“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
– ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, John Keats
I remember first arriving at Oxford in a daze.
I wasn’t sure if I had stepped out of a time-travel machine, or if my reality for the next three years was going to be spent in a temporal vacuum, complete with books, bricks and the ever-looming presence of the Bridge of Sighs (which I would walk past every day for three years between the Bodleian and my college – New College). I was prepared for the life of an academic troglodyte, but of course, the truth about my time at Oxford turned out to be a lot more dynamic and a lot less hermetic than that.
It’s now been eight years since my matriculation, and I wish I could tell my awkward, feet-shuffling, doe-eyed fresher self to relax, because the next three years are going to be some of the best and most inspiring years in your life.
In hindsight, none of that is hyperbolic. All superlatives hold.
One of the greatest ironies about my application to Oxford for English is this: before coming up to Oxford, I had been more inclined towards American and translated literature. British and Irish literature, on the other hand, I tended to read and appreciate at a wary distance. Sure, Austen’s wit would have me in stitches; Hardy’s grimness would ruin my mood for the day; and Wordsworth’s lyricism would inspire deep reflection, but somehow I never resonated with them enough to feel the sort of unadulterated rawness I detected in, say, a Flaubert or Dostoevsky or Updike novel. But all this would change over the course of my degree, during which I grew to appreciate the nuances, irony and deep sense of history that form the essence of British writing.
This ability to see things anew, and to understand a text from different angles and at various removes, is a skill that I had developed with each weekly essay I wrote for my ‘tutes’. It’s also something that has stood me in good stead since entering the corporate world, where characters and personalities are as sundry (and often, hilarious) as Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.
After graduating from Oxford, I worked as an English literature teacher and curriculum developer for about two years. I soon felt, however, that there was a bigger world out there to explore, and with that I entered the field of corporate communications, which requires a huge amount of writing, language and people skills – all which I’ve developed as an English Literature student. While communications has always remained my core expertise, I’ve worked at both multinational companies and emerging tech start-ups over the past four years, and the diversity that’s characterised my career so far has been incredibly rewarding (not to mention fun!). As I write, I have decided to take up a new challenge as part of the Innovation Strategy team at one of the largest professional services firms in the world, where I will help develop and market the company’s technological offerings and services.
But while I explore my path in the corporate realm, my passion for literature has not waned. In fact, if anything, it’s only grown with time, as I realise there are certain things in life that one can never give up – and for me, literature is one of them. Despite having worked full-time in corporate roles for five years now, I’ve maintained a literary education blog on the side, and about half a year ago I started a YouTube channel and Instagram page dedicated to sharing useful study content on English Literature.
All this stems from a deep sense of gratitude – my gratitude for having had the experience to study a subject I love at the best university in the world, which is what continually fuels my wish to share with others what I’ve learnt (and continue learning) about literature. I fell in love with reading poems, novels and plays largely because I was exposed to it from a young age, and this exposure is what I now hope to create with my blog and YouTube videos among current and aspiring literary students.
There is, after all, a way to both ‘do life’ and indulge in one’s passion – you just need to want it enough. My years at Oxford taught me that.
To visit Jen’s literary education blog (applicable to anyone studying English Literature at high school, e.g. GCSE, A-Levels, AP, IB etc.), check out: https://www.hyperbolit.com
YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/JenChan
Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/hyperbolit/