SCIO alumna Melissa Barciela, who studied theology and philosophy with us during Michaelmas Term 2016, reflects on her Oxford experience. 

As any SSO student, I was anxious upon arrival, with the weight of academic pressure looming overhead. Yet, my time at Oxford proved to be nothing I expected and everything I did not know I needed. This truth rang true in various areas of SSO life.

Academically, Oxford pushed me to expose my academic weaknesses and overcome my fear of failure, so that I may be a better scholar and a better follower of Christ. My tutors and the SCIO faculty invited me to explore intriguing topics and assigned diverse readings that challenged my thinking. Their primary concern was not that students would prove themselves, but rather that they would improve and grow as critical thinkers and Christian members of the academy.

Another significant and unexpected piece of my time at Oxford was the community. I expected to live a lonely life secluded from community and lost in the wealth of the Bodleian resources. I have never been so pleased to be disappointed. SSO cultivated a welcoming environment of like-minded students, both passionate about scholarship and deeply committed to the Christian faith. This environment fostered inter-disciplinary dialogue, both formally during seminars and informally at the dinner table. In fact, the dinner table played a key role in my academic and personal growth during my semester abroad through what students call “food groups.”

A food group is a student-organized system of rotating dinner preparation. Each group is comprised of about eight SSO students, with one person cooking for the entire group each night. Practically, this group offsets the food cost and stress for SSO students. Yet it also provides significant time of social rejuvenation after long-hours of studying, opportunities to learn from the studies of peers, and a chance to step away from studies all together. In my humble, biased opinion, my food group was simply the best! From impromptu Zumba classes in the kitchen to discussing a painting at the Ashmolean, my group both stimulated my mind and gifted me with much laughter. Who would have known that two law students, an actress, a writer, an artist, a linguist, a theologian, and a philosopher would start out as strangers and end the term as family? We inspired each another to strive for excellence and encouraged one another to conquer crippling fears. I am proud to say that two years later, the food group chat is still active! We were even able to reunite for a fellow food group member’s wedding this past year in South Carolina, reliving our undergraduate days as Oxford students.

Upon arrival home from the city of dreaming spires, I pursued a Master of Divinity at Palm Beach Atlantic University with the long-term aspiration of completing a PhD in New Testament Biblical Studies at Oxford University and pursuing a career as a university professor. My time as an SSO student played an inexpressibly significant role in discerning my personal calling and developing the skills I need to make a positive contribution to both the academy as a Christian and to the church as an academic.