The Oxford study abroad program shouldn’t be changed


Ana Park

The study abroad program to Oxford and other parts of Europe is the most unique program offered by California Lutheran University, and changing it by cutting out the travel seminar portion during which students are able to intimately experience and learn from many of the cultural centers of Europe is the wrong choice.

The Oxford program was created as two parts, beginning with a short term at Oxford with intensive, engaging and almost one-on-one study with Oxford professors who are top in their field. The second half was meant to reference the idea of “The Grand Tour”, with students traveling through the major cities of western Europe and experiencing the wealth of art and culture as well as broadening their perspectives and increasing independence.

The Study Abroad Center staff has expressed that they want to change the second half and cut out the traveling entirely, having the students finish the term at a traditional university in London. Many other colleges have study abroad programs in London. What would differentiate the Oxford program from any of these? Oxford itself has an entire website for its Oxford Study Abroad Program, which includes a full term at Oxford rather than the nine weeks there and the rest of the Cal Lutheran semester duration at university in London.

“A large part of the reason that I chose the Oxford program was for the traveling portion. There is no other program that offers something like this,” Simone Goerlich, an alumna of last fall’s Oxford program, said.

My participation in the program was one of the highlights of my life, and the best part of my time at Cal Lutheran.

“I learned so much about each city we went to and how to efficiently navigate the transit systems and customs of each country we visited,” Rachel Johnson, part of my cohort in the program last year said. “I also loved walking in the footsteps of so many authors, actors and artists who I had learned to love from a young age.”

But in some ways even Oxford paled in comparison to being able to really explore and immerse myself in some of the most culture-rich cities of Europe. For me, the traveling was at least equal to if not more educational than studying at Oxford.

“It still blows my mind that I got to learn while traveling. One of the most memorable days was having a tutorial in the Louvre. Most people were just walking by priceless pieces of art while we got to engage in the pieces. Moments like this were truly unforgettable,” Goerlich said.

University of California, Los Angeles has multiple programs in London, with one focusing on the art, theatre and history of the city. The Oxford program does that but with multiple cities across multiple countries. University of California, Davis has what they call a “Grand Tour” program, but it only includes England, France and Italy. Few programs combine the intense academic experience at Oxford with the overall impact that experiencing so many diverse and culturally rich cities have like the current iteration of Cal Lutheran’s Oxford program.

My cohort, who participated in the program in fall of 2019, went to the Louvre in Paris, explored the Palace of Versailles and the Uffizi Gallery, and saw where famous writers like Dante and C.S. Lewis lived as well as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and the rest of the incredible art in the Vatican. We visited important historical sites like the Colosseum, Napoleon’s resting place, one of the remaining walled medieval cities of Europe and the Sagrada Familia church designed by Gaudi.

During the program we took cooking classes with local chefs who taught authentic recipes using local ingredients from that country, suggested local places to visit and offered explanations about what was special about the city they lived in. Students stayed in hotels in the city centers, immersing themselves in each new city and learning about its culture. It was highly encouraged to visit local markets, engage with local people, avoid chain restaurants and shops and really involve ourselves in the cities as travelers rather than tourists.

For some students in the program, this is their first visit to Europe and possibly their first trip abroad overall. It is so educational not only because of the classes and the museums or tours, but simply because of the traveling, the immersion in a totally different city and its culture.

I learned so much during the travel portion of the trip, about the places we visited, about myself and about traveling in general. This trip gave me a sense of independence and better self-confidence, especially about traveling to new places and doing unfamiliar things, pushing myself out of my comfort zone and enjoying the results. I believe I now have a better understanding of the places and cultures we visited during our travels and an even stronger desire to travel in the future.

I loved both parts of the trip equally, and for entirely different reasons. The program simply would not be the same without the travel seminar, and that would detract from the experience as a whole. The program at Oxford and across Europe was carefully tailored to educate students academically, culturally and as a person, and it would be wrong to just have students go to a college in London instead.

“Those adapting the program should do everything in their power to keep it as similar as possible to what it is today. Stay true to the program’s roots. Keep the program’s integrity. Understand what makes the Oxford program so unique, and hold on to it with all your might,” Johnson said.