High Table Dinners at Oxford University: Trinity College

Trinity College

Writing your first blog post is the hardest thing, you keep wondering what can I write about that will draw the readers in? Do I dive right into a topic or do I start off with something light and fun? These were the questions that were roaming through my mind as I was snuggled up in my bed thinking of what to write about. So, I decided why not write about the most memorable experience in my life.

The summer of 2019, I had the opportunity of studying abroad at Oxford University, Trinity College. During the program orientation, we were told to pack our fanciest dresses for the High Table dinners that would take place every Tuesday night. Now, you’re probably wondering “what is a high table dinner?” well, that is the same question that my cohort’s and myself were curious about.

High Table Dinners: It’s an old tradition that takes place in most prestigious universities such as Oxford and Cambridge where the students, tutors (British term for professors), and sometimes a special guest enjoy a fancy five-course meal together. The tutors and special guest sit at the high table (literally a table that’s stooped up) while the students sit in long tables across from each other (picture any of the dinning scenes in Harry Potter). For our summer program, each week several students were invited to sit at the high table next to their tutors. This allowed the student to get to personally know their tutors outside of the classroom. The perks of sitting at the High Table consisted of unlimited wine and getting to drink coffee at the end of the dinner ;).

The table at the front of the room is where the tutors and guests sat.

Our High Table dinners started off with receptions (as we famously called it PIMM’S reception) which consisted of drinking cocktails/mock-tails and speaking with the tutors and fellow students and lasted for about 30 minutes. I saw this as their way of loosening us up for the long/non-academic conversations that we were to later have during dinner. As you entered the dinning hall, there was a table chart of where each person would be sitting (yes, it was that serious) and dinner begins once those sitting at the High Table have walked in. There’s a loud bang that happens and everyone stands up and a prayer is said in Latin and then the drinks and appetizers start to come out.

PIMM’S
This is as fancy as it got!

To back track, prior to attending the first High Table dinner, we were given a lesson on how to use cutlery — which one was for the soup, desert etc. Anyways, sitting down there were two glasses and what felt like a hundred cutleries in front of me. The glass on your left was for red wine and the one on the right was for white wine (if you didn’t want any wine, turning you glass over was an indication of that) I can hardly remember what each cutlery was for… I mean who really does? Overall, the dinners were amazing with the room filled with the clash of folks and knives, conversations, and laughter.

The set-up for each person along w/name tag
One of the main dishes, the village girl in me had to resist grabbing it with my hands 😉

After desert and tea were served and consumed, there was another loud bang that signified the end of dinner. An announcement was made and we were all invited to head downstairs to the beer cellar for some more sipping and conversing.

Personally, this part was a bit awkward for me. Growing up and schooling in Kenya, relationships/hangouts between students and educators was not a norm. The only place I saw my tutors was in class. So, going from that to having a drink with my tutor was quite the culture shock for me. But, through these hangouts it gave the students the opportunity to learn more about their tutors and the journey to professorships. It also opened up the opportunity to engage in intellectual conversations with people from a variety of fields.

Overall, this was one of the most memorable experiences that I had while at Trinity College. If you have the chance of attending a High Table dinner, it is definitely worth it!!!

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