Back to SummaryLeigh Biddlecome - Student Profile
MINOR: Art History
ACADEMIC INTERESTS: British modernism and the relation of visual art and literary culture
I knew from the time I applied to Stanford that I would spend my junior year abroad, although I never could have guessed the extent to which this time away would eventually shape my undergraduate experience. As a junior, I decided to apply to both Oxford and Florence, hoping that the combination of the two programs would offer an exciting balance of academics as well as a meaningful contrast in cultural experiences. I was scheduled to return to Stanford in the spring, but by the end of November I felt deeply connected to the Oxford
community – and I knew I would have to return in order to fully appreciate the unique undergraduate experience that exists at Oxford. When I finally returned to the US after nine months abroad, my conception of what it means to study in a foreign country was radically altered. While I originally expected the experience singularly to involve the acquisition of a foreign language, I discovered by the end of the year that the personal and academic aspects of my year abroad were equally meaningful. While it’s difficult to encapsulate my entire year in a short profile or even a series of anecdotes, the following experiences speak best to my time away from Stanford.
Easily the most academically enriching facets of my year abroad were the tutorials I took while at Oxford. The tutorial challenges you to rapidly absorb material and respond to texts, creating a sort of “mini thesis” each week on a particular subject you find captivating. This mode of learning, while different from my past experiences in literature classes, is in fact the ideal preparation for creating an honors thesis. It encourages study of a wide range of texts within a particular group of authors, yet it also forces one to delve into the complexities of individual pieces of literature. It’s hard to describe the exact nature of a tutorial
meeting, since different tutors have different pedagogical methods, but in every case the level of personal attention is a luxury. I knew going into my tutorials in the spring that I wanted to write a thesis on Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf, so I organized a tutorial precisely on that subject. For me, the most thrilling aspect of the tutorials was the opportunity to be in dialogue with my tutors; they were there to push the comfortable boundaries of my thinking, introduce complex material, but also to listen seriously to my intuitions and hypotheses. Even months later, as I write my thesis, I am reminded continually of discussions I had with my tutors and the subtle ways they helped develop my own thinking on the subject.
Outside of my stimulating academic experiences, I had the incredible sense while in Oxford of having become truly a part of my college (Magdalen) and its student life. While studying during Michaelmas (Fall quarter), I was able to join the rowing team, eventually rowing in the stroke seat on the Women’s Novice A boat and becoming a Senior member of the Boat Club by the end of the term after enduring a very interesting set of initiation rites. Even though I wasn’t an official member of Magdalen, the students welcomed me into the traditions and rich history of rowing in their college. As a result, I was made part of the community of rowers and ultimately felt a strong connection with an important aspect of Oxford culture. In the spring, I rowed for the Women’s 1st Boat at Magdalen and competed in the Summer Eights Regatta, one of the most exciting events at Oxford. Huge crowds of boaties and non-boaties alike line the banks of the river to drink Pimm’s and riotously cheer on their college teams. As a member of the Boat Club, I was treated to many social events throughout my time at Oxford, including a three-course dinner at the house of Magdalen’s President – an incredible experience I never would have had without having rowed. I also was introduced through rowing to the brilliant international community of graduate students at Oxford, with whom I spent a good deal of time at Sunday brunches, punting parties, black-tie dinners, and spring balls – not to mention evenings at the many traditional English pubs. Socially, my experience at Oxford was without equal in my entire Stanford career.
Between my two quarters in Oxford, I was fortunate enough to experience a completely different type of abroad experience by spending the winter in Florence. While it was difficult to transition to a completely new country after just having settled in England, I ultimately learned a lot about the challenges of trying to live within a culture as opposed to simply existing on its periphery as a tourist. While many of my fellow Stanford in Florence students and myself had visited Italy prior to studying there, I don’t
think any of us realized how different it is to live with an Italian family and integrate into their culture. My host family was wonderful for encouraging me to take part in their weekly activities, such as inviting me to my host brother’s partite (soccer matches) and taking me to a local restaurant with family friends. I even helped my host sister with her Shakespeare homework and learned how to make a complicated pasta dish from the grandmother. At the Stanford Center, I had the fortune to take two of Professor Verdon’s Art History courses, both of which were taught mostly on-site at various museums and public spaces in Florence. Particularly memorable was the course on the Western museum tradition, which culminated in a trip to London and a creative final project that involved designing your own museum.
It’s hard to imagine what my Stanford experience would have been like had I decided to remain on campus instead of spending my entire junior year abroad. More than simply a year spent traveling and studying, my time away has informed my understanding of what is most important to me, both intellectually and personally. It has also influenced my decision to apply for graduate programs in England and consider teaching English in Italy or France. On a concrete level,
I benefited from my experience by an increased fluency in Italian and the opportunity to determine my thesis topic while in Oxford; on a more abstract level, though, my experiences away from Stanford have significantly changed my approach to life after graduation. Leaving Stanford does not necessarily mean abandoning your undergraduate (or freshman and sophomore year) passions, but rather finding ways to pursue them in new contexts, to an even greater depth.