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Week 8: The End of Hilary Term

Sickness dropped over me like an overheated blanket.

For most of my last week I stayed doubled over in bed, coughing my heart into my lungs. I had attended a concert on Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 on one of the stormiest and snowiest days in Oxford this winter. It was haunting and lovely to hear a live performance of my favorite piece in the entire canon of classical music, and I sat trembling throughout the whole movement, tears streaming down my cheeks. The second movement was slower and gentler, but almost more painful—like the tender tendrils of flowers pushing through the still fingers of fallen men on a battlefield, only to have the tears of their loved ones wash over the corpses like a great and shimmering lake. The small, historical Sheldonian Theatre expanded and quivered with the strains of the concerto, and my heart swelled and throbbed at its call. It was worth all the pain that came afterwards.

Pain is easily forgotten, but it is bad enough while it lasts. I had caught the flu at the concert, and walking all day through a snowstorm to retrieve my readings from the library inflamed it into a bona fide fever. There was one night when I felt so ill I went sick at the sight of food and could scarcely dress myself without shivering all over in a cold sweat; the fever had broken the blood capillaries in my nose, unleashing at least five nosebleeds a day, and I felt more homesick than I had ever been. When my friend casually asked if I was okay, I nearly burst into tears and wept with loneliness and longing to be back in Korea. It is hard to be hangry and sick without anyone to kick up a fuss and over-nurse you! Thankfully, however, all the grades for my tutorial were already in, and my tutor was kind enough to cancel the essay for my last tutorial. And being sick brought proofs of my friends’ kindness: Jess and Katie brought me food, Lou offered packets of Korean gingseng, and my friend Brian kept me company over the phone while I struggled through the peak (or nadir) of my illness. Even as I missed home most sorely, I was moved by the spontaneous generosity of those from afar.

After a long, feverish week, I finally recovered my appetite and breath enough to put on a coat and take a short walk in the meadow behind my dormitory. One of the special and magical things about Oxford is how it continually startles you with its different corners: just a few steps away from a bustling, tourist-filled street, is the lush and green-scented meadow of Christ Church College, where Alice in Wonderland had sprung forth, and tulips swayed between tree roots. Weak and pale, I tottered rather than walked along, but felt painfully grateful to breathe fresh air again, and feel the ground beneath my feet, and see a sky bending under the weight of its own blueness. It was warmer in Oxford than it had ever been since my arrival, and tears of joy came to my eyes as I realized it was spring, and the ducks were flying back onto the water, and I would be home in Korea in a few days.

My first term in Oxford had come to an end.