My Oxford Scholastica Summer: Classes, Castles, and (lots of) Coffee

Well, it seems that after my Mystery Blogger Award post, a few of you showed interest in hearing about my two weeks abroad at Oxford University last summer. I was hoping you would, as I have been meaning to write about my studies and adventures for a while now.

This post ought to get the nostalgia going.

*wipes eyes*

But, this will also be a fun post dedicated to describing the events of last summer, which were some of the most amazing events to ever have transpired in my lifetime.

Let’s get going then, shall we?

Oh, and just so we’re clear on this, all the pictures in this post belong to yours truly (unless otherwise indicated), so if you have a hankering to use them, just please put a link back to this post and don’t take credit for them or anything.

Much obliged. 🙂

I’m just going to say this first off, though: I cannot write about everything. It is, quite simply, impossible to do so. I cannot fit everything into this one little blog post, because there was just too much amazing, and too much amazing can’t fit.

Alright. Glad I got that off my chest. 😎

In the summer of 2019, I attended a summer program called Oxford Scholastica Academy (Oxford Summer School), which was an incredibly well-organized, international summer school in Oxford, UK, for students aged 12-18 from around the world. OSA is designed to help young people understand life as an international student, to demonstrate what university abroad looks like (and how you can get there), and it is also an incredibly enriching way to further study the field that you’re interested in. A lot of students chose classes that aligned with their intended university courses, and others just chose what tickled their fancy.

As a writer, I chose the Creative Writing Academy.

Each day was planned out for all of us, so no two days were the same!

6:30 ~ Each morning at 6:30, I’d crack my window open to let the fresh air in, hop into my shower, and settle into my writing desk for some nice morning prayer and Bible study. I needed it, to be honest. While Oxford was one of the greatest physical experiences of my life, it was also a place where I experienced a lot of spiritual growth and learned a lot about myself as a Christian by the way my outspoken faith interacted with those around me. So, this beautiful time of quiet in the morning was a cherished, much-needed hour before breakfast started.

My little window 🙂

8:00 ~ Breakfast was from 8-9, and you had to sign in so the program coordinators knew you weren’t still asleep and at risk of missing class. I, luckily, never experienced this, but it was one of my greatest fears. Hence, I was usually one of the first ones to sign in each morning…even if I wasn’t ready to have my toast and tea!

8:30 ~ At around 8:30 each morning, I’d head to class. The dorms were about a 3/4 mile walk to the building where we had classes, but I didn’t mind. The walk to class each morning was one of my favorite parts of the day. Some days it would rain, so I’d have my umbrella open and my earbuds in with some lovely classical music playing. Most days I walked to class alone, but other days I would get caught in the rain with some of my favorite people, as depicted below:

But, when we weren’t getting stuck in the rain, we’d grab coffee as a squad then troop off to our individual classes together.

9:00 ~ Classes started at 9:00, but I always got there early because I have a very large Phobia of Being Late™ and I never let myself be less than five minutes early. I’d usually arrive around 8:45, or if I chose to grab a coffee at the much loved Opera Cafe down the road, I’d arrive around 8:55. *sip sip*

My class was a lovely bunch. I took the creative writing course for two weeks, and our tutor was the most amazing young Italian woman. Probably one of the funnest, most engaging writing instructors that I’ve ever had. She also really enjoyed geeking out over Austen and feminist literature, which was super fun.

We studied literature and broke down our favorite classics so as to explore literary techniques to employ in our own compositions. I wrote a paper on my beautiful boy Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities, and I gave a presentation on the life and work of Charles Dickens. These are only a few of the assignments I worked on.

In addition, my classmates and I each had our own WIP, and we all did loads of writing exercises and word sprints to help us develop characters, create a mood, and expertly craft a plot. Each class began with a ten/fifteen-ish minute free write session based on a prompt of our tutor’s choice, and this would help us get our juices flowing (9 am is early, folks).

Left to right: Maddy, Hilla, Parker, Amelie, and yours truly 😉

11:00 – 13:00 ~ After classes, we’d return to our dorms and spend two hours working on homework. Sometimes it was hard to concentrate (especially when you had the charming little town of Oxford right outside your window), but I did well in my course and garnered a glowing report from my tutor. It was during this time (and before bed) that I’d work on my in class presentations, draft a climax for a WIP, or plow through an assigned reading.

Evenings ~ Besides the daily ritual of dinner at a local restaurant, most evenings differed, because each new day brought a new activity of some kind that the program coordinators had put together for us. Sometimes we would go on a hunt looking for hidden symbols around the city or we would attend lectures called “Masterclasses” which featured some amazing guest speakers from the university.

Once we even debated at the infamous Oxford Union. I was one of the debate finalists, and my team actually won the debate! I couldn’t have been more excited! After knowing how many world leaders and speakers had given addresses at the Oxford Union, it kind of felt like a holy place for a little ol’ nerd like me to be in!

Friendships and Free Time

Some of my best friends of all time come from my time at Oxford Scholastica. Honest to goodness, I mean this in the most sincerest of ways. Spending two weeks with these crazy beans made them some of the dearest people in the entire world to me, and the closest of us are all still routinely chatting over WhatsApp and Zoom.

Free time during the day (usually around lunch break) and each day trip (one to Windsor Castle and one to Blenheim Palace) was spent in their company, and we ended up raiding bookstores for treasures (literature is gold), paying for meals entirely with coins (which we were very embarrassed about), drinking unnecessary amounts of caffeine, and (I’m looking at you, Parker) crying over the (very single) young British gentleman who served cookies-and-cream Gelato with such gentility.

One of our favorite places in Oxford was Blackwell’s, a bookshop that had a first floor, a second floor, and a basement with rooms full of walls and walls and walls and even more walls and did I mention tons more walls? of books!

Trust me, it’s bigger on the inside. *wink*

They even had limited editions of Tolkien’s, Carroll’s, and Lewis’s books on display for us nerds to gawk at. See? Now you’re gawking too. 😛

Blackwell’s was (and still stands as) a haven for the lonely, desolate, hungry nerd. And, as hungry nerds, we found ourselves immersed in a dangerously glorious place. We spent a lot of money there, I can tell you that. Too much? Nah.

It is worth noting that the worst of us book addicts was my good friend Ioan, who spent *insert God knows how much money* on forty-five books. Somehow (don’t ask me how) he cleverly managed to pack every book into his suitcases when departure day came.

How can you blame him, though? Especially when you’re visiting a place like this:

Retrieved from Pinterest

And that’s just the Norrington Room (which is also known as the basement). Not counting the shelves and walls behind the camera. But don’t forget: there’s two more floors besides.

Retrieved from Giphy

I know. 😉

Besides Blackwell’s, we found ourselves travelling to Blenheim Palace, Windsor Castle, and we even ended up in a boat in the River Thames in which we danced the night away in our smartest outfits. Here’s a few photos from our travels…

*(To those of you who asked for specific “filters” to be applied to their faces, I don’t have a Brad Pitt feature in my photo editor. Sorry, friendsies 😛 )*

I found a shady spot to rest, put some classical music in my ears, and took in the view of Blenheim Palace…

 

A mural at Blenheim Palace

 

The Gardens at Blenheim

 

Left to right: Me, Latifah, Aisha (who did not want to be photographed), and Reem in the gardens at Blenheim

 

Windsor Town Square

 

Ioan and I sipping tea before heading into Windsor Castle. #pros

 

Me and Ami waiting to get into Windsor Castle

 

Windsor Castle (only one side…the entire thing is MASSIVE)

 

Left to right: Me, Ioan, Leo, and Ania in front of St. George’s Chapel (which is in the Windsor Castle perimeter. See those towers in the distance in the back right? Yep. That’s still the inside of Windsor Castle).

 

Parks and Leo found a quiet spot on the otherwise noisy dance boat 🙂

 

Left to right: Me, Ioan, Amelie, Ania, and miss Salma (aka my sis from Dubai). And yes, that’s a coke. Because nerds drink coke like that.

 

“Titanic” – Salma and I couldn’t resist a photo op.

Graduation Night

And then, to reward our hard earned academic successes, we shared a final night together at the end of our courses: graduation night. We all dressed to the nines and were more than excited to officially finish our courses.

Left to right: Reem, Latifah, Aisha, and I getting ready to head over to the Saïd Business School for the graduation ceremony

 

Left to right: Ania, Parker, Leo, me, Ioan, Sean, and Amelie taking our final picture as a group…

We were so ready.

Numerous students were selected to deliver speeches to represent their classes, and I was chosen to give the Valedictorian speech for the entire school, which was an absolute honor.

It was the first speech I had ever given in my entire life (unless you count the online speeches I sent in to my COMS professor), and I was incredibly nervous, but after much rehearsal and preparation, I delivered a speech that many said was inspiring and seemed to get everyone pretty excited. A few OSA coordinators came up to me and my parents to say how much they loved it and were proud of it, which still makes me blushy.

Touching the podium at the Saïd Business School felt kind of sacreligious for this nerdy bean.

At the end of my speech, I had to depart and bid my tutor, the lovely activities coordinators, OSA leaders, and all of my dear friends adieu. It’s weird, and I can’t explain it, but it caught me off guard when I realized how much I missed everyone once I had departed.

I still have my report card from my delightful tutor, and I’ve also kept all the documents from my course writings and analyses, which I keep in a folder on my laptop labelled “Oxford Writings” to look at whenever I need a spark of inspiration.

Oxford Scholastica Academy gave me the opportunity to realize how much I love academics, how much I love discussing big questions and crazy ideas with people from around the world, and it made me understand how much I love writing.

My time at OSA was one that changed my entire life. Oxford as a city is a remarkable place in which to study for two weeks, and as Joy Clarkson once told me when I told her about my acceptance into OSA, “Oxford is a magical place, so don’t forget to look around!” I most certainly didn’t forget, Joy!

Addison’s Walk – where it’s said that Lewis and Tolkien used to stroll together (I was very tempted to kiss the path, friends).

 

The Radcliffe Camera *squeal*

At OSA, I learned what it was like to hear different languages spoken in the same room and how amazing it feels to make friends with people from all around the globe. I stepped outside of my own country to dive into the lives of other people and their cultures, with whom I share this dear little planet. I learned that while truth is objective, the way in which it is received by individuals differs, creating a diverse set of worldviews among different people and different cultures. From exploring the Ashmolean with Latifah, to getting lost in Windsor Castle with Ania, I found myself swept away by the beauty of cultures apart from my own, and it opened my mind to just how amazing people are.

Her majesty the Empress Ania working on King Leonidas’s pink laptop in speech class 🙂

I learned how to pursue excellence in the craft of writing and to think outside the box and glean from literary giants who have gone before me. I worked with fellow writers to accomplish word exercises and sprints. We challenged each other to expand on ideas and elaborate in places. We created an atmosphere of constructive criticism that enhanced all of our compositional skills.

Me and my dear Ami 😀

OSA was a gift from God, and while I can never relive it, I will always have the memories, the friendships, the assignment documents, and the numerous amounts of photographs I took. I think the biggest thing that God taught me through my time at OSA was that I have a voice. In the academic world, I can contribute. In the world in which I live, I can contribute. There is an entire audience of people waiting to be taught, waiting to listen, and waiting to be heard. And can be the one to teach, to speak to them, and to listen to their ideas. Christ has called each of us to use our minds for His glory, and that’s exactly what OSA empowered me to do.

My thoughts, ideas, and accomplishments are all inspired by Christ himself. And my sole purpose in this life on earth is to give it back to others, to show them the love that Christ showed me, and to continuously put myself out there and serve my home.

My earth.

My people.

To provoke thoughts in the minds of others, to challenge old ideas, to seek truth in everything I do. Following the light of Christ into academia, into cultural discovery, and into revelations of truth is what I am called to in this life.

And that, friends, is why I loved my time of discovery at Oxford Scholastica Academy.

I certainly hope that you have enjoyed listening to me ramble.

Thank you for coming to my TedTalk!

I love all of you dear readers, and I really hope this post has inspired you to study abroad. If you have any questions for me about my experience, please let me know in the comments or shoot me an email. I would love to hear from you. Or, reach out to OSA directly! Lavinia, Photis, Jamie, and the entire team are so kind and would love to answer any questions you might have.

I wish you all the best in whatever your futures hold! Let’s go out there and shine.

Bis bald,

Emily 😉

P.S. Here’s OSA’s promotional video for any of you interested in the program. 🙂

14 thoughts on “My Oxford Scholastica Summer: Classes, Castles, and (lots of) Coffee

  1. Okay, that looks so amazing.<3 I really want to go to Oxford someday! (Or, you know, basically anywhere in England. But Oxford sounds like a great place to start.)

    1. Thank you for commenting, Maya! And my sincerest apologies for taking so long to respond. Busy week! England as a country is in itself amazing, but definitely start in Oxford or London! Both culturally enriching cities that really capture England’s beauty!

  2. Wow, that all sounds so delightful! Especially Blackwell . . . all those books make me so happy! I would totally freak out though if I had to give a speech to that many people. I admire you for doing that! 🙂
    Those are some great things you learned from it. What an amazing experience! Thank you for sharing!

    1. I’m just going to highlight the part where you said “especially Blackwell,” because oh yes…ESPECIALLY BLACKWELL. I pine for that place at least *once* a day. It is not healthy for me, but I do. I actually sometimes hope the pining will teleport me there.

      I’m so glad you liked the post! And you’re welcome for sharing! It was really fun to write and recall all of the memories. Even that speech…woomf!!!

      AND ESPECIALLY BLACKWELL!

  3. So good! I followed your trip a bit on IG, but the detail provided here really brought home the magic:) What an amazing experience it must have been for you. Really, though, we have all benefited from it. If your time there helped you realize that you have a voice as a writer and that voice is worth being heard in this discussion called life, the world is now officially a slightly better place;)

    1. Awww, thank you so much Mrs. Higginbotham! I am so glad you enjoyed the post and your words are so sweet. I can only pray that God will use my writing and my voice for His glory, and I think He used Oxford to really empower me. Thank you so much for your kind words…they warmed my heart.
      Love you!
      Emily x

  4. This was fascinating…and absolutely GORGEOUS! Wow. It looks like you had a fabulous time and learned a lot! I’m sure I would have shivers of delight running up and down my spine if I ever found myself exploring Addison’s Walk. And I have a picture of myself, my brother, and my grandfather on one of those benches in front of Windsor Castle, as well!! In fact, you can see that same sharp-angled tower in the background. I’ll text it to you 😀

    1. Thank you, friend! AND THAT PHOTO YOU SENT ME! I kind of had a heartattack looking at it. Allison came over and asked, “what’s wrong?” and I just pointed to my screen and stammered, “LOOK MARIBETH WAS IN THE SAME SPOT!”

      I looked a little like a looney, but hey–it was so cool.

  5. What an experience, especially for artistic nerds!
    Looking through this puts me in the mood to re-read Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night.
    I need to spend a day (or two) at Blackwells!

    1. Spend a whole WEEK at Blackwells, friend. It’s a gorgeous place, but just make sure you have a budget before you go in! I didn’t spend as much as some of my friends, but I was definitely *TEMPTED.*

  6. Ahhh, Emily, I can’t even tell you how much I loved reading this!!
    Blackwell’s. Oh. My. Goodness. Like, how amazing of a place?!?! When I go to Oxford someday, I’ll definitely need to spend quite a bit of time there (although probably limit the amount of money I bring in with me so I don’t spend an insane amount? XD)
    Addison’s Walk! I would just be grinning the whole time with lines of Tolkien and Lewis running through my head.
    There’s so much more that I want to comment on! So much of this looks incredible, and I’m so happy for you that you got to have this amazing experience! Thank you so much for sharing. 😀 ❤

    1. YES! Make a budget, sis. Do NOT walk into Blackwell’s with a lot of cash, because it will be gone by the time you leave! Hahaha!

      And yes, Addison’s Walk was one of the first places I went when we got to Oxford, and it’s actually apart of Magdalen College, which is where Lewis taught. You have to pay to get in to Magdalen, so the walk is technically a private park for students, which is AMAZING. It was a gorgeous place to unwind.

      Let me know if you ever find yourself in Oxford and take lots of pictures, because I will most certainly want to hear about it!!!

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