In many ways, studying abroad in Britain leaves little room for culture shock. While it’s true that cars drive on the left side of the road, and items are regularly described as ‘posh’—as a whole, the Oxford college experience is not fundamentally different than it is in the United States. Students still stay up late studying in the libraries, are busy partying on the weekends, and regularly complain about the quality of cafeteria food. However, if you’re used to the relatively inanimate town of Norton, Oxford can take a bit of getting used to.
Aesthetically, the town Oxford looks nothing short of spectacular. Fourteenth century-style architecture lines a number of cobblestone streets—with historic shops and restaurants interspersed between more than 30 colleges in the city. Even if it’s not as populated as London, Oxford still possesses its own nightlife—there are a number of clubs and pubs open on both weekdays and weekends that are regularly filled with inebriated students from various colleges.
Although Mansfield College is quite small, we still have our own Harry Potter-esque dining hall. The food is only marginally better than Chase (it is England, after all), so many students end up cooking at home most days. However, on Wednesdays and Fridays the school serves ‘formal dinners’, where students are required to wear tuxedos and gowns, and the food quality rises significantly. Although formal dinners cost upwards of $15, many students enjoy the opportunity to dress up and happily pay the price—formal dinners generally sell out a week or more in advance.
Classes at Oxford operate under a tutorial system. Tutorials are essentially discussions—where students talk in groups oftwo or three with a qualified tutor (a professor or student working towards a PhD) for one hour sessions. Each student takes two classes—one primary tutorial that meets once a week, and a secondary tutorial that meets every two weeks. To prepare for each tutorial, students read a number of academic articles and excerpts from books before typing up a 2,000-3,000 word summary essay. Final grades are determined by the quality of essays and tutorials—meaning there are no exams (at least for visiting students like myself). Primary and secondary tutorials give you a combined 3.0 Wheaton credits per term—but since Oxford operates under a trimester system, students get 9.0 credits over the course of the year. At Mansfield College, visiting students are somewhat limited in their ability to choose classes. Each trimester, there are about 150 classes offered—which works out to about 15 options in 10 separate core subjects. If you’re looking to stick strictly to English or economics, for instance, this will offer a decent amount of diversity. However, you won’t find photography or journalism options at Mansfield.
In addition to classes, Mansfield and Oxford offer a number of clubs and college-sponsored events. In the first week alone, visiting students and freshman from Mansfield were given ‘guaranteed-entrance wristbands’ for a different club each night—making the first seven days seem like one never-ending party. Other Mansfield-led activities have included cocktails with the principal, champagne and chocolates, and a hard cider meet and greet—in other words, alcohol seems to be a relatively common theme. Oxford University also offers an incredible diversity of clubs—from international microfinance initiatives to stand-up comedy. So far, I’ve enjoyed working with Cherwell most, an independent student newspaper—and was even able to start an Oxford version of ‘The Daily Show’.
While tutorial options for many electives are limited, Oxford’s incredible resources allow visiting students to tailor their experience to what interests them most. I encourage anyone who’s thinking about studying abroad at Oxford to do so—it’s an incredible opportunity to meet a number of extraordinary people from all over the world. If you do intend to apply to Oxford, keep in mind that Wheaton partners with a couple of Oxford’s colleges, so be sure to talk to the Center for Global Education to see which college works best for you. Deadlines are also earlier than most other international universities, so be sure to start your application and speak to Global Ed before winter break begins.