Goodbye, Oxford

34 papers later, I have finished my Oxford coursework. I am writing this at my favorite desk at the almost-completely-empty Radcliffe Camera, and I am dreading leaving this place for the last time.

One of the nicer pictures I took this year. For reference, I am currently sitting in front of the window in the direct middle of the building.

This term I did not summarize my bi-weekly experiences like past terms, but I think that is because I found a routine where my typical day rarely changed. I found it a worthwhile experience to spend my days working in the crypt area at Mansfield. I would meet some of the other Holy Cross students and we would have coffee, talk about our course work, or just sit together and read. With the weather being much better now too, the walks to school became more enjoyable, so I ended up spending more of my free time at Mansfield.

My good friend Matt and I celebrating our final formal dinner at Mansfield.

In this final blog, I want to say that the Oxford experience, while extremely demanding both intellectually and emotionally, was enjoyable and formative. The sense of satisfaction in completing this tremendous workload is enough for me to recommend this program to anyone who wants to push themselves.

The Oxford experience relies on the effort you put into it. I witnessed some people travel too often and thereby miss out on the experience of living a day-to-day life in the city. Other people participated in too many clubs and social events and their performance in tutorials suffered because of it. Others spent too much time in their rooms working and missed out on the beauty and history of the city. I think that it would be fair to say that a balance of travel, leisure, and work is key for an enjoyable and fulfilling study-abroad experience here at Oxford.

The view from my front door.

I will conclude this blog by talking about the highlights of my year, while at the same time giving some general advice to any future Oxford visiting student.

Becoming a member of the Oxford Union is essential. The list of guest speakers each term consist of famous actors, influential politicians, great contemporary minds, world-renowned athletes, and many other interesting people.

Attentive students at J.J. Abrams’ talk. Photo credit belongs to the Oxford Union. Can you find me in the crowd?

Joining a club, sport team, or society is a must, as well. I joined the university tennis team after Michaelmas, and one of my only regrets this year is that I did not join the team sooner. There are ways to get involved in sports such as rowing even if you have no prior experience. If you do not mind cold water or waking up at 6am everyday, I would recommend joining the Mansfield rowing team.  Everyone I know who participated made great friends.

When it is warm in Oxford, I recommend spending time in University Parks. Sometimes I would go there for long introspective walks during study breaks. It is also a perfect place for picnics.

A peaceful area at the University Parks.

Hopefully I did not scare away any potential applicants, but I also hope that my description of the experience is honest and authentic.

I want to take this opportunity to thank my readers. Through this medium I believe that I was able to give you all a glimpse into what life is like for a visiting Oxford student. 

This was a year that I will not soon forget.


Thank you, Oxford.

Beating Cambridge and FA Cup Final

I made it to Cambridge for the first time last week for a tennis match. Our team played Cambridge’s 4th team, and I won my matches at second singles and first doubles. I won my singles 6-0 6-0. I am borderline untouchable on grass. Usually Oxford always loses in this fixture against Cambridge, so it was an amazing feeling knowing that I helped give the best university in England bragging rights over the second best university in England.

It was nice to have the opportunity to play high-level tennis this year.

I have also been playing for Mansfield in a university-wide tournament amongst the colleges. So far we have beaten Brasenose, St. Anne’s, and St. Edmund Hall. For such a small school, definitely not known for athletics, it is cool to be able to say that Mansfield is one of the top four tennis colleges at Oxford.

In other news, this past weekend my dad and I went to the FA Cup final in London. We are die-hard Chelsea fans, so it was great to see our team beat Manchester United.

A lovely day to watch Man U lose.
A couple of true blues at Wembley!

This weekend I am going to Germany for a few days, and then I have two very busy weeks before I fly home.

I probably will only have time to write one more blog entry after this one, so prepare to be overwhelmed with emotions in about two weeks.


Finding a Balance – Essays and Tennis

Just this morning I was on the phone with my mom and I realized that I have written 27 papers so far this year. Looking back, I remember thinking I was going to die after writing my first one. My roommates back at Holy Cross were texting me last night complaining about their final paper for one of their classes that needs to be around 3000 words, and it took a lot of strength on my part to not say something snarky like “I do that every week, jerk. Get over it.” I do not feel bad about writing this here because I have a feeling that they do not read my blog anyway. Sad!

My first paper in my Ethics tutorial caused a relatively heated debate between myself and my tutor. I have received good grades so far at Oxford, but I am a tad bit concerned with how I will be evaluated in this one. If you, the reader, tell someone who knows me that “Henry is struggling in his ethics class” they would probably chuckle and say that they are not surprised.

I am currently taking a break from writing a paper for my primary tutorial to write this blog. I resort to humor when I am overwhelmed/stressed. Hopefully you have found this funny so far. If not, I understand.

Henry “is funny” Harrs breaking the rules outside of Magdalen College.

I feel that I have hit my stride here at Oxford. Tennis practice three or four times a week keeps me in decent shape and in a better mood overall. It is a shame that I am only here for another five weeks.

In other news, I travel to Cambridge next Wednesday to play them in tennis. This is a practice outing before we play each other in the annual Varsity match in late June. Sadly, I go home before then so I cannot participate in that match. Though, that is certainly good news for Cambridge’s tennis team.


Trinity- 1st Week

Week 1 of Trinity term begins today; many sleepless nights await me.

The weather this last week has been nearly perfect. 70 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer every day for the last four or five days means that I am very happy, but it also means that I have a strong case of spring fever. There are still twelve papers that need to be written, sadly, and all I want to do is be outside.

A beautiful day at Mansfield.
Eating dinner outside with Matt. Clean plate club. Yum!
My first smile in months.

Tennis is beginning to get serious about now, too. During Trinity term the individual Oxford colleges play weekly matches against each other. On top of my university team duties, I am now also playing for Mansfield. There is also a university-wide tennis tournament for those on the university teams, and my first round for that is on Wednesday. All of this preparation is leading up to our varsity match against Cambridge in June.

During my free-time these last few days I have gone on a few long walks in University Parks. It is stunningly beautiful while in bloom.

There are only eight more weeks left at Oxford, and then I will be going home. I will not get emotional just yet because there is simply too much work to be done.


Easter in Dublin

I spent Easter weekend in Dublin with my friends who are studying at Trinity College. I visited the Old Library, and it was magnificent. Sadly, the Book of Kells was not on display at the time.

A beautiful sunset at Trinity.

Entering the Old Library.

This week I am beginning to prepare for my tutorials for Trinity term. For my primary, I need to read a true classic: Plato’s Republic. My secondary is Ethics, and I am still waiting for my complete reading list. I should be a true philosopher king at the conclusion of this term.


Travel, Reading, and Rest

Last week, my family treated me to a lovely few days in London and Barcelona. In London we stayed at the Savoy hotel. I did not leave the hotel at all during that trip, because staying in a five-star hotel may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, especially given the fact that I am a philosophy major. During my day there I got an exfoliating facial, and then ate some cookies. For my standards, that was a perfect day.

Then, in Barcelona we stayed at the Mercer Hotel in the Gothic quarter. Gorgeous narrow streets, tapas restaurants, and cathedrals highlight this area. The hotel was a mix of new-concept architecture built into the ancient roman that remain in this area.

Casa Batlló, designed by Gaudí.

If I could recommend one place to visit in Europe for a vacation type trip, I would say go to Barcelona. Not only is it warm there (it was probably high-60s and sunny on my last day there), but the food is delicious, and the people are incredibly beautiful and friendly.

Grandma enjoyed the tapas and scenery.

To cap off an extravagant trip, My dad and I went to a Barcelona game. To see Messi, arguably the best player ever, from maybe ten rows up at the halfway line was certainly a highlight of my life. I am not a Barcelona fan, especially after they beat my beloved Chelsea a few days prior, but to see Messi play was a treat, and I am happy to say that I was able to see him. He scored an amazing goal, too. It was like watching Michael Jordan or Roger Federer. Awe-inspiring greatness is not something you see everyday.

At Heathrow on my way to Barcelona I ran into retired Barcelona legend Carles Puyol, and he was nice enough to take a picture with me. Also, I ran into a guy I went to high school with on a street in Barcelona. It is a small world.

Retired Barcelona captain Carles Puyol.

Now I am back in Oxford and feeling refreshed. I have about a month until Trinity term begins, so I still have a decent amount of time. I have been spending my time reading, watching Netflix, and exercising. I watched the entire second season of Stranger Things in a night a few days ago. I am also spending more time in the Radcliffe Camera, which is where I am now. It is nice to have time for pleasure reading again. I have already read a few books this break.

The ceiling of the Radcliffe Camera.

On Thursday I go to Dublin to visit my friends at Trinity. I look forward to the Guinness.


7th and 8th Week – End of Hilary Term

I am two-thirds of the way done with my studies at the University of Oxford. An overall successful term comes to a close, and I am excited to sleep, and perhaps travel, for the next six weeks.

Walking by “Logic Lane” on the way to Merton College.

In the news the other day, Sir Roger Bannister, a former Oxford academic and doctor, as well as the first man to run a sub-four-minute mile, passed away. He achieved this record at the Iffley track that is directly next to the tennis courts that I use. Even when you least suspect it, there is history wherever you go.

Speaking of history, it truly was a pleasure taking the Wars of the Roses tutorial at Oxford. If any of you ever have the opportunity to do so, no matter what you study, I could not recommend it more.

Oxford itself possesses influences from the Wars of the Roses. At Merton College, where I took my history class for the last five weeks, there is a Henry VII crest on the stone archway next to the entrance of our building. Our lecturer pointed this out to us on our first day. A king from the fifteenth century has his crest on a college that originated in the thirteenth century, and I am studying here in the twenty-first century.

Being at Oxford is awe-inspiring to say the least.


5th and 6th Week

Someone on the Oxford tennis team must have read my last blog because I was invited to play with the third team this past Friday. They must have enjoyed my spirited description of my encounter with the fourth team’s captain.

There are only two more weeks of Hilary term, and only two more papers to write. This is the point of the term where I am pretty fatigued and looking for motivation. On days like this I tell myself that if I manage to at least outline my paper and do all of the necessary readings, then I will buy myself Nando’s for dinner.

I plan on writing about the tutorials from this term during my vacation when I have a bit more free-time. But for now, here are some nice pictures that I have taken.

The path behind Merton College that leads to my history class.


My friend from high school came to visit. Here he is standing triumphantly under the Bridge of Sighs.
I plan on going inside the Radcliffe Camera for the first time later today.


Halfway Point – 3rd and 4th Week

With fourth week having been completed, I am now halfway done with my time at Oxford.

I have had plenty of incredible experiences here, and I have formed great memories. I have loved going to formal dinners, visiting the beautiful college buildings, and studying in many different and interesting libraries, but there have been difficult times as well.

Life on Cowley Road has its perks, but living so far away can be exhausting. People always recommend that you should buy a bike once you get here, but bikes get stolen all the time—just ask Brandon. While I personally enjoy the walk from Cowley to Mansfield, the road does get a bit dangerous later at night. I would always recommend that you walk with a friend once it gets late. And if you do decide to get a bike, be careful on the roads because they are quite busy, and make sure that you buy a good lock for it. But with all this being said, I am looking forward to the second half of the year.

I am playing on Oxford’s tennis team, and I am doing well in my tutorials. I am happy with how things are going.

Playing a sport adds great balance to life, in my opinion. Matt plays on Oxford’s  second team for football (soccer), which is amazing in itself, and I see how it positively affects the other aspects of his life.

I walked for over two and a half miles to take pictures of Matt playing soccer, but I got lost and missed his game.

I am currently on the men’s fourth tennis team because I joined the team midway through the year. I personally think I am too good to be on this team. I played the team captain in a match the other day and beat him ruthlessly and without mercy. My performance was a beautiful display of both power and grace. Hopefully, I will move up the ranks if I continue to perform well and remain kind and humble.

Other than that, not much is new. We had a “halfway” dinner for the visiting students and the second years at Mansfield on Wednesday night. After the dinner, awards were given. I thought the event was a bit frustrating because the students running the event created all of the awards and ended up giving the awards to themselves. Maybe I am just a sore-loser. I could have sworn that I would have won either “best-dressed” or “most likely to become a soulless investment banker.” Life goes on.


Close friends, Brandon and Tim, smiling and enjoying their friendship.

1st and 2nd Week

Two weeks into Hilary term and I finally have some time to sit back and reflect. My tutorials have been going well, and the quality of my writing is improving significantly, but I can certainly still work on time management. I am very sleepy.

My original plan for the year was to take all philosophy courses, but I changed a few things around this term. I am now taking history and a Buddhism tutorial. I still have a few remaining common-area requirements for Holy Cross, so I am hoping that my Buddhism will count for my cross-cultural requirement. Apparently I was taking too many philosophy courses to begin with, so, in order to graduate, I need to take more non-major courses.

Early in each term we need to submit course acceptance forms with a detailed description of each tutorial in order to get credit for the work that we are doing while abroad. I sent mine in a few days late, but I have not received an email yelling at me yet, so that is a good sign.

My primary is on the Wars of the Roses in 15th century England. It is an incredibly interesting time in history. The different primary sources that have existed are remarkable as well. The chronicles, parliamentary rolls, and manifestos still exist and are readable.

My Wars of the Roses tutorial is at Corpus Christi college.

My secondary is Buddhism. I have never studied eastern philosophy before, and it is quite different. My first paper topic was defending the buddhist arguments for anātman, which is the concept of not-self. It is hard from a western, Christian background to be able to consider the lack of existence of a self, or soul, but it is facinating nonetheless. I am looking forward to doing more background reading.

Outside of my classes, I went to a Premier League football match at Crystal Palace a few weekends ago. There is a bus stop directly outside the Ablethorpe dorm that has busses to London.

In the “queue”.
Crystal Palace’s mascot: a real eagle.

It has also been nice to watch some of the Australian Open tennis matches that are on at 4am while I am up revising my papers. And speaking of tennis, I tried out for the Oxford tennis club, but have yet to hear back. I will follow up with them soon.

I now have two weeks off from of my tutorials, and I am looking forward to having some free time.