The City of Dreaming Spires: My year at the University of Oxford

The Radcliffe Camera in Oxford. (Teresa Mainzer/The Hilltop Monitor)

I still distinctly remember the feeling of arriving at the Heathrow Airport in London. I was filled with a combination of fear, anticipation and excitement. After preparing for the past two years at William Jewell College, it was finally time for the pinnacle of my Oxbridge experience — a full year of study abroad at the University of Oxford. Even after living in Washington D.C. by myself in the summer, I still felt unprepared for the new challenges that awaited me in Oxford.

Settling into a new country was a completely foreign experience to me, and the first few days presented several challenges. First, I had to figure out how to use my cellphone, adjust to the currency changes and learn how to navigate the city. After overcoming these initial adjustments, my first term had arrived and I was thrust into a new educational system. At Oxford, there were three academic terms and each term I took two tutorials each term, which are individualized and intimate classes with one tutor and a few students. My educational experience at Oxford was much different from Jewell, where I only had one tutorial and a busy course load. As the year progressed, I came to appreciate the tutorial system, since my days were much more free for me to focus on my studies, explore the city and pursue extracurriculars. 

Most of my days were filled with studying in beautiful historic libraries asI only had class once or twice a week. My favorite library was the Radcliffe Camera, which is one of Oxford’s most iconic buildings. I also enjoyed exploring the coffee shops in Oxford, with Peloton Espresso being my favorite. Being an Oxford student has so many perks, including the amazing catalog of books and journals that are readily accessible to students and the lecture series offered by world-famous academics. I enjoyed the benefits that tutorials offered as I was able to receive more individualized instruction and also was able to take tutorials on topics that aren’t offered at Jewell, such as Development Economics, Feminist Theory, and Politics in China.

Inside the Radcliffe Camera, where my favorite study spot was in the upper level. (Teresa Mainzer/The Hilltop Monitor).

As a visiting student at Mansfield College in Oxford, I was able to find a vibrant and tight-knit community. During the year, I participated in rowing which was much harder than I anticipated, but gave me opportunities to meet other students and stay in shape. I also participated in academic extracurriculars since Oxford has a variety and multitude of student organizations and societies that encompass almost any interest you can imagine. I was able to continue my interest in student journalism through writing and editing for the Oxford Blue, the student newspaper. One of my favorite experiences was attending the Oxford Women in Business sustainable fashion show as a reporter and conducting an Instagram takeover for the event. I also was a committee member for the Oxford Society for International Development, which gave me amazing opportunities to meet speakers and academics in the field of sustainable development as well as like-minded students. Attending debates and speaker events at the Oxford Union, a historic and world-renowned student society that brings in public figures and academics to Oxford, was one of the most exciting aspects of being an Oxford student. I had the opportunity to hear Malala Yousafzai, a famous education activist, speak, which was phenomenal.

Socially, I found the culture at Oxford to be inviting and very student-oriented. Unlike the U.S. campus culture, there was more of an emphasis on formal events, which required black-tie attire. Mansfield held social events such as weekly formal dinners, which were four-course formal meals and also regularly hosted BOPs (big organized parties). One of my favorite events was Champagne and Chocolates, which was hosted for Mansfield students and featured drinks, chocolate and live jazz. In the summer, I attended the Oxford Union ball which was so much fun. It featured live music, an open bar, food trucks, carnival games and so many other features. Meeting a variety of students from across the world was one of the coolest aspects of studying abroad at Oxford, I was able to meet and form friendships with people who I never would’ve met.

Formal Dinner at Mansfield College. (Teresa Mainzer/The Hilltop Monitor).

Traveling around Europe was my favorite part about studying abroad. After spending Christmas break in the U.S. with my family, I went on a trip with one of my best friends from home to visit London, Paris, Cologne and Brussels. Some of my favorite memories from that trip are dining in Eiffel Tower, going to the Louvre, eating Belgian chocolate and watching “Les Miserables” in London. During spring break, my family came to visit me in Oxford and we also traveled around the UK in Ireland and Scotland. Edinburgh was one of my favorite cities with breathtaking architecture. I also loved the castles in Ireland and Scotland. After that, I went on a month-long vacation with friends I had made at Mansfield. We went to Italy, Croatia and the Netherlands. Some of the most memorable experiences were going to the Trevi fountain, the Vatican and the Pantheon in Italy. I also loved exploring the beautiful cities of Dubrovnik and Split in Croatia and the cool canals in Amsterdam.

To anyone that is considering studying abroad, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. Besides the amazing travel opportunities, living abroad teaches you life lessons on problem-solving and adapting to change. I also think that it teaches valuable lessons on how to live independently and cultivate relationships with people who are different from you. To those who are nervously anticipating their study abroad year, don’t stress yourself out too much since it’ll all work out and the hard adjustment period is worth the life-changing experiences you’ll have. I would also advise you to remain open-minded to the experiences you’ll have and not be afraid to try things that are out of your comfort zone.

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