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 Back to SummarySamantha Wai - Student Advisor Profile

photo of Samantha Wai
Stanford in Oxford —
MAJOR: Economics


“Members of a global community” was the phrase President Hennessy used to characterize one of the many hopes he had for the class of 2011. Before even matriculating into Stanford, I had always known I wanted to study abroad – it had been a personal goal, an opportunity I saw to broaden my own horizons. However, somehow the phrase that President Hennessy used in his convocation address stuck with me. I realized that studying abroad would be the opportunity for me to bring the Stanford community elsewhere, and to bring my experiences abroad to Stanford.

When it came time to decide on a study abroad program, I knew I was looking for 3 things: an international experience, a unique academic experience, and an opportunity to meet new people. While most of Stanford’s study abroad programs allow for international exposure as well as meeting new students, I viewed Oxford as unique because of its tutorial system as well as its integration with the colleges. As an economics major, I was determined to find a more intimate academic setting and as a college student, I wanted to meet local college students. I saw Stanford in Oxford as not simply Stanford transplanted to another country, but rather a wholly unique experience – an Oxfordian experience.

I remember standing at the Marble Arch bus station on Park Lane with my suitcases. I was in awe of the hustle and bustle on Oxford Street, the constant traffic surrounding Hyde Park, and the loud chatter of tourists. And I felt like one of them – out of place, overwhelmed, and an outsider. The Oxford Tube bus arrived in its modern disco-esque décor, and I hopped on for the hour-long ride to Oxford.

The Stanford House in Oxford is one of the most unique buildings I have lived in. Its notable red door opens into maze of interconnected hallways with more staircases than I could ever imagine. The combination of 5 different buildings on the High Street, the Stanford House was the center of our community for the quarter abroad. From hosting teas to cooking group meals, the Stanford students at Oxford bonded within the walls of 65 High Street.

In my two quarters at Oxford, I was able to take 4 tutorials. In Michelmas term, I took the Political Economy of the European Union and Creative Writing, while in Trinity term, I took International Relations between the U.S. and the U.K. and Museum Anthropology. These tutorials were the most refreshing academic experiences, especially in light of the larger economics classes at Stanford. They were an opportunity to explore topics in depth in a one-on-one setting, polish my researching and writing skills, and to truly engage with my professors on a unique and personal level. I clearly remember my first tutorial session with Dr. Martin Holmes…

I had read the reading list of 16 books regarding the origins of the European Union. It was a lot of information to synthesize, but I somehow managed to write a 10 page paper arguing that the EU was formed by a balance of economic and political needs and circumstances. As I walked to my tutor’s home in north Oxford, I was nervous, wondering how the hour-long session would proceed. I rang the doorbell, Dr. Holmes invited me to sit in his living room, and the tutorial began.

As we began, I offered Dr. Holmes a copy of my paper. He simply replied, “I don’t need a copy, just please begin reading.” Unaccustomed to reading my work out loud, I was quite nervous at first, conscious of pronunciation and enunciation. However, I soon gained confidence with the supportive nods from Dr. Holmes, while becoming more critical of my paper. As I read it out loud, I saw places in which I could improve my arguments and writing. Additionally, Dr. Holmes periodically stopped me to ask questions or to add commentary. While his questions made me think critically about the subject at hand and forced me to discuss and defend my opinions, his anecdotes were always fascinating, often beginning with phrases such as “I remember when I was talking to Margaret Thatcher…” Needless to say, it was an incredible experience to work with a professor who had such a depth of experience in the field of political economy. These tutorials were rigorous, but rewarding – a unique academic experience not found at Stanford.

As part of my desire was to gain a truly international experience, I spent quite a bit of time in London in order to take advantage of the melting pot nature of the city. From watching musicals in Leicester Square to eating Indian food on Brick Lane, I explored the city with ease as it was extremely accessible from Oxford. Furthermore, other European countries were just a short hop away, so I was able to also explore Paris, Amsterdam, and Reykjavik. With London as an international city and living so close to the rest of Europe, I definitely capitalized on the international experience that was offered by studying abroad in England.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, my experience really became an Oxfordian experience with the integration into the Oxford college system. During Michelmas term, I was affiliated with Corpus Christi and in Trinity term, I was affiliated with Brasenose. These colleges were bustling with people to meet, although social life at Oxford was certainly not limited to just these colleges. I made friends with my fellow teammates on the Corpus Christi football team, my competitors in the term-long mixed-doubles croquet tournament at Brasenose, and my classmates in the introductory golf session offered to the University. And even outside these events, I met some of my best friends at Oxford at a pub in the city centre. Through these friends, I was able to become a true Oxford student. I attended formal halls, the St. Hugh’s Ball, and bops (college parties). I also was able to partake in traditions such as the May Day celebration, punting on the Cherwell, and Summer Eights.

Two of my most memorable experiences at Oxford are caving in Mendip Caves with the Oxford University Caving Club (OUCC) and punting on the Cherwell River. When I was abroad, I felt more freedom and more audacious to try something I wouldn’t otherwise do at Stanford. One of my friends convinced me to go on a beginner’s caving trip. The OUCC advertised the beginners’ trip as “a simple walk into an open cave.” However, when our team arrived at the caving site, geared up in jumpsuits, head torches, and helmets, I saw the tiny hole we would be sliding down into the cold, damp underground cavern. The next three hours were perhaps the most frightening 3 hours, as we slipped and splashed down ravines, climbed down a rope ladder, and waded in knee high water. When we emerged from the cave, exhausted and sore, I smelt the fresh air like never before – it was a phenomenal feeling of accomplishment.

Another most memorable experience at Oxford was punting. Punting is a great tradition in Oxford where students take out canoe-shaped boats on the river. The boats are propelled by long metal poles and steered from the back of the boat. We got a group of 15 or so people in 4 punts and it was an afternoon of beautiful weather, Pimms lemonade, lots of snacks, and good company. I gave punting a shot, although I found myself not very adept at controlling the unwieldy metal pole – I almost fell into the river! But with some good laughs it made for the most incredible afternoon characteristic of the leisurely British lifestyle.

My two quarters at Oxford have been a highlight of my college experience. The sense of freedom I felt when I went abroad was fantastic – and the ability to travel, meet new people, and try new things opened my eyes to an academic world outside of Stanford. For two quarters, I was immersed in a learning tradition that began centuries before Stanford was even founded. I used historically significant facilities, such as the Bodleian Library, which contains at least one copy of every book ever printed. I felt a great sense of tradition with everything I did – something that doesn’t always feel as important at a young university like Stanford. I experienced the old and the new simultaneously.

My experience abroad was an opportunity for growth. I grew not only in my willingness to adventure out and try new things, but also in the way I think about my college experience. While Oxford itself was a fantastic place to be for two quarters, it has also made me appreciate all that we are provided at Stanford. I learned to become fully engaged in my areas of study – to be able to think critically and to always dig deeper about a certain topic. I became more independent in thought and action, being forced to take initiative in my academic independent study as well as taking initiative to be involved with the Corpus and Brasenose communities. I learned to appreciate the formality of British culture, to embrace a new environment, and to breach my comfort zones. Both academically and socially, Oxford was a hallmark of my college career; it was a way to experience something completely different from Stanford. Rather than being a tourist in Oxford, the program allowed me to become an Oxford student – living and breathing the Oxfordian lifestyle.

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