Alumni Spotlight: Keeley Sermon

Keeley is a student from Perth, Australia who is passionate about sciences like physics, astronomy and medicine. She also enjoys dancing, rowing and volunteering locally in mentoring for gifted girls.

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Why did you choose this program?

The ORA course was offered through my school, and the testimonials from previous students meant that I’d wanted to attend for years! I thought the subject matter on offer was so broad that it would allow me to explore so many of my interests while also immersing myself in University life and the culture in Oxford.

What did your program university assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

ORA organized everything, bar lunches, from the moment I arrived on campus. My school had organized flights and coach transfer, though assistance was available through ORA for these things. They supplied food and the opportunity to visit different activities, like punting, almost every day. All I had to organized for during the trip was my spending money and getting to my classes on time - but the lively staff were always super happy to provide assistance if I ever needed directions or recommendations on where to grab some lunch.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Because of how many amazing opportunities are on offer, you really have to plan to sight see! As tempting as shopping or even taking a nap is - go on the tours that are offered in the early days or take the Art and Architecture elective to get the opportunity to see Oxford. On top of that, getting assignments and word done quickly gives you way more time to meet new people or try new things!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Each day you wake up and walk to breakfast in the dining hall. The food on offer was a full English breakfast plus more, so there are options for everyone. Then from there you would move onto your first morning class for an hour followed by 30 minutes to either chill or walk to your 2nd morning class. This would be followed by lunch where you were free to grab food from anywhere and every 2nd day you have an afternoon session for 2hrs.

On the other days, this would just be free time where there would sometimes be activities that you could sign up for, like cake decorating, frisbee and soccer tournaments or punting. Dinner was at 6 and there were always more events in the evening, but because it stays light in Oxford until quite late, there’s always more time to go and do things with friends or get some work done in homework sessions monitored by the counsellors. They also ran workshops for university entry skills are other things like essay writing and debate that you would be able to attend.

You have to sign in at 10:30 before you go to bed and curfew is at 11. The days are jam packed, but there are no classes on weekends. Instead, they host even more full day activities like mini-olympics with other colleges or big events like the great debate!

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear was meeting people. I’m not a naturally sociable creature and so I was worried I would be alone. I think it was the first few hours I spent on campus where, after looking at the stairs to my room in a panic because I was so tired I could barely walk, I had a group of amazing counsellors offer to grab my stuff for me and I met the rest of the people who had arrived at icebreakers that I was determined to find likeminded people.

And I did!

I went around and said hello to anybody that would talk to me and even had a close group of people from all over the world by the end that I still love chatting with. My view has definitely changed on making friends like this - I think what it is important to know if that when you attend something like this because you’re passionate. There are always others who have come for the same reasons and so likeminded peoples are so much easier to find than you’d think. You just have to go looking.

What skills or applicability does a course like this have?

Though I didn’t go into this course expecting my life changed on the flip side, the person who I emerged as was so much more learned and experienced than I could have ever hoped. Just the act of travelling into an environment like that and spending so much time doing things for yourself - you gain an appreciation for what you have in life, but also gain a great knowledge of your own capabilities.

The ability to meet people from countries all over the world, even some from your own who you might have never met, is some rewarding. To expand you horizons into so many different avenues over just 2 weeks is a feat that I doubt could be achieved in any other environment, and I’m grateful for those first few nights; I felt out of my depth and tired, because they made me go out to make the most of the experience I had, and I have no regrets.