A great day trip from London is traveling to the revered halls of Oxford. I promised my sister that I would visit Oxford, and it was a very enjoyable day. I learned a lot about the differences between Britain’s higher education and North America’s, and I also found that a lot of the unique ways of Hogwarts are only unique to us, while being common in the motherland.
To begin with, Josh and I visited the tourism office to discover what we should do, although I had already compiled a significant list of places to see. We decided on a guided walking tour, which was a fabulous idea because we were able to visit the inside of one of the schools on my list, which we would not have been able to see inside of otherwise.
Our tour began by a cross in the middle of the street accompanied by a plaque on the wall stating:
Opposite this point near the Cross in the middle of Broad Street HUGH LATIMER one time Bishop of Worcester, NICHOLAS RIDLEY Bishop of London, and THOMAS CRANMER Archbishop of Canterbury, were burnt for their faith in 1555 and 1556.
I have learned a lot of history in my visit to England, and one of the themes that are now honored with plaques and artworks are the Prisoners of Conscience, which is the name for the martyrs of different faiths: Catholics, Protestants, and probably others (I just haven’t seen as many references to other faiths). England was a rough place to have a faith differing than the Monarchy’s for many years. Often, other faiths were thought to be treasonous, and sometimes they were, if following their faith meant trying to place a different monarch on the throne instead of the current one. I am thankful that different beliefs no longer require burning at the stake.
As I mentioned earlier, we were able to go to one of the schools on my list in our tour, which was Exeter College, where J. R. R. Tolkien attended while he was a student. The way Oxford University operates, from what our tour guide explained to us, is that students apply to a specific college such as Exeter, based on whom they would like to study under, or which college feels most like home when they visit, or the college’s reputation, etc. If they like your application, you will be interviewed by a panel at one or more colleges, and if a college likes you and thinks you are a good fit for them, they will accept you.
After that, you live at the college and one of the tutors instructs you. You are instructed privately one hour per week, given course work to complete, and at the end of term you have exams to complete. Lectures may be attended by students from any college, and depending on the lecturer, may fill up fast, but lectures are not required.
From what our guide explained to me, it sounds very different than our North American bachelors degrees, which are more of an extension of high school than a self-motivated education. Their program sounded more like our Doctoral level education of guided help along a road, but not regimented by attendance, only by dedication and results.
Exeter College was very nice. We visited the dining hall and the chapel. Students must wear their dress robes if they eat in the dining hall for dinner, and their professors and tutors sit at the raised head table in the front of the room. The chapel was moderately sized, but very beautiful. Near the door was a bust of Tolkien, commemorating his time at Exeter.
We continued our tour and our guide walked us to the outside of Bodleian Library, Sheldonian Theatre, and Radcliffe Camera, as well as several other important Oxford buildings. We saw the home of Edmund Halley, of Halley’s Comet fame. Later in the day we also saw the house where Robert Boyle discovered Boyle’s Law, and also where Boyle and Robert Hooke made a microscope and identified the living cell for the first time. I did not get pictures during most of the rest of our tour because it was pouring outside. Josh and I huddled under our umbrella and tried to keep dry, but our feet were still soaked.
After our tour the sun came out again, and Josh and I went to visit Christ Church College. There were parts of the Harry Potter movies shot here, and we wanted to see that. We had to wait in line for a little while, as this college has the largest and most splendid chapel, which people want to see. It was a beautiful school with lovely gardens, and monumental halls and buildings.
We walked through Oxford and I took pictures of the various beautiful buildings, but I don’t know what most of these buildings are. I just loved how beautiful they were.
Josh and I went back to the Bodleian Library and entered the room used as the infirmary in the Harry Potter movies. It was a beautiful room. We were unable to enter the actual library, as all the tour tickets for that day were taken already.