King's student reports on Oxford experience
This past semester I was given the opportunity to study at the University of Oxford during its Hilary term as a part of the Summit Oxford Study Centre. After a challenging fall semester at King’s, I was ready to start a new adventure across the pond, to bury myself in my tutorials (my flat-mate, Celina Durgin, explains Oxford’s academic structure here), to enjoy the British accents and culture—and already, looking back on the past three months, I am so thankful that I started this adventure. One of the best parts of my time here so far was being able to be a member of an Oxford college. The University is made up of 38 individual colleges, and the Summit Oxford students are placed into either Christ Church, New College (“new” in 1379) or Trinity College, with all of the privileges and opportunities of a full-time member. I was a part of Christ Church, which gave me the daily option of having meals with other Christ Church students in its Great Hall, made famous as Hogwarts’s dining hall in Harry Potter.
At formal dinner, served every night, students wear their academic robes, and professors eat at an elevated table at the front of the Hall. The meal begins with the bang of a gavel that summons students swiftly their feet as Latin grace is read. With their beautiful quads and gardens, each college has its own magical, Secret Garden-esque intimacy, hiding from passersby behind their towering stone walls and massive wooden doors. Wandering around the colleges, I found myself feeling as if I had entered an era that has long passed outside of Oxford’s walls.
In the Summit Worldview course, under the wise, godly tutelage of Kevin Bywater, I was part of a group of 14 Christian students, who discussed controversial societal issues, examined world religions and did intensive Bible studies. Because he took the time with us to thoroughly examine present-day issues, I was able to better understand the foundation of my convictions, giving me a greater confidence in them. Even more important were our discussions on Old Testament law and New Testament ethics, which focused on reconciling the gaps that can be perceived to exist between the two.
When someone thinks of the Oxford, with its demanding academics, the first word that comes to his or her mind is probably not “peaceful.” But for me, it is. Every day on my walk to the library, I passed a pub called the Oxford Retreat. And as the term went on, I realized how much it represented my time here in Oxford: a retreat from city life, a time of rest and learning, attempting to soak up everything I could between late-night conversations with my wonderful, wise roommates, long days in the library and the Summit Worldview course. Sheldon Vanauken, in his autobiographical A Severe Mercy, explains the gift of Oxford best:
“This, you know, is a time of taking in—taking in friendship, conversation, gaiety, wisdom, knowledge, beauty, holiness—and later, well, there’ll be a time of giving out…Now we must store up the strength, the riches, all that Oxford has given us.”
Although I will be staying at Oxford for the upcoming Trinity term, I am ready to give. I will always have more to learn, more to take in—but as Kevin reminded us on our last day of class, “To much is given, much is expected.” I will continue to take in new friendship, the vast knowledge of my fellow students and tutors and the beauty of sunsets that illuminate Oxford’s ancient buildings. But to only take and not give is selfish, and the Gospel is only the “Good News” when we proclaim it, when we “give” it to others. And so, as I begin another term and experience more of Oxford’s gifts, I hope to share with others what it has already given me.