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Teatime, Biscuits, and Gothic Literature: A Semester in Oxford
This semester, six of our students are studying at the University of Oxford with the Scholarship and Christianity in Oxford (SCIO) program. Hear from one student about his experience.
Reflections by Naoki Gilchrist '24
My time here has been incredibly academically oriented; however, the University of Oxford is nearly seamlessly integrated with the city, so academics do not constitute all of life in our program—only the gross majority of it. Our weeks also consist of organized teatimes at two o’clock on Tuesdays, which of course is the primary motivational factor for progressing through the week: tea, cakes, cheese, and fellowship in a room whose capacity is far beneath the number of our cohort. It is a wonderful blessing that provides indispensable sustenance for time spent reading yet another Victorian novel. Aside from weekly tea, I've tended to spend my time finding cafés to add to my inexhaustible list of places to spend money I don’t have and becoming lost in the labyrinthine web of shelves in libraries and nooks in bookstores.
Regarding our studies, academics at Oxford look much different from the structure we are used to in the United States. The core of the Oxford academic experience is the tutorial: an essay, accompanied by readings and problem sheets, discussed in a one-on-one meeting with the professor. The goal of the tutorial is to encourage formative conversation about the topic of study so the student is able to soundly defend their arguments. In fact, professors might argue in opposition to the points made in essays regardless of their own opinions. In my tutorials, I am reading Gothic Victorian literature, the works of Ovid specifically. Being used to an academic system that so greatly differs from that at Oxford, my first week was a bit of a steep learning curve; however, after adjusting, I feel as though I am benefiting from the emphasis on establishing new thought processes and argumentative structures.
Photos taken by Naoki Gilchrist '24 - Left to right: Radcliffe Camera and Magdalen Tower in Oxford
The majority of our cohort lives in The Vines, a house in Headington, which is about 15-minutes from the city. Local pubs and parks nearby provide a space for fellowship outside of university-sanctioned events and time where we can surface from the sea of books and papers to develop friendships, watch soccer or rugby, and meet other students. On weekends, because of Oxford’s proximity to other towns in England, I try to plan day trips to avoid homework and gift my end-of-week self the grueling experience of perplexity and panic due to local transportation. I have particularly enjoyed taking the bus to London with a small group and spending the day in museums, galleries, or the theatre. On Sunday evenings, our cohort has a small weekly dinner at Wycliffe Hall (the other residence location) to have a time intentionally set aside to catch up.
I have been attending a small Presbyterian church with the other Covenant students. My intention was to attend an Anglican church, but a visit in the early days of the program found me locked in at Oxford Presbyterian. I don’t want to say that one of the best parts of attending this church is the tea and biscuits that follow each service, so I won’t. But, the congregation is tightly knit and extended such welcoming arms to us as we bombarded them with our presence. It has been lovely to fellowship with students from a range of locations worldwide and in various stages of their academic careers and to be encouraged by their stories and experiences.
As a whole, the stimulating academics, conversations with professors and students, fellowship with new and old friends, and simply the opportunity to do life in a city of profound beauty and history have been an experience that has left a deep and, I pray, lasting impression upon me, and for that, I am infinitely grateful.