Extracurricular Activities | Holly Goes Abroad

Back in the States, there’s one aspect of high school and college that people seem to prize most of all: extracurricular activities. Be it sports, honor societies, clubs, performance groups, or community service, American academic institutions send a very clear message that they expect you to be busy at all times. Is this a uniquely American view, or would this obsession with being busy remain prevalent when I traveled abroad? What sorts of clubs and activities are available to students at Oxford? Would I be able to participate in them as a visiting student? These are some of the questions I’ll be answering in today’s installment of Holly Goes Abroad.

Activities Fair

In the beginning of Michaelmas term, all freshers (and visiting students!) are invited to visit the university-wide activities fair to explore what societies (what they call “clubs” here), organizations, and student campaigns Oxford has to offer. Like most third year college students, I’ve gone to my fair share of activities fairs in the past and thought that this would be no different.

I stand corrected.

The Oxford University activities fair was ENORMOUS. We wound our way through the Exam Schools for hours, simultaneously overwhelmed and excited by the plethora of options before us. They’re not joking when they say they have a society for nearly everything. There’s a society for every academic subject. Every sport. Spelunking in caves. Volunteering in nearby public schools. Tea drinking. Board game playing. Gushing over Harry Potter, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings, and virtually any other fandom you could think of. The list goes on and on and on and on, and after joining email lists for more societies than we could ever feasibly attend in a week, we finally made it out the other end.

The point of the activities fair is to expose you to everything the university has and then allow you to weed out what you really enjoy and what you’re not quite interested in anymore in the following weeks. Now that I’ve been here for more than an entire term, I’ve finally narrowed down my list to just a few commitments.

VSP Representative on the Mansfield JCR Bench

I’ve been involved in the Student Government Association at my college back in the States ever since I was a freshman, so I was ecstatic to learn that the Mansfield JCR Bench (the SGA equivalent) has a position for representing the interests and voices of visiting students at the college each year. Determined to take on this exciting position, I campaigned and was successfully elected last term (thanks, friends!). It’s fascinating seeing how other colleges around the world operate their student government systems, especially because there are so many layers to the Oxford JCRs. Not only must they take the views of their specific college into consideration, but there’s also a larger tier that looks after the entire university as a whole. I can’t wait to continue becoming even more involved in this group as the year goes on!


Yes, that’s right: I play sports now?! To be fair, the Mansfield/Merton Football Team is incredibly relaxed and no exorbitant amount of playing experience is necessary. I had never played soccer before, but my brother has played since he was much younger so I’ve watched countless games over the past decade or so. Because I’m awful on the field, I’ve been assigned to the position of goalkeeper. As you can imagine, it’s as nerve-wracking as it sounds. However, I really love the feeling of being part of a team and working towards a common goal. Fingers crossed that this season goes well!

Film Society

I’m also a loyal member of the film club back at Wheaton, so when I learned that Mansfield has a film society that meets on a weekly basis I immediately knew that I had to attend. It’s such a great way to spend Monday nights– relaxing with friends, eating snacks, and watching movies I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten a chance to watch.

As much a I deeply enjoy participating in a lot of extracurricular activities, being here has taught me something important: it can be equally as enjoyable and worthwhile to take some time for yourself. Back home it often felt as though extracurricular activities should be prioritized over academics, especially in high school when students are trying to build “strong” college applications. Perhaps it is simply because I’m in the unique position of only being here for a year abroad, but I feel so much less pressure to be constantly busy with extra clubs, meetings, and other activities. And it feels incredible. 

Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!

What are your favorite extracurricular activities? Do you ever feel pressure to be constantly busy? Let me know in the comments section below!




Feminist Fridays: I wrote an entire essay about hair?

Yes, you read the title of this post correctly: I recently filled an entire eight pages with an essay about hair. Since it has a decidedly feminist perspective, I thought I would discuss it with you all in this week’s installment of Feminist Fridays.

For my English Literature 1910-Present tutorial I was asked to read Not So Quiet… by Helen Zenna Smith, a WWI novel published in 1930. Helen Zenna Smith is actually the name of the protagonist– the author, a journalist named Evadne Price, wrote under a pseudonym. The novel follows a group of ambulance drivers from England working on the front lines in France. These women are volunteers from mostly upper-class families whose parents want their children to be bestowed with the honorable “glory” of the war effort. As I read the novel I couldn’t help but notice the plethora of references to the women’s hair, from when bold Tosh cuts hers to get rid of disgusting lice infestations to when Helen ultimately decides to cut her hair after being kissed by a soldier, suggesting a connection between short hair and overt female sexuality. Why was the mention of hair such a repetitive occurrence? I decided to do some investigating.

My concluding argument ended up being that although the women are able to cut their hair short on the Front because it is a liminal space where women perform masculine acts (such as driving ambulances), the Victorian ideals of virtuous femininity lingering in British society prevent women from fully deconstructing these traditional gender roles. In the literature of the Victorian Era, there was a clear link between long hair and proper womanhood. In Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market” that I discussed in a previous Feminist Friday post, a lock of golden hair is actually used as currency, rendering woman’s body a sort of commodity in the masculine economic sphere. As much as we would love to believe that the dawn of the twentieth century saw the immediate and pervasive rise of the “New Woman,” Smith’s novel shows that the transition was much more gradual.

Why is this important or relevant in the slightest? I think we’d be amiss to believe that these traditional Victorian ideals of what it means to “be a woman” have escaped modern society completely. In actuality, the stigma surrounding “unfeminine” things like short hair still exists today, albeit in less overt ways. If you perform masculine behavior as a young girl, you’re often labelled a “tomboy”…. but why can’t you still just be called a girl? Why must we distinguish between those who perform more masculine behavior rather than feminine actions? And who decides what is “masculine” and “feminine” anyways? This very discussion demonstrates that the lock of golden hair used in “Goblin Market” still hangs over our society’s head.

What are your thoughts on Helen Zenna Smith’s Not So Quiet…Have any recommendations for other works I should read? Do you feel as though hair is an important marker of gender? Let me know in the comments section below!



CHILDREN OF THE MIND by Orson Scott Card | Review

Children of the Mind is the fourth and final novel in Orson Scott Card’s Ender Quartet. This series begins with the well-known Ender’s Game, which tells the story of a young boy recruited and trained to be part of the International Fleet seeking to destroy the alien “buggers” that are a threat to Earth. The series was originally supposed to be a trilogy, with this novel initially being the second half of the third book, Xenocide. This final installment attempts to wrap up all loose ends in that have been woven and tangled throughout the series as the repercussions of Ender’s involvement in the universe finally take their course.

In my opinion, this series could have ended after three books and I would have been completely fine with it. While I enjoyed the first three books in this quartet immensely, Children of the Mind was an unexpected disappointment. Instead of an exciting, suspenseful, thought-provoking conclusion, this novel is actually slow, tedious, and rather dull to read. Other reasons why I dislike this novel include:

– Everyone is arguing. Ender and Novinha. Jane and Miro. Miro and Val. Miro and his entire family. (Miro is very angry, clearly.) Peter and Si Wang-Mu. The list goes on and on. After a while all of these arguments start to sound petty and unimportant when everyone is actually supposed to be saving the universe.

– It feels like nothing really happens. I usually love character-driven novels– but only when the characters are actually interesting and worth rooting for. When a plot moves slower than a sloth and there are few characters worth being invested in, what actually happens in the book? (Answer: not much.)

– I’m still not entirely sure what happened at the end. Rather than going out with a bang, this series ends with a confusing firework of random events. I was hoping for some clarity and closure, but no such luck.

It’s not fun to write negative reviews of books you expected to enjoy, but sometimes it has to be done. I highly recommend the first three books in the Ender Quartet (Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, and Xenocide) but Children of the Mind is an optional read as far as I’m concerned.

What are your thoughts on Children of the Mind or any of the books in the Ender Quartet? Would you recommend continuing on with books in the Ender series? How do you deal with disappointing books? Let me know in the comments section below!



Unique Blogger Award | 2

Happy Valentine’s Day! Whether or not you celebrate this strange little holiday with a partner, friends, or loved ones, you can always celebrate here by spreading some blogger love. Today I’m going to answer some questions as part of the Unique Blogger Award. Thanks so much to Marisa @ Marisa the Redhead for nominating me!

  • Share the link of the blogger who has shown love to you by nominating you.
  • Answer the questions.
  • In the spirit of sharing love and solidarity with our blogging family, nominate 8-13 people for the same award.
  • Ask them 3 questions.

Q1: What book do you want to read that has been on your TBR List forever? 

I talk about this a lot, but it needs to be said so that I’m actually motivated to read it. A Game of Thrones has been on my TBR list for FAR TOO LONG, people!

Q2: What genre do you usually stray away from and why?

Lately I’ve strayed away from books that are just romance, mostly because those plots tend to be quite predictable and straightforward. I do enjoy one every now and then, though!

Q3: If you could have dinner with three authors, who would they be? 

William Faulkner, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Willa Cather. Not only have these authors written some of my favorite books, but they’re also fascinating people in general. I can only imagine the conversations we would have!

  • YOU!!

  1. What is your favorite genre to read?
  2. What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?
  3. What’s a surprising thing you love about blogging?

Thanks so much to Marisa for nominating me! Definitely check out her blog! ❤ And have a lovely Valentine’s Day!

What are your answers to these questions? What do you think of mine? Let me know in the comments section below!



Top Ten Tuesday: A Break from Romance

Happy Tuesday!! Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, meaning it’s time for a Top Ten Tuesday love-themed freebie. Instead of talking about my favorite fictional relationships or how I hate love triangles when used as a major plot point, today I’d like to highlight ten books with little to no romance in them. It’s unsettling– though not very surprising– how challenging this list was to create. Why do writers feel as though every single story has to revolve around romance? Aren’t there other aspects of life that can create plots that are just as interesting, entertaining, and captivating? If you’re tired of the love bug this Valentine’s Day, here are some books to check out:

 What books do you like to read around Valentine’s Day? What are your favorite books with little to no romance? What do you think of the ones I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!



Oxford Union | Holly Goes Abroad

Today I’d like to talk about a wonderful, fascinating, and controversial aspect of Oxford University: the Oxford Union. Founded in 1823, the Oxford Union is a hub for debate and speech both by students and guest speakers alike. Each week there are a plethora of events, from celebrity speakers and formal debates to pub quizzes and even sometimes balls. There are also libraries and study rooms available for members in the various Union buildings.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see some incredible speakers at the Oxford Union: J.J. Abrams, Sir Ian McKellen, Monica Lewinsky, and Alec Baldwin, just to name a few. Usually for these more famous speakers you have to get to the Union well in advance and stand in line to make sure you get a seat. This typically involves my friends and I studying in the Union library while simultaneously checking up on the line from the window, then running across the street to grab a burrito for dinner before heading over to wait in line. It’s amazing to hear these people speak in such an intimate setting, especially since members of the audience get to ask questions at the end of the interviews. Seeing these famous figures speak in person makes you realize that they’re just normal people in actuality. I’m so lucky that my time at Oxford has been filled with surreal experiences like these– I would never be able to see McKellen (GANDALF!) speak back in the States!!

Some Union buildings looking pretty sinister.

I also love attending the formal debates at the Union that occur at least once a week. The topics range could be anything and everything, from privacy policies in our technological world to celebrity culture’s impact on the feminist movement. Debate speakers are a mix of Oxford students and well-known figures in the fields of whatever the debate subject is at the time. Debates can be fascinating, tense, hilarious, frustrating, or empowering– you never know what you’re in for that night!

A blurry photo of J.J. Abrams!!

The controversial aspect of the Oxford Union is the fact that in order to attend these events you must become a member, which requires an exorbitant membership fee. I suppose the deal is better for matriculated students who live in England because they can simply pay for a lifetime membership and get their money’s worth over several decades. However, for someone like me who is only at Oxford for a year, the expensive cost is pretty ridiculous. Of course, I have found ways of justifying buying one to myself– I’m only here once so I might as well experience everything while I can, if I go at least once a week for the entire year then it makes it worth it, etc.– but it’s still a hard bargain to swallow. Besides, what about Oxford students who cannot afford to buy a membership? In my opinion, if you attend Oxford University you should automatically be considered a member. I understand that this ideal situation would leave the Union with no substantial form of income, but couldn’t that be negotiated and changed over time?

While I love going to Oxford Union events, I will admit that it is a  bit of a problematic pastime.

Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!

Have you ever attended an event at the Oxford Union? If you could listen to anyone speak, who would it be? Let me know in the comments section below!



Feminist Fridays: ANN VERONICA by H.G. Wells

Today’s Feminist Fridays feature focuses on another text I’ve read for a tutorial this term: H.G. Wells’ 1909 novel Ann Veronica. Set at the turn of the century, the novel tells the story of a young woman named Ann Veronica who yearns to achieve a sense of personal independence from her controlling father. What begins as mere trips to London and an aspiration to study science at a prestigious university ultimately leads to involvement in the woman’s suffrage movement, an unpleasant affair, and even eventual elopement. Although the beginning of this novel seemed to promise an empowering feminist read, it ultimately left me with a sour taste in my mouth and more conflicting feels than I know what to do with. 

On the surface, it seems as though this novel is about a young woman breaking away from traditional Victorian gender expectations and achieving independence as a New Woman. However, a closer look reveals that Ann Veronica doesn’t quite reach as far as one would hope or expect. Although she does get involved with the woman’s suffrage movement while in London and even spends time in jail after participating in a protest, she quickly abandons the endeavor when she realizes that she doesn’t fit in with the supposed “man-hating” suffragettes. Wells paints an overtly negative portrayal of the suffragettes, implying that they have no sexual desire and are destined to live their lives alone and unmarried. Ann Veronica may have left her controlling father behind when she moved to live by herself in London, but she is never without influence from an older man. She continually revolves circles around the men in her life, following their actions and taking on their beliefs. The most obvious example of this (spoiler ahead!) is when she gets married at the end of the novel and is no longer referred to as Ann Veronica but “Mrs. Capes” instead. In this way, Ann Veronica travels full circle from the hands of one man (her father) into the hands of another (her husband).

George Orwell by George Charles Beresford, black and white glossy print, 1920

The more I researched about this novel, the more I began to question it as a feminist text. Apparently it was written as a sort of autobiographical story about H.G. Wells’ own affair with a woman named Amber Pember Reeves. This brings up interesting questions about what his motivation was for writing this novel in the first place. Wells also has rather hypocritical views on woman’s role in society as well. Although he was a proponent of “free love,” he only did so under the stipulation that it should be for reproductive purposes. There was little room for complete equality between men and women in his ideology.

The novel is also complicated by the fact that it is a man writing from the perspective of a woman. How could Wells possibly know what it is like to be a woman living during this time? How are we to trust his opinions when he has not experienced gender inequality for himself? It’s all too easy to take this novel at a distance and categorize it as a feminist work, but the more I think about it the more I wonder whether this is an accurate label at all.

Ann Veronica may be frustrating and infuriating to read, but it is also a fascinating look at what a man thought a woman’s life should be like at the turn of the twentieth century. If you want a novel that will challenge how you think about gender roles and woman’s rights, definitely check this one out!

What are your thoughts on Ann Veronica? How do you feel about male authors writing from a female perspective? Let me know in the comments section below!



UNCLE TOM’S CABIN by Harriet Beecher Stowe | Review

“The narrative drive of Stowe’s classic novel is often overlooked in the heat of the controversies surrounding its anti-slavery sentiments. In fact, it is a compelling adventure story with richly drawn characters and has earned a place in both literary and American history. Stowe’s puritanical religious beliefs show up in the novel’s final, overarching theme—the exploration of the nature of Christianity and how Christian theology is fundamentally incompatible with slavery.” {Goodreads}

First published in 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin has often been described as the book that launched the Civil War. Despite not having read it until recently, this book had been mentioned often enough in past history classes that I figured I had a pretty good idea of what reading it would be like.

Well, I stand corrected.

There’s no denying that the historical significance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is remarkable. The story goes that upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, President Abraham Lincoln exclaimed, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!” This novel was a powerful tool for those fighting to end slavery before and during the Civil War; however, it’s easy to forget the story’s antislavery intentions when a modern reading of it reinforces disturbing racial stereotypes. Slaves are often portrayed as ignorant, unconditionally loyal to their masters, and eager to please as many people as possible. I was also taken aback by the glaring religious overtones in this novel; as someone who isn’t religious, it felt as thought I was being pelted with Christian beliefs over and over and over again. Then there’s the fact that this novel was written by a white woman who wrote a novel based on secondhand accounts of slavery from fugitive slaves. Where is the accuracy there? The authenticity? (Hint: there is none.)

This tension between the novel’s historical importance and the actual content and story within the book itself makes writing a review of it much more challenging than I initially expected. The story itself was captivating and entertaining, and I genuinely wanted to keep reading to find out what would happen to the characters. I quickly became invested in Uncle Tom and his family while simultaneously feeling uncomfortable with how they are portrayed as one dimensional caricatures of human beings. Andrew Delbanco  has more clearly and eloquently put my conflicted feelings into words in his New York Times review of David S. Reynold’s “Mightier Than the Sword.” Delbanco writes:

In my experience, students can be embarrassed by it. They recognize it as a valuable document for understanding the history of what we now call the “conversation” about race in America. In response to the prevailing view of black people as inferior beings (a view long held in the North as well as the South), it lifted its black characters to the status of impossibly virtuous victims — just the elevation that James Baldwin felt was a kind of contempt. When Baldwin called Stowe less a novelist than an “impassioned pamphleteer,” he meant, in part, that her characters don’t seem capable of selfishness as well as self-sacrifice, or of pettiness and jealousy along with piety and wisdom. In short, they don’t seem human. Reynolds calls Baldwin’s a “blinkered critique,” though he concedes that Stowe trafficked in the clichés of “romantic racialism” while reminding us, fairly enough, that what now seems “like racial stereotyping” was “progressive” in her day.

So where does this leave me? I’m still conflicted. Let’s just say that while I appreciate the immensely important historical significance of this novel, I’m so glad that our society has come a long way from the language and portrayals of characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 

What are your thoughts on Uncle Tom’s Cabin? How do you deal with books that give you mixed feelings like this? Let me know in the comments section below!



A Classic Couple: Frankenstein and Jurassic Park

Do you like science fiction? I hope so, because this week’s Classic Couple feature highlights two famous science fiction novels that have made it to the big screen: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (1990).

Dangers of science || A major theme of both of these novels is the fact that humankind does not and cannot have complete control over nature. Try as we might, there is no place for humans as supreme rulers in the world. One quote I love from Jurassic Park sums this up nicely:

“But now science is the belief system that is hundreds of years old. And, like the medieval system before it, science is starting not to fit the world any more. Science has attained so much power that its practical limits begin to be apparent. Largely through science, billions of us live in one small world, densely packed and intercommunicating. But science cannot help us decide what to do with that world, or how to live. Science can make a nuclear reactor, but it cannot tell us not to build it. Science can make pesticide, but cannot tell us not to use it. And our world starts to seem polluted in fundamental ways—air, and water, and land—because of ungovernable science.”

Unexpected intelligence || The creatures produced in these novels end up being much more intelligent than the creators initially expended or intended. Both Victor Frankenstein and John Hammond believe they’ll be able to completely control what they scientifically construct, yet this is far from reality. Victor’s Creature argues for his right to happiness and asserts that Victor should create a female companion for him so they can mate. Hammond’s ultimate undoing is the way he underestimates the intelligence of the dangerous raptors who try hunting down all of the people on the island. These men don’t want to acknowledge that humans are not the smartest form of life, yet that is precisely what they learn by the end of these novels.

Violent twists || I always think it’s funny when people are surprised to learn that Jurassic Park is not quite the fun family movie they expect. Newsflash: PEOPLE DIE. While the Creature in Frankenstein has a reputation for being sinister due to movie adaptations over the years, the Creature in the book is actually much more terrifying because he closely resembles a human being. This is science reflecting our own flawed nature right back at us, showing humans that we are not always the peaceful beings we like to believe that we are.

Click here to check out other Classic Couples from past posts.

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with FrankensteinWhat are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!



Top Ten Tuesday: Longtime Members of My TBR

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) exposes all of those books we’ve been putting off reading for months and months (and years and years…). Today I’m going to share the unread books that have been on my TBR the longest. (Hopefully I’ll be able to read at least a few of these this year! No promises, though…)

Which books have been on your TBR for the longest time? What do you think of the books on my list? Which one of these should read first? Let me know in the comments section below!