Arguably the most prestigious university in the world suddenly became the reality of my junior year of college. It had been a dream since high school to not only attend school in England but specifically Oxford University. When I finally faced the application during my sophomore year at Gordon in 2006, not even the immense love for campus life that had been nurturing in my gut could prevent me from applying.
The anticipation of a new culture, new academic expectations, new independence, and a new social and spiritual atmosphere was enough to excite and burden my soul, but the actuality of the experience stood strong in the face of expectations, asserting itself as nothing short of life changing. From tutorials with Oxford professors to walking through the beautiful gardens and parks dotting the cityscape, I became informed, challenged, moved and transformed beyond expectations of what a year can do. I hope these attempts at capturing the moments and scenery of my experience will give you a better sense of my year abroad and possibly inspire you to seek out the spires of this ancient place.
Click below to read the article from Montgomery Newspapers
Scotland takes England (PDF)
Oxford presented me with the opportunity to learn within the tutorial system. The tutorial system is a much more independent and research-oriented way of learning. I met with a tutor once a week, taking with me an essay I had written from the reading the past week. I would read my paper aloud and then my tutor and I would discuss problems with my argument, in turn going over the material I had read. Then after I had asked questions and the hour had ended, I was given a completely new syllabus of books to read and a new essay to write for the following week. The workload was consistent and demanding but taught me a lot about discipline in studies and how to navigate a large amount of sources.
This is a shot of my first home in Oxford, an old Victorian mansion converted into a home for 40+ college students. Although about a 40-minute walk from downtown Oxford, I cherish this place. The vines quickly became a home and its residents quickly family. All of the residents were members of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities in the States, and thus were able to relate in many ways. The amount of pressure we all faced academically and the alienation we all experienced from our loved ones taught us to seek community and support from one another.
The Bodleian Library. Home to over eight million books, the Bod (as the students know it) is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. The amount of resources at my fingertips was quite overwhelming, and the system of acquiring these books no less overwhelming; but never has a library been such an oasis.
A wonderful aspect of our program was our regular field trips throughout the year. The program took eight field trips all across central England, including this one to Bath (this is a picture of the Royal Crescent). The field trips were a brilliant way of exposing us to British culture and history, as well as providing a welcome break from studies.
The aesthetic experience of Oxford remains one of the most impressionable things on my mind. The beauty engaging us around every corner made the bike rides and walks around town always enjoyable. Even the infamous rainy and dreary environment of England seemed to solidify as merely lore since the spires of Oxford shone through all conditions.
The man in the middle here is Simon Schama, a renowned British historian whom we not only watched on screen for our introduction to British history but were also able to hear speak and meet in person. Opportunities for engaging lectures and stimulating guest speakers abounded throughout all disciplines.
St. Andrews was the church I found to call home while at Oxford. Despite most churches in Oxford functioning under the denomination of Anglican, this title proved more unifying than I had understood it coming from America since the worship styles and theological emphasis sometimes varied from parish to parish. Although I regrettably was never able to get considerably involved at St. Andrews, it was always a place I could find encouragement, fellowship and instruction.
The friends and relationships I made while at Oxford were possibly the most profound and meaningful pieces of my experience. We laughed a lot. And I now find myself with friends spread across the globe who share dear memories with me that will never be forgotten.
This photo captures one of the most physically frightening experiences of my life. Taken on a mountaintop in the Lake District in northern England, on a cold, 60+-mile-an-hour, sleety and rainy day, this would be my only trip with the Oxford Walking Club. Although a fantastic experience in retrospect, the conditions were the worst I've had to face while hiking and not ideal for my one time in the traditionally scenic Lake District.
I found this sprayed on a wall in East London. Two powerful words that seem to capture so much of my convictions as a follower of Jesus. God's Kingdom proved to be alive and moving in often the most unsuspecting places throughout the past year, and this picture captures that truth for me.
High Street in Oxford. This is one of the two main streets that winds through the many colleges, pubs, coffee shops and churches dotting the cityscape. On the left side of High Street sits the Covered Market, one of my favorite places to grab a bite to eat, some produce, or a cookie (Ben's Cookies started in the Covered Market in Oxford, and they are quite possibly the best cookies I've ever tasted).
Some weekends-where escape from studies became necessary for sanity-led me on a few excursions across Britain. This photo captures the triumphant return after climbing across the White Cliffs of Dover. Our road trip to Canterbury and Dover was also the first time I had the chance to drive on the left side of the road. Not quite as dangerous, but just as exciting as you would imagine.
The grave of one of the many great minds that have gone before the current scholars at Oxford. It was inspiring to know I was studying and walking in the space that Lewis and many other movers and thinkers of Western culture once did. I even had the opportunity to take a tutorial on Lewis, learning about him in the city where he wrote and taught.
This is our chaos and excitement for our journey to Scotland. For years and years I had awaited my time to visit my "homeland," and it was a beautiful week driving through the highlands. I even had the opportunity to journey through the country with some fellow Gordon students who were studying in Edinburgh.
The city of Oxford was a magical place at night for me. The beauty of the architecture would meet the senses on the fringes as the shadows and broken people captured the foreground. Students would wander from pub to pub, and costumes were brought out of closets. However, the stillness across Cornmarket Street and next to the Bod provided a peaceful calm unlike any environment I have encountered.
My time at Oxford was one of growth, exploration and beauty. From walks through Headington Park to hiking through the Peloponnesian Mountains, I was blessed to be able to see and experience a lot during the year. I hope these pictures have given you a small glimpse into that beautiful time in my life.
I will never forget the spires of Oxford. They will remain with me forever alongside the friendships and lessons I was able to learn while in that historic place. I'm not sure what the future holds at this point, but someday I hope I can return to Oxford and revisit the libraries and coffee shops that served to challenge and stretch me over the course of my time there.