There were several factors that drew me to the St. Clare's College study abroad program while I was an undergraduate at the University of San Diego. I wanted the opportunity to experience a different educational system and culture, as well as have the ability to travel in the region I would be living. I was attracted to the intellectual environment of Oxford as a city, and was very interested in taking British style tutorial classes.
At first I thought that living in England would not be as culturally enriching as many other study abroad locations, but the program at St. Clare's is unique in that it is an international college and hosts an English language school as well, so most of the American students get paired up to be roommates with a student from a non-English speaking country. Knowing this and that London was a convenient hub for traveling around Europe, I was convinced I would receive the breadth of cultural immersion I was hoping for.
When I talk to many people about their experiences studying abroad, they often only cite social and cultural elements when explaining why their experience was so special and meaningful. For myself, the academic side of my experience was most memorable to me, with social and cultural components being a close second. All of the classes I took at St. Clare's had seven students or less and were focused greatly on discussion and independent thought and research. Two of my classes were tutorial style where it was just myself and the professor. We would meet each week and discuss a particular topic that I had done outside reading on.
My writing and scholarly research improved significantly through this process and I had a new sense of excitement moving forward in my studies. In all classes professors encouraged students to explore the areas of the class they were most interested in. A few of the classes I was taking, related to post-WWII history in Europe, which made traveling around Europe a very enriching experience. A weekly seminar series was also offered on the Oxford University campus and included speakers from various colleges and disciplines and revolved around a particular theme. At the end of each session, students and faculty would often make their way to a local pub to continue the discussion or just relax and have some fun.
Living in a dorm which consisted of students from all over the world was also a highlight of my study abroad experience. There were students from South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. There was a great sense of community and curiosity as everyone was so open and excited to share their culture with others. I found Oxford to be a very beautiful and safe place to live. It was nice living in a college town and then having the close access of London (about 1 hour bus ride) when wanting to change scenery or fly out of the country.
Studying abroad has changed me in many ways. I came to realize just how important both higher education and cultural awareness are to me. This new understanding inspired me to pursue research in international higher education and a career working with international students in American universities. In addition to my study abroad experience influencing my career path, traveling has become an integral part of my life, and I don't ever plan to stop. There is so much that can be learned through the cultural exchange that occurs while traveling. Every place you go, and every person you meet has a different story to tell.