A little known experience available to lifelong learners is the Oxford Experience. This adult education program is held each summer at Christchurch College at Oxford University. I was fortunate to attend the Oxford Experience and it was truly a most magical time!
We had a hired a driver to transport us to Oxford from Bath, where we had spent a few days. Upon arriving at the Porter’s Gate, we were greeted by a lovely young man who checked us in and gave us all our materials – he kind of looked like Harry Potter!
There was a group of young men who helped us transport our suitcases to our accommodations. Of course, our rooms were at the VERY end of the quad, on the VERY top floor. Up 68 stairs to be exact. We booked single accommodations and I was very pleased with the facilities and the amenities. Although a bit sparse, we were provided with everything we needed and it was just so exciting to be living at Oxford for the week.
The view from the room was stunning (those 68 stairs gave me some height!) and I could see the cathedral and a beautiful tree which dated to the early 1600s. It had braces on the branches to help keep them from breaking.
Entering the Great Hall
After having a bit of time to get settled we had our orientation at 5:30, followed by a reception on the lawn before being called to dinner in the hall. Really- we were called by a guy with a giant gong, calling “Dinner is served!” We filed into the Hall, up the very stairs Harry Potter and friends filed up upon their entry to Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. We entered the Hall and found seats at one of the three tables.
The Hall is magnificent – there are paintings covering the walls and based on our Harry Potter knowledge, we kept wondering if Henry VIII was going to start talking to us! I wonder what he would have had to say?
Dinner was a menu of British specialties. There was literally nothing recognizable on that plate! But the company was fun and the atmosphere amazing. I was sitting in Hogwarts! Sooooo COOL! After dinner and much conversation we retired to our rooms to prepare for our first day of class.
Going to Class
The next morning, following breakfast in the Hall, we headed to our first lecture. It was a gorgeous morning – cool and completely sunny. My class was “The Victorian and Edwardian Home”. Our tutor (teacher to us Americans) was named Antony. He was wonderful and so knowledgeable.
There were 12 of us in the class- mostly Americans, with one gal from Canada and one from Belgium. Everyone comes from a different background and has so much life experience to share. The small class size allowed for stimulating conversation and sharing of information. It was a very exciting, educational environment. The best part was just taking a class for the sake of taking a class. No tests, no papers, no grades – just the joy of learning new information.
Touring the Library at Oxford University
We were provided a tour of Christchurch on our first full day. One highlight was visiting the library. Surprise! – there are some very old books! There was also a wonderful display of items about Alice in Wonderland. The real Alice was actually the daughter of one of the deans here and lived on the campus when she was a child.
The library is also home to what is believed to be Cardinal Wolsey’s hat. He’s the religious leader who worked to obtain Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. He failed and fell out of favor with the king. He ended up dying before his execution could be carried out. Experts are fairly certain it’s his hat! The hat is protected under a thick piece of glass, but you can still see it. This was super cool to see for this self-proclaimed history nerd!
More than just a class
The Oxford Experience provides more than just class time. Each class goes on a field trip. and there are multiple cultural experiences you can also enjoy. One night we had the opportunity to attend the Evensong Service at the Christchurch Cathedral. I had heard the choir practicing the night before from my window. It was nice to hear the choir in person. I am amazed at how similar the Anglican Service is to the Catholic service. The music was beautiful.
Dining at the High Table (Where’s Dumbledore?)
Each student at the Oxford Experience is invited to sit at the High Table for dinner once during the week. When it was my turn, all I could think of was I was sitting where Hagrid sat! The table was beautifully set and there was lots of wine!
There was a wonderful farewell dinner the last night. It began with a garden party in the Cathedral Gardens, where Alice, from Alice in Wonderland used to play. It was a beautiful evening and the garden was lovely. After the garden party, we enjoyed our last meal in the Great Hall and were awarded our certificates of completion.
The atmosphere at the Oxford Experience is unlike anything I have ever attended. To sit in class and just listen for the sake of learning? Wonderful! I also enjoyed meeting so many people from all over the world. There are many sessions offered each summer with an abundance of class offerings for any taste. To have the opportunity to live at Oxford and learn is something I will never forget and I can’t wait to go back again!