UT Student at Oxford: London trip and the tutorial system

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Westminster Abbey (left), the setting for every royal Coronation since 1066 and for many royal weddings

My first week here at Oxford was very busy, as I assimilated into the school and my life here for the next three months. OSAP rewarded us students surviving our first week with a trip to London. We had both a bus tour and a walking tour. On the bus, I learned that there are actually two main sections of the city: the financial district and Westminster, which is where some of the royals live. We were able to observe both places through rainy windows on our bus tour. After that, the rain fortunately let up for our walking tour around the Westminster area. We saw several historic cathedrals, Big Ben (sadly, covered in scaffolding because it was under construction), Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Park, and much more.

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Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the Queen

 

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St. James’s Park offers a nice, peaceful walk within the city of Westminster

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 8.17.15 PM.pngAfterwards, we had free time to enjoy the food in London and any of the museums (that, like Oxford, all have free admission). A few other students and I went to the British Museum and the National Gallery located in Trafalgar Square. The British Museum had so many incredible exhibitions, including Cleopartra’s mummy, the Rosetta Stone, and an Easter Island Head. I was also very impressed with the National Gallery because we were able to see van Gogh’s Sunflowers along with many other well-known pieces. Although it was a very cold day with intermittent rain, London was incredible to experience. We were also able to see the Lumiere festival while we were leaving the city. Lumiere is a light show that took place over that weekend. Many of the city’s buildings, monuments, and courtyards were illuminated with lights that mimicked stained glass and intended to represent happy times in the midst of winter.

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I was very excited to see one of my favorite van Gogh paintings in person! 
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Westminster Abbey during the Lumiere festival

 

Over the next few days following our excursion to London, my studies began to pick up. Most students, myself included, were able to meet with our tutors and establish the expectations and plan for the term. I was very surprised with the flexibility and personalization that is offered within the tutorial system. Essentially, I am able to focus my research on nearly any topic that peaks my interest. I have two tutorials this term: a primary tutorial in Developmental Genetics that meets once a week and a secondary tutorial in Women’s History in the Victorian Era that meets every other week. For each tutorial, I write a paper based on my readings and research over the week or over two weeks (commonly called here a fortnight).

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Interior of the Radcliffe Camera, where many history books and references are located. It is also a beautiful and peaceful place to study

In my primary tutorial, my tutor gave me three scientific journals to read through. I was challenged to pull out the relevant information and find other sources to write a paper explaining the specific topic he gave me. I was also encouraged to attend relevant lectures given by various university professors for the Cell Biology and Genetics courses.

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Interior of Oxford University Museum of Natural History. This incredible building contains many fossils and relics and is also the location of some of the lectures on Cell Biology and Genetics

For my secondary tutorial, I was given a reading list of over fifteen sources (I wasn’t expected to read every single one!) Some were online articles and some were books, which I found in the various libraries within the University. From these sources, I had to answer one of the five questions my tutor gave me on the fortnight’s topic. This tutorial is really interesting in the fact that I am also meeting with another student who is studying the same subject. I really enjoy meeting as a group of three rather than just one-on-one because we tend to have better discussions, and it is nice to have another person to bounce ideas off of.

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Mansfield College, the location of my secondary tutorial meetings

Needless to say, my tutorials require a lot of reading, research, and writing. As challenging as it sounds, it is achievable with proper time management, organization, planning, and dedication. Both of my tutors extremely helpful; they are interested in exposing me to many facets of my desired interests, while increasing my critical thinking skills. Outside of my studies, I am still able to enjoy clubs, museums, and other travels, all of which I plan to talk about in a future blog, so stay tuned!

UT Student at Oxford: first week

Welcome to my new blog! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Sammi Packard. I am a senior biology major from the University of Tampa. I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Oxford Study Abroad Programme (OSAP) for the 2018 Hilary term. I am very excited to share my experiences here with you in this blog!

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Cornmarket St. is a nice, pedestrian-only strip of shops and restaurants

My travels in the UK began when I arrived at the Heathrow airport on Thursday Jan 11. From there, another UT student (Nicole) and I took the bus to Oxford. I knew I would like the city as soon as I read its greeting sign: “Welcome to the City of Oxford: a Cycling City.” The architecture alone blew me away. There were so many beautifully old buildings and lots of cute shops. Nicole and I were fortunate enough to be neighbors, so we took a taxi to our houses together. My house is very comfortable with a good kitchen, living space, and backyard. I live on the ground floor, and two French students of a nearby business school and one other Oxford student live on the second floor (or “first floor,” as the British say). My accommodations also include a little dog named Ciboulette, which is French for chives!

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My house from the front
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The adorable Ciboulette

In the next few days, OSAP students went through orientation, where we learned about British culture, politics, art, architecture, what to expect of the Oxford tutorials, and overall how to feel at home in Oxford. My favorite part of orientation was the tours and inductions into the library and colleges. On Friday, we were able to go on a walking tour of Oxford, which helped to identify some of the many buildings. I still had trouble finding my way around the city, but it was amazing to see the gorgeous architecture.

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View of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin and Radcliffe Camera (right)
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The Bridge of Sighs joining two parts of Hertford College
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Broad St.

On the same day, we were also inducted into the Bodleian Library, the main Oxford library. There are about a hundred libraries in Oxford, including the Bodleian libraries, libraries for specific subjects, and the college libraries. After the induction, we were given our library cards, called “Bod-cards,” which allow us to enter certain libraries and check out books from our college library. During the tour, I was astounded to learn that the Bodleian contains around 13 million books and houses nearly every printed copywriten book published in the UK.

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The Radcliffe Camera, a circular library that is a part of the Bodleian Library
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Old Schools Quad of The Bodleian Library

Monday was one of my favorite days so far because we were inducted into our colleges. There are 38 different colleges within the University, which are all self-governing. All students and teachers must be associated with a college. The colleges are similar to “houses” in Harry Potter, because they compete with each other in academics and sports but are still within the University. I was very happy to learn that I am associated with Christ Church because it is the prettiest college, in my opinion. The other two UT students (Nicole and Hayley) were also inducted into Christ Church. We were able to get a breathtaking tour of the grounds and the library that has special collections which included first editions of science volumes, original illustrations by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (A.K.A. Lewis Carroll), and Queen Elizabeth I’s personal bible.

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Tom Quad of Christ Church
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View of Christ Church from the War Memorial Gardens
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Special Collections, second floor of Christ Church Library
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Queen Elizabeth I’s personal bible

Overall, the first few days in Oxford had me completely amazed, and I’m so lucky I was given the opportunity to live here for a few months. I am looking forward to finally learning my way around the city, and I cannot wait to begin my tutorials to get the full Oxford University experience!

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View of Oxford from Westgate Shopping Center