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Winter 2006 | Volume 29, Number 1 | Campus

University Scholars Spend Autumn Term Studying at Oxford University

IN AUGUST 2005, A HANDFUL of Seattle Pacific University students traded Tiffany Loop for Radcliffe Square. The four University Scholars — juniors Andrew Hays, Justin Peters, Michael Seguin, and Rachel Woodbrook — were selected to spend a semester as visiting students at Oxford University.

“I really wanted to do a study abroad program that would challenge me academically,” says Hays, who is now studying political theory at Oxford. “Some programs emphasize the ‘abroad’ part, while the Oxford program definitely emphasizes the ‘study’ part. If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.”

Each year, honors students from member institutions of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities apply to the Oxford program, which is aimed at honing critical-thinking skills and at conducting scholarship from a Christian perspective. If selected, students choose from tutorial-based study programs in disciplines ranging from art to religion.

“I’m studying classics and English literature,” says Woodbrook, describing the focus on outside-the-classroom self-study. “Really, I think we’re studying how to study. We end up practically living in the libraries.”

“It’s quite a different emphasis than the American system,” explains Professor of English Luke Reinsma, who directs the University Scholars, SPU’s four-year curriculum for academically gifted students. “At Oxford, students learn to take charge of their education.”

The tutorial approach has its advantages, says Seguin, who chose a course of study in the classics and Latin. “The one-on-one professor- student dynamic allows for more in-depth instruction and personalized assignments,” he explains.

Reinsma encouraged each of this year’s four students to apply to the Oxford program. He says it’s as much about life experience as it is about academics.

Peters, who is examining literature as diverse as Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and old Norse mythology, agrees. “Sometimes you just have to sit back in the Bodleian Library, look out at the Radcliffe Camera and remind yourself that you are in one of the oldest and greatest libraries in the world.”

All the students say adjusting to life at Oxford has been, at times, challenging. “Learning how to enjoy the city is one of my main goals,” says Woodbrook, “and it actually takes a lot of effort not to get completely caught up in the academics.”

They admit to missing the familiarities of life at SPU, too: favorite professors (“I miss the inimitable Dr. Reinsma,” says Seguin. “He is simply a world-class professor and a good man.”); Queen Anne Hill; walks across campus; and, well, working appliances. “Our laundry machine has a severe grudge against Justin, whose attempts to do laundry have been foiled on three occasions by an exploding-laundry-machine phenomenon,” says Hays.

A more welcome phenomenon, says Reinsma, is the potentially life-changing impact of an experience such as the Oxford study program. “These students have the unique opportunity to get an entirely new view,” he says. “One of the best things to do in education is to get outside the U.S. It can be very sobering, but it’s so enlightening.”

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