A Great Experience for Some, A Challenging Year for Others August 09, 2018

By (Wellesley College) - abroad from 10/01/2017 to 06/11/2018 with

Worcester College, Oxford University - Visiting Students Program

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I really learned a lot about independence. In some ways, I think the American liberal arts college system limits independence as a trade-off for great support and community. After two years at Wellesley, I wanted to be in a collegial environment that allowed me to chart my own course and manage my own time with more flexibility, which is exactly what's so exceptional about the Oxford tutorial system. It really matched what I was looking for in terms of maturity and provided a safe environment to explore a more independent lifestyle than what's possible at Wellesley.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 0-2 weeks

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

The education at Oxford is absolutely a once in a lifetime opportunity, but not one that I would recommend for everyone. The coursework and instruction is similar to earning a masters degree, so be prepared to be a scholar, and a mostly self-taught one at that. If you're ready to dive into your subject with resources and intensity not available with a less targeted liberal arts course load, Oxford is for you. If you need a lot of supplementary time with professors to understand readings, need a lot of support with your writing, or don't really want to dedicate yourself to your subject as a scholar, Oxford will probably be a hard place to find success.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

I was not part of the IFSA program as a Wellesley student, so I can't really speak for that support. However, for the visiting students program itself, administration is largely like the tutors and coursework with a hands-off attitude. This is great if you want to chart your own course without the structure of a rigid program with mandatory events. There were maybe 6-8 cultural events put on by the college, like seeing King Lear in the Globe Theater in London, but you got to choose if you wanted to go or not. I wanted to directly enroll and value independence over support, so I wasn't really interested in having a "program feel" in my Oxford experience. However, if you are looking for structure and support like in a typical abroad program, this model probably will be harder for you.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Housing in Oxford is first rate, and Worcester in particular has great rooms in a central location next to city center. Each room has a private bathroom that includes a shower, and a scout comes by to take out the trash bin every other day and clean your room/bathroom once every week. I don't really think anyone would have a reason to be left wanting with the visiting student housing at Worcester, except maybe when you miss it coming back!

* Food:

Food at Worcester was pretty mediocre when I was there, as well as expensive. It may have been because they were remodeling their old (and very beautiful) dining hall, so a small cafe served as the interim dining hall. I didn't eat there very much, and I would recommend instead using the Tesco near by for groceries. If you have the cash, you could also go to the many many awesome restaurants and food trucks near college. Basically, college food isn't great, but with the location and strong kitchen culture in the dorms, you aren't left bereft.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

One thing about being a visiting student at Oxford is some people have a stigma against visiting students not being "up to snuff" with the traditionally admitted candidates who had to go through the interview process. I would say maybe 10-20% of students truly hold this view, and the rest of the students are aware of the stereotype. Also, the Oxford system means people spend a lot of time alone studying, so it can be hard to meet people organically in class the way we do in the US. However, for those who are outgoing and search for a community, joining the right organizations and going to the right events will lead you to your tribe quickly. I made a lot of lifelong friends while I was at Worcester, but only with effort in the beginning, a positive attitude, and a go-getter mindset.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I can't really speak to health care in the UK as I luckily had no health issues while I was there. However, I did have a friend with some mental health issues, and those who with mental health histories considering Oxford should know the mental health services in Oxford are distinctly lacking compared to Wellesley. Support is limited, and anything beyond that limited support is largely left up to the student to solve on their own.

* Safety:

Oxford is a very safe place. It has a very large homeless population because of the housing crisis in the southern UK, but as long as you respect them as people they won't ever bother you.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

I loved the location of my college and the people I met within it. In terms of Oxford overall, the university was a great experience that was the exact change in pace and structure I was looking for after my second year at Wellesley.

Finances

* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Oxford is very expensive. While OIS does give a stipend for food, the dining hall is a small portion and pretty mediocre, so be prepared to pay more for food than you do at Wellesley. Also the pound conversion hurts the wallet more than you would think, a 150 dollar budget in the US with UK prices and taxes is actually a 200-225 budget!

Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? If you are strapped for cash, don't let that deter your Oxford experience. I am a low-income student, and I made it work by going to Tesco, buying budget staples like peanut butter and oatmeal, and cooking mostly. I also went out with friends, but I couldn't afford to hang out with everyone all the time because I had significantly less money than most Oxford students. It's doable if you're able to make that choice to say no when you can't afford something and take the necessary steps to cut food costs.

Language

* Did your program have a foreign language component? No

Direct Enrollment/Exchange

* Did you study abroad through an exchange program or did you directly enroll in the foreign university? Direct Enrollment

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • Americans
  • International Students
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Other
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Independence
  • Intensity
  • Genuine academic curiosity
* What could be improved?
  • Support for those who need it
  • Integration with traditional students
  • Financial support
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I did my due diligence before by researching, so I knew a lot going in and recommend everyone do the same. Some things I wish I knew: the stigma surrounding visiting students, exactly how much expenses I would have to bare beyond Wellesley aid with a strong pound, and the standoffish culture in Britain (people are just more private and less friendly than Americans in the initial stages of friendship, don't be discouraged!).

Reasons For Studying Abroad

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The Outright Urbanite
A social butterfly, you're happiest in bustling cities with hip people, and took advantage of all it had to offer. You enjoyed the nightlife, and had fun going out dancing, and socializing with friends. Fun-loving and dressed to the nines, you enjoyed discovering new restaurants, shops, cafes, and bars in your host country.