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New York City
November 2002

H.S. Programs Abroad: Advancing Nothing More than Resumes?
By Ruth Hupart

The Oxford Advanced Studies Program lets high school-age students from many countries take classes and live in the dorms at Magdalen College in Oxford, England. The course lasts for four weeks. Here is my experience.

After waiting on line for twenty minutes, I was relieved when it was finally my turn to fill my tray with dinner. Unable to recognize the food presented before me I asked the cafeteria woman, as politely as I could, to please tell me the name of several dishes.

“Shar, ‘tis fursh lib and eh coo bloh,” she responded in Yorkshire tones.

The closest translation for her garbled words that I could come up with was, “Sure, it’s some lovely frogs’ legs with a hint of cow’s blood.”

My classes at the Oxford Advanced Studies Program were nearly as incomprehensible as the dining hall wait staff. While I was perfectly able to understand the clipped British accents of my Shakespeare and physics teachers, their educational philosophies were completely foreign. Nothing in all my years of public schooling prepared me for the shock of hearing a teacher tell me, “I’m not interested in your opinions.” Although these may not be his exact words, they convey the all too blunt message. I could have forgiven my teacher for having such a closed-minded point of view if his opinions alone were enough to sustain my interest for each hour-long Shakespeare class. Instead, each class consisted of copying simple notes from a dry erase blackboard and listening to the instructor’s muted and monotonous voice drone on for nearly an hour. After the first three days, no one even tried to bring up a dissenting perspective in class. We were forced into submission by our teacher’s implications that our minds were only fit to learn the basic plots of Shakespearean plays and the general themes and that original interpretation was beyond our mental capabilities.

Despite my feelings that the Shakespeare class was completely unsatisfying, the Oxford Advanced Studies Program did have its high points. Although my intellectual maturity was under question in the Shakespeare classroom, this was the first summer program I attended where I felt that I wasn’t patronized by counselors or R.A.s. The R.A.s (R.T.s, rather, for “residential tutor”) respected us as human beings and I felt comfortable talking and joking with them. They, in turn, felt comfortable with giving us free reign in the city of Oxford. This freedom was bliss. At a Johns Hopkins’ CTY course two years ago I wasn’t permitted to cross the street without supervision. In Oxford we were encouraged to explore the culture of the centuries old city of scholars. Widening our cultural understanding was also enforced by the several nationalities that were represented in the student body. There were students from Japan, Kuwait, Bahrain, and countless other countries. Another of the program’s high points was that it gave a taste of the Oxbridge system of education. In addition to group lessons, each week I had a one-on-one tutorial with my instructor. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge are famous for their tutorials, which are designed to give each student a thorough understanding of a chosen topic. While my Shakespeare tutorials were necessary ordeals, my physics tutorials were usually characterized by animated conversations about why different instruments produce different sound qualities or how it’s possible that the universe may be shaped like a saddle. The physics teacher was a qualified man whom I respected and who had a great deal to teach. But there were only five hours of class each week, and none of this time was spent doing lab studies. It boggles the mind how a basic science course can be taught without the fun and experience of experimentation. A class that had the potential to be full of intellectual discoveries became merely mediocre because the academic timetable was so poorly planned.

My expectations surrounding these classes were high. The words “Oxford Advanced Studies Program” made me feel like I was going to be immersed in an intellectual and academic environment for four weeks of my summer vacation. I didn’t find out until later that it is general knowledge that an overseas course of study for American high school students is only code for “Party! Get the chance to write on your college transcript that you studied in Oxford one summer! Don’t forget, a bonus of studying here is that the legal smoking age is 16!”#

Ruth Hupart is a junior at Ardsley H.S., New York.

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