Last summer, I decided to explore the world outside the UnitedStates. One of my teachers recommended a program at Oxford University, but I was skeptical. ThoughI didn’t know much about England, I always imagined it to be similar to the U.S. so it wasnot my idea of an exotic location. However, I believed taking an course in European history wouldenhance my understanding, so I looked at the program’s website and immediately becameinterested.
The Oxford Royale Academy summer program offers English language courses fornon-English speakers and an Historico-Cultural course for English speakers over the age of 16. Theprogram is very flexible and can be divided into either a two-week or a three-week session, withcustomized trips. The course aims to serve as an insight into English culture and traditions byproviding lectures from University professors and seminars with world-renowned academics.
Unlike some, the Oxford Royale application is impressively convenient. The program offersrolling admission with immediate response and once admitted, you can customize your courses. During2005, participants took advantage of this opportunity by hiring tutors. Some integratedmathematical components while others refined their musical talents. Upon acceptance, Oxford Royalesends an information package including a welcome letter, a list of necessities, flight informationand maps.
When I arrived at Exeter College, I felt like I had gone back in time. Thebuildings exuded an air of historic importance and even though it was night, I could see that thecampus was beautiful. I was greeted by a throng of people from Germany, France, Italy, Korea, HongKong, Canada, Mexico, Portugal and both coasts of the United States. Despite any previousreservations about the program, I instantly felt comfortable.
I participated in a two-weeksession and in my first week attended lectures on Norman England, the Middle Ages, the Tudors andthe Stuarts. Discussions included the development of nationalism and the importance of religion.The second week included lectures on the Georgians, the Victorians, 20th Century Britain, and WorldWar II. Discussions, which were based around economics, politics and society, were geared towardunderstanding modern Britain.
One of the most interesting lectures was on Shakespeare. Ledby Jane Humphreys, it was based on a psychological analysis of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Herinterpretation launched a discussion on marriage, love and human relationships. The mostprovocative lecture was led by Richard Dawkins and based on his book The Selfish Gene. In a groupconsisting of many cultural backgrounds, Dawkins’ questions about evolution shook many of ourbelief systems. He challenged our convictions and sparked a discussion on race, religion andmorality.
Besides academics, Oxford provides sightseeing tours for a fee. Blue Badge guidesled our day trips and weekend trips. Day trips included Stonehenge, Broughton Castle, WarwickCastle, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Waddeston Manor, and museums. The overnight options included trips toParis, Brussels and Amsterdam. Many of us also enjoyed the August weather and played cricket,croquet, football and even Ultimate Frisbee in the park.
The most impressive feature of theprogram was the administration’s attention to detail. During my preparations, the directorregularly e-mailed me and offered to help with any problems. He even picked me up at theairport! There was no concern they didn’t attend to. For example, a language student fromPortugal was interested in attending “The Phantom of the Opera” in London butdidn’t know how to organize it. Although the musical wasn’t on our list of activities,the staff took it upon themselves to invite all of us and found tickets. These are just a fewexamples of the staff’s dedication.
In addition to an amazing staff, challengingacademics and a plethora of activities, the students are phenomenal. Because the program is soinclusive, I had the opportunity to meet incredible people from many backgrounds. With suchdiversity, I not only learned about Britain but about France, Korea, Portugal, Canada and manyother places. By spending time together in the classroom, on trips, and even just hanging outwatching a movie, we developed a strong sense of community. I hope I’m not being trite when Isay that the friendships I made at Oxford will last a lifetime.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.