Spend a Semester at Oxford: American Invasion

by Deborah Flagg

Imagine walking with C. S. Lewis along the River Cherwell, taking tea with John Wesley in the dining hall of Christ Church College, sitting in afternoon tutorials with Percy Bysshe Shelley, and waking each morning to see the gray spires of Oxford University piercing the Anglican sky. For 18 Azusa Pacific University students, this scenario will become a reality this fall as they pack their notebooks and board a jet for England. While they will not actually encounter those aforementioned alumni, they will follow in the footsteps of many brilliant and erudite scholars by participating in a long tradition of academic excellence, all made possible through APU's new Oxford Semester Program.

Affiliated with the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Keble College (1 of 45 colleges that make up the Oxford University system), and administered through the Oxford Study Abroad Program, the Oxford Semester is designed to enable 15-20 APU students to become "associate students" at several Oxford University colleges. Applicants are expected to demonstrate well-defined academic objectives, maturity, and self-discipline, as well as possess a cumulative grade-point average of 3.30 or higher. It offers an unparalleled opportunity to sharpen their academic and research skills, explore questions of faith, and experience the history and culture of Great Britain.

Mel Shoemaker, D.Min., director of the Honors and Oxford Semester programs, will accompany the 18 students this September. He explains that while the participating students will study at Oxford, they will not matriculate in the Oxford society, but will work toward a degree from APU. The cost for the semester is the same as being in residence on the APU campus, plus the application fee, international health insurance, and travel to and from England.

While at Oxford, the students will have a wide variety of study and research options available to them, as the university has specialists in almost every academic field. All teaching is through the "tutorial system," a highly individualistic approach that incorporates weekly meetings with the instructor, small-group discussions, and extensive independent reading and research in the student's chosen field. Students will take one six-unit primary tutorial, one three-unit secondary tutorial, and one three-unit seminar, all culminating in written essays and examinations. In addition, the students will meet with Shoemaker for a weekly colloquium on faith and learning, with instruction in church history and the life and teachings of Jesus.

The foundational core of the Oxford Semester is the course, Introduction to British Culture and Society, a seminar on the cultural history of Great Britain. Incorporating comprehensive classroom lectures, reading assignments, and "travel-as-text" field experiences, this course is designed to expose international students to a broad spectrum of British life: art, architecture, geography, history, literature, music, philosophy, politics, and religion. Students are required to choose a topic for personal research and submit a major paper, presenting a synopsis of their research at a final symposium. This class meets the Azusa Pacific University general education elective requirement in Heritage and Institutions.

Students will also be exposed to the culture of their host country through their daily living arrangements. Most will be housed in the city within a 10-minute walk of the college. During their free time, students are encouraged to explore their surroundings and acquaint themselves with the people and places of Oxford. Although Oxford is dominated by the presence of the imposing university, it is also home to many other important cultural and historical sites. With theaters, botanical gardens, ancient churches, and the famed Blackwell's bookstore, students can find plenty to do during their recreation times.

Katherine Finlay '99, an APU graduate who went to Oxford with the Honors Program in fall 1998, feels that her experience helped her to grow both academically and spiritually. She credits the tutorial style classes, rigorous academics, and the challenge of being a Christian in a secular environment with preparing her for her future goals. "The emphasis placed on integrating faith and learning, and also on understanding the place of the church in history, helped me to come to a deeper understanding of my Christian belief," Finlay said. "The people I met and the experiences I had in the Oxford Study Abroad Program are the key factors which made me want to pursue my graduate education at Oxford." Finlay was recently appointed junior dean of the Center for Renaissance and Medieval Studies at Keble College.

Shoemaker, who established the Oxford Semester Program, believes in the importance of international study for cultivating global awareness and overcoming parochialism and prejudice. He also believes it is invaluable for Christian students who are preparing themselves to be leaders and scholars capable of making an impact on the world. "My hope is that this program will enable qualified APU students to broaden their worldview and become world-class scholars and thinkers with a Christian perspective," he said. "We also hope that these students will help to bring spiritual renewal to Oxford."