Orangeville native reflects on years studying at Oxford University

November 20, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Baker

The category is ‘Latin origins,’ the $2,000 clue flashes across the screen – What is the traditional name given to the special ‘dark’ uniform students of Oxford University are required to wear for formal events?

Orangeville native Jasmine Proteau is the first one to ring in. 

“What is, subfusc?” she exclaims, confidently. 

Having spent two years inside the hallowed halls of one of the world’s most revered institutions, this is just one of the many interesting tidbits of information Jasmine has picked up on. Latin for ‘dark clothing,’ Subfusc are a set of robes that Oxford students don for special dinners and exams. 

“Think Harry Potter-style, Hogwarts robes,” Jasmine told the Citizen. “Subfusc is really cool. It’s a long black robe, black shoes. It’s a full uniform. Women will wear a black ribbon with it, too.”

It has now been a little more than three years since this reporter first met Ms. Proteau. At that time, she was a burgeoning student on the cusp of completing her third post-secondary degree. Already boasting a joint major in History and French from the University of Guelph, and a Masters of History from the University of Ottawa, Jasmine spoke of her plans as she approached the finish line of her Masters in Museum Studies degree from the University of Toronto.

She had always dreamed of studying abroad and, true to form, aimed high. She was one of only 40 scholars, out of thousands of applicants, to be accepted into Oxford’s prestigious DPhil in History program back in 2017. While her brain had gotten her part of the way, her wallet needed to contribute too. While Jasmine needed to have around $31,000 in the bank just to secure her spot in the program, it was estimated the total cost of procuring the PhD would exceed $150,000. 

Still, it was something the young academic felt she had to do. After saving a considerable amount of money herself, Jasmine received another $6,000 from members of the local community who wanted to help her achieve her dream. While in the U.K., she worked five jobs to ensure she was able to continue paying for her immensely expensive education, and continue to keep a roof over her head. It was hard work, but the payoff will be worth it, Jasmine says, as she expects to graduate by the end of 2021. 

Before we get to that, however, Jasmine spent a considerable amount of time describing her experience in London. As a history major, it was the “perfect place” for her to finally complete her education. 

“I will admit, the first time I stepped foot on Oxford’s grounds as a student, it was pretty intimidating. It’s such an awe inspiring place. The buildings, in terms of a North American perspective, there’s nothing here that we

have that are half as old as some of the stuff over there. A lot of the buildings are from the 12th and 13th century, and they’re still being used regularly,” Jasmine said. “There are taverns, and old halls that have literally hundreds of years of history. For me, it was just a dream being able to be there. It was almost like I went back in time.”

Considering her focus, going back in time would have been ideal. Instead, Jasmine had to settle for using the world’s most extensive library system to help round out her PhD topic. She based her thesis around 19th century European guidebooks.

“Back then, there were these main franchise guidebooks that everybody knew of. They were considered to be the only guidebooks in circulation that people used and studied, but you can only fit so much information into a book of that size,” Jasmine said. “So, I quickly discovered that there were a lot of women who were writing their own guidebooks to fill the gaps that the bigger books didn’t, or couldn’t cover.”

She added, “They wrote really, really well researched historical texts looking at art history, or the history of noted authors of the time, such as Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf. They took texts that were written in Latin, Italian, French, German and translated them.

“I was in a super fortunate position, because, being at Oxford, I had access to some really special archives, some of which contained originals of these books. I got to see some really cool private collections, and really got a bit of a backstage pass into the people and places of the 19th century. It was really fascinating, and I’m really excited to share my work with the academic community, as well as the average person who may be interested. It really showcases the amazing work these women did, and all the amazing things they achieved.”

In her thesis, Jasmine defined guidebooks into three genres – the general guide, which generally provides information on people and places; practical guidebooks, which focus in a lot more on specific historical events and artistic pieces; and academic guidebooks, which Jasmine described as being “quite scholarly” and difficult to follow. 

She is currently in the process of completing her final project. Once finished, she will be required to schedule a thesis defence, an oral presentation where she will answer questions about her chosen subject in front of a panel of reviewers. 

“If all of that goes to plan, then I get a doctorate. I’ll be able to put the letters in front of my name,” Jasmine said. 

Reflecting back, while there was some time to bask in the history of her surroundings, Jasmine had an incredibly busy two year period while she was physically at Oxford. The school’s PhD program is packed into three years, much shorter than the typical six-years it takes to complete a PhD in Canada. While there is a definite aura surrounding Oxford, it was the reduced timeline that appealed to Jasmine more than anything else. 

“Coming in at half the time, the program was extremely appealing for someone so eager to launch their career,” Jasmine told the Citizen three years ago. 

That sentiment stands true today. While it will take her slightly longer than she initially intended – four years rather than three – Jasmine says her post-secondary endeavours overseas have opened up doors she never would have imagined even knocking on this early in her career. She returned home in September 2019, the financial burden of living and studying abroad eventually catching up with her. She chose to spread her final course year out over 24 months, to make it more manageable while working full-time.

Today, she actually holds down a position she says she would be delighted to keep for the long-term. Serving as Cultural Development Coordinator at the Lincoln Museum and Cultural Centre, filling in for a maternity leave, Jasmine is helping to oversee the facility’s move into a brand new space. She has been informed that the museum would be interested in keeping her on as curator once her contract position is over. 

“It feels almost surreal to be here and actually working in a position that I would have dreamt about getting only after securing my PhD. I’m very lucky to be doing what I am right now,” Jasmine said. “Looking ahead, I’m excited to potentially be a part of the museum’s transition and helping to build the museum up into something that the whole community can be proud of. I’d also love to start visiting other museums – going back to the Museum of Dufferin would be awesome. I haven’t had the opportunity to check it out for a while.”

In closing, Jasmine wanted to take a minute to thank all of those in the local community who contributed to her cause and helped to fuel her dream, while encouraging others to follow in her footsteps and invest in their future.

“The only limits you really have are the limits you place on yourself. If you’re willing to put in the work, if you truly love what you do, then you have to go for it. If something lights you up, you don’t want to wake up one day wondering what could have been and having regrets. Just go for it, put it all on the line,” Jasmine said.

She added, “I have an awful lot to be thankful for. While I put in the work, that wouldn’t have been possible without all the encouragement I received, not only from friends and family, but from other members of our community too. All the lovely cards and messages I received – they really helped me through the difficult moments. This community gave me more than I could have possibly hoped for – so thank you for that.”

Readers Comments (0)

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.