Alyssa Liew


Stanford in Oxford, Fall 2016-17
Major: International Relations
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: My friend Meredith (right) and I having a ball at a ball!


Why did you choose to study abroad in Oxford?

When I was applying to college, my father encouraged me to apply to Oxford, but I didn’t want to be so far from home. Once I found out that Stanford had a program in Oxford, I knew I had to apply not only to experience an institution that has been around before calculus was invented, but also to live out my childhood dreams of being Lyra Belacqua from the book The Golden Compass.

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

My expectation of Oxford was that my tutorial was going to be daunting, formal, and the most academically rigorous experience of my life. While writing a 2,500 word essay within a week takes some time to get used to, my tutorial ended up being such a gem in my Oxford experience. I built a wonderful relationship with my tutor and even ended up interning with her the summer after I was in Oxford. Having a one-on-one mentorship allowed me to explore my own interests; my tutor was so supportive in feedback given and also in what we wanted to work on in the next week. It was also a great way to connect with an academic expert about a topic you are truly passionate about and to learn as much as possible!

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

My tutor had me read my paper out load at the beginning of each tutorial. While this may seem awkward, it really helped me re-think my ideas and also highlighted arguments that were well-written and arguments that really needed more work. This practice of reading papers out loud has carried over to the rest of my time at Stanford and has immensely helped in my writing and editing process.

The academic environment of Oxford was also an incredible shift from Stanford. As an International Relations major I often get asked “What are you going to do with that?” at Stanford, whereas at Oxford I felt more supported in pursuing a major in the social sciences. Many students at Oxford pursue humanities or social science tracks and for me it was nice to take a break from the Silicon Valley STEM environment.

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

At Oxford I learned to be okay doing things on my own. The Stanford House and your individual college is great to meet people but whereas your class meets with a group, your tutorial is your own project that only you work on. With tutorials and tutorial expectations varying, my timeline for finishing a paper and hanging out with friends differed from my friends at the Stanford House. This encouraged me to go out to eat or explore different High Street shops by myself and it was wonderful to be comfortable in a situation that previously made me uncomfortable.

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

A challenging experience I encountered while I was at Oxford was time management. It took me a few weeks to adjust to the amount of reading, writing, editing each tutorial paper entailed but I learned how to more efficiently skim and how to create more effective arguments. The weeks that I had a class paper due alongside a tutorial paper was quite hectic, but by the end I had my own method for what worked best in terms of dedicating time work and dedicating time to relax.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

As a person who wears a dress to avoid wearing pants, adjusting to the weather and to the formality of Oxford took some time. An umbrella is an absolute necessity and unfortunately leggings aren’t as commonly seen as slacks or jeans.

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

I loved learning about the deep history of Oxford and noticing new things in each day. I still can’t wrap my head around the expansiveness of Oxford in terms of its cultural and academic impact not only in England but also around the world. Look out for Mr. Tumnus’ lamp post at Oxford!

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

My most memorable experience has to be Merton Winter Ball! My friend Meredith and I decided to go together and it was the an experience that I truly cannot find the words to describe.

There were bumper cars, DDR, churros, and 3 live bands all within one college.

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

New friends at new pubs

Fun Questions:

What was your favorite food you had in Oxford?

I adored eating at Shezan for Indian food or Oxford’s Grill for Mediterranean food! The OKB at Magdalen was my go-to lunch spot.

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

I brought a power strip so that I didn’t need to bring multiple plug adaptors and that was a lifesaver for all my electronics that needed to be charged.

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

I went to watch Wicked the Musical in London and it was the first time I had seen the show live after years and years of listening to it. I may have teared up (re: cried).