Credit: Zeuxis photography 

The Zest of Challenge; the Sweetness of Triumph

– Angela King –

Michaelmas Term, 2017

 

Wanna hear a joke?

“A professor, a student, and an essay walk into a bar…”

Wait.

It’s no joke.

It’s a tutorial.

I think it’s important to go into tutorials with a good sense of humor because, honestly, tutorials are intense. Every idea and argument gets questioned, challenged, minutely examined with an attentiveness that is unsettling. But the very things that make tutorials so daunting—their individuality, their newness, the feeling of there being nowhere to hide—are also what make tutorials so incredibly wonderful and transformative. It’s okay to be daunted or uncertain at first. That fear goes away.

At Biola University, I majored in sociology with an emphasis in social work, but for Michaelmas Term 2017, I decided to study philosophy and political theory. I had never studied either topic in depth before, but since I had always been deeply fascinated by politics and engaged with political texts and themes as often as I could, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to dive right in. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And it was a good idea; although, it took me a long while to recognize that. Both my primary and secondary tutorials (and four mandatory lectures) were scheduled at the beginning of the week, with two essays due on the same day. So I began the term in a state I can only describe as panicked. Struggling through those first two essays, I was convinced that I had made a huge mistake by pursuing a discipline I hadn’t been trained in, that my prior ignorance of the subject meant I would never be able to write something worth reading. The rich delight and fascination I had experienced during British Culture seemed like a thing of the past. I didn’t know what I was doing. I briefly doubted whether I had ever truly written an essay. I felt like a fraud.

Joy came to temper that humility. While I never felt completely satisfied with my abilities, or arguments, or essays, (A good thing! Complacency is the enemy of growth.) I did grow in my assurance that I could do the work. More quickly than I had thought possible, the laborious grappling with books and concepts became manageable, enjoyable. The bitterness of doubt was replaced with the zest of challenge, the sweetness of triumph, as my tutors required me to examine my thoughts, notice my assumptions, articulate my own opinions and either defend or refine my arguments. (Pro-tip: the question is a question, not a prompt, and requires an answer, not a musing.) The topics were rich, the sources engaging, and many a time I would walk through the university parks almost humming with pleasure at the ideas I had just encountered in the library, the conversations I had just left, the arguments I could discuss with friends as soon as I climbed the hill back to the Vines. Initially so perplexing and humbling, tutorials developed into a steadying sort of rhythm, underlying and enhancing my enjoyment of all of my other experiences in Oxford. When I returned to the US, I was constantly referring back to authors I had read and ideas I had discussed with my tutors, and I was profoundly grateful for the way they shaped not only the content but the method of my thinking.

Since then, I’ve read more and written more and graduated from college, but Oxford will always hold a treasured place in my memory. I’m currently working towards graduate school and a degree in political theory. And I owe that dream to Oxford—and tutorials.

 

Angela, MT17