Summer Study at Oxford University
What do Harry Potter and Oxford University have in common? The magnificent wood paneled, high-ceilinged Hall at Christ Church College, was the site for Harry and his fellow students to dine as well as the setting for all meals for my 120 classmates in the Oxford Continuing Education Program that I participated in this summer. Surrounded by old, beautiful stained glass windows and hundreds of large portraits of illustrious graduates including prime ministers and notables such as Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), a math don from 1852-1898 and author of Alice in Wonderland, WH (Wystan Hugh)) Auden and WEGladstone, it was easy to “think great thoughts” along with the superbly trained faculty and students from around the world. The Department for Continuing Education makes Oxford University accessible to men and women offering several hundred part-time or short full-time courses, covering most subjects taught within the University. During recent years about 16,500 students have enrolled annually for the Department’s courses. The Department is today one of the United Kingdom’s leading university departments for continuing education. It is also one of the oldest, having begun its work in 1878.
There are thirty-nine independent, self contained and self-governing colleges and six permanent private halls at Oxford. My group was housed at Christ Church, a lovely square surrounded by dormitories and classrooms, fountains and statues, labyrinthian corridors and passageways all enclosed by a 20 foot wall whose entrance, called Tom Tower, was topped by a cupola built by Christopher Wren. At Tom, an old wooden door had 24 hour sentries called porters, dressed in traditional white shirt, black tie, black pants and black bowler hats. These men were guards and ensured proper entrance and security of all buildings.
The history of Christ Church, traditionally known as “The House”, was interesting. Originally founded in 1525 by Cardinal Wolsey as Cardinal College, when Wolsey fell from power before his ambitious grand plan was completed, Henry VIII re-founded the college as Christ Church in 1546 with a dual foundation of college and cathedral, a unique function which it performs to this day. There were 101 students on the original foundation and the college bell, known as Tom, chimes 101 times each evening to mark the traditional curfew.
Wherever we were, we heard Tom tolling its chimes each evening just as it had done for hundreds of years.
I was privileged to be part of a group of about 120 adults ranging in age from 21 to 80, articulate, educated, from all parts of the world, some with spouses, many alone, all brought together by a common thirst for knowledge and intellectual camaraderie. Each class was limited to 12 students, ensuring lively participation by all. Classes ranged from Gardens to British History to Winston Churchill to Great English Novels.
Each day after breakfast in the Hall at 8 am, classes met from 9:15 to 12:30, followed by lunch in the Hall and then various field trips as part of the course work, or free time to explore Oxford and its environs. Evenings were wonderful as well, with a variety of theater, music and lectures around the campus.
My class on Winston Churchill had a field trip to the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum in London (our private bus took about 2 hours).
On another afternoon, four classmates rented a car to visit Chartwell, the favorite home of Churchill. Annette Mayer was our expert tutor, who used a multi-media approach to teaching including original manuscripts, photographs, powerpoint presentations, and archival movies.
Nearby, the world famous Bodleian Library beckoned to be explored. In the ceiling, inscribed in Latin in an open book is the motto: “The Lord is my guide.” The library has been restored to the beauty of 1610. All the books were originally chained for security purposes.
While the students ranged in age from 21 to 80, the majority were from 50-70. People were super friendly and mingled freely at all meals. My class on Winston included a teacher from Los Angeles, a chartered accountant from London, a retired doctor from San Bernardino, a retired doctor from Atlanta, an Annapolis grad, and a couple transplanted from London to Switzerland as well as a California investment banker.
What a wonderful way to recharge one’s batteries, learn, meet new people and explore new places. The success of this program is confirmed by the number of people I met who were returning for a second, third or fourth time. While all classes were one week in length, a number of people were staying for 2-3 weeks. I recommend this program as one of the best I’ve participated in over the last several years. And I will most certainly return.#