Winding Down At Oxford

It’s my second to last week at Oxford and the reflections are pouring in. I still remember the zero week, also known as Fresher’s week, where first year students and visiting students go through various orientation programs. The experience was much more independent compared to Customs week; you didn’t have a specific set of orienteers that showed you around, played games, and what not (not that I’m nostalgic for any of that or anything). Instead a group of four students had a College Mom and a College Dad, both of whom were expected to answer any of your questions and maybe meet up with all four at some point. I sense that my voice is beginning to sound whiny so I’ll stop my description, lest my bitterness over nothing comparing to Customs Week seep deeper into this post.

But time’s flown by, like I said, I’m wrapping up, with only two more essays to go before I’ve finished all my work related obligations. I do have some lectures to finish up with, but other than that, I’m twenty pages away from winter break, which lasts 6 weeks. Interestingly, in the past 6 weeks, I’ve written eleven 10-page pagers, along with a presentation as part of a symposium on social insurance. The amount of work that I’ve gotten through still surprises me, compared with the amount that I’ve written in the past two years. I find the Oxford tutorial system very effective at helping students develop not only a deep understanding of the material they read but also a voice to speak about it.

Speaking of developing a voice, I’ve decided to start writing a blog on energy and the environment. A few months ago, I would have been averse to the idea of researching a topic independently and then writing a post on my research, but because of my adjustment to Oxford’s emphasis on essay writing, I’ve found it much easier to explore a topic that I’m very passionate about. I became interested in energy over the summer while interning at De Lage Landen, a vendor finance firm, where I research the natural gas market. The experience was eye opening, bringing me to the realization that I really don’t know much about such pressing issues such as the energy industry or climate change. What I did realize, however, is that these are fields that I would like to participate in, contribute to, create solutions for.

I’ve been especially motivated by my time here, from taking a Public Economics course, which has taught me the potential that economics has to solve the challenges that governments face, as well as from the ambitious environment that surrounds me. For example, last week I saw Elon Musk, an innovative entrepreneur who’s pioneered in the industries of space travel and electric cars. Hearing Musk talk about the steps he took through his education, business experience, and fund raising to build a rocket is ridiculous, amazing. Hearing him say that he wants to retire to Mars, speaking about energy sustainability as not only a priority, but also a potential social norm, all of this isn’t part of an outlook that you’re used to and so when visionaries jar you into perspective, you appreciate it.

If you’d like to follow my other blog on energy and the environment, here’s a link:

An Oxford Choice

It was a choice, I chose to sit in this café, inside an art museum, and I chose to write this post in the middle of the afternoon. On my way here, after having been inspired from the sight of the café’s storefront below my window, I had to walk three minutes in a roundabout way through Pembroke (my college at Oxford), the streets, and past my window again, to get to where I am now. I had many other locations to choose from on my way here, the first of which was the quad in my college, surrounded by seventeenth century, castle-like dining halls, churches, and dormitories. I could have taken a turn to the right, instead of going straight, and I would have ended up in Christ Church (another Oxford college), walking past its commanding clock tower (which, at night, adds an especially eerie tone to St. Aldate’s otherwise quiet street) and into its meadows, filled with cows, horses, and storks. I could have even continued straight, not taking the left past my window, and ended up on corn market street, a market as old as Oxford itself was established, full of the excitement that it attracted because of its many one legged and magical street performers.

I chose to sit in a relatively low-key café precisely because of the balance that it brought in the face of such an otherwise overwhelming experience. My day was exciting enough to tone it down, I thought, having spent my morning studying consulting cases, preparing for possible internship interviews, and then going to a lecture by one of the UK’s top labor economists on the difficulties that econometricians face when studying the labor supply. On my way back, listening to a podcast by Harvard’s Occupy Movement on the origins of the UK’s monetary system, I walked past High Street’s stunning medieval architecture, the very beauty that power built, the very power that my podcast chastised. I arrived in my room once again, exhausted, and once again, overwhelmed; being an economist, I naturally asked myself how I could optimize my five hour block of time before class started again. This race to occupy myself was motivated by what everyone has told me, and what I’ve experienced myself, that there’s always something interesting happening at Oxford. You could go to a talk (I signed up to see entrepreneur Elon Musk tomorrow night), you could get in touch with other ambitious students (I scheduled a coffee for Friday with a Rhodes Scholar), or you could go to career events (I already attended the recruiting events held by some of the world’s leading international banks). Not to say that I thought that I’d done it all, but peeling away my jacket and jumping into bed, I did feel that my choice to rest for a bit wouldn’t be undermining the incredible opportunity that studying at Oxford provided.

Surprisingly, it feels that way sometimes. There have been too many days that I would find myself short on time, wishing for the very five hour break that I had now, to finish an essay on the US’s trade deficit in 1970, to attend a lecture by the founder of the Oxford Martin School, to read up on South Asia’s energy crisis. Today, when my break suddenly appeared at an inopportune time, as they so often do, I found myself feeling guilty and paralyzed, scrambling to find a use for it. Having napped with the hope that I would wake up realizing that I had something important left on my to do list, and a metaphorically blank list in front of me, I finally came to terms with the relaxed trajectory that my day was taking, and chose to find myself in a café for the rest of the afternoon.