An Official Offer…

January 2, 2009

I was accepted into the University of York recently, whose Centre for Mediaeval Studies is purported to have the best program in the UK (if not in the entire world). The email arrived on Christmas Eve barely hours after I had discovered my possible cancellation from Cambridge’s program. In that sense, it made my Christmas. I have yet to hear from Oxford, though I nearly have placed all my eggs in a Yorkshire basket. I know very little about the program or about the city of York itself, and I have spent much of the past week scouring various websites to learn.

The University itself is organized very similarly to the Ox-Bridge system, whereby students are appointed to a particular college within the University. The college a student is placed into is said to provide their scholastic identity, a kind of academic nationalism, and inter-collegiate rivalry within the same university is common. It is not clear to me whether this rivalry and college pride are particularly present at York, but it is certainly obvious that the school hopes to recreate the social cache of Ox-Bridge. It has certainly assumed much of the academic success of its inspirations, having risen sharply in the league tables rating British universities. While consistently in the top 10 in the UK, it has proven particularly successful in several fields, of which Medieval Studies is included.

York was founded in the 1960’s, which I found surprising given the beautifully manicured and extensive grounds held by the University. Unlike the other so-called “red brick” universities, York is an architectural paradigm that does not seem to reflect the socially conscious (and near-uniform ugliness) of other 1960’s buildings. Just outside of the medieval city, within Heslington, the campus lies. With limits on the actual construction of the site, there are ample areas to relax with nature, surrounded by trees, forests, and lakes.

As a Medieval Studies postgraduate, I would take the majority of my modules at a site known as the King’s Manor, a lovely building or semi-connected string of buildings in the center of medieval York. If the location were not ideal enough, being ever-so-close to York Minster and other popular sites, the building itself could make up for it. It also houses the department of archaeology, which is a staple of the Medieval Studies MA program (and on of particular interest to me). I have been interested in archaeology for some time (particularly related to my obsession with ancient Egypt and my near-entrance into the field of Egyptology). This program gives me the opportunity to really explore whether I would be interested in further pursuing the field without attending a costly field school, the programs of which often cost nearly $5000. In addition, I am encouraged to pursue the disciplines of history, English, and art. This is certainly more lax than the Ox-Bridge applications that forced me to choose between history and English, but for an entirely useful purpose. I am using the MA program to explore where my interests truly lie, and exploring my options will provide the most clear path.

My concern with the King’s Manor location relates mostly to my housing options. I am guaranteed housing by the University. However, having seen student residences before and an occupant of student residences for several years, I find the option of private accommodation so much more appealing. I feel as though it is a necessary part of growing older: I have to have something of my own. I need a place to cook my own meals. I need a place to clean on rainy weekends. I need a place to make my home- at least for the year or more I am living in York. Student accommodation, while more reasonable in price, does not provide a sense of ownership. Moreover, it would be located on campus, which seems useless to me when I would likely have classes in town. And I have already found some charming flats in the city center that I would die to have at a fairly reasonable cost.

York is certainly a lovely town and truly medieval. From what I have read, I understand that it is quite small (under 200,000 people). It would surely be a change from the 8 million of New York, but not vastly different from the 400,000 of Florence. I understand smaller populations given the eighteen years I spent in Stuyvesant with 2,000 neighbors, and this hardly qualifies as small. And thus far, I have found that English cities function more as close-quartered suburbs than the cramped apartments I have seen for the past few years. Pubs line corners and become second homes for many people, and communities are created within the business. I like the idea of that.

Nonetheless, the school and the city appear absolutely idyllic. Here are a few photos that I found appealing:

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