My Oxford term: Navigating both the struggles and beauty of a new place

Sutton Travis, ‘19, has spent the last few months studying English at Oxford University in England


Sutton Travis, Contributing Writer

Spending my winter term at the University of Oxford was important for my personal growth. The experience heightened my global understanding and rekindled an academic passion and vigor that I was honestly lacking at Washington and Lee for the first part of this year.

To my surprise, the most challenging aspect of the entire study abroad experience was not learning to navigate in an unfamiliar area, adjusting to Oxford’s initially intimidating tutorial system or even squeezing everything I thought I might possibly need into a suitcase and carry-on, but settling into my living arrangements.

Sutton Travis, ‘19, poses for a photo with her three housemates in Oxford. Photo courtesy of Sutton Travis, ‘19

My program placed me in a house with three boys – and the four of us shared a single bathroom! For a girl who grew up with three sisters and spent the previous year and a half living in a sorority house, this was an abrupt shift from anything close to my “normal.”

I learned to cope with dirty dishes, a toilet seat that was often up instead of down and a living room decorated with odd objects the guys had picked up while in Oxford (caution tape, a golf club, a lone tennis shoe, a Star Wars cardboard cutout and other random paraphernalia).

The boys, to their credit, often cooked for me, helped me map excursions out of Oxford and even acquiesced to watching “The Breakfast Club” instead of “Sons of Anarchy” (one time).

By the end of my Oxford term, I was genuinely sad (and might have even shed a few tears) when I said goodbye to my housemates.

The friendship we formed over the weeks we lived together was a strong one, built on playful banter and, especially with my two French housemates, various exchanges of earnest cultural comparisons.

Some of my favorite moments while abroad were quite simple ones like journaling near a sunlit window in my favorite coffee shop, and chatting with friends amidst the hustle and bustle of a cozy pub while waiting on an order of fish and chips.

View from the top of the New College Bell Tower. Photo courtesy of Travis

One of my favorite sights, though, was the view from the top of my college’s bell tower. After braving a dark, treacherously narrow spiral staircase, I emerged at the top of the tower, drinking in, for the first time, the sight of the tops of some of Oxford’s most iconic buildings, spread out before me in all their historic majesty.

I snapped an obligatory picture, and while it captures a snippet of the beauty, the entire 360-degree view is breathtakingly unparalleled.

It brought to mind a quote by William Butler Yeats that a good friend had shared with me shortly before I left Lexington in the fall: “I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all like an opera.”

That view, that scene, is a memory I hope to fondly dream about and remember for years to come.

To other students who have committed to going abroad for a semester: congratulations!

My biggest piece of advice (and one I wish I had taken more seriously) would be to take a step back from technology and social media while abroad.

There will be plenty of time for Fancy Dress and Blue Ridge sunsets and all of the wonderful things about W&L when you return to campus. Embrace your current situation wholeheartedly. Make the most of it. Drink it all in.