Alinna Brown


Stanford in Oxford, Winter 2015-16
Major: Mathematical and Computational Science
College year while abroad: Sophomore
About the photo: This photo was taken in the courtyard of Magdalen College, the college I was affiliated with throughout the Stanford program. Magdalen has a beautiful dining hall, wonderful places to walk by the river, and a deer park!


Why did you choose to study abroad in Oxford?

I was excited about the prospect of studying in a college town with such a rich intellectual tradition. My favorite book growing up was Harry Potter, and I was thrilled to spend a quarter in what seemed reminiscent of a real-life Hogwarts. Additionally, from a practical standpoint I wanted to go to an English speaking country, and preferred living in a house to a homestay experience for my first time abroad.

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

Before I went to Oxford, I was very excited about the program but also fairly nervous. I am from Palo Alto, so my study abroad experience was my first time truly living far away from home. As a sophomore, I barely knew anyone in the program and wasn’t sure what to expect. Because Oxford is built around the tutorial system, I envisioned my study abroad to be highly academic and individualized. I was excited to explore the city on my own, but I was also nervous that the intense academics would preclude a sense of community.

When I got to Oxford my experience was the exact opposite. I had expected the program to be extremely meaningful, but I didn’t realize on a day-to-day basis how much fun, laughter, and community I would experience. I absolutely loved living in the Stanford House, and the friends I met while at Oxford remain some of my closest on Stanford campus. On a larger level, Oxford is an extremely student friendly town. I loved meeting other students on the street, basking in the intellectual culture of coffee shops and bookstores, and enjoying the student based nightlife.

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

My most impactful academic experience at Oxford was my tutorial in Social Psychology.  At Oxford, surrounded by beautiful libraries and thousands of resources, I felt like I was a part of a larger academic tradition, and grew to realize that my education wasn’t about the final product, but rather about the process of learning. Although I am majoring in MCS, I discovered that I loved reflecting on the way people think about and relate to one another, and I am currently considering applying my quantitative skills to a master’s degree in either Psychology or Sociology.

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

My biggest takeaway from Oxford was the satisfaction I got from disconnecting from technology and a culture of busyness. Growing up in Silicon Valley, I have always been surrounded by a very hectic pace of life. I am used to rushing from one meeting to another, anxiously waiting in line at Starbucks, and struggling frantically to find parking. At Oxford, I learned the true joy of simply being in the moment. Whether it was jogging around Christ Church Meadow, having tea at the Grande Café, studying in the Radcliffe Camera, or going out to the local pub, there was always the sense that wherever I was at the moment was the best place to be.

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

One challenging situation I faced was the difference between the Stanford and Oxford campus cultures. At Stanford, there is generally a culture of extreme friendliness - students will go up to visitors and ask if they are lost, people will approach strangers in the dining hall, and everyone generally is open to meeting new people. At Oxford, my friends and I initially struggled to meet students because everyone seemed so much more reserved. However, I eventually realized that this disconnect was not due to the fact that the Oxford students didn’t want to get to know us, but rather simply a different cultural norm. Once I got the courage to go up to people at college social events and ask them about their experience, I met many more Oxford students.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

My biggest cultural adjustment was probably adapting to the formality of the Oxford culture. As someone who loves walking around in a t-shirt and athletic shorts at Stanford, I had to adjust to a new wardrobe at Oxford, which was both challenging and fun. Another exciting manifestation of this difference was the dinners we had at Formal Hall twice a week. I felt like I was in a real version of Harry Potter as I listened to the professors give a blessing and then sat through three elaborate courses. Although the formality was at times overwhelming, I grew to love the emphasis on tradition.

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

My favorite part of my everyday life was cooking at the Stanford House. My friends and I would walk to the Sainsbury or farmer’s market to pick up fresh ingredients. We would come back, and usually several different meal preparations would be going on in the Stanford house kitchen - from pasta, to soufflé, to stir fry - and someone would be playing music. No matter how busy our academic days had been, we would take the time to unwind, talk to each other, and just take in the sights and smells around us.

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

One of my most memorable experiences came through the Art and Society class I took with Professor Tyack and six other people. Through the course of the program, we visited the Ashmolean, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the Victoria and Albert, and Kenwood House. As someone who had little knowledge of art prior to taking the class, I loved having the opportunity to view the different paintings and works, and learned a lot through giving presentations on pieces every time we went to a museum.

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

Intellectual, joyful, exploration, community, good food

Fun Questions:

What was your favorite food you had in Oxford?

Tea and scones with jam and clotted cream at the Vaults and Garden Café across from the Bodleian Library

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

Being a California native I definitely was glad that I brought a very warm jacket. I was initially nervous about the cold but with the right clothes it wasn’t a problem at all!

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

A capella performances at Formal Hall