|Old Tom Bell Tower, Christ Church, Oxford|
Nobody ever called me a nerd, much less a greasy grind. But I've had my nose stuck in a book since I was four...and it really gets out of joint if somebody suggests to me that taking classes at my advanced age demonstrates a basic lack of understanding of what constitutes a good time.
"Hey, you could be sitting on a tropical beach somewhere, sipping a Mai Tai! Why would you want to closet yourself in a classroom?"
I can hear the shudder in my friends' syllables as they spill out their impressions of what my summertime vacation will be like...tests, grades, pencils, books, teachers' dirty looks!
But the International Summer Schools at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford seem to me like Montessori for grownups. No tests, no papers, no homework assignments...just a chance to explore an intriguing topic for the sheer joy of learning. And an opportunity to mingle with other like-minded lovers of history, literature and science, men and women from all over the world of all ages, all professions, and all ethnic backgrounds. A treat indeed for a former Peace Corps Volunteer.
I treasure the memories of previous courses I've enjoyed.Where else but in the course, Napoleon and His Enemies, could I have learned from a Polish gentleman that in his country that bloodthirsty ego-maniacal villain is still revered in their national anthem?
If I hadn't taken The Triumphant Reign of Henry VIII I would never have truly understood how the robust and pleasant young Henry morphed into the seemingly cold-blooded monster who approved the beheading of two of his wives.
I learned, in the Victorians and Their World, that the people of England in the late years of the reign of Queen Victoria were not the prissy prudes we think them today...and that the idea that they covered their piano legs in pantaloons is an urban myth.
Not all classes are set in classrooms. With the Road Scholar The Best of Times: Charles Dickens at 200 course, I spent a lot of time touring museums, and the places where Dickens was born, lived, and loved.
Next week for the first time I'll enjoy The Oxford Experience.About.Com describes this as:
Studying and living in the lap of history
The seminars take place at Christ Church, a college founded by Cardinal Wolsey in the 16th century. Not only do participants study in this prestigious college, they also stay in Christ Church student accommodation and dine in Christ Church's Hall, lined with portraits of former students - W.H. Auden, William Penn, Lewis Carroll, John Wesley, John Locke and William Gladstone among them. Once a week, each student is invited to dine at the High Table. There is also a champagne reception in Christ Church Cathedral Garden and a farewell celebration dinner in the Hall.
The course I'm enrolled in, History of the English Language, covers these topics:
- Theories on the origin of language, and the place of English in the Indo-European family, how it came to the British Isles and a survey of development of modern English
- Vocabulary and word formation - where the words we use come from
- How meaning and expression changes...we'll look at passages from Shakespeare and others and learn what they really meant to say
- How dictionaries and language reference books are put together...where we get our ideas of "good" and "bad" English...field trip to OED (Oxford English Dictionaries)
- The varieties of English, how if varies in different countries, and the difference between written and spoken English
Evenings? On Saturday night I'll attend the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Raincoat, and on Tuesday, the Globe Theater Company production at the Bodleian Library of The Taming of the Shrew.
No, I won't sip any Mai Tais, but I'll bet that Oxford, like Cambridge, has plenty of cider on tap, including my favorite Old Rosie. And rather than bringing home a sunburn, I'll have new international friends to add to my Facebook circle.
Oh, and I bought a new little black dress to wear the night I get to sit at High Table.