Out of all the towns I’ve visited in England, my day trip to Oxford last weekend was definitely the most “quintessentially English”. I always imagined the prestigious university to be filled with archaic buildings, freshly manicured gardens, libraries filled with every book possible, and ancient history bursting from every street corner. Thanks to an amazing family friend who’s a first year student at Oxford, I was all set for an exclusive, behind the scenes tour of campus and town!
We started our morning off walking around her college, Lady Margaret Hall (LMH). Oxford University is made up of 45 colleges, and each college is a living and learning community enclosed in a gated area. They each have several student residences, a dining hall, libraries, and a massive garden or other outdoor space. The colleges are where students spend a majority of their time outside of class and is like its own neighbourhood within the big university. The easiest way to describe it would be comparing it to Hogwarts Houses from Harry Potter, but instead of 4 there’s 45!
We walked around LMH’s botanical garden and along the path by the River Cherwell. There’s even a boathouse for the college’s residents to go punting. Punting is a popular type of river outing on a flat-bottomed boat with a long stick used to maneuver. After our walk I got to visit LMH’s library, and it was beautiful. There were plenty of desks tucked into the corners and tons of natural light making it the perfect place to study. I also got to see the other residences in LMH as all the students live at their respective colleges for the entire duration of their time at uni. Despite looking like a typical dorm with its shared bathrooms, basement level laundry rooms, and tiny kitchenettes, students at LMH have a cleaning service included in their accommodation fees! I was surprised to hear that once a week each student’s room is disinfected, dusted, and vacuumed—a true luxury every university student dreams of!
In the late morning, we made our way towards the main part of campus and visited the Natural History Museum. Most of the exhibits focused on the natural environment, which included skeletal structures of many extinct species, live insect viewing areas, and a whole area dedicated to the dodo bird. Oxford University’s Natural History Museum is home to the only surviving soft tissue remains of the dodo in the world. As two students studying STEM subjects, we were in absolute awe wandering the long hallways of the museum and taking in all the artifacts on display. Oxford University also has several other museums around campus, including the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology and the Museum of the History of Science. We took a quick tour of the science museum as it was significantly smaller than the history museum, but we still enjoyed the eye-catching displays. The art museum, however, was a much more popular place to be on a cold Saturday afternoon, so tickets were impossible to get ahold of. Instead, we continued on our unofficial tour.
The Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum was the next stop on my tour of campus, and it was beautiful! My friend is a biology major, so she pointed out some of the most notable plants and trees that were growing in the arboretum. Although it was the middle of autumn and the flowers weren’t in bloom, there was still a lot of people enjoying the greenery. We took a break and sat on a bench near the fountains and saw many little ducks waddling along the paths and through the gardens. There were also plenty of other little critters around, which was unexpected as you typically wouldn’t see much wildlife in the middle of a busy town. The Botanic Garden and Arboretum was a relaxing safe haven for Oxford’s students and animals alike.
We continued the afternoon with a bit of window shopping on Broad Street. My favourite shops to look at were the Harry Potter themed ones. A few scenes from the Harry Potter movies were actually filmed at Oxford, and fans flock from all around to visit the film sites. Walking down the street, we noticed nearly every other shop was a bookshop, including one where everything sold was just £1! Music culture is big in Oxford, we walked past several record stores and music shops that sold a wide range of instruments, composition pieces, and of course, books about music. In case you haven’t noticed, Oxford is filled to the brim with books, a book-nerd like me’s absolute dream! We then headed to the covered markets. Each market I’ve visited in the UK offers a unique experience, and in Oxford, the main highlight was the food. There were fresh fruits and vegetables, pastries, and a wide variety of ethnic foods available too! One of the beautiful things about Oxford is how diverse the college town is.
Throughout the afternoon we passed by several of the other colleges within Oxford, including Trinity, Balliol, and Christ Church. Each one had its own unique charm to it, and like everything else in Oxford, they looked ancient. What surprised me the most was that visitors had to pay to enter the colleges and go on guided tours. Family and friends of students were able to sign in for free, but everyone else had to book tickets to enter. However, my surprise was short lived once I remembered that many members of the public travel to see a world-renowned university where Albert Einstein, Malala Youfsafzai, and Thomas Hobbes studied, lived, and became the scientists, activists, and philosophers we know today.
Walking around Oxford, I felt a difference in the air. There was a sense of pride and accomplishment within the historic walls. Everyone there were studying and learning in the same spaces as some of the greats. I made sure to take a lot of deep breaths in hope that I could inhale some of the intelligence around me for my near 20-credit biomedical engineering course load this coming January back home at Drexel.
A Message from the Office of Global Engagement:
The safety and security of Drexel students is a priority for the University. As part of the efforts to support Drexel students that are studying abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Global Engagement has conducted a rigorous review of programming and provided additional support to participating students with customized pre-departure orientations and regular check-ins during the required self-isolation period and the term.