An update from Olivia, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering and a member of the Residential Commons Leadership Corps in Boaz Commons:

Today was a full day of both learning and entertainment!

I consider today the most fruitful in my small group’s quest to understand the student governance and leadership system of the various Oxford colleges. In this morning’s “Dig Session,” the Univ porter gave us a booklet on the current day-to-day information a prospective student would be interested in. Upon reading it, we found mentions of a ‘JCR’ and ‘Peer Support Panel,’ which spurred further research on the terms.

Many Oxford colleges like Univ, Trinity and Somerville have similar leadership systems. The JCR, Junior Common Room, is similar to our Commons Council and programs and advocates on topics like academics and food on behalf of the students. They also have a Peer Support Panel, which provides support to students struggling with various emotional and academic issues. It was interesting to unearth the current happenings of these Oxford colleges, as many of the tours had a strong emphasis on their histories instead.

This afternoon, we attended a tour of Somerville College, a far newer college than Univ and Merton. It was the first college to allow women to attend and has many notable female alums, including Margaret Thatcher. The architecture was far newer, with interesting spaces and energy-efficient dorms. The college as a whole lent a different vibe. We were allowed to walk on the grass (a right often reserved for college fellows) and it seemed more similar to colleges in the United States (probably due to its relative newness).

The tour was led by a porter, which I believe we all found more useful as we could ask specific questions on the current happenings of the college. We were able to walk through a dorm, the church (quite simple and unadorned, as the college is strictly non-denominational) and a student center. My small group found more information about leadership and discovered the student position of “Jr Dean,” which we found to be similar to our RA position.

But, the best was yet to come. At 4 p.m. we boarded the buses to Highclere Castle, the location where BBC’s Downton Abbey is filmed. The event, ‘Battle Proms Picnic Concert,’ included a wonderful medley of cavalry, cannons, fireworks, a plane show, all to the tune of classical music in the background. It was the most “English” spectacle I had seen on the trip. Thousands of people packed tables and chairs with crackers, cheese, fruit and wine to enjoy an afternoon of entertainment with a castle in the background. The professors had likened these Battle Proms to our Independence Day, a day to celebrate British patriotism.

My favorite part was the plane show featuring Spitfire, one of the few remaining that the Royal Air Force flew in WWII. Also impressive was the fireworks show that went along with the music played by the orchestra. We all enjoyed the various food trucks and lasted through the occasional rainfall. At 10 p.m., we left while the orchestra played “Pomp and Circumstance” and fireworks burst above us.