Thomas Bledsoe ’17
This past July, I was fortunate enough to spend three weeks in Oxford, England with eleven of my Woodberry brothers, Mr. Blain, and John C. Williams, a graduate of the class of 2013. Unlike some of the other summer trips Woodberry offers, we stayed every night and spent the majority of our time in the city of Oxford. We got to know our little corner of the city very well. We went from wandering aimlessly the first few days to knowing the different colleges around us. Tours of each campus allowed us to learn enough about each college and we eventually gave tours of our own using what we learned. We quickly discovered The Covered Market, which had a plethora of dessert options including the famous, “Ben’s Cookies.” We made friends with the man working at the pizza truck, and quickly discovered Taylor’s, the best breakfast spot, for the days when Mr. Blain let us sleep in a little bit. We benefited immensely from the location of Brasenose College. Every day we walked out into Radcliffe Square and, within a few minutes of walking, were deep into the heart of the city of Oxford, among the hordes of tourists surrounding us.
On days when we didn’t take trips to London, Wales, or Stratford-upon-Avon, we had class in the Stocker room at Brasenose. We read Taming of the Shrew, which we eventually saw at the Globe in London, and A Christmas Carol. But the best part of classroom days came in the late afternoon right before dinner. We would all sit down and read articles from two newspapers in Oxford: The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian. After we switched papers and got our fill of both, we would sit around the table and discuss what we read or current events in general. Before we left, the United Kingdom had already voted to leave the European Union, and the people were still coping with that decision. While we were there, David Cameron resigned early, the Chilcot report was released, the Labour Party seemed to be in complete shambles, and Theresa May became Prime Minister. There was definitely not a shortage of news on the British side, but even more interesting was what was going on in America. The fatal shootings of African-American men in Baton Rouge and Minnesota followed by the police officers killed in Dallas all happened while we were in England. We read about the protests and riots that followed, and both presidential candidates choosing their running mates. America was in a fragile and unique state, and we saw all of this through a unique and unusual perspective – a British one.
We were caught in a paradox of sorts. Only being able to read and develop opinions about what was going on in our country through a British lense. I believe many of us developed new perspectives. Seeing how people from a foreign country, even one so similar to the United States, viewed the state of our affairs here in America was eye-opening and honestly refreshing. Taking a break from the TNT crate that can be American society at times was relieving. We were able to take a huge three thousand mile step back from America and observe, watch, and become spectators as opposed to players. This separation allowed us time to ponder alone and together and reach conclusions on our own time instead of being forced into one of the opposing camps back in the U.S. The British perspective also allowed us to reconsider what really matters to us individually and as a group. Many things happening in the United States were seen to be ridiculous and borderline shameful while others the British saw to be noble acts by honorable people. These differences made their way into daily conversation as well. I remember vividly how taken aback an English couple looked when we talked about the availability of guns in America, and then their horrified look when we mentioned we can bring our own guns to school. They had a similar reaction to learning that the drinking of age of 21 was strictly enforced in the United States. Imagining a life where buying a handgun is easy and the drinking age is a strictly enforced at 21 was tough for that couple, and the difference in a country that is supposed to be very similar to the United States was very interesting to observe on that and other occasions.
Of course, we did so much more on the trip than just sit in a room, read newspapers, and argue about what was happening in the world every day. We took many trips to London where we visited Buckingham Palace, climbed up St. Paul’s Cathedral, saw Groundhog Day, much to Mr. Blain’s chagrin rode the London Eye, and so much more. Perhaps, my favorite day trip and a favorite of a few other guys was the trip to Wales where we visited Chepstow Castle and hiked five miles to the Tintern Abbey ruins. We hiked through the cool mist and rain along the River Wye for five glorious miles. On these trips, we got to know our driver Paul who could talk to all of us about anything we could think of from fishing to chess to working on TVs. He was a true conversationalist, and I saw many of us fell asleep while he was talking to us individually and woke up five minutes later with him still going on. Paul, the London trips, and the newspaper discussions were just a few of the many things that made the trip a great one. We all learned a little something about becoming an Oxford man except for Edward Laney who became one.