Back to SummaryLee Axelrod - Student Profile
My term spent at Oxford was one of the most amazing—and surprising—experiences of my life. I left for England filled with anticipation, simultaneously feeling eager to explore a new country and a new university and feeling nervous about the intensity of the academic program at Oxford. I returned to the US full of stories about all of the fun times that I’d had at Oxford and bursting with new knowledge about many different subjects. I was initially drawn to the Stanford in Oxford program because of the tutorial system. As an English major, I feel very comfortable with extensive reading and writing, and I’m always eager to delve into a scholarly subject and explore it thoroughly. So naturally, when I first started thinking about studying abroad in Oxford and began researching the program, I was thrilled to find that the academic component was so suited to my own intellectual tastes. And of course, the tutorial system did not disappoint me when I did finally make my way to Oxford.
My tutorial on Jane Austen was certainly the most work that I’ve ever had in an academic experience, but it was also the most fun that I’ve ever had while exploring a subject. And though I do adore Austen myself, I attribute much of my enjoyment from my tutorial to my tutor, an absolutely amazing woman who can quote entire passages from novels off the top of her head. Dr. Emma Plaskitt is truly brilliant, and she taught me to study Austen both in a broader, historical context and in a deeper, more thoughtful way. I left Oxford with an astoundingly thorough understanding of Austen’s novels and of the criticism written about Austen. Moreover, my tutor managed to teach me all of this knowledge without making me feel like I was under pressure each time that I met with her. For me, the one-on-one aspect of the tutorial never turned our meetings into a grilling session in which I was forced to recall and analyze extensive information. Instead, I would casually walk down to the music room in the Stanford in Oxford house, cup of tea in hand, and sit on a couch opposite Emma for a pleasant chat about the Austen novel that I’d read that week. The calm atmosphere that Emma encouraged, along with the wonderful material that I studied, made my tutorial a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
While my tutorial certainly defined my academic focus in Oxford, it did not wholly dominate my time abroad. I had a fantastic quarter in Oxford for many reasons, one of them being the social experience of belonging to a college. I was in Corpus Christi College during my time at Oxford, and in the span of a few months I got to know most of the Corpus students and became very close friends with some of them. I actually spent most of my time in Corpus: studying in the library, eating in the dining hall, or relaxing in the common room (aka the JCR). I found all of the students to be very interesting—witty, intellectual, and wonderfully quirky.
I loved spending time with them, whether I was out with a group of friends at a pub or just hanging around the common room talking. Some great moments do stand out, like when I watched two of my friends toss a football to each other across the common room while making jokes about the politics of the American Civil War. Or there was the time when I stumbled into the JCR at 2am, exhausted from writing an essay in the library, to find that my strange Dutch friend wanted to dress all of the remaining students in the common room in his tweed jackets.
Or there was the evening when I went out to the unofficial Corpus pub with some friends and ended up staying there until closing time because we’d found a fun board game called Articulate and had started playing. Some of my Corpus friends regularly invited us over to their house to hang out on Friday evenings, so my Stanford friends and I would often go there after attending Formal Hall, the college’s fancy three-course dinner that was served once a week. I also went to all of the Corpus bops—themed dances held in the college where all of the students dress up in costume. Those parties were pretty outrageous, but possibly one of my favorite social activities was also the most low-key; I really loved the JCR tea. Every day at 4pm, the Corpus student government would serve tea and cookies in the common room as a nice study break.
Students would flock from the library to the JCR, where we’d sit on couches and sip tea while covering ourselves with the warm blankets provided to us. Sometimes my friends would get into a fight over the package of Jammy Dodgers, but usually everyone would just chat with each other. It was a very comforting tradition, and it made for an excellent study break. For me, JCR tea really epitomized the warm community that I found at Corpus Christi.
The amazing thing about studying abroad (in any location) is that you get to experience a completely new country and culture, and I absolutely loved the experience of living in England. Though I had fully anticipated traditions like afternoon tea, other aspects of life in the UK took me by surprise. I quickly discovered that nearly everything in Oxford was very old, sometimes shockingly so. For instance, I was quite taken aback when the student president in Corpus responded to complaints about the faulty door to the common room by saying, “I’m sorry, but we can’t have it replaced; the door is 500 years old and is considered historically significant because it’s one of the oldest in Oxford.”
While the rich history of the university may have been limiting in that case, I generally found it fascinating to live in a place full of such lasting culture. Many of the buildings that I walked past on a daily basis were centuries older than the United States, and I always appreciated learning about their history. And I certainly wasn’t the only person who valued the historical setting of Oxford; many visitors come from all over the world to see the beautiful university buildings.
I realized the full significance of Oxford’s unique history when my roommate and I accidentally stumbled onto the movie set for the latest X-Men film, which was being shot near the Bodleian Library. It hadn’t occurred to me before that directors would want to use the university as a backdrop for their films, but considering that Oxford is impossible to visually recreate, I now see it as only natural that film crews would travel to Oxford in order to capture the unique setting. I myself learned to value the aesthetic appearance of Oxford by taking Geoffrey Tyack’s course on British architecture, which taught me all about buildings in Britain from 1500-1800 (in addition to teaching me more than a little British history). We went on several field trips to London and to other nearby locations, and we had many walking expeditions in Oxford itself. Even our Bing trip to York included stops at historical houses like Hardwick Hall and Castle Howard, which I later wrote about in an essay for the class. I also explored London with my friends, traveling there to see concerts and musicals.
It was great to have a wonderful city like that nearby, since it allowed me to further my cultural exploration while studying abroad. My favorite place by far, though, was Bath, which we went to on a field trip for the architecture class but which also happened to tie in perfectly with my tutorial. I walked around the streets of Bath in ecstatic admiration for the architecture and feeling as though I’d just stepped into a Jane Austen novel. It was truly a sublime experience to visit Bath and I will never forget it, just as I will always remember the things I learned and the friends I made during my time at Oxford.