Admissions Blog: Top five highlights of my summer in Oxford

Emily Dodson and VPO groupThis past summer, I attended the Sweet Briar-affiliated Virginia Program at Oxford (VPO) at St. Anne’s College in the University of Oxford. It was six weeks of Shakespeare, tutorials and traveling. We studied early modern English literature and history in one of the foremost universities in the world. I studied in the Bodleian Library, which scholars for 400 years have flocked to, and I made memories and friends that I will cherish for a lifetime. I traveled all over the English countryside and spent my long weekend in Paris on Bastille Day.

Even though it is difficult to quantify an entire summer, I thought I would try by sharing my top five summer highlights with you.

Emily Dodson and other VPO students in Oxford

5. Twinings, tea cups and tutorials

Each day after our morning lecture from a variety of guest speakers, we would have tea and coffee with the lecturer and directors of the program. It was a unique opportunity to ask more in-depth questions about the topic or engage with scholars at the top of their field. Every Friday, we would have a tutorial session with our tutor, professor and two other students. It would be a discussion of our ideas and opinions about the topic for that week. My history tutor was the British director of the program, and on the first day of tutorial my tutorial group took a selfie with him. It was certainly a feat!

In this photo I’m with Shelby Hanna (Hampden-Sydney, left), Prof. Fincham (VPO director, Oxford) and Luke Basham (Washington and Lee).

4. The tragic and hilarious thespians

As part of the program, we saw three Shakespeare plays over the course of the six weeks. We saw one at the Globe Theatre in London and the other two at the Royal Shakespeare Playhouse in Stratford-upon-Avon. The actors and renditions of these classic performances were tragic, engaging and overall breathtaking.

Emily Dodson in front of the Radcliffe Camera3. The Bod and Camera

The Bodleian Library, one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and the Radcliffe Camera, an extended space of the Bodleian, were my everyday study spaces throughout the summer. I could not help but be inspired to study in such a magnificent place where scholars have flocked for hundreds of years. As members of the VPO, we all said an oath and were inducted to be readers at the Bodleian, which gave us more access to study spaces that tourists could not go to. I even got to study in Duke Humphrey’s Library, which was used as the Hogwarts library in “Harry Potter”!

(This photo shows me in front on the Radcliffe Camera.)

2. Seeing the world

Eiffel TowerEvery weekend while in the UK, I was traveling on a train going somewhere new. I went to Bath, Swansea, Winchester and London, just to name a few. Over a long weekend in the middle of the program, I visited Paris during Bastille Day. I listened to an orchestra play on the Champs de Mars and watched a fireworks display over the Eiffel Tower. I ate baguettes, meat pies and lots and lots of potatoes. I saw Stonehenge, cathedrals and walked too many miles to count. I was able to satisfy my wanderlust for a small period of time.

(The photo of the Eiffel Tower was taken by Sam Farley on Bastille Day, July 14.)

1. Comrades and countrymen

The VPO brings together six private colleges in Virginia for a six-week intensive program. You travel with these people, have late-night talks in the library, go for jaunts around University Park, and spend hours sculpting your perfect paper with them. I went into the program with acquaintances and left with close friendships.

Want to know more about Oxford? Here’s what the VPO was like for Sweet Briar students in 2015.


Emily DodsonEmily Dodson ’18 is the admissions ambassador chairwoman. A business major with a minor in environmental studies from Richmond, Va., Emily also is the Academic Affairs Committee chairwoman and a member of the Student Government Association. 

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