by: Christian Howieson
From April to July I studied abroad at Oxford University; more specifically, I was a visiting student at Hertford College, a constituent college of Oxford University. A lot of people don’t realize that Oxford University is more or less a city made up of individual colleges and halls which honeycomb its streets and that these colleges, taken together, constitute the University.
Each college has a particular reputation or flavor. Hertford college is known for being friendly, progressive (meaning liberal), and small. It is not a grand college like Christ Church or Magdalen; it is a smaller college of around 600 students, located in the central square of Oxford, directly across from the Bodleian library. Hertford is very beautiful, it is very comfortable, and became my home for the months that I was there. Luckily for me, William and Mary is one of the few US schools to have a direct exchange program (the program is old—something like 100 years old) with an Oxford college. Because of this program, I was able to directly enroll with Hertford rather than having to apply through an institution like Butler.
Oxford University is like no place I have ever been. My friends and I began to refer to the atmosphere of the school as the Oxford bubble because it sometimes seemed detached from reality. I attended a college founded in 1284, ate in pubs that were twice as old as the US, and went drinking with Rhode scholars. I became used to wearing robes, enjoying cream teas, and arguing about geo-strategy with some of the brightest minds on the topic. A typical Saturday could include punting on the Isis, studying in ancient libraries, and eating a formal four course dinner with champagne, wine, and port, in an ancient wood paneled dining hall. In short—it was a dream.
The reality of the Oxford workload woke me from that dream often. At Oxford there are no classes; there are only tutorials or tutes. Perhaps it is best for US students to think of tutes as independent studies—they require a lot of preparation and are really just meetings with an advisor as you conduct research. Usually, tutes are one on one and require that a short paper be written in advance for discussion. I was required to take three tutes (most undergraduates only have to take 1 and half per term, but WM loves to push us), which worked out to about 20 pages of writing each week, and each writing assignment had a hellish amount of reading. Quite literally the idea behind assignments is that you can never accomplish everything assigned and thus need to decide what is important enough to actually do. My tutes were all one on one, taught by Oxford tutors, and could be quite intensive. I studied international law, international trade, and maritime archaeology. (I know… archaeology? I’ve always been interested in shipwrecks and Oxford is one of the best schools for it.) I loved my tutes, really liked my tutors, and learned a quite a lot in three months.
The social life at Oxford was one of a kind. Each college has its own bar where students can drink quite cheaply (50 cent pints of Guinness), the town is littered with fantastic pubs (I have many recommendations should anyone care), and there are some really good night clubs to visit. Additionally, there was almost always an event to attend that had free drinks including debates, balls, or parties.
The people were just as amazing as the city. I spent a lot of time with the graduate students of my college and made a lot of fantastic friends from around the world. The graduate students (and myself thanks to WM) are members of the Middle Common Room of Hertford College which is sort of like a fraternity (but it lets in both boys and girls). Our clubhouse was in an ancient part of the college, had a tower, and was where I spent most of my time, mostly just hanging out. Additionally, I joined the University’s wine tasting society and I got to sample some fantastic wines. Essentially, at Oxford I was never bored.
In conclusion, I will never forget Oxford. It was there, in the resplendent beauty of the University, that I learned so much—both about my studies and myself. I strongly encourage anyone who gets the chance to visit there; I am sure you will love it too.
A few tips if anyone should ever attend Oxford as a student:
• At Oxford black tie is casual, if you want to get dressed up wear white tie and tails.
• Kabob vans are lifesavers when you’ve had a long night out and are an ocean away from the nearest WaWa.
• No college is off limits… just act like you belong there and the porters will leave you alone… also every wall can be climbed.
• A good ten page paper can be written in four hours.
• Always pick the Grand Cru.