I had the privilege of participating in a study abroad programme while enrolled at Boston University. I attended St Catherine’s College, Oxford for the Michaelmus term, 1989. I experienced the peculiarities and uniqueness that is Oxford.
No one describes this better than Rosa Ehrenreich in A Garden of Paper Flowers. I immediately identified with her reactions to the arcane customs, traditions and attitudes.
My favourite example is her essay writing experience. At the start of her studies, she put much effort only to receive mediocre scores. She suspected that her tutor wasn’t actually reading her work, so she began inserting random irrelevant words and phrases. By the end of the term she was submitting gibberish, yet her tutor told her how much her writing was improving, with grades to match.
A reader’s health warning is the subtitle, An American at Oxford. Ehrenreich does her best to appreciate the cultural differences, but doesn’t pretend to overcome them. While any Yank who’s ever had a taste of Oxford will promptly understand Ehrenreich’s perspective, regular Oxford alumni should appreciate this alternative view, too. (4/5 stars)