("Learning, Living, and London," continued)
Often the theater becomes the high point of a semester. I watched more plays during four months in London than in my whole life before or since. This semester, however, the high point seems to be the trips made by the joint class. Xia Peterson '98 says her favorite Danenberg event was the "The Lake District," and launches into a 20-minute description of the wonders of that week-long trip early in the semester. Now, on their second trip, the mud-stained students sprawled around the Dartmoor pub would be the first to attest that these are not just sightseeing jaunts.
"I don't know exactly what falling into a freezing stream and bleeding all over some wasteland has to do with my higher education," the unfortunate Charlotte says, "but I wouldn't trade it. I understand what I'm learning in a much more intimate way. I realize these poets and writers weren't just sitting around staring into space and emoting, and the scientists weren't in clean laboratories experimenting. Nature wasn't--isn't--just an academic question."
"The classes are interesting, and things like Stonehenge are all fine and good," she says, "But it's London that's amazing. I hope I can come back here to work and live like a real person. You grow up in America and you're blind to it, because it surrounds you all the time. Then you come to this city, and everything is a little bit different. Go out dancing or go to the museum and look at mummies. It doesn't matter; the experience is British, not American. It's changed the way I think. You can't talk about--for example--racism, and mean both British and American problems under the same umbrella. Now you have to think in particulars, see things in relationship."
Ben Mack '99, sitting on a rock in the middle of the moors, puts it this way: "I worked like a demon at Oberlin. I had my couple of good friends and Mudd Library. It was interesting and good and everything, but I wanted to come on the London program to broaden my horizons socially."
He looks at the physical horizon in front of him, dotted with wild ponies and yellow gorse bushes. "The truth is, I wanted to learn how to be social! And you know, I've learned to be an Obie from being here in England. If you loosen up, you can learn as much from living with a bunch of people as from going to class. I'll go back to Oberlin and get more out of my education than just what's in the library."
Susie Walsh '00, straddling a bench in the pub, leans forward as she talks, trying to make every word right. "I don't know how to explain it," she says. "I really like Oberlin, and I know lots of people. But you're surrounded by so many and it can feel very small. Here, with such a finite number of people, it feels huge." She laughs. "I know myself a lot better now than I did a couple months ago. It will make Oberlin a different place when I go back."
A few weeks after the Dartmoor trip, Gwyneth invites the group to her home for Thanksgiving dinner. The rooms are gorgeous, and the garden is lit with candles. Two perfect turkeys and endless side dishes emerge from the huge, old-fashioned range. Gwyneth alternates between chasing people out of the kitchen and asking them to help. Seconds, thirds, and fourths are devoured. In the parlor, someone is engineering a constant flow of quiet music. The end of the semester is in sight, and there is an underlying mellow sadness to the conversation and laughter.
"It's great to have a Thanksgiving dinner," says Amy Silveri, tucked into the corner of a sofa beside her British boyfriend whom the group has adopted as one of their own. "But it's almost too sad, cooking and eating an American meal with these people I know so well. We're all beginning to turn our faces away when we've been in each other's faces the whole time."
No arguments about nature and art, now; no one says anything. Then, thank goodness, the Leonard Cohen album that was playing ends, and a voice from the kitchen calls, "Pie!"