Residential Commons in Oxford

Eight SMU undergraduates and four faculty and staff members are exploring the birthplace of residential colleges: Oxford, England. With stops in London, Cambridge, and Bath, this group of residential leaders are searching to answer the question, “What is the culture of a true residential college system?” The students, faculty and staff hope to bring back ideas and traditions to enhance SMU’s new Residential Commons system.

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Oxford: It must be experienced for oneself

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An update from Jason, a sophomore management science major and math minor and a member of the Residential Commons Leadership Corps:

Yesterday we arrived at Oxford, but today was the first day that we as a group were able to truly explore this historic place of learning. The morning began with a guided tour of the entire city, a tour that took us to the back streets and some of the lesser-known spots in the town. The guide explained to us how lots of the colleges were originally monasteries, which were then turned into institutions of higher learning. We are staying in University College, the oldest college at Oxford, and you can clearly see the monastic roots of Univ just by looking at the architecture of the building and the shapes of the interior gardens.

After lunch, we headed to Merton College for a guided tour. I expected Merton to be pretty similar to University, but as we entered the front gates, the central yard of Merton told me that this college, like most of the 30 colleges in Oxford, had something unique to offer not found anywhere else in this historic city. It had personality, with gardens behind the college probably as big as the college itself. The medieval library was another nice surprise, housing books dating well before the printing press. Merton showed me that in order to get the full grasp of a college and its identity, you really need to do some digging and explore the rooms that are not necessarily visible from the outside. The character of a college is something that can’t be explained or described, it must be experienced for oneself.

Before coming to the UK, I had been told about how unique the residential system of Oxford is. “Oh, it is unlike anything in this world” and “I wish that I could have another semester at Oxford” were common statements that people would give me about Oxford. At the time, I did not and could not fully appreciate the truthfulness of those words. Today has shown me that while Oxford is just another town in the United Kingdom, the history and tradition of this great institution are unmatched in the world.

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