Credit: Zeuxis photography 


Communal nourishment

– Phillip Quinn –

Michaelmas Term, 2017


I attended SCIO during the Michaelmas (Fall) Term, 2017. Arriving near Pullens Lane on a warm morning, I was soon swept off into the academic hustle and bustle. While in Oxford, I studied Ludwig Wittgenstein and various western Christian theologians, including Anselm, Abelard, and Aquinas. Oxford had much to offer: a rich cultural and historical atmosphere, a rigorous academic environment, a pleasant climate (whatever others might claim), and fantastic architectural and natural beauty. But among the most important elements that made the term the formative experience it was was the food groups.

That first weekend, I signed up for a food group and hoped for the best. We soon established a rotation, splitting off into pairs who would share cooking responsibilities for one night each week (excepting the weekends). It turned out well: being in a food group meant a hot meal at least a few times a week, a lighter load since responsibilities for shopping and cooking were shared, and a chance to decompress after a long day spent on academic tasks. But perhaps more important was that the group served as the nucleus for a smaller communal life within the broader Vines, SCIO, and Oxford communities. In a new, exciting, and fast-paced environment, it was helpful to have a little domestic sphere carved out from the start—a place where one got to know others through a shared experience cooking and eating together.

This little domestic sphere became even more important as the term progressed. Amidst the essays and lectures, field trips to Stonehenge and routine trips to the library, and the many, many bicycle rides up and down Headington Hill, the food group remained a constant comfort and encouragement. Come suppertime each evening, I knew the table would be filled, the food laid out, and the group gathered—to pray, eat, laugh, commiserate, ask how the day had gone, share what some lecturer or tutor had said, talk about future plans, and laugh a little more. It was encouraging to be reminded, on a regular basis, that I was in a community with others who loved learning and were all going through much the same experiences I was. More than that, I think this shared life gave me the confidence and communal nourishment that let me make the most I could from the time I had in Oxford.

What I never would have expected is the degree to which the food group continues to have an impact on me well after SSO ended. For one, it has shaped me academically. In many ways, SSO as a whole prepared me for where I am now (pursuing an M.A. in humanities and pondering continuing for still further studies); the fast-paced, reading- and writing-dense term, the access to research libraries, and the need to motivate oneself to explore new topics and form arguments gave me the skills necessary for thriving in the graduate environment. But it was the food group, that stable point in the whole delightful, madcap academic churn that was SSO, that gave me the base from which to make that work. More than that, though, I made good friends—some with whom I am still in contact all this time later. For this chance to share in a little common life in Oxford, and for the friends that I made in doing so, I remain grateful.

Phillip, MT17