Tales from Abroad: Oxford

Credit: Courtesy of Ruth B. Credit: Courtesy of Ruth B.

If you are contemplating whether you should study abroad, then I have one line of advice for you to make your choice easier: Just go for it! Studying abroad affords you the opportunity to do something totally different and extraordinary. An international education really allows you to challenge yourself in a different educational system, immerse yourself in a new culture, learn new things, and explore opportunities you’ve never had before.

I studied abroad last semester at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. From the moment I hopped onto the bus from London to Oxford, I knew that I was in for a great semester. As I first set foot on the stone streets of Oxford’s City Center, the town buzzed with life as tourists, students, and scholars bustled their way through the narrow streets and alleyways to go about their busy activities. As I explored many of Oxford’s 38 different colleges, I was surrounded by the rich, scholastic tradition and history of the colleges and their respective campuses.

I studied through the program IFSA-Butler (Institute For Study Abroad). The program gave us a great sense of the culture and history of England. In the beginning, there was a four-day orientation in London, and then we went our separate ways to the various Oxford campuses. IFSA-Butler also planned excursions to Bath, Keswick, London, and Stonehenge for its students.

What differentiates Oxford from many other universities is its style of teaching, known as the tutorial system. As opposed to the traditional lecture or seminar classes, students were assigned about 20–30 books to read and were expected to compose two analytical papers every week, each 2,000 words long, arguing the critical topic assigned. Students would then have to sit down with their tutors for an hour and discuss the arguments they made in the essays. The Oxford tutorial system challenged me to take on new perspectives in my studies, and even though I only attended class two hours a week (one for each tutorial) and spent the rest of the time reading and constructing my papers, I felt intellectually challenged every minute. As a visiting student, I had access to the world-famous Bodleian Library. I never had to purchase any textbooks because the Oxford library system seems to hold just about everything that has ever been published!

At Oxford, there is a tradition of “bop parties” every term, in which students dress up according to a particular theme. This might sound like a typical school dance, but the British take their costumes seriously. For instance, during the term I was there, the theme for the bop was “Disney.” Students came in elaborate costumes ranging from Pinocchio to Buzz Lightyear to Ursula from The Little Mermaid. At Oxford, I also noticed that many students dashed off to the pubs and nightclubs to relax just as often as they went to the library — even in the middle of the week. Interestingly enough, a lot of pub conversations were more philosophical than I initially expected, and sometimes these intellectual conversations would turn into passionate debates.

From studying in the Bodleian Library to debating philosophy in pubs, Oxford continuously presented me with opportunities I never would have dreamed of. While there, I met my Bollywood idol, Preity Zinta, as she was giving a speech at the Oxford Union. I also met my social entrepreneurship idol, Roy Bunker, while I was attending the Oxford Social Entrepreneurship Conference. I also took the greatest risk of my life by being adventurous and doing via ferrata — which is like climbing a rock wall, except it’s up a mountainside — up the second-highest mountain in the United Kingdom.

After my Oxford experience, I had the opportunity to travel to Paris and Barcelona. It was definitely one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Some general advice I would give to those who plan on studying abroad: Be safe and open to trying new things, and you’ll have the time of your life. Take advantage of the cheap airplane flights to neighboring countries within Europe. I remember my plane ticket from Barcelona to London was $20, tax and service fees included — talk about a good deal! If you study abroad, you’ll return to the States a changed person — guaranteed.