At Oxford, I have enjoyed learning how to conduct better research and write more quickly. I love having less class time because it encourages me to explore more of campus and study in various places, including the magnificent Bodleian Library, which contains several buildings and was used in the first Harry Potter movie and the film The Golden Compass. Like all of the other colleges at Oxford, the Radcliffe Camera (one the buildings of the Bodleian) employs a strict whispering-only policy that allows little room for distraction. While Oxford is filled with tourists in the warmer months, only Oxford students are permitted inside of the Radcliffe Camera, and so refreshingly no one can wander around for hours with their selfie stick in search of a perfect shot. Having less class time also encourages me to fully focus during each class, and the one-on-one dynamic allows me to gain more information in each tutorial.
I have enjoyed several free lectures on campus, including the St Catherine’s College alumnus Michael Billington (he studied English), who has written for the British newspaper the Guardian since 1971, longer than any other current journalist for this publication. At age seventy-five, he still seems very passionate about writing and spoke about the unusual approach of his new book 101 Plays.
Visiting students often have two “tutorials,” or one-on-one hour-long sessions with “tutors”, or professors. Matriculating Oxford undergrads also take tutorials, yet theirs commonly have ratios of one professor to two or three students. Unlike in the United States, many tutors are “d-phil,” or doctoral students, which lends itself to a much higher proportion of younger professors. Tutors also regularly suggest that their pupils attend one or two lectures per week that are related to their subject, which they sometimes teach themselves. It is also common for tutors to invite their pupils to bars to discuss their assignments, which can shock and frighten some international students.
Academic subjects at Oxford are also considerably different than in the United States, as a large portion of undergraduates study law (also called “jurisprudence”) although they need to obtain a master’s degree in order to practice law at the highest level. “PPE,” or Philosophy, Politics and Economics, is one of the most popular majors at Oxford, and many students interested in politics choose this path of study. Geography is also a common discipline at Oxford and focuses on how politics and economics relate to location. A sizeable percentage of students also “read” (the equivalent of “majoring” in) “Modern Languages,” where most students simultaneously study two contemporary languages such as French, Spanish, or German, and spend their third year abroad.
In full-time undergraduate applications, students must choose what subject they wish to study and interview with one or more professors of that department. Unlike in the United States, the interview process at Oxford is a highly important part of the application process, although other British universities rarely grant interviews. While Oxford and Cambridge attract a very similar type of student, full-time undergraduate applicants can only apply to one of these universities.
Although I know some international students at Amherst, it has been intriguing to experience being an expatriate while attending Oxford. While the large body of United States students sometimes causes Oxford to feel like Amherst, I also try to better understand the British university system and British culture.
Drinking and partying is certainly a large component of student life at Oxford. Before students leave for parties, they regularly “predrink” in their rooms (similar to “pregames” in the United States), where they usually consume beer, wine, or alcoholic cider before departing to bars and clubs. While drinking appears very casual at Oxford as many people drink in the college bar every night, students often become sick and are occasionally hospitalized, although specific drugs like marijuana are much less common than in United States colleges. St Catherine’s College (my college at Oxford) also fiercely prohibits smoking inside of its buildings, although outdoor smoking is incredibly common around the grounds of Oxford.
While my time at Oxford has been very exciting, I have encountered great difficulty in managing my time, as whenever one of my classes meets, I have to turn in a lengthy paper, and the amount of reading and writing is much vaster than I have yet experienced in college. I also always want to spend more time with other visiting students, or international students studying at Oxford for between one and three “terms,” or trimesters) because some are only in the United Kingdom for one term, or eight weeks. However, now that I have started my reading and writing soon after papers are assigned, I am confident that I will soon feel more comfortable in this new work environment.