Alexandra Nutkiewicz


Stanford in Oxford, Winter Quarter 2014-15
Major: Sustainable Engineering & Design
College year while abroad: Junior


Why did you choose to study abroad in Oxford?

I wanted to spend my quarter abroad in a location filled with history and tradition. I valued a more immersive experience in a smaller college town than one in a major European city in order to better experience the culture and customs of the University while having the chance to meet foreign students.  

What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Oxford? 

The Oxford program has the reputation for being one of the most academically rigorous programs to attend. And although I did spend occasional late nights in the Bodleian and Brasenose libraries, I found myself with great amounts of free time to explore the city, participate in college events, and travel around Europe.  

What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Oxford?

Oxford is a world-class university, and when I first got there, I drew many parallels to Stanford. However, you get a completely new perspective on education by being there – whether that’s the culture of the college system or the concept of tutorials. Being abroad in Oxford allows you to either continue studying a topic in your major at Stanford or explore a completely new subject. The tutorial system taught me how to do effective research and write papers in a way that effectively gets my point across. And then taking your paper, pinpointing its strengths and weaknesses, and then defending it to your tutor is an entirely new way of approaching academics that I think gives you a more solid understanding of the material.   

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?

I think the hardest thing to remember in Oxford, is that, unlike any of the other abroad programs, English is the native language, yet there is an entirely different culture in the UK than the USA. People do things differently. It’s a vulnerable thing to do, but I found the best way to appreciate Oxford was to detach myself from Stanford culture and just embrace the differences of Oxford. Doing anything you can to immerse yourself entirely in a new culture or lifestyle is an incredibly worthwhile approach to studying abroad. How was your experience living with local families? 

What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad? 

Studying abroad was an incredibly empowering and reflective experience for me. The pace of life in Oxford, and even the rest of Europe, is much more relaxed, and, I think because of that, I’m a much happier, confident person now. I found a new sense of independence and adventure – taking initiative on planning exciting trips or just exploring the city on my own. I also reaffirmed how much I love traveling. The anticipation of seeing a new place, trying an exotic cuisine – it’s infectious. 

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make? 

Oxford is a great university town, making it easier to adjust and meet other students. However, despite English being the first language of both the US and the UK, picking up the colloquial language might have been the hardest cultural adjustment. There was a surprising amount of “what did you say” and “what does that mean” situations. 

What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Oxford?

My favorite thing about Oxford was rowing with the Brasenose College Boat Club. In Trinity Term (basically our spring quarter), there’s a four-day regatta called the Summer Eights, where the goal is to literally hit the boat in front of you. It’s a series of races steeped in over 200 years of tradition, bringing in over 20,000 people from across the UK to watch it, and the preparation of training every day for it was so much fun.  

What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Oxford? 

Every two years, my college puts on a May Ball – basically a fancier version of senior formal here. Over 800 people from all over the University show up in long gowns and tuxedos for an all-night party with food, drinks, dancing, and activities. For people that know me, it’s something so untraditionally me, but from dress shopping to getting ready with the girls in the house, and then eventually being at the ball, having the chance to experience one of those quintessential Oxford events was one of the best nights I had there. 

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience? 

Adventurous, classy, refreshing, wild, fun! 

What subject did you do your tutorial in?

I did my tutorial in Architectural Design. I studied several contemporary architects and movements, culminating in a self-directed design project where I had to design a new boathouse for an Oxford college through sketches, collage, and 3D modeling. 

What advice would you give to someone who was considering studying abroad in Oxford? 

Just go! And if your schedule allows, consider spending two quarters abroad. Being able to meet students for 10 weeks is great, but I think I would’ve made even better friends had I stayed longer. And despite Oxford being a smaller city than many other BOSP locations, believe me, there is plenty to do, both in the UK and the rest of Europe. Oh, and probably the most important thing: get involved. Whether it’s theatre, rowing, orchestra, or playing in cuppers, extracurriculars are the best way to meet people and get the most authentic experience at Oxford.  

If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently? 

Maybe travel into London a bit more often, but otherwise nothing. 

How has the experienced changed or enhanced your future academic and career goals? 

My time in Oxford definitely enriched my view on how traveling impacts my education. After studying abroad, I’m definitely motivated to pursue graduate studies at Oxford or Cambridge.  

What was your favorite food you had in Oxford? 

Every Wednesday, one of the town squares, Gloucester Green, hosts a farmers’ market with local produce and food stands. The Tibetan momos (dumplings) – amazing. I’d also stop by this coffee cart owned by this woman from Vietnam. She was so sweet and remembered me every time. Oh, and her Vietnamese iced coffee is a must-try. And then if you’re looking for something more traditionally British, definitely stop by The Rose for an afternoon tea, scones, and lots of clotted cream! 

What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program? 

My rain jacket. And my sketchbook – I spent a lot of hours roaming around town working on my drawing skills.  

What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Beijing?

S Club 7 – it’s a classic.