I planned on writing this post once I returned to the United States. With hindsight in my favor, I would somehow brilliantly sum up and analyze my experience studying with the Summit Oxford Study Centre and with a few swift strokes of my pen (er…keyboard), convince everyone of the ultimate truth of life: if you want to study for a term at Oxford, do it with Summit. Maybe I still will write such a masterpiece when I am home, but until then I have decided to set forth a much more modest goal.
Fellow students, yes I’m talking to you, whether you are on the fence about studying with Summit Oxford, or are seriously considering simply studying abroad in general, or even have no idea what I am talking about, I want to strongly encourage you to apply with the Summit Oxford Study Centre for a semester.
And speaking of semesters, how about next one? There is still time to apply! (Trust me, it is going to be a really, really good semester. You should go.)
What is making you hesitate? Timing? Summit Oxford has a rolling deadline, and they are really willing to work with you. I should know, I sent in the last of my paperwork on July 21st and got on a plane a month later. It is worth pursuing because an opportunity like this is once in a lifetime and totally worth it. Finances? I can truly understand that one. There is no way on paper I should ever have been able to afford to study abroad, much less at Oxford. But God is good. He provides. Pray about it and ask those you around you to pray. It is worth it.
There were two other things for me that held me back from applying initially. The first was a really stupid misunderstanding that I could have cleared up way sooner if I had simply gone back and re-read the website. The second was an equally stupid misunderstanding about the best part of this program. Maybe they have occurred to you or maybe I can prevent them from occurring and becoming a stumbling block.
1. Transcript, say what? I was really confused where my transcript would come from if I studied with Summit Oxford. I misread this little section on the website… “If your home university requires a transcript from an accredited North American institution of higher education, this is available through the University of the Pacific (CA).” I assumed it meant that all transcripts came from the University of the Pacific, and I thought, how lame. I’m going to study at Oxford and I’m getting a transcript from some school in CA? However, if you actually noted what you read, it might be obvious there is this little part at the beginning that says “If your home university requires…” Your transcript comes through OSAP, a very well known Oxford study abroad program. Not a California program. That is only if your school won’t accept the transcript from Oxford/OSAP. Which was not the case with my school. A really stupid misunderstanding that totally could have been avoided yet made me hesitate for far longer than it should have. Don’t fall for it!
2. More worldview stuff?! This was a huge one for me. Maybe even THE thing. I assumed the worldview intensive would be redundant and boring. That sounds incredibly arrogant to me now, but at the time I had this picture that anything involving worldview must be a reiteration of ‘let’s talk about naturalism, transcendentalism, and theism!’ Someone bring out the upside-down map. I learned about worldview in high school. And I took Worldview class in college. And I go to BRYAN COLLEGE – THE SCHOOL OBSSESSED WTH WORLDVIEW. And community and social justice. The point is, and I think many Bryan College students might agree with me here, the word worldview becomes cliché when it is used every other sentence. And so I read there would be 3 weeks worldview intensive and I figured that meant a truncated Worldview 101, again. Ugh.
I could not have been more clueless. Rather than setting a foundation of vocabulary, the Summit Oxford intensive builds. Instead of spending a few hours staring at a slide show on Islam (with maybe a verse or two of the Qur’an thrown in for good measure), we actually read the Qur’an through. An Islamic Imam comes and speaks and answers questions. We read through books on Islam. Tricky questions are brought up and discussed. Students are not blatantly told “This is what a proper Christian worldview is on the subject”, but rather given the tools and environment to explore the topic. The topics vary, from homosexuality to abortion to the book of Romans. Authors are brought in. Books are read. Far from being my least favorite part, the worldview section is the best aspect of studying at Oxford. Do not be intimidated by the worldview!
Maybe you have another question I haven’t touched on. Leave a comment, I’ll happily respond. Don’t let something silly – or not so silly – hold you up from grasping this opportunity.
But I have answered a few questions about why you shouldn’t not go, what about why you should?
1. Gain confidence. Whether like me you have grown up surrounded by answers or you are new to the faith and have lots of questions, working through challenging and relevant topics with fellow students under Kevin Bywater is an incredible experience. Often I have found the problem with Christians “working through life’s big questions” is that we are afraid to actually express any doubt. It becomes ‘hypothetical’ instead of real and so true doubt becomes trite. But have you ever wondered how to really defend your pro-life stance? What about how to morally approach homosexuality? Is Islam a religion of peace or terror, and how can you find out amidst political correctness and convoluted rhetoric? Can you stand your own ground without being a pushover or a bully? Questions like these are not only explored, but understood. And so we read books relevant to the topics and question authors and integrate it into our everyday lives. I have often had answers, but not the confidence or know-how to express myself. Summit has helped equip me with both.
2. Be challenged. This goes for Christians in every walk in life, but for a moment I’d like to address the students like me. Because I grew up in the church and received a strong foundation in the Bible, it is easy to glide by in gen ed Bible classes designed for students with no knowledge of the Scripture. The same often goes for bible studies, college groups…even some church services. It’s easy to build a foundation, sit on it, and go nowhere. I have found studying with Summit Oxford has met me at a dimension for spiritual growth and challenge I previously did not have. We take certain passages so much for granted that we fail to actually see the context. Kevin Bywater encourages contextual analysis and study without the need for handy answers at our finger tips. It has been healthy and, yes, sometimes hard but rewarding to put on a different perspective and study what the Bible says. It meets you at your level, whatever level that might be.
The same goes for any level of study here, though. The tutorial system is challenging. The libraries are challenging. Understanding what people are saying to you (British accents are not as clear as we often think!) can be challenging! It is worth it, though. It stretches your understanding and experiences. And speaking of experiences…
3. Broaden your horizons. There are a thousand and one good reasons for studying abroad, I’m sure you can Google them. There are a million and three good reasons for studying in England, and Oxford in particular, not the least of which is the prestige and education you get. It is immensely healthy to immerse yourself in another culture, even one where you theoretically speak the same language (Hint: never say ‘pants’ to a Brit. It is their word for underwear. Try ‘trousers’.) As a student, you are at a perfect time in your life to reach out and go places like England. In the future you will (hopefully) have a job, maybe a marriage, possibly a mortgage. Take this time you have free to study in another culture at a terrific and extremely old university and learn that (SHOCKER!) there is an entire world outside of the U.S. and it is really beautiful.
Finally, I just want to encourage you to apply now. Apply for next semester. It doesn’t matter what your major is, chances are Oxford has it somewhere. Work with your school. Part of what makes studying in Oxford so fun is that you aren’t taking only gen ed classes like the other programs (at least at my school) offer, but your actual major-specific work. Come as upperclassmen. Got senioritis? Lose it in England. The unique opportunity to study with tutors, to be independent, to meet other students makes for an incredible semester (or ‘term’, as it is here). You will return home refreshed, enlightened, and confident. I guarantee.
So check out the website.
^ That one. Right there. Give it a shot. Look into how viable this would be, and start praying. This is an opportunity you don’t want to miss.