Over the past May term, Saint Xavier’s students were given the incredible opportunity of attending a study abroad program hosted in Oxford University, England. Sponsored by the Honors Program, the Oxford Study Abroad Program (OSAP) allowed for students to work either individually or in small groups underneath the Oxford tutorial system, which were led by an Oxford professor within their chosen academic field. Participating students were given the option of obtaining an additional three credit hours and two GE requirements by also taking a separate Honors Interdisciplinary Seminar course. The course is Incorporating Oxford: Education, Consumption and the Life of Things, which is taught by our very own Dr. Mary Beth Tegan, director of the Honors Program.
Tegan’s initial approach to implementing OSAP as a study abroad option was sparked back in early 2014 when she received a grant to learn more about Oxford. Introducing this fresh study abroad option took obvious time and effort, and the greatest fear that potentially stood in the way of having OSAP was the obvious expense of such a trip. Tegan collaborated heavily with Dean Coutts and Saint Xavier staff members such as Kelly Fox Reidy and Sarah Miller, as well as OSAP administrator Adam Brown, in an attempt to make the trip more feasible. A few methods that allowed for the benefits of the trip to outweigh the costs were offering an SXU course that provided an additional three credit hours on top of the Oxford credit students would receive and, if they were Honors students, adding the option of their Honors grant. Further financial aid assistance and options were also provided for students who were not in the Honors Program. After a couple of years of developing the program, Saint Xavier introduced OSAP as a study abroad opportunity starting in May 2017.
For its first year, there were eight Saint Xavier students in attendance, five of which were Honors students, myself included! While we were overseas in England, one thing became quite apparent to us, the education of students between Oxford University and the American education system was on two completely different sides of the spectrum. While students in America primarily are taught to follow what their instructors’ curriculums dictated, Oxford promotes self-education in their tutorial system. The professor was there to guide you and offer prompts in your course of study, but ultimately it was up to you to decide what you wanted to learn. In an extremely intimate discussion with just you, your Oxford professor, and maybe one or two other students depending on your chosen tutorial, you’re forced to think for yourself and what you wish to learn. Wild, huh?
In all honesty, going to Oxford and taking part in their education system was such an enriching and fulfilling experience. I was a little reluctant in shedding the years of conditioning that came with being “directed” as a student; however, once I did, I discovered so much about what I yearned to learn about, what I enjoyed, how my thought process works, and most importantly how to think for myself. Every week I went into my professor’s office for my hour-long discussion, I was armed only with the essay I wrote in response to her prompt, the words of the novel, and my own interpretations and ideas. My professor was there to challenge me, but she was also there to invoke new ideas and help develop my mind into something more than it had been. It’s rigorous and this program is definitely not one you can coast through, but I would absolutely do it again for that academic experience.
Other than the educational gratification, OSAP also came with opportunities for fun! Students were taken on weekly trips to locations such as Bath, London, and Windsor Castle for a day of touring England’s cultural and historical sites, as well as providing ample opportunities to shop around for souvenirs. Besides these trips, there was a surplus of things to do and experiences to have around Oxford, which included: tours of the city, multiple pubs, the deer park in Magdalen College, University Church, libraries, punting, shopping, and museums to name several. One of our participating students, Alicia Eldgridge, actually had her religious studies tutorials held in J.R.R. Tolkien’s old office. If all of that doesn’t get your attention, certain scenes of Harry Potter were filmed in various areas of Oxford – Christ Church, New College, and the Bodleian Library, most notably – and you could visit them. All in all, OSAP was the best introduction into the world of study abroad for me, both in terms of academia and leisure.
It seems that Saint Xavier’s first year implementing OSAP was overall a huge success, so what happens now? Is there a future for OSAP at Saint Xavier? Fortunately, when asked, Dr. Tegan responded, “As of right now, we’re looking to continue this program every other year. There might be an information session this year, probably in October, where the participating students of this past summer could share their experiences and information about the program, and that may help in spreading the word out to other interested students.”
Having more students interested in the Oxford program would increase the likelihood of having the program change its circuit from every other year to every year instead. However, in order to obtain more interested students, the program needs more exposure.
“Reaching out to surrounding community colleges such as Moraine Valley might help in advertising this program, since many of their students might be on track to attend Saint Xavier,” Tegan said.
In addition, there needs to be a better understanding of the requirements needed to apply, which were likely left unclear the first time around.
“We need to make it clearer that while it was sponsored by the Honors Program, the program is not just for Honors students,” Tegan said. “Any student with a grade point average of 3.2 and above is eligible to apply.”