Stanford in Oxford, Autumn 2017-18
Major: Symbolic Systems
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: In the shadow of Magdalen
Why did you choose to study abroad in Oxford?
Looking at study abroad programs, I felt that there was a high opportunity cost of leaving Stanford even for a quarter, given the diversity of classes and opportunities available on campus. Furthermore, I’ve been fortunate to have traveled significantly in my life, so I did not feel a need to study abroad primarily to have travel and cultural experiences. For these reasons, I knew that I would only leave Stanford if I found a program that gave me a deep intellectual challenge that could not already be gained at Stanford. Oxford fit my goals perfectly!
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Oxford?
I did not realize how unstructured my time at Oxford would be. The nature of the academic work is very different compared to Stanford, where every moment of your life is scheduled with class, section, meetings, and more. The reputation of the Oxford program is that it’s very rigorous, which is true. I like to tell people it’s just a very different type of “hard” than Stanford, so the two are tough to compare. At Oxford, I quickly learned to manage my unstructured time so that I was ready for my tutorial each week. I filled in the other time with meaningful things like time at the Oxford Union and other clubs, weekend trips, and sports.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Oxford?
I was grateful for the opportunity to take a deep dive into one topic (existential philosophy) at a time where I could give it my absolute, undivided attention. I could spend a day on a few pages of a challenging Heidegger essay and I felt minimal stress about moving on to other tasks. One day on a few pages was actually a good use of time, because when you read your essay aloud to your professor and have to defend your views on the spot, there is no cutting corners! At Stanford, on the other hand, my attention is constantly pulled between many topics and activities. Ten weeks focused on depth allowed me to see where I could better prioritize depth at Stanford.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
For all my enjoyment of depth, I learned that I cherish the fact that I can study whatever I want in the whole world every quarter at Stanford. I came back to campus deeply excited to continue my program of study and re-immerse myself in the extracurriculars and research opportunities available here.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
The Oxford term is only eight weeks long and the experience goes by fast. It was difficult to balance breadth and depth of experience, since every choice came with the tradeoff of missing many other incredible opportunities! Overall, I left feeling confident in how I spent my time but also longing for more time at Oxford.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
The cultural adjustment was not difficult overall, given the fact Oxford is English-speaking and in Western Europe. However, Oxford values tradition in a way that is very different Stanford, which favors disruption of the status quo. The structure of the university would have been hard to navigate on my own, but the BOSP team at the Oxford house makes the transition pretty seamless.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Oxford?
I loved being in a place as deeply imbued with history as Oxford. Stepping out of your 500-year old house onto streets that have been walked for centuries by some of the most devoted scholars in the world somehow gives everything you study more weight.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Oxford?
One that stands out was a field trip to Christie’s for a class on museums and collections. We had to register ourselves for an auction of medieval Islamic art so we could peek at the last known Da Vinci, the “Salvator Mundi,” on display for auction. Our professor (Matthew Landrus) was a Da Vinci scholar, and he had his friend, another expert, talk to us about the piece. The painting sold for a record $450 million a few weeks later.
Other great experiences involve playing on the Oxford Women’s Ice Hockey Team. I had never played a team sport before and the friendships I developed hauling myself to midnight practices through medieval alleys will never be forgotten.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Oxford is depth over breadth!
What was your favorite food you had in Oxford?
I loved tea time and the rituals and foods associated with it.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
A reliable black raincoat.
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Oxford?
The otherworldly music during Magdalen’s Choral Evensong service on Sunday evenings.
Every Stanford undergraduate should give serious consideration to studying overseas.
Regardless of the academic path you choose, you will be enriched by time spent in another country. Achieving cultural literacy and gaining substantive understanding of other perspectives in the world will deepen your awareness of yourself, your educational goals, and your own society. Nearly one-half of each graduating class studies abroad through one of Stanford's overseas programs.
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