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A Dream Realized: My Year Abroad in Oxford

On August 1, 2019, I left England after spending my junior year abroad studying at the University of Oxford. I remember sitting on the same bus that I took when I arrived across the pond for the first time, taking the same route from Heathrow to Oxford that I had then, only now in reverse. I spent both bus rides musing my thoughts and feelings into my keyboard. As I read back through those musings, however, there’s one part that sticks out. I wrote, “There was a famous poet who said, “Beware of a dream deferred.” But what about a dream realized?”

Well, past Abby, let me tell you. First of all, that’s not actually the quote, but good try. “A dream deferred” comes from the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes and the line actually goes “What happens to a dream deferred?” (#oxfordeducation) But, putting that aside, I understand your concern with the alternative–a dream realized. You (I) sat there on that bus wondering what the year had in store for me, a year I had fantasized about for my whole life, through everything from Pinterest boards to Harry Potter to One Direction fanfiction. Now I sit in roughly the same position, just looking a different way. So, with this newfound perspective, let me tell you about this dream realized.

It wasn’t everything you thought it’d be. In fact, most things were wildly different. For example, essays do not become inherently easier, no matter how aesthetically pleasing the library you’re sitting in is. Productivity and aesthetic do NOT have a positive linear relationship. And, I’ll let you know now, it was really, really hard. So much harder than I ever thought it would be. First term was a lot of feeling lonely–feeling trapped inside myself–unable to understand why, how a place I knew in my head so intimately could feel so alien and overwhelming. I failed a test, twice (to be fair, it was the rowing swim test, but still), I felt like I was failing at making friends, adjusting, coping even. For anyone preparing to study abroad, especially somewhere new without people that you know—it’s hard. Be prepared for that, because I was not. The fact that it ended wonderfully doesn’t change the fact that those few months were some of the most difficult of my life; but I wouldn’t alter them for the world. It’s cheesy, but they brought me to where I am now, and I love where I am (even if physically, it’s no longer Oxford).

It wasn’t everything I thought it’d be, but it ended up being more. My favorite moments in life are the cinematic ones, where you could imagine the credits rolling over the scene you’re taking in. Not necessarily the dramatic moments, but the ones that feel like both an end and a beginning. Cyclical. Where there’s enough joy that it propels you through time, forcing you to confront all the things that led you to that moment while imagining all the things that might come next.

My favorite writer, George MacDonald, is a master at writing these sorts of ending/beginnings. In one of my papers I wrote this year, I argued that MacDonald’s circular endings narratively embody the transformations that his characters undergo, which in turn embody the transformations all of us go through in life, leading to our ultimate transformation in death. At the end of his fairy tale “The Golden Key,” the two main characters–Tangle and Mossy–having grown old and young together, ascend the staircase at the heart of the rainbow, climbing “alongside beautiful things of all ages” to the “country from whence the shadows fall.” So these cinematic moments I mentioned–they’re the moments when you’re on the staircase and suddenly you look around and notice all the beautiful things climbing alongside you. Sometimes it’s the place you’re in, where God’s presence blindingly shines forth from nature; but more often, it’s the people you’re with. I have experienced more of these moments in my past 11 months at Oxford than ever before. It’s not that I didn’t have them before, but just that the sheer density of such moments in the past year is almost absurd. 

They were moments in which I was so distinctly grateful to be alive–to be there, to be blessed enough to experience them. It was looking up at the Radcliffe Camera, it’s architecture defying the highest definition lens (but that didn’t stop me from putting it on my Snapchat story almost every time). 

It was hiking across Santorini, catching my breath for every sunset, every time I looked at the sea.

It was running to my friends’ rooms for wine nights, silly things said that didn’t make sense but were still somehow so funny.

It was jumping and dancing and sweating through my clothes in Fever (“Oxfordshire’s essential clubbing destination”), performing Shakespeare on Oriel’s front steps (having my English accent validated– which was, really, all I wanted from my abroad experience), walking through a café door and seeing people you love, already clearing off a space for you at their table while you order your coffee.

It was sitting on a bus, overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of these tiny moments, in awe of what they all accumulate into– a glorious marvel of a year. 

No matter how many words I write, I won’t be able to capture it all, so I’ll just end here with some words of thanks. Thank you to everyone around me who made this year all that it was. Thank you to my parents for being endlessly supportive, for making so much of this possible, not just financially, but emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Thank you to everyone at home, who prayed for me and thought of me as I embarked on this adventure. Thank you to my friends—the old ones and the new ones, for loving me and filling my life with stark, vivid joy. Thank you to my tutors and teachers, who have helped me grow and stretch my intellectual capabilities further than I thought they could go. Thank you to Oxford, for truly being my Hogwarts. Thank you to God, for giving me such a privileged, tremendous life; I promise I don’t take it for granted.

 

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All pictures are courtesy of the author.

Abby Dommert

Notre Dame '20

Abby is a senior at Notre Dame, majoring in English with a minor in Theology. In addition to writing & editing for HCND, she also spends her time singing in the ND Chorale & hanging out in Pasquerilla West Hall (Roll Weasels!). Some of Abby's passions include stress-baking scones, any work-out class involving dancing as cardio, diving waaaaay too deep into Harry Potter fan theories, and finding aesthetically pleasing study spaces (it's unclear if this actually increases productivity levels, but she keeps doing it anyways).
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