Studying Abroad at the University of Oxford

The mention of The University of Oxford evokes images of centuries-old architecture, perfectly manicured quadrangles, dressed to the nines undergraduates walking to exams, and, of course, a less concrete, but certainly appropriate, image of its reputation for English academic excellence. During the summer of 2016, the hallowed halls of The University of Oxford provided the setting for my STEP Signature Project. For five weeks I participated in a pre-law study abroad program at Oxford in which I, along with another seventeen Ohio State undergraduates, explored ideas such as the nuanced relationship between the US and UK legal systems, our own personal intellectual and moral relationships with the law, and other relevant Anglo-American legal issues such as Brexit. By the end of the program, I completed a research project that examined the historical and contemporary relationship between the Royal Prerogative, the Government, and Parliament. Furthermore, I was able to absorb an incredible amount of cultural knowledge and European attitudes through field trips and other self-guided travel around Great Britain and Europe.


The University of Oxford

After returning from Oxford, I realized that quite a few of my ideas and attitudes about both studying law and traveling had changed. First of all, this trip represented my first exposure to legal education and its inherent challenges. Before my trip, I was convinced that I wanted to pursue the law as a career; this experience certainly prompted me to examine that plan. My experience at Oxford encouraged me to think about exactly what I liked, and what I did not like, about studying law. I know that for many of my peers, this trip reinforced their interest in pursuing legal careers; for me, this trip complicated my plans for pursuing a legal career. In complete honesty, I am not sure whether or not I will pursue law as a career, but I appreciate that this trip has taught me exactly what I can expect from a legal education.


This experience also transformed my attitudes towards traveling. This trip represented a huge measure of independence on my part because I had not been out of the US in ten years, let alone ever navigated myself to another country alone. And now I am able to say that I can confidently travel anywhere. Also, some of my views of travel shifted because of the exposure to alternative cultural practices that I engaged with. For instance, I participated in a lot of traditional English culture: taking tea every day, going punting on the river, hitting up the pubs at night, etc. Furthermore, my trip to Amsterdam exposed me to Dutch culture, which is significantly different from both American and English culture.


Attending legal classes and important English legal locations certainly affected the transformation in my attitude toward the law mentioned previously. There were aspects of the classes that I really enjoyed, such as discussing important moral and ethics issues closely intertwined with the law, including deception and attorney-client privilege. Other aspects of the class, such as a lot of the more technical legal reading and writing, were less intellectually stimulating to me. I have to say that the legal field trips were absolutely fascinating to me: I was able to attend a murder trial at the Old Bailey (the crown court for London that also addresses the most serious crimes in the country) and a few child pornography cases at a smaller crown court in Oxford. Being able to witness first hand lawyers engaging with the law in a courtroom setting was a reminder to me why I have always been interested in the law in the first place. I know that I said I was conflicted about my possible legal career after the trip, but it was experiences like these trips to court that make me want to continue my plans to go to law school.

thumb_img_2520_1024 At the Old Bailey

Another experience that shaped my attitudes towards the law was the other field trips and their ties to my legal research project. For instance, I attended Middle Temple and Middle Temple Church, which is one of four organizations for barristers in London (England has a different legal system than the US, in which there are two types of lawyers, solicitors and barristers). Fun fact, Middle Temple Church was the church built by and for the Knights Templar in the Middle Ages (its history was turned into quite the conspiracy in the movie The Da Vinci Code). Seeing how law was practiced abroad was interesting to me because I had always thought life would be a lot more exciting if I lived abroad while pursuing a legal career; after seeing Middle Temple and meeting a few barristers, however, I can confidently say that I much prefer the American legal system. Two other field trips that shaped my views on the law where my trips to Parliament and Windsor Castle: the royal family has always fascinated me, probably because it is so different than the American political experience. But these trips certainly shaped my opinions of the value of the royal family and a Parliamentary system of governance, and I even completed a research project on the Royal Prerogative and the relationship between Parliament and the royal family. Especially from the context of the current American political environment (and I suppose the post-Brexit political environment in Britain), it is easy to see how stabilizing it is to have an apolitical head of state.


O-H-I-O on the Millennium Bridge

My opinions and attitudes about traveling were shaped from the very first day of my trip: I had never flown alone before so navigating the airport, both at Detroit and London, and finding the bus to get to Oxford represented a new kind of independence for me because I alone had accomplished so much of what was new to me. Furthermore, many of the cultural field trips and personal trips I went on exposed me to new cultural practices and ideas. For example, I attended a play in Stratford-upon-Avon (which, as an English major, was beyond phenomenal); swam in the English Channel in Brighton; went to the same pubs in Oxford as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and, somewhat infamously, Bill Clinton; walked across Abbey Road in London; and traveled down the canals in Amsterdam. All of these trips to the historical and cultural landmarks of both Britain and the Netherlands reinforced the value of exposure to other cultures. It also reinforced how much I enjoy American culture (especially the food) and I taught me to value my own culture. It is easy to forget what makes our culture special until you see it from another culture’s perspective. Furthermore, it was fascinating to meet British people and have discussions and culturally engage with them. I was able to ask so many questions about English culture and they definitely asked those same questions of me. For example, an English girl I was talking with asked me what American parties were like because English uni students don’t have parties in the same way that we do here in the US.


In conclusion, this experience is valuable to me because it has influenced both my academic and personal life. It has prompted me to think more critically about whether a legal career is the right path for me. This trip has also prompted me to want to travel more (I’m already planning my next trip abroad). It had been a personal dream of mine to go to England for a long time, and being able to study at the best university in the world was the icing on the cake. I am so thankful for this experience, and I will always value and cherish the experiences I had and the people I met.

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