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Smithsonian at Oxford

By | July 27, 2016

As a hopeless anglophile, I was delighted to learn that the Smithsonian Journeys was once again sponsoring “Smithsonian at Oxford,” a seminar in which my husband and I had participated in 2003.   I registered immediately, and found myself counting the days until departure.

I took the train from London, where I had been visiting friends, to Oxford on the Sunday afternoon when the group was meeting.  I loved the change from the hustle of London to the quiet farmlands surrounding Oxford, I felt I was returning home.  Unfortunately, hundreds of others were as well, mostly tourists, so there was a bit of a wait for a taxi. But well worth it, as my driver maneuvered the cobblestone street to the Porter’s Lodge at Merton College, I reveled in the familiar sights, the impossibly beautiful spires, and the creamy stone of the college buildings.

The porter at Merton took one look at my bag and said he would take me to my room. I reluctantly accepted the offer of help, and was immediately grateful that I had. My single room was in the old tower, which I assumed predated the conquest, and the stone stairs to my room, worn thin by time, twisted upward, with small windows providing a glimpse of the courtyard below.  Although other passengers had more comfortable accommodations, I loved my small room (complete with bath and shower), and especially loved the gargoyle who peered in the window from the building opposite the tower.

Credit: Barbara Burian

Looking over the courtyard, I immediately fell in love with the gracious buildings and beautiful plantings.  Since I had arrived just in time for the welcome reception, I quickly (and cautiously) scurried down the stairs and across the courtyard to the room where the reception was being held.  It was lovely to meet fellow passengers, to drink a toast to our trip, and then to adjourn for our first dinner.

Dining at Oxford evokes memories of scenes from Chariots of Fire and Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Severe dons gaze down from huge portraits (although a couple of recent portraits are a jarring reminder that we are in the 21st century) while the subdued lighting and elegant table settings are reminiscent of a more gracious time.   During term, the warden and dons sit at “high table.”  This week, we will all get a chance to sit at table, enjoying the feeling that we have stepped back in time.

Credit: Barbara Burian

Our student assistant offers grace in Latin, wine is passed, and an excellent dinner is served.  A perfect start to what will become a perfect week.

Two courses were offered: The British Monarchy and The English Country House.  I loved my tutorial on the monarchy with Dr. David Souden, and those passengers who studied the English Country House were equally enthusiastic.  The mornings were spent in lecture, afternoons were filled with tours of key attractions (Christ Church Picture Gallery and Cathedral, Ashmolean Museum, Library and Chapel at Merton) and on Wednesday, a special trip to Stowe House and Gardens, where we saw an example of the opulence enjoyed by the aristocracy in the days before the war.



Barbara Burian has an extensive background in customer relationship management, event plan-ning and tour management. Her wide and varied experiences encompass tenures at New York University and Fairfield University, a career with the IBM Corporation which took her to the corners of the globe as a consultant on e-business, and extensive travel including acting as tour manager on trips to England, Finland, Egypt and Italy. She has visited over 50 countries on six continents, and continues to respond to the lure of a new adventure.

Mrs. Burian has over twenty years of teaching credentials within the corporate and academic communities. She has served on the faculties of New York University and Fairfield University, where she was instrumental in developing a program in computer ethics, and is the author of two books on information systems.

She is now retired, and pursues her love of travel and interests in horses, gardening, bridge and sports. An avid rider and one-time foxhunter, she keeps horses on her property in Connecticut. She continues to be active in the community and serves on the vestry and as treasurer of Trinity Southport Episcopal Church.

Mrs. Burian received her Masters in Business Administration in Information Systems from the University of Connecticut, where she was elected to Beta Gamma Sigma honor society, and her Bachelor of Arts degree from Mt. Holyoke College.

Mrs. Burian is widowed. She has two daughters and five grandchildren. She and her family live in Fairfield, CT.

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