Clare Lyle

Mathematical Musings
Posted on May 14, 2017 by Clare

Week 1 in Oxford

After having spent a week in England, I’m due for a blog post. This is going to be mostly a summary of my attempt to adjust to the UK, and I’ll hopefully post more about my insights into the future of humanity at a later date.

Oxford is better and worse than I’d anticipated. The buildings are pretty, the streets are narrow and paved with cobblestones, and the skies have been perpetually grey.

I tried to sleep on the plane to London, which was an excellent idea in theory but failed in practice because sleeping in chairs is a hard problem. I’d frequently find myself drifting off only to be rudely awoken by the sheer discomfort of my sleeping position.

As a note for anyone reading this with the intention of traveling sometime soon, I strongly advise the jet lag adjustment strategy of taking a red eye, sleeping a bit on the plane, and then just forcing yourself to stay up all day once you arrive. Being half asleep makes lineups seem to fly by while you’re getting out of the airport, and falling asleep on your first day in town, which could in theory be difficult due to the excitement of being in a new place, is a piece of cake when you’ve only had 3 hours of sleep in 2 days.

The London Heathrow airport was my first proper introduction to England, and I had the pleasure of encountering one of the many defining characteristics of the motherland: the queue. Specifically, the queue to go through customs, which took a little under an hour to get through. The customs officer was very nice when I finally got to the front of the line though, which almost made up for the 55 minutes of stunted shuffling. The line for customs also made the 8 minute wait to get into an elevator on my way to the bus station seem zippy in comparison.

Once I was on the bus, it was smooth sailing to Oxford, where I was treated to my first dose of “we do things differently here”, although it was a pretty mild dose as far as culture shock goes and I’m only recounting it here on the off chance it saves someone ten seconds of confusion in a future visit to the UK. Coffee, as it turns out, is not always automatically assumed to refer to a watered-down version of espresso, as is the case in Canada. Or at least, it didn’t when I tried to order a large coffee from the first cafe I visited in Oxford, where I instead had to specify that I wanted an americano. Apparently the international default for coffee is not watered-down espresso. Whodathunkit.

Oxford is beautiful, by the way. I swear, it’s impossible to go more than two blocks without running into a turret. It has these rows of easter-egg houses that look like something out of a children’s book, interspersed with grand old colleges, spires, and gardens. The Future of Humanity Institute Office is located a minute away from the Christ Church meadow, which is a great place to go for walking meetings with people.

The Future of Humanity Institute itself is tucked away on one of the aforementioned cobble stone streets. The people there are incredibly smart, and they’re all thinking about questions that concern, in some way or another, the future of humanity, which is perhaps unsurprising. What I was surprised by, however, was just how far in the future some people were thinking (as in, considering the upper bounds on how much of the universe we could feasibly colonize in the distant future). It’s a completely different atmosphere compared to student life back in the Lorne Trottier building in McGill, but something that I’m looking forward to getting used to.