Jessica Zhao

Jessica Zhao - Student Profile  

Stanford in Oxford, Spring 2014-15
Major: Computer Science
College year while abroad: Sophomore

Questions and answers with Jessica

Why did you choose to study abroad in Oxford?

Oxford presented the opportunity to completely immerse myself in a specific subject area. I was also drawn to the city itself: its history and tradition; the setting of favorite childhood books – a different type of academic space than Stanford’s that I hoped to experience. 

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

I imagined Oxford as studious and spending loads of time in the library. Those were definitely strong components, but what surprised me the most, and what eventually came to be my favorite part of the study abroad experience, was the richness of the student community available to you. Oxford as a city has been there for hundreds of years and will always be there for you when you return, but uniquely present for you as an exchange student are the people you meet through sports teams, clubs, and randomly around your college. I loved being part of my college's rowing team and poetry society; attending formal halls; going punting and playing croquet - overall, being a part of the student culture and community.

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

I studied the Romantic Poets, and something I’m still amazed by is how special it is to head to your tutorial on Shelley, walking down the same cobblestone streets he did as an Oxford student. Additionally, because of the nature of the tutorial, the reign you have over your education is expanded. Each week, my tutor gave me a reading list, from which she challenged me to craft my own argument (versus responding to a specific prompt) and defend my thesis in our tutorial – which has encouraged greater independence in my education.

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

Being in a new place for 10 weeks adds so much more spontaneity than being in a new place for a few days. Adventure is constant and it’s exciting to always have tons of events, places to explore and people to explore them with. That said, there are times when plans every minute can be overwhelming, and I found it’s refreshing to sprinkle in some solo explorations – for example, spending a day or afternoon in London!

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

One of Oxford’s challenges was the new academic structure. Back at Stanford, I was accustomed to having a combination of lectures and sections Monday through Friday, but at Oxford, my official schedule consisted only of my tutorial, which met once a week for an hour, and a seminar, which met twice a week for two hours. This left much more unstructured time than typical, which can make it tempting to think you have loads of free time. And while there is considerable time and opportunity for fun, I found an important part of adjusting was learning how to segment time dedicated to working in the library on tutorials and also time dedicated to exploring the non-academic parts of Oxford.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

Many of the cultural adjustments were subtle. Oxford is not as casual as Stanford, especially when it comes to dress (for example, while leggings and a shirt might be common wear at Stanford, I rarely saw that while abroad). In terms of food, there is less of a variety in options (at least in the dining hall), but the city itself has a surprising variety of cuisines to explore, especially down Cowley Street and at the weekly Gloucester Green Market.

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

So many to choose from…but possibly being able to see the Isis (part of the Thames) every day, either from rowing, running, or just walking by.

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

Attending a college ball! These are lavish affairs that often run from 7pm to 6am. Food, drink, entertainment, even swings and bumper cars, are brought in to college for a huge celebration. Definitely a tradition to experience if you can!

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

tea, libraries, traditions, irreplaceable, kind-of-magical

What subject did you do your tutorial in?

English Literature and Art History

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

Be sure your tutorial subject is something you love and don’t be afraid if you decide to study something not related to your major at Stanford.

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

I would try to stay for two terms!

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

I didn’t study a subject related to my major – on that note, don’t worry too much if you’re not taking courses towards your field! Studying abroad is a great opportunity to explore and discover, in all ways.

What was your favorite food you had in Oxford?

Custard tarts at Taylor’s & the dumplings at Gloucester Green Market

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

Chelsea boots – I wore them everywhere in all types of weather!

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

I loved attending Sunday Evensong at my college chapel.