This past summer I spent six weeks studying abroad at the University of Oxford in England through the Virginia Program at Oxford. The VPO takes students from Sweet Briar, Hampden-Sydney College, Roanoke College, Washington and Lee University, Virginia Military Academy and Mary Baldwin University. This experience has been new and interesting — it was my first time away from home for more than a week! I’m a rising senior from Appomattox, which is just 30 minutes away from Sweet Briar. I’ve traveled to other countries before, but never by myself. This program was a wonderful way for me to grow and learn outside of my comfort zone.
Here in the Virginia Program at Oxford, we study 16th- and 17th-century literature and history. Although neither of those are my majors, my liberal arts education and Sweet Briar have certainly prepared me for the daunting task of research and writing each week. We studied topics such as the rule of Elizabeth I and the English Civil War to “Doctor Faustus,” Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and the poetry of Andrew Marvell.
So, why should you study abroad with the Virginia Program at Oxford? Here are my top-three reasons:
There is so much history in and around Oxford! From the Ashmolean Museum to the Bodleian Library to Christ’s Church, there is always something to do and new things to learn in Oxford itself. On the weekends, you are free to go and explore wherever you want! I traveled around England and even left the country a few times to explore other parts of Europe. This period abroad gives you a great opportunity to learn about other cultures. Being in England, or any country in Europe, lets you take advantage of the fact that everything is A LOT closer. VPO gives you the chance to be adventurous, so do it!
I have gotten to know so many incredible professors, students and authors. All of the students are hardworking and intelligent, and I’ve had a great time learning, debating and, sometimes, going to a pub with them! The professors — or fellows, as they call them in England — are all wonderful. All have published works, some of which we read to prepare for our tutorials at the end of the week. Monday through Thursday we would have a guest lecturer come and speak about a topic in the time period that we were studying. Each lecturer brought different views and ideas, which was very refreshing.
I am a big fan of how the program is structured because it allows time for study as well as adventuring. There’s an hourlong lecture each day of the week, except for Fridays. On Fridays we have tutorials. These are small groups of three students and one professor — one for history and one for literature. The tutorials are about an hour long and you’ll discuss whatever reading your professor has scheduled for you the week before. Each week, you’ll write a paper for either history or literature. It’s challenging, but so rewarding! I’m also a big fan of the fact that VPO takes place during the summer. As a leader in student government, there isn’t much time for me to study abroad during the school year, so this program was the perfect fit!
Caroline Thomas ’19 is a dual-sport student-athlete from Appomattox. A business major with a minor in journalism, new media and communications, Caroline is the Student Government Association president for 2018-19 and the student admissions ambassador chairwoman.