By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Malala Yousafzai, the girl who was shot in the head and survived, and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate, is going to England’s Oxford University! Coincidentally, I was there two weeks ago, touring the world’s best college.
Depending on the report, the No. 1 college in the world honor sometimes goes to Harvard or Stanford University. If not the best, Oxford, which was founded in the 13th century, has a much longer history than the oldest U.S. colleges. Harvard and Yale can brag about a few U.S. presidents they have produced. However, Oxford has a more impressive record — 27 British prime ministers.
Asians and Harry Potter
Do Asians and Harry Potter have anything in common?
The pursuit of fantasy.
You’d be surprised that Oxford actually created Harry Potter. I am not saying that Oxford has a magic or wizardry program. Oxford consists of 38 universities, including science and arts disciplines. None of them is about magic.
Oxford is the proud home of Harry Potter. The movie was filmed right at Christ Church University (CCU), the biggest Oxford University, and one of the wealthiest colleges. CCU has produced 13 prime ministers, and the author of Alice in Wonderland used to teach there.
I could see why the producers picked Oxford for the movie. The colleges’ architecture reflects 600 years of history, from Saxon to Gothic, Neoclassical to Baroque. Stepping into Oxford takes you back to medieval times, another fantasy world.
Tied in with Potter, Oxford’s name just swells as one of the five most popular tourist sites, along with homes of England’s Royal family. At CCU, lines of fans were waiting to see the Great Hall.
There were no lines in other colleges though. You have to pay an entrance fee of five to seven plus pounds to visit each college.
The dining hall, where Harry would eat with his classmates in the film, is an actual dining hall for CCU students. You could imagine where Harry was sitting, and where he lived. Every campus has its own dormitory, library, church, and even gallery, plus acres of pretty green fields. It provided the perfect setting for the filming of the movie.
Tourists, especially mainland Chinese, visit Oxford in droves. It is the most sought-after college not only for Chinese, but Japanese, Koreans, Indians, and Pakistanis.
The Oxford dream is too irresistible. We saw potential students all over the campus. Someone was often speaking Mandarin within earshot. We bumped into at least 20 Chinese groups around the half-mile radius on our first day.
These organized tours brought visitors of all ages — 10-year-olds, teenagers, and their parents together. I understand how high school students might be inspired by Oxford. But 8 and 10 years old? C’mon! Disneyland is perhaps more fun! I recall a friend who planned a trip especially for her teenaged son to Europe. Halfway through the trip, the son expressed his boredom. He complained, “Mom, why did you drag me all the way here?” Message to parents: your kids may not appreciate the same things you do.
The expenses for these Chinese tourists cost $2,500 each —that’s for a week to travel to three cities, London, Oxford and Manchester. If the students attend a summer program, there would be additional costs.
One smart Chinese lady joined a 4-week English as a second language course. It also cost her $2,500 for her class, room, and board with a host family. Without being rushed, she saw much more of England and it cost less.
However, the chance of being accepted into Oxford is practically zero for most of them. And the chance to see Harry Potter’s place is also small, as their itinerary is focused on visiting colleges.
Those we met were disappointed that the tour skipped the setting for Hogwarts. Simply, there wasn’t enough time.
If I were superstitious, I wouldn’t have gone back to Oxford. Two years ago, we left the city as soon as we entered because my husband’s rental car hit a double decker bus. (Luckily, we had insurance.) The accident cut our visit short.
The chance of visiting Oxford again would be slim. But fate has a mysterious way of propelling me back. This time, we actually saw more of Oxford in two eye-opening days than our 2015 plan of being there for one day. Oxford is a one-hour train ride from London.
Our destination was Norway. The easiest way to reach Norway was through London and Hamburg, Germany. We started our trip in Hamburg and flew back from London to Seattle. It’s wise to start your trip in a different city and return from another city. That way, you can see more and save time.
My husband knew I always wanted to see Oxford, but he didn’t know why.
I met some Oxford boys at a party when I was a high school student in Hong Kong. I hate to say, they behaved like jerks, and they were arrogant and snobbish, although they spoke with a cool British accent. The Oxford brand still intrigues me to this day.
We also saw author Jane Austen’s exhibit at the Weston Library. An Austen book was required reading in my high school. It’s Austen’s 150th birthday and her fans wrote in the guest book that the Weston exhibit was far better than the one at her birthplace, Bath.
Oxford was interesting and unforgettable, and exceeded my expectations. Indeed, I was grateful to experience bits and pieces of Oxford’s charm and share them with my readers, especially immigrants.
“I can’t travel like you because of the language and knowledge barriers,” one reader said. “I enjoy reading all of your travel articles.”
I promise I will bring the world to you readers. ■
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.