People often say that studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and not until I arrived at Oxford did I truly understand what they meant. For the past two weeks I have been all over the country of England and recently traveled to France.
One thing is for sure, this program keeps you busy, which may explain why my blog has not been written on once! I am a little overwhelmed trying to sum up the two amazing weeks I have had thus far, but better late than never!
The History of Oxford
The University of Oxford, located two hours outside of London, is composed of 39 colleges that for the most part govern themselves. SMU-in-Oxford traditionally stays at University College, the oldest college at Oxford.
Each college is built like a stone fort because starting about 500 years ago the townspeople and the scholars would often get into battles that ended in death. In order to stop massacres from occurring, Oxford begun constructing colleges as forts.
I was surprised how large the university as a whole is, but it makes sense for it to be large since it has been in the works for 500 years.
Welcome Banquets and High Tables
After we arrived we had a large welcome banquet that was done in the traditional Oxford style with a lecture, champagne reception, and formal dinner. Everyone was dressed to impress, and it was an enjoyable way to kick of the summer semester. Each week since we have at least one High Table lecture and dinner in which someone from England comes and gives an hour lecture followed by a formal dinner.
One of my favorite lectures was done by Daniel Franklin, the editor of The Economist, Britain’s version of Newsweek. The lecture focused on breaking down the upcoming year into events that will capture the interest of the world. It was surprising to me that he focused so much on the upcoming United States presidential election and was full of opinions on each candidate.
Mr. Franklin was not alone in his interest, though, as many people in Europe have opinions about the presidential election – last weekend in Paris alone I saw a Parisian magazine with a cover story on Obama. This really drove home the fact that this presidential election spans further than one might think.
Another of my favorite lectures was done by Dr. Leslie Mitchell, a professor here at University College. His lecture focused on the history of the University of Oxford, and while I have related some above, the most interesting part of his lecture centered on the debate concerning the future of Oxford.
In American schools one teacher can teach many in a lecture-style classroom, but at Oxford the professors have private tutorials with their students, which in a business-style culture is not the most cost-effective way to educate. The university, therefore, is at a crossroads over whether to Americanize their teaching or to remain the same. I will be interested to see what they decide.
Many have argued that Shakespeare was the greatest playwright of all time, and this past week I had to opportunity to visit his hometown. As a program we took an afternoon trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see Shakespeare’s grave and watch Merchant of Venice, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, one of the leading acting troupes in the world.
The performance of Merchant of Venice was done in a theatre much like in the time of Shakespeare, with the audience surrounding the stage on three sides. It was interesting to see that the company took a modern take on the play and each character wore modern suits and there was a lack of props. Overall, though, it was a great experience.
Day trip to London
On the 4th of July we took a day trip into London as a program, which I must say, has been my favorite day thus far. We planned to fit St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, the British Museum, and a dinner cruise all into one day. My favorite location was St. Paul’s Cathedral, which has been the setting of many important events in the history of England – Winston Churchill’s state funeral was there as well as the wedding of Princess Diana.
The sheer size of the cathedral was amazing to see while remembering that it was built before the use of many modern tools. My favorite part of the cathedral, though, was an altar at the back for all the American soldiers who lost their lives in WWII while stationed in the UK. After the war many Americans wanted some sort of memorial for the soldiers and requested to build one in the UK. Instead, the British people funded the construction of the altar in one of their most prized buildings. This was great to see on the 4th of July as a reminder of the bonds between our countries.
Other than that, the dinner cruise was also a great part of the day as we cruised on the Thames River seeing the London Eye, Parliament, Big Ben, and O2 Stadium. As our group danced the night away on the boat surrounded by great scenery, I realized how lucky I am to be having this experience.
Each week we take many day trips, and during the first week we went to Blenheim Palace, home to the Duke of Marlboro. The palace is one of the largest private residences in the UK, and the modern-day Duke must open it to the public in order to pay for the upkeep of such a large home. The first Duke of Marlboro earned the palace after the battle of Waterloo, which decided the English world’s fate. In thanks, the queen gave him money to build a huge home out in Blenheim, and oddly enough, the palace would later serve as the birthplace of Winston Churchill, a direct descendant of the Duke.
I could not believe how large the home was and that it belonged to one single family. There was a man-made lake, many large banquet halls, and a giant entrance hall. It seems unrealistic that someone actually lived there.
There has been so much more that we have done and I hope to keep up better with the blog. I just returned from a whirlwind weekend in Paris and hope to write about that next. Tomorrow, though, we head off for three days in London and then three days touring WWI and WWII sites in France and Belgium!