Experiences and advice from former Visiting Students

Experiences and advice from former Visiting Students

Carlie Arbaugh, Cornell University, Full Year 2011-2012

When asked about my experience at Oxford, I always struggle to find just the right words to describe it. Oxford is a magical place with winding cobblestone streets, historic buildings, and countless nooks and crannies. Students on bicycles, walks through Christ Church meadow, punting, croquet on a college lawn, pubs, late night trips to the chip stand or artisan pizza, G&D’s for hot chocolate or ice cream, and chilly early morning rowing on the Isis fill my memories. And when it snows, laying a perfect blanket of white over the rooftops, being in Oxford is like being in a snow globe.

My time studying at St. Catherine’s College was the best year of my undergraduate education. I very much enjoyed my first two years of college in the U.S. and learned a tremendous amount from the courses I took, as I am doing again now in my senior year. However, in Oxford’s tutorial system I truly thrived. In the summer leading up to my year abroad I remember being very nervous. I am a science major in the U.S., so while problem sets, lab reports, and regular exams were routine, the thought of writing weekly essays to be critiqued and discussed with a tutor scared me a little. I must have revised my first essay twenty times before submitting it. I quickly came to love writing the essays, burying myself in the Bodleian or some other library for hours lost in thought. Each week I looked forward to the conversations with my tutors. Because of the personal nature of the tutorial system they continually challenged and encouraged me to learn the material in great depth by looking at the topics in different ways. I am now more confident about my critical reading, writing, and discussion skills. Moreover, many of my tutors became good friends, very different from my U.S. experience where I was often in large lecture halls and could not help but feel like a number sometimes.

My education at Oxford expanded beyond books and tutorials. Every student that I met was intelligent and eager, with an interesting opinion to share. Over tea or coffee, lunch at the quaint Japanese restaurant on Holywell, hall in college, or a pint at a pub, there were many great conversations to be had. I met many British students of course, but students from many other parts of Europe as well, each with an interesting story to tell. Perhaps the nicest aspect of being a visiting student at Oxford was the lack of anxiety and competition between peers. All of the students that I met at St. Catherine’s were confident, yet humble, genuine, and very kind, creating an environment of comradery. I became a member of the Union as well. Sitting in one of Britain’s oldest university unions listening to debates on all sorts of subjects was fantastic.

When I was preparing to go abroad I sometimes felt like I needed to defend my decision to study in another English speaking country. At first I was a little concerned that my experience would be lacking in the cultural aspect that many other students from my home university seemed to have lined up with home stays and goals to improve their language skills through immersion. Having been an exchange student for a summer in Spain when I was in high school, I knew that I would enjoy and benefit from such an experience. However, England did not disappoint. There were more differences between American and British culture than I expected and upon returning home and recounting my time to relatives, friends, professors, and peers I have realized that I gained more insight than I thought. Furthermore, with London just an hour coach ride from Oxford, I was able to travel to many other countries during the breaks between Michaelmas, Hilary, and Trinity terms. This was an education in itself as I explored the history and culture of places like Ferrara, Lisbon, Athens, Istanbul, Berlin, Prague, and Bordeaux, through a mixture of traveling and home stays with friends’ families.

As I reflect on my year in Oxford now, I am reliving these cherished memories with nostalgia. If I could, I would relive it in reality many times over. I am sincerely grateful for the educational opportunity, the friends and tutors I met (and now miss dearly), the adventures, and the confidence and inspiration it gave me to explore and tackle new challenges that lie ahead.

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