Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Mark B. - Oxford, England - Spring 2011

Hello all,
My name is Mark and I have now officially been in England for 3 weeks.  I have had 2 weeks of classes at St. Catherines (Catz) College at Oxford.  The university of Oxford is made up of 38 colleges, with St. Catz being the youngest college (founded in the 1960’s). 
Because it is the newest college, it doesn’t have the “Oxford” feel that you would expect from most Oxford colleges.  I have mixed feelings about this.  Although the campus doesn’t have beautiful architecture and medieval castle-like buildings, the school is geared towards undergraduates and has several advantages over other colleges.  One of them is that Catz houses the largest “Junior Common Room” of any Oxford college.  The Junior Common Room is their version of the Frick center, except, in my opinion, a whole lot better.  Mainly because students actually hang out there at night, but there are other reasons as well.  The JCR has a couple TV rooms (used almost exclusively for sports), a game room, and a bar.  The JCR closes around midnight and is the place where most Catz students hang out before going out for the night.  It is a great place to go for a drink, play some pool, and meet other students.  
For students in CPP 250 getting ready to go abroad, I strongly recommend getting involved around campus.  Aside from meeting students at the JCR, I joined the club rugby team here at Catz.  Even if you have never played a sport or participated in an activity, I advise to go for it.  Studying abroad is your time to meet new people, try new things, and learn about yourself.  I have never played rugby before, but after one game, I found that I am quite good at it.  Aside from the thrill of the game, I now have 20 or so new friends to go out with on weekends and show me how things are run around here.  
I am studying abroad through the IFSA Butler program, so from the start I was grouped with 20 or so Americans who are also studying abroad at Catz.  Before I went abroad, many people told me to avoid other Americans like the plague, but based on my experiences so far I wouldn’t recommend that.  It is nice to meet other Americans who have similar interests and goals.  It can be very helpful to have an American friend when you are a stranger in a different culture.  The real key to social life abroad is to avoid big groups of American students.  If you go everywhere in a large group, you will not have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the host culture.  At Catz, I have made a few close American friends that I spend my time with, but I avoid going out with the entire group when possible.  It is easier to meet people when traveling with 2 or 3 rather than 20.  
Finally, there is school.  For those of you going to Oxford, expect to spend a lot of time studying.  The best way to approach studying abroad is to treat it as a job.  If you can budget your time so that you get your work done during the day, you will have your nights free to go out with friends.  Unfortunately, this does not always workout so nicely.  I am studying math(s) here and have already spent several nights studying til 2 or 3.
When picking classes, I advise to balance out the difficulty levels.  Right now I am taking one tutorial(class) which is equivalent to grad school level.  The British system moves students through the math ranks significantly faster than American schools do, so this is common.  The class is hard, enough said.  What makes it possible for me to still have a social life, is that my second tutorial (class) is a lot easier.  I think this is probably the optimum balance of course work that one should sign up for.  If you take nothing but elementary courses, you probably will not grow very much, and you might as well have just taken a vacation to whatever country you are studying abroad at. On the other hand, you don’t want to spend all of your time studying, so try to balance out the difficulty level if possible.  Also, don’t let anyone discourage you from taking a class that you want to. 


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