A Letter From Abroad
Last year, Newman Nahas, who graduated with his bachelor's degree in English in May 2000, became UF's first Rhodes Scholar in over 20 years. The prestigious Rhodes scholarships, created in 1902 by the will of Cecil Rhodes, a British philanthropist and colonial pioneer, are the oldest international study awards available to American students. We first introduced Nahas in the spring 2000 issue of Alumni CLASnotes. He has been at Oxford University since last October, and, shortly after arriving in England, he wrote the following letter to several of his friends and professors at UF.
October 5, 2000
Hello! (Or shall I say "Cheers!")
I hope this letter finds you well. As most of you know, I left for England a few weeks ago with a four-day layover in Washington, and it's all been incredible.
Perhaps the highlight of my time in Washington was our visit to the Supreme Court. Justice David Souter gave us a great deal of time, discussing his own experience at Oxford, sharing his views on all sorts of controversial issues, and fielding a ton of our questions. We also had dinner one night at the British Embassy, which was quite an experience. It was one of the most formal events I've been to in my life--my first taste of the strong British sense of pomp and protocol to which there are few parallels in the states.
But enough about Washington. I've been at Oxford for several days now, and my enchantment with this place grows by the minute. Indeed, I don't think I could possibly overstate how beautiful it is. The architecture and landscape are breathtaking. I can't say too much about my academic experience yet, as I've not formally begun my studies. Lectures don't officially begin until October 8, though this hasn't stopped my advisor from already giving me a couple of assignments. (I am studying the history and doctrine of Eastern Christianity, with a concentration on Christianity in the Middle East.)
I've been going through a busy week of orientation. I've also been enjoying the very strong social life that characterizes Oxford. For instance, quite different from my experience at UF, at Oxford every student is part of a college (what we might call a residence hall), and each of these colleges has a very strong sense of community. This is primarily because each college has its own dining hall, its own longstanding traditions (which are in some cases 800 years old), and its own common room -- a meeting area with its own small bar and cafe where students and professors can often be found chatting over a cup of tea. In the common room, the norm is to walk up to someone new and introduce yourself. This provides an excellent opportunity to meet diverse people and come across all sorts of ideas. And unlike my expectations, I've found that once you get past the "British reserve" most Oxford students are open and engaging. The simple, ordinary, face-to-face conversation is indeed still a highly valued event within Oxford culture.
I've also found Oxford a very international place. For instance, my college is full of Africans, Indians, Australians, Americans and non-English Europeans, in addition, of course, to a good number of the sort of highbrow English students one envisions when thinking of Oxford. This diversity is good for me because I seem to click well with the international students. I find them easily approachable and quite friendly, especially the Africans, and I really like their sense of humor. For instance, last night, I spent about an hour having tea with a few Zambians, and it was such a comfortable and relaxing time, full of good laughs (most of which were the results of my constant mispronunciation of each of their names).
I've also had the chance to attend church at the only local Orthodox parish, and it was wonderful. The parish is pan-Orthodox--half Greek, half Slavic (with a strong British flavor thrown in for fun). I was also glad to find a large number (relatively) of orthodox students at Oxford, mostly Greeks and Russians, though I did meet one fellow Syrian.
But alas, Oxford is not without its shortcomings. For one, I find British food plain and heavy. But thankfully I can seek refuge in Indian food, of which there is a sheer abundance around town. The weather is another story. It's worse than people say--and, unlike the food, you can't replace it with foreign climates. It is always raining, never quite pouring like it does back home. It just steadily and drearily drops and drops for hours. And then when it's done, well, the sun still doesn't seem to show up. And things here seem to take so much more time. No one seems to be in a hurry, which--for a Miami-raised and congenitally impatient chap like myself--is requiring a good amount of getting used to!
Anyway, in these last several days I've done so much and walked so much and been to so many different places and had so many different thoughts that this letter could go on for a while, but I think this update is insufferably long as it is. So instead, I better use the energy I've got left to ask for your prayers, assuring you that you will remain in mine.