Monday, April 06, 2015

That Sweet City with Dreaming Spires

This summer is shaping up rather nicely so far.  In addition to a voyage to China with cher Jason and another trip to New York with my students (17 of them!  Oy!), I have been awarded a fellowship to attend a teaching seminar at Oxford!

This place:


I've had my eye on these summer seminars for a year now, but they are pricy and I knew that a fellowship was the only way I could afford one.

I filled out my application on a snow day mid-musical season, secured a letter of recommendation from my principal, and sent it off with crossed fingers.

Honestly, I figured it was a long shot at best.  I had no idea how many applicants they received for such a thing; but for seminars at Oxford/Cambridge/the University of Paris, it is easy to assume that competition is stiff.

To my delight, in mid-March I received the following (slightly edited for blogging purposes) email:

I am delighted to be able to inform you that the Fellowship Committee of the Foundation for International Education met last weekend and has awarded you a Fellowship ... to attend the Teacher Seminar of your choice – in Oxford, Cambridge, or Paris - this coming July.  

This year we had a record number of fellowship applications, which made the decision process extremely difficult.  The pool of nominees was very strong, and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your achievement.

A seminar of my choice!  And what a choice it was.  I've been drawn to Cambridge, lured perhaps by my crushes on Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, and Hugh Laurie (look at them!).  Alas, the Cambridge seminars were not really suited to my subject areas.  I dallied with the thought of the University of Paris for a few moments because: Paris, but those seminars are designed obviously for French teachers.

Oxford, on the other hand, offers two potential seminars I could use - Shakespeare Through History was my original choice.  It's an obvious one, yes; but the brochures described sessions dedicated to performances and revisions of Shakespeare's works over the years, sessions that sound fascinating.

And yet I was drawn over and over again to a seminar entitled "Literature and the Fantastic".  Here's the description:

This course focuses on the works of six of the most prominent children’s fantasy authors of the past 150 years. Three of these (Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien) were Oxford-based; special attention will be paid to their biographies and their interactions with the University and Oxford town life. Each seminar will cover both a special author whose work will be featured, and an investigation topic designed to focus the discussion around issues relevant to both readers and teachers of fantasy literature. In addition to learning about the history and background of these canonical texts, seminar participants will be encouraged to develop new and imaginative ways of teaching them to 21st-century students.

The truth is, I have had and will continue to have many chances to study Shakespeare.  When else will have I have the opportunity to study Tolkein and Carroll and Lewis at Oxford?  Factor in the new course in World Mythology I'm preparing to teach next year, and I had my decision made - I'm studying fantasy literature at Oxford this summer and I am absolutely thrilled!

Also?  This:


I get to visit, nay, I get to live next to the Bodleian Library this summer!  It's a bibliophile's dream.

“The Bodleian above anything else made Oxford what it was . . . There was something incommunicably grand about it, something difficult to understand unless you had spent your evenings there or walked past it on the way to celebrate the boat race, a magic that came from ignoring it a thousand times a day and then noticing its overwhelming beauty when you came out of a tiny alley and it caught you unexpectedly. A library--it didn't sound like much, but it was what made Oxford itself. The greatest library in the world.” 
― Charles FinchThe September Society

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