By Kendall Brown and Staci McCoy, Photos by Kendall Brown.
Studying abroad is just that—studying abroad. I still have to wake up before 8 a.m. and I still need a cup of coffee before I’m ready for the day. After walking through the city, my friends and I attend lectures for that given day, followed by studying in the one of the oldest libraries in Europe, the Bodleian Library. It’s the main research library at Oxford, characterized by tall, cathedral style windows and houses over 12 million books. On Tuesday afternoons, the abroad students meet up to chat and try new teas, because there is always time for tea. My days end with more studying before heading to bed.
Oxford University is divided between 38 colleges and six Permanent Private Halls (PPHs). Each college is self-governing but connects to the central university with the same status and degrees offered, but the PPHs have certain religious affiliations. I’m studying at Wycliffe Hall, one of Oxford’s Permanent Private Halls which is a Church of England theological college. The Wycliffe Hall motto is “The Lord is my Light,” and their alumni are often become preachers, apologists, church planters and evangelists.
The division of Oxford colleges is comparable to Hogwarts. At Hogwarts, students are part of colleges like Gryffindor or Hufflepuff, but they are still Hogwarts students. At Oxford, students in Christ Church College or Wycliffe Hall are still Oxford students. The buildings are spread throughout the city, so you could walk into a bookstore and find yourself next to a college.
The students live and eat in their “house.” There was recently a formal in the dining room of Wycliffe for the students and their partners. It was a lovely, Scottish-themed party, with poetry reading and dancing—a way to celebrate the students and the college to which they belong. And of course, tea.
Oxford doesn’t have classes typical to the American education system. Students pick a
concentration and go to one-on-one tutorials based on that concentration. Math or poetry students may have a quota of problems to answer or poem to write by the next meeting. The tutor has conversations with students over their work, and they select a focus for the next week. There are also weekly lectures with the program heads, who occasionally bring in guest speakers, all followed by a time for tea. There’s always time for tea.
I am in a program called SCIO (Scholarship and Christianity in Oxford), an opportunity for American/international students to study at Oxford, full time or single term. Those in the program are called “visiting students,” but we are treated the same as normal students for the four months spent at the university. I stay in a student mansion on Headington Hill near Oxford Brookes, nestled between other student mansions and smaller boarding schools. Down the street from the dorm, the SCIO common room contains a 40-pence coffee machine, for when you’ve already had tea, and is a popular hangout spot for students.
To my surprise, Oxford focuses more on content rather than structure, ideas rather than style. They have even rid the thought of thesis statements because it decides the paper before it is written. My tutor told me that I could write a thesis if I wanted to, but it was not required and he wouldn’t look for it. It offers the students freedom of thought and freedom of ideas without the pressure to make it perfect.
Though I’m wandering an old city with it’s ancient buildings sinking deep into the sky and sipping tea—usually tea, almost always tea—I’m still a student. I have to work hard, spend much of my free time studying and attending classes, because this is Oxford, as they say. Either you act like it or not.