Oxford is generally ranked among the top handful of universities in the world. According to the latest Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings Oxford is #1, the first British university ever to occupy top position in the global table, which judges the performance of 980 universities across 79 countries. (See: http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2016-09-21-oxford-ranked-first-among-global-universities).
Apart from academic credentials, the University of Oxford is situated in likely the world’s most charming, unique and storied university town. There is history and tradition around every corner—something that can’t be purchased or contrived.
I had the privilege of doing a mini-sabbatical from January 6th to February 2nd in Oxford. I was a Visiting Member, Senior Common Room, Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford and a Visiting Scholar, St. Stephen’s House, University of Oxford.
Here’s a list of 50 interesting things I learned and observed from a Vancouver / Canadian / North American perspective on the environment, the town, the university, the colleges and Christianity.
- Everything in the UK seems to have a story—and that story is valued. People seem to treasure the past and are happy to share it. This could be a 1,000 year old church or a 300 year old pub. In Vancouver, by contrast, 100 years is old.
- Sometimes history is uncovered in fortuitous ways. For example, the life-size portrait of Queen Elizabeth I in the Jesus College dining hall—done in the late 1500s—was rediscovered after it had been painted over and relocated to an obscure corner of the College. It took two years of meticulous restoration to bring it to its former glory.
- Service is a different concept in shops and stores generally than in North America. In the UK I think service is still tied up in the concept of self-worth in a less mobile society. So, the way I assert my equality is that though I am serving I do it on my terms. Not so in the US. In the U.S. where generally the service is great—and if it is, they know they won’t be serving for long.
- Tipping in the UK appears to be optional—or maybe it was just me. I tipped a taxi driver and he seemed somewhere between confused and surprised, or maybe he thought I didn’t know my pence from my pounds. In restaurants, the credit card machine generally isn’t programed to ask you if you want to leave a tip before paying for a meal.
- Value Added Tax (VAT) is included in the price of the meal. In Canada, taxes are added to the total. This is an odd experience when the cost of what you ordered ends up being the cost of the meal!
- Oxford is in its own time zone. Christ Church Cathedral services begin five minutes later than “normal” time (Greenwich Mean Time), they explain, because the Cathedral still keeps the old Oxford Time which is five minutes west of Greenwich. Thus 6 p.m. Oxford time is 6:05 p.m.
- Oxford apparently gets about 250 days of rain per year. Like Vancouver there are three types of weather: has rained, is raining or is about to rain.
- Bicycles are a widely used and practical means of transportation--and for terrorizing pedestrians. Cars are less appealing as there is generally a lack of parking and roads are congested. In Canada, by contrast, your use a car to go a few blocks for an errand.