Oxford Bound!

B Y - A L E X - C R E V A R
P H O T O S - B Y - P A U L - E F L A N D

Oxford University, the oldest English-speaking institution in the world, has been the mecca of intellectual discourse since the time of William the Conqueror, and UGA is the first public university in America with a year-round academic program there.

The same 25 students, who moments earlier tumbled from a chartered bus in front of their new home—106 Banbury Road, Oxford, England—exhausted from 10 hours of transcontinental travel, now crawl atop one another like ants in dutiful ecstasy. Darting from room to room through the sprawling, 11-bedroom Victorian house, they begin to realize their dual function as pioneers and scholars. This group of study-abroad Bulldogs is the first to live in UGA's new house on Banbury Road and the first to study in England since the UGA at Oxford program became a year-round endeavor. Their prize for being so chosen is the opportunity to learn from the most demanding faculty in the English-speaking world.

As they undertake the Class System of 16th-Century Britain, this inaugural group must also reckon with toilets that don't flush as thoroughly as they do in the States. And, why are there puddles around all the sinks? And, I'm not sure, but I think my hair dryer just exploded. And, you mean this 19th-century house is not e-mail-ready?

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Left: The University's newest "residence hall" is located at 106 Banbury Road, Oxford. The three-story Victorian house has a lush, green backyard and patio, a glass conservatory, and splendid English gardens.

Above right: Students Noelle Shumann and Kathleen Burke prepare for a seminar.

Below right: English don Ian Archer teaches 16th-century history with Keble College's "holy zebra" brickwork in the background.

So, with UGA-issued laptops and heavier-than-necessary luggage in hand, these new Oxford "freshers" make their way to the third floor and attempt to figure out their new existence one quirky, three-person, bedroom-kitchenette at a time.

"Being one of the first is really exciting," says cellular biology major Sam Shillcutt in a thick Macon drawl which echoes from the stained glass windows in the house's front foyer. "I think it fits with what we are trying to do here—be in foreign surroundings and deal with it successfully. For me, it's a treat because when things are foreign, I regress into a child-like state and become a sponge to soak things in."

The students arrived on Sept. 11, three weeks before the Oxford term began. In order to stay on the UGA semester track, they participated in four weeks of intensive 5- to 10-person seminars followed by eight weeks of tutorials, where the students were paired one-on-one with Oxford dons (from the Latin dominus for master). In each curriculum, the students were responsible for a paper a week on topics ranging from the history of British architecture to the literature of Oscar Wilde. Even pupils who had excelled in related topics in classrooms back home found the course work a little daunting.

"I worry about these classes because I like to procrastinate," says Stockbridge junior Noelle Shumann. "With multiple five-page papers due all the time, things can get hard quick and the teachers expect more than just reading the material. We have to really know it."

Punting boats line the shore beneath historic Magdalen Bridge, where students gather for graduation marches and spring celebrations.

Ian Archer's seminar on Tudor and Stuart England is a good example. It met for two hours twice a week and students listened, spell-bound, as they became accustomed to an English don's level of academic enthusiasm. Archer was brilliant the way some academics are, with wrinkled trousers and shirt and a blazer that fell clumsily from his shoulders, he played with the tip of his flower print tie and laughed in an almost child-like manner when students gave off-the-mark answers. His madcap style of pedagogy kept the students tenuously riding the operatic wave his voice made, signaling memorable lecture points.

After asking the group a question from the previous night's reading, Archer stood unbending and smiled at each student as if to say, It would be nice if I just gave you the answer, wouldn't it? But if you do not want to learn, I will not help. He looked at the ceiling and clasped his hands in prayer as all held their breath. Finally, Savannah senior Kathleen Burke whispered: "The class movement during the 1600s was, for the most part, static"—which answered Archer's prayers and pumped color back into her classmates' faces.

"This is a great opportunity for all of us," says Archer. "The students get to come to England and I get to teach those with varied interests. I never get the chance to teach students who are not specialized in their studies. Here, if you study history, you study only history. You do not study math or criminal justice."

The Oscar Wilde seminar instructor, David Bradshaw, agrees and finds the differences in curriculum most noticeable as the subject matter becomes specialized.

"A lot of pupils are used to an Olympian technique where the information is sent down from on high," says Bradshaw. "We are more interested in a symbiotic exchange. Often, when there are gaps in a student's knowledge of specialized material, then there are gaps in background information as well. That's when you get those blank faces. And during a tutorial you have to get beyond those blank faces—when it is one-on-one, there is no place to hide. The pleasant task we have is to coalesce the gaps."

Learning isn't confined to the classroom. Here, don Geoffrey Tyack recounts the history of British architecture during a walking tour of Oxford.

Still tanned from the hot Georgia sun, a group of UGA students in dripping rain slickers walk across an avenue in Oxford's city center. The streets, some unchanged since the university's unofficial foundation in 1096, are narrow by American standards. Cobblestoned and granite curbed, the roads are crowded with pubs, the interiors of which are dark, moody, and seductive like the weather.


ROOM #5, Dana Baraona, senior, Alpharetta, English

I tend to have a very instinctive feeling about places I visit—I know almost immediately if they feel like home or not. Something just feels right—I'm comfortable here. I feel like I belong here, like I'm welcomed. Athens felt like home the first time I went there, and thank goodness, so does Oxford. . . .

I took time off today to go downtown and be fitted for my sub-fusc (a traditional gown students must wear in certain situations—while in the dining hall and during exams). They're black with streamers down the back and kind of odd, but neat. . . .

More than anything, I think it is important for me to be here. It's so different from back home—and I think part of my goal here is to learn about myself through the differences.

ROOM #4, Aimee Lombard, junior, Augusta, pre-med-psychology

At 8 a.m. we arrived at 106 Banbury Road and unloaded our stuff. What a beautiful house! My roommates and I have a huge room in the front of the house with a great bay window and a fabulous view. I can't believe I'm going to live here!

Everyone started unpacking and we realized that we've brought way too much—but, of course, it's not enough. We have two desks, two chests of drawers, 2 armoires, and a wall shelf. The bathroom is nice with a tub and stained glass windows and everything is green, so, we have named it, officially, the green room.

On the other side of the bathroom is a kitchenette with the cutest, little stove I have ever seen. It will come in handy after I go to the market and spend some of these pesky pound things.

ROOM #3, Ann Garland, junior, Danielsville, English

When we reached center city, we stepped out of what seemed like a time machine. I couldn't help but wonder as I looked up at the great spires growing from the tops of wondrous buildings: what armies, what kings of centuries past had stood where I stood, looking? The daunting sentries of history relayed the ages of war, peace, tragedy and triumph.

Turning toward home, we passed colleges so ancient I almost felt a sense of intrusion. A sense that a knight in armor might ride up and dismount. With great awe I walked past the background of so much history—I thought I might hear a battle cry and trumpets announcing a call to arms.

On a dismal day shortly after their arrival, the students open and close their umbrellas to shake off the last of the rain, wipe their feet on a woven straw doormat, then duck into a pub, framed in dark oak paneling. They sit on benches from a ship's gallows and find refuge from the storm of Chaucer, Milton, and Tudor History encountered during their first seminars with the fabled dons. The young scholars are silhouetted by the gray light of the rainy, fading day. They drink chocolate-colored pints of beer; and speak with equal verve on theology and physics as they do about the latest music chart-busters. The Beatles play low from the building's PA system and mod, English youngsters and UGA students alike allow Lennon and McCartney to fill the breaks in conversation with natural ease, which feels something akin to breathing.

For these study-abroad students, tailgate parties were traded for double-decker buses and tank tops for overcoats when UGA linked them with Oxford. Similarly spaced from London as Athens from Atlanta, Oxford's possible advantage over study-abroad programs in Cortona or Costa Rica: the English speak a common language. Kinda . . . sorta.

It took nearly a week for the American females to realize that gawking English chaps were not referring to their relaxed style of dress when they muttered endearments about bums. And the guys are still getting used to sports pages filled with rubbish about baseball with flat bats and football stories that are really about soccer. And on more than one occasion, regardless of the precautionary language scrawled on signs at every crosswalk, the Yanks nearly became English road kill in the wake of mysteriously leftward-running autos.

Oxford is a good lesson for kids from Atlanta, Macon, and Albany who jaunt across the pond believing, as so many Americans do, that the rest of the world is an also-ran, playing second fiddle to American fashion, technology, and finance. What kids from Valdosta and Augusta discover as an adjunct to Oxford's "scheduled" curriculum is the invaluable lesson that despite an English love for things American—Harleys, Marlboros, and Levi's—there is something undeniably European about Europeans. Although Americans speak something similar to the British form of the language, the mother tongue moves with a different speed.

For every Bulls jersey-clad English lad with Metallica lyrics rolling from his tongue, there's a 75-year-old man plodding assuredly, like generations past, from market on a one-speed bicycle with a brown wicker basket brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables—greens and reds and yellows against purple flowers.

For just such scenes—and for the rigors of a Tudor and Stuart history seminar—President Michael F. Adams has been adamant about the necessity for a more far-reaching international program. And for UGA at Oxford director and English professor Judy Shaw, these types of eye-opening experiences are the reasons she has dedicated 10 years of her life to the project, which reached a sort of maturation this year when Adams committed himself and University funds to the program.

"Education is the first priority and we will always make that the number-one focus of the program, but another obvious benefit is that students become finer members of a global community," says Shaw from the glass conservatory in the rear of the UGA house. "They learn about themselves, while becoming more attractive to an increasingly global market. Alumni and businesses are very aware of graduates with international savvy."

With the purchase of the Victorian house—complete with lush, green backyard and patio, splendid English gardens, and a bulging apple tree—for an Oxford market bargain of one million pounds ($1.6 million), UGA is now one of only four American universities (the others are Boston University, Stanford and Williams) and the only public institution with a full-time residence in Oxford and associate memberships to the historic university. On all fronts, UGA students have been afforded expanded latitudes for discovery.

"To some degree, everything is strange here—even myself," says Alpharetta senior and English major Dana Baraona. "I think it will bring to light pieces of myself that I wouldn't have discovered back home."

The UGA at Oxford students, who were previously chosen on a first-come basis, are now chosen through a competitive GPA standard. The 13 charter members from the first summer-only Oxford session back in 1989 have now mushroomed to 125 per year with different groups attending the fall, spring, and summer sessions. As this fall session started, Shaw had received nearly 1,000 inquiries about the program.

In 1987 Judy Shaw was in need of new inspiration. After 11 years at UGA, she needed to regain her academic bearings.

"I had to decide what I wanted out of life and how I could get there," she says. "I had recently earned a Sandy Beaver teaching fellowship and knew that I liked to travel, so I decided to combine the two."

Shaw did so by setting a personal goal: start a summer program in Oxford based on small seminar classes and tutorials, which is the Oxford teaching principle. (Oxford students take exams only prior to graduation. Tutors prepare students for their finals through years of these tutorials and by requiring papers based on subject matter retrospection and personal introspection.) Her hope was to give good students the chance to become great students through intensive instruction virtually unheard of at large public institutions. She started by writing to many of the 39 colleges which make up the collegiate association that is Oxford University.

The individual colleges are independent and self-governing with the university acting as a central institution, in charge of setting curriculum and awarding degrees. This relationship, similar to that of the U.S. government to the states, has developed over 900 years, with new colleges added nearly every century. Oxford is the oldest English-speaking university in the world.

Jesus College, founded in 1571 by Queen Elizabeth I, responded to Shaw's query and showed an interest in housing UGA students for a summer program. At her own expense, she flew to Oxford in December 1988 to discuss the details. Thirteen students traveled to England the next June. Shaw taught the entire course load, but it was a start.

"This is called the entrepreneurial model," Shaw explains. "All the students paid their own fees and we were able to start a program with room to improve. At Oxford, you have to start small and with discretion—learn the necessary ropes. It is a process of stages, which must necessarily happen or you will not last long."

The program moved forward the next year when a group of UGA history students merged with the all-English program. Shaw now directed a multi-discipline, 50-student, transatlantic junket.

The program received another boost in 1991 when Shaw hired the first accredited Oxford don. This enabled Shaw to develop the full-fledged model originally envisioned—never more than three students per tutorial and heavy emphasis on writing.

"I was impressed by Judy's program vision and definition," says Bradshaw, a Worcester College Fellow and the first UGA don. "The real difference between UGA and other programs is a focus on purpose and the level of circumspection."

In 1991, Bradshaw became UGA at Oxford's British coordinator, acting as Shaw's Oxford muscle, travel agent, don-hiring employment service, and guide along the slippery slope of Oxford's administrative terrain.

"With David's help, we had dons clamoring to teach UGA students," recalls Shaw. "We made sure not to cut into their regular university obligations, and the dons found our students committed to learning. We also paid quite well. We always thought the place to spend money was on the faculty."

By 1994, this formula increased the number of participants to 75 and enhanced UGA's reputation as not just another university on summer holiday in England. But Shaw wanted more. She wanted a spring pilgrimage with classes to meet individual schedules—direct tutorials focused on students' degrees.

But breaching the Oxford school year was territory few had dared tread. It's one thing to use vacant college housing and hire dons during summer downtime, but quite another from September to June. "I became discouraged because David and other dons said places to live were non-existent," said Shaw. "But then we had another bit of serendipity."

Serendipitous, yes. Lucky, not exactly. The break came after UGA strode for five years across the rice paper of Oxford tradition and proved itself more than just another mega public school.

Archer, a Keble College don who taught 17th-century English history for the UGA summer session, tipped off Shaw about a spring term vacancy in the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (CRMS)—an eight-week window when 25 UGA students might make an Oxford nest. What's more, CRMS was affiliated with Keble College, giving the students all the privileges which accompany Oxford college students. Bulldogs have since rowed for the Keble crew, donned Keble colors in cricket, and competed in ballroom dancing.

"That move really put us on the map," says Shaw. "Shortly thereafter, Oxford University put restrictions on students simply coming to the colleges and paying arbitrary fees to study. By beating the deadline, we were grandfathered in and could continue to charge $5,800 for the spring program, while other students had to pay $26,000 in visiting scholar fees."

When President Adams announced his decision to pursue Oxford as the site for UGA's first residential study-abroad center in January 1999, students were left responsible for only their usual tuition. For many, the HOPE scholarship meant they could study, tuition-free, where T. E. Lawrence, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Ghandi, Bill Clinton, and Kris Kristofferson studied, as well as UGA's most recent Rhodes Scholars—Rob Sutherland (1996), Scott Hershovitz (1998), and Beth Shapiro (1999).

Such vision gives all students, regardless of affluence or area of study, the ability to walk through the Oxford Union where Nixon admitted he was wrong and Mother Theresa demanded world philanthropy. They would have access to the prestigious, members-only, seven million-volume Bodleian Library, which has denied entrance to English Kings.

"The Oxford program is the first in a network of UGA's residential study-abroad centers around the world," says President Adams. "UGA has the capacity to become a national leader in international education programs."

Left: UGA at Oxford Director Judy Shaw (at right) explains the rules and peculiarities of the 19th-century house's Victorian kitchen.

Right: Dana Baraona is fitted for her sub-fusc at the Varsity shop in downtown Oxford. Worn while dining and at other formal school occasions, it denotes undergraduate status.

There is something about being in Europe," confides Augusta junior Aimee Lomard, looking through the cafe's front door as a new patron lets in a breeze from the outside—flipping the pages of Beowulf in front of her. "Something about sitting in a cafe, wearing your woolliest sweater while coffee warms and you watch an autumn sunset against 800-year-old stone buildings."

Aimee leaves the cafe and strolls to the Eagle and Child pub, on St. Giles at the edge of city center, as blustery winds cajole. She sits where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis sat as schoolmates and members of the underground literary crew, the Inklings—sipping stout pints and engaging in heated conversations, from which grew "The Hobbit" and "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

"I just love it here," she says. "The excitement of being amongst the most learned people of all time—and we are a part of it. All the little things about everyday life are the same but somehow more exotic. I think the pigeons have British accents."

In a 16th-century tavern across the street from the Eagle and Child hangs an excerpt from a book by one-time Oxford student Graham Greene. In it, Greene confesses that he and his mates were in love with the tavern's bar maid, who looked like Nefertiti. One of the blokes finally gathers the nerve to talk to her and begins to see her on her days off, at which times he recites to her his poetry. Greene exclaims, "He was the only one of us lucky enough to never be published. But why would you need be, with Nefertiti as an audience."

Students from all over Georgia and the U.S. now have year-round access to the world's finest English-speaking university through the vehicle of UGA, which has its own Nefertiti and her name is Oxford.

Oscar Wilde seminar instructor David Bradshaw "coalesces the gaps" from his refurbished 14th-century office.

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