UVic Torch -- Spring 2004
Spring 2004,
Volume 26, Number 1

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Emily Poupart, Jorga Zabojova, JanaLee Cherneski - UVic File Photos
Three more for the Rhodes: "Reaching beyond myself has been both the easiest and the hardest thing that I have ever had to do," Emily Poupart, MA '03, (left) wrote in her successful application for the 2003 Rhodes Scholarship awarded by Quebec. Current students Jorga Zabojova of Victoria (middle)-the 2004 BC Rhodes scholar-and Saskatchewan-raised JanaLee Cherneski start their Oxford studies in the fall.
Photography UVic FILE PHOTOS

But isn’t Oxford crawling with the elite? And isn’t being surrounded by all that history and architecture awfully intimidating?

“I was worried about the intimidation factor before I arrived,” Ballem says. “But it hasn’t been a big thing. There are some really brilliant people here but I work hard and I am a grounded person. You realize you do fit in.”

Claus wasn’t put off by the university’s reputation either. “I am used to people being skilled and more intelligent than me. It’s a good thing. I can learn from them. It’s more (a sense of) disbelief that I actually fit in.”

Many students struggle with the independent (some might say neglectful) spirit of Oxford’s graduate research.

“I have an absentee supervisor who lives in Saudi Arabia because his wife is Saudi,” Ballem explains. “In the past three months, I’ve had one half-hour meeting with him.” She manages because she works well independently and gets support from friends and fellow students. “I demand attention from him,” she says, referring to lengthy e-mails to her supervisor while he’s abroad. “He respects me and knows I will put up a fuss if he ignores me. But I know that if he were around, there would be far fewer mistakes made.”

Claus and his supervisor meet once a week. But sometimes he still feels like he’s fumbling in the dark. “Oxford is very self-guided. You really have to take the initiative.”

Ballem—the first of UVic’s current wave of Rhodies—is getting ready to return home to Vancouver to begin her training to become a certified speech-language pathologist. Ready to leave, she’s also uneasy about it. And she won’t broadcast having been a Rhodie. “We (Rhodes Scholars) tend not to talk about it. It’s hard to reconstruct the social environment. Of course I’ll tell my professors at UBC what my research experience is, but I won’t walk into class and announce myself as Dr. Ballem.”

Along with a copy of her doctoral thesis, Ballem brings home a coveted Oxford trophy—a pink rowing blade—won by her college rowing team, Worcester, at a university regatta. The former Canadian national kayaking champion found a second home rowing on the city’s Isis (Thames) River during two of her three years in Oxford. “The river is one of my favourite things about Oxford. I’ve missed the ocean, but the river is just so beautiful. I will miss the summer evenings, the dinner parties, the people…such interesting people. To be really honest, it’s been the most charmed few years of my life.”

At Oxford, the oldest English-speaking university in the world, a tangle of traditions is part of everyday life. Students become accustomed to the rainy weather and the floral scents from college gardens hidden behind golden Cotswold stone walls. They get used to fellow students dashing to the pub for a pint after exams, dressed in the black gowns required for formal academic occasions. They eventually discover the letters wedged into their pigeonhole and that a bop is a college party. The eccentricities of Oxford become normal. They get used to the bells.

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