walking and touring that day! But there’s so much more to see and do and I can’t wait for tomorrow. Retreating to my comfortable bed at my hotel, I thought that it is surreal to be with my son in one of the oldest universities in the world!

Letting go at Stanford

It was a euphoric moment when I heard about my son’s acceptance to Stanford University. I pictured him attending college in one of the best universities in the world. His acceptance proved that all his hard work in high school eventually  paid off.

long lines with each student’s belongings while we wait for the dormitory to open
getting his move in packet and instructions
his dorm was Pokemon themed

But what I didn’t realize then was how far away California is from Texas. That I would miss him like crazy once he moves there. I was glad Stanford started their school year much later than the rest of the country. When everyone’s sons and daughters were already starting college in August, we were fortunate to enjoy his company until mid-September.

this is the hallway in his dorm
the mural arts are of Asian American history
my son’s dorm floor is an all gender floor
another mural that is Asian American history inspired

We flew to California a few days before the official move-in date (September 20). I was dreading for this day to come and when it finally did, I was filled with bittersweet emotions. When I gave him a hug and a kiss at the end of the day, I cried thinking he won’t be in his room each night when I go back to Texas. He won’t be there in the morning to update me about current political events. He won’t be there to help me walk our dog. I won’t have anyone to go to my favorite sushi restaurant randomly. I will miss seeing him and talking to him over a cup of tea everyday about anything and everything.

inside his dorm room
Stanford students call themselves nerds

As much as it breaks my heart to let go, I am blessed with the peace of mind knowing that he is at a university that is known to take care of their students. I need to take a leap of faith and trust that he will be in good hands. That is, in Stanford’s hands.

the dining hall had an excellent food and each family was invited to try it out free courtesy of Stanford
very impressive selection of Asian foods with Asian chefs
the dining hall was bright and colorful
I tried this noodles and they were honestly delicious.

I also trust his judgements to make sound decisions. I am confident that my husband and I have given him the strong foundation to be successful on his own. I can only hope and pray that this new chapter in his life will bring him fulfillment, to help him reach his goals, and guide him to find his way and place in this world. But, ultimately, my only wish is for him to be happy.

beautiful hallways
a great place to meditate after studying. The library is right next to the building across the fountain
more beautiful hallways reminiscent of the early California mission period
there’s three of us !

He will be back during the holidays and until then, I will terribly long for his presence! Perhaps I’ll start binge watching his favorite shows on Netflix or HBO so when he comes home, we will have more things to talk about! 😄

California dreaming: Stanford University

Stanford had me at hello! The dramatic entryway was by far the grandest of all the college campuses I’ve seen. The rows of palm trees on both sides of the street were so stunning, I was speechless. The only word I could utter was, “WOW!”

photo courtesy of Stanford University website
beautiful corridors inside the university

Despite its extensive growth, and with the endless addition of new buildings, Stanford has retained its original design and architecture, reminiscent of early California Mission Revival. The campus has that romantic feel, especially with its Spanish red-tile roofs and countless areas of greenery.
My son was one of the fortunate ones to be accepted at Stanford this year. The admit rate for 2016 had been the lowest so far at 4.69%. When we were there, I knew in my heart that it was the right college for him. Although he had previusly fallen in love with Brown University during his visit the week prior, my maternal instincts suggested Stanford was going to be a better fit.

My husband and I were thinking of subtle ways to convince him to choose Stanford over Brown. Most of our family and friends were also rooting for him to go there. On his first night at Stanford, I sent him a text message asking how everything was going so far. “Good,” he replied curtly.  There were no other mention about his activities. The next day I received a text from him:”I think I’m allergic to Stanford.” He was, in fact, miserable with allergies and nothing was helping. Not even his daily dose of Zyrtec and additional Benadryl.

I was worried. His Brown experience seemed much more appealing—he spoke with great enthusiasm about the classes he sat in and the people he met over there. And in no way that reaction echoed at Stanford.

I called my husband to tell him to get used to the idea of flying to the east coast for the next few years. Based on his texts, I knew he wasn’t excited about Stanford. As much as we want him to be in the west coast, his happiness was still our priority. I mentally prepared myself and imagined future vacations to Rhode Island. “I liked it there…it’ll be ok,” I convinced myself. Then I started to visualize snow and below freezing temps!  I pictured  my son all bundled up, freezing his ass off in those dark and miserably cold New England winters. I felt sorry for him having to experience that over the next four years!

the prep rally welcoming incoming freshmen

When I picked him up on the last day of the admit weekend and on our way to the airport, I nervously asked him if he had made up his mind. To my surprise, he said “no, still undecided.” At the airport, we saw some of the high school seniors from Texas who were on the same flight as us. Everyone I talked to were already committed to Stanford. My son was the only exception.

most of the students ride the bike in the campus

The next two days after coming home have been the hardest couple of days in his life. Deciding on where he would go to college became so stressful and emotional for all of us. I could’ve just insisted on Stanford but I also wouldn’t want him to resent me later. The decision had to be his alone. There were only three hours left on May 2nd to choose between the two schools. We assured him we would support his decision and left him to be by himself. We then crossed our fingers hoping he makes the right one.

Click here to read my son’s version of the story and where he would be a part of Class 2020!