Oxford is certainly not like any college I’ve ever been to. On the first day I was dropped off in the middle of a bustling little town composed of boutiques, pubs, coffee shops, and elaborate churches. The buildings quite literally line the street, which are rarely split by alleyways. Double-decker buses and bikes further characterize the disorganized and chaotic sidewalks. Our college, University College, was not indicated by a particular building but rather by a fairly inconspicuous door on a stone wall by the street. It was not until I entered through the passage into a courtyard that I could finally see University College with its green space and winding staircases.
Each morning of the week we take classes with our SMU professors and then meet with our tutors once a week for a more personalized class session with an Oxford professor. Our schedules are built so that some days instead of class, we take trips to manors, castles, London, or other notable places near our Oxford home. Each week we have several High Tables, which consist of a lecture from a notable guest, and then we get the chance to dine in the dining hall, just like the one in Harry Potter. There are many different courses, and the several students who sit at the high table with the professors will get extra courses. High Tables are a unique opportunity where professors and students have the real chance to get to know one another.
Although it’s my first time out of the country, the adjustment was not difficult at all. I recognize that this is still English land, but it’s still foreign territory to me. It’s interesting to watch the peculiarities of the British culture, but even more interesting to then see what that reveals about our own American culture in contrast. Some of it is obvious, like their refined accent (I’ll admit that for the first few weeks I spoke in an accent just for kicks) or how the TVs are always tuned into cricket matches.
Punting is another activity I’ve never seen before. As I take an evening walk by the river, I see English families and students leisurely moving down the river with a glass of wine. I tried my hand at it with my friends one afternoon, and pushing the little boat along with the long metal pole takes a lot more balance and technique than one would expect.
Some of the differences in culture are a bit more subtle, like how when I walk into a restaurant I notice that our American group is far louder than the British natives around us. Or perhaps it’s the traditional afternoon tea and cozy pastimes cherished by the natives who relish reading and strolling about.
During my weeks exploring Oxford, I came to find the amazing treasures of this town. For instance, each day when I leave University, I walk by the inscription in the wall that honors Boyle and Hooke who conceived their scientific laws at my college. Just down the street is the pub where Oxford professors C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien wrote their world-famous masterpieces. Not to mention the fact that Einstein’s blackboard lies in a museum just walking distance from college.
In any case, my favorite part about Oxford is thinking about all the intellectuals who have passed through these streets before me. So far, if Oxford has taught me anything, it’s the importance of expanding my mind and appreciating history.