Alumni Spotlight: Alejandra Ibarra


Why did you choose this program?

Ever since I was young, I have always been in love with the United Kingdom, most likely stemming from a Doctor Who obsession and a plethora of period dramas. I dreamed of meandering the streets of London, like Shakespeare, or sitting in the many gardens of Oxford, daydreaming in the gardens of Oxford, wondering what it must have been like in Tolkien's time.

During my sophomore year of high school, I became tired of the doldrums of school and feeling like I was missing out on opportunities. I wanted to be able to learn in other ways, outside of a tiny desk and stuffy classroom. As cheesy as it sounds, I read a novel about a girl who had spent a year abroad in Europe. As soon as I closed the book, I grabbed my laptop and began researching study abroad opportunities.

Realizing shortly, that I had neither the funds for a year abroad, nor the ability to be away from home for that long, I began looking more short term options. I figured that summer would be the perfect time to try it out. When I found Summerfuel's website, I instantly knew that I had found the program for me.
I was in awe of all of the locations and activities offered. I had decided that I wanted to spend my time in England, more specifically Oxford. There, I would be able to enjoy courses, rigorous without being overwhelming, countless trips to museums, activities galore, and an opportunity to explore a new world.

The people at Summerfuel were so friendly and eager to help me with paperwork and getting me ready for my trip.

It's rather daunting putting yourself in a new environment as a newly independent teenager, yet I knew that I would be looked after, while not feeling smothered.

As soon as I submitted all of my paperwork, I began to dream of the City of Spires.

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

Summerfuel provided all of the paperwork and an outline for the documents I would need. They explained how to gather all of the information and even had blog posts about what to expect and how to prepare. A reference from a teacher or other adults was needed to enter the program as well. The application process rather painless, though I knew that there were still standards of who was accepted.

When it came to living arrangements, I was told that I would be staying in Lady Margaret Hall, while in Oxford. As per the website, I knew that linens would be included in my dorm and that my basic necessities, like food, would be provided. All I had to do was pack my personal items such as toiletries, clothes, and other odds and ends.

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

My advice would be to research Oxford and get to know the city. For some reason, it never crossed my mind to study the place, but then, maybe I wanted it to be a surprise. Summerfuel offers you so many great resources that are definitely worth the read. I was skeptical when told not to pack full bottles of shampoo, body wash, etc. but when there's a pharmacy, or chemist, in town with everything you could possibly need, there's no reason to overpack. Take your time to research and read up on everything and anything, but most importantly, enjoy every last moment of your time in Oxford.

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

I was always so excited to start my days at Oxford. I would usually wake up at 8 A.M. and get ready for the day before heading down to the dining hall. When we first arrived, we received a day to day itinerary, so we knew what to expect for the day. My friends and I always liked to get breakfast as early as possible to maximize our time. The kitchen staff we so incredibly kind. I even had an inside joke with one of the guys because every time there were hashbrowns, I'd ask for them (and maybe a few extra). We'd all sit down in the dining hall to enjoy our meal and chat with each other. After that, we had some free time before class started, which I either spent in my dorm reading with my friends or strolling through the gardens. We had two, hour and a half morning classes with a brief break in between. I chose Shakespeare's Oxford and Oxford Authors (classes vary based on interest, though every class is amazing!) Our professors were local to Oxford which was fantastic in and of itself. Sometimes, we'd stay in the classroom, but there were also times when we'd explore the campus, walk through town, or visit the local museums. Afterward, I would meet up with my friends and walk into town for lunch. It was my favorite part of the day because I got to get out and explore the town. There are countless options for food from American classics like KFC to sit down cafes or even historic pubs. I also had a habit of stopping by Moo-Moo's for an afternoon Ovaltine milkshake. If we didn't have afternoon class, we would often stay in town until dinner. During this time, I'd most likely been found wandering the levels of Blackwell's bookshop, buying so many books that I knew it would present a problem when packing. On the days when we did have afternoon classes, we'd head back to campus for a fun seminar-style class of choice- for me, it was Adventures in Afternoon Tea. Dinner is provided in the dining hall, yet I often found myself back in town, looking for another new place to try. There were always some fun evening activities before checking in for the night. On the weekends, we had incredible activities planned, like visiting a palace or driving into London. There was never a dull moment in Oxford.

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

In going away from home for three weeks, all on my own, I feared that I would be unbearably homesick. This, however, could not be farther from reality.

I decided that I would fly on the chaperoned flight to Heathrow to make things easier. We all met up in JFK and made our way through the vast airport together. Before we even got to security, I had a handful of friends already. Upon arriving at Lady Margaret Hall, we had a brief meet and greet and were shown to our dorms. I felt like I was stepping back in time when I crossed the threshold of my room. There was a small fireplace, (though I would have no need for it) a cozy little bed, and a magnificent view of the garden, just outside of the building. With the provided WiFi, and in all honesty my own cellular data, I kept up to date with everything at home. Some of my friends used it as time away from their parents (understandably), though I chose to call my mom and grandmother every night to tell them all about my adventures. Also, the handful of RA's became like a hybrid mom/ older sibling/ friend to me. I always had someone to turn to if I wanted advice or someone to bug (you'll find that some of the RA's are friends that you stay in touch with as well).

Modern technology took away all the stress of being homesick and allowed me to enjoy the wonders of independence while never feeling stranded.

What impact did your experience abroad have on your life?

My trip to England taught me to be independent and appreciate delving into other cultures. While I am normally quite reserved, being in Oxford taught me to be bold and try every opportunity that presented itself. I became a leader, not a follower. Now that I'm back home, I am thrilled to get to know the person that I've become.

When it came time for me to apply to college, I had it in mind that I didn't want to attend some University of wherever. I got out my laptop once more and began to research. While in Oxford, we had the chance to attend a seminar from a college counselor about receiving our post-secondary education in the United Kingdom. I visited and began looking for my next adventure.

The November after I spent my summer, I accepted a place at a top university in Scotland. My adventures are far from over and I hope that my path leads me back to Oxford once more.