A Term to Remember: SCIO Students Look Back on Their Time in Oxford

Introduction (written by Klara Kinman)

The end of a SCIO term is always an emotional experience. After three months of experiencing the wonders of Oxford—as well as its challenges—students begin to prepare for their journey home. The term ends with students turning in their final research projects on Thursday. Then, students participate in an academic and pastoral debrief. This debrief creates a space for students to process their experiences as a group before they head back to their home institutions. In the past, students have shared about how aspects of SCIO’s culture—such as food groups, field trips, JCR events, tutorials and tea time—have greatly impacted them. These are memories that students will carry with them for a lifetime. Below, several SCIO alumni from the 2024 Hilary Term reflect on various aspects of the program to provide incoming students with a better idea of what studying abroad at SCIO is like.

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Group photo on the final day of the program, photographed by Jonathan Kirkpatrick

Social Life (written by Evie Huang)

While the outstanding academics are a large part of why students choose SCIO, the community that this program cultivates is something we in HT 2024 all left cherishing close to our hearts.

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Stan Rosenberg, Executive Director of SCIO, supported by students and staff for over 20 years, photographed by Jonathan Kirkpatrick

Living in a house all together contributed much to this feeling of community. The Vines is SCIO’s student accommodation, and many friendships and memories were created within its three stories. There were often movie and game nights, whether planned or spontaneous. Multiple movie franchises were finished throughout the term (everyone loves a good Lord of the Rings rewatch), and the Vines’ games were exhausted (from the countless rounds of Bananagrams to the 100-piece puzzle of beans). Moments like these, especially on nights after our field trips to Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace, and Portsmouth, helped us wind down after a busy week of being in the library.

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Evie Huang, jumping over Salisbury Cathedral, photographed by Jonathan Kirkpatrick

We also had SCIO’s Junior Common Room (JCR) Committee plan events. It is an Oxford tradition for each college to have an event team of volunteer students, and our JCR planned so much for us in HT 2024! Examples like the Valentine’s Day Party (complete with regency-style dancing), the Black Tie Pizza Dinner and Awards Night, and the Un-birthday Party gave us nights of celebration and fun.

Food groups further deepened the community by giving our students smaller groups to connect with each night. In the beginning of the semester, our students choose who they would like to be in their group, and people would be assigned days of the week to cook dinner. This system helped us save money and gave us a chance to know each other more by having built in time to hang out during dinner. Personally, my food group became some of my best friends as I spent time cook and clean alongside them, and I now have many memories of laughter and good conversation at the table and kitchen.

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Rebekah Barbee and Evie Huang, photographed by Jonathan Kirkpatrick

Speaking of the kitchen, there was a constant stream of baked goods and snacks that were up for grabs and made the Vines feel like a true home. Due to the stress of tutorial essays or rare free time (mostly the former), banana bread, brownies, cookies, and even loaves of bread would often appear on the kitchen’s island, and it was always a wonderful time to congregate in the kitchen with dessert as a break from studying.

But in addition to the Vines, the SCIO office was another place of great social support. The staff were always eager to catch up. I would often say hi to people on my way in for my tutorials and end up having a longer chat than expected, which was always a good thing. There were also optional (but highly recommended) teas hosted by our principal lecturer, Dr. Kirkpatrick. Every Tuesday, a lot of us would cram into the office common room for a time of tea and snacks. These teas gave us a moment of respite and refreshment.

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Weekly tea in the JCR, hosted and photographed by Jonathan Kirkpatrick

The biggest challenges within social life at SCIO were probably having to balance everything within the Oxford 8-week trimester. The quickness of the term was sometimes overwhelming as each week happened so fast, and we would have to choose which events we wanted to/had capacity to attend. For me, it was often a decision of staying home and hanging out/doing work or trying to push myself to go back into the city to meet other Oxford students. Another challenge I saw people having, especially my more introverted friends, was the lack of alone time within the Vines. Shared spaces often got crowded between all thirty students, meaning that finding alone time, for personal and spiritual rest, was something that you need to seek out and plan for.

But amidst these obstacles, the last weekend was extremely bittersweet as we all said goodbye to each other. I can confidently say that this Hilary Term was shaped largely by the people, and though we may be unique compared to past cohorts, our community deeply impacted everyone in the end.

Academic Life (written by Aimee Smith)

I was quite nervous about the academic intensity of the program. I had heard from previous students that education is approached differently in Oxford, and that the experience was likely to be more rigorous than what I was used to. Before the program even started, I felt the imposter syndrome setting in. Looking back now, I realize that while the academics were challenging and stretched me beyond what I thought possible, no challenge was set before me that I was not equipped to handle.

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Leah Williamson and Aimee Smith outside Hampton Court Palace, photographed by Jonathan Kirkpatrick

The tutors in Oxford are top-notch; they are experts in their field, and they hold a wealth of knowledge that they are excited to impart to you. More importantly, the tutors are passionate about working with undergraduates and are devoted to fostering your academic potential. I could tell that my tutors were excited to meet with me, and sincerely wanted to see me flourish. They knew the perfect level of challenge to set before me and were more than willing to work alongside me to enhance my areas of weakness.

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Aimee Smith, Alex Hutchinson, Evie Huang, Klara Kinman, and Aletheia Hitz in class at Magdalen College, photographed by Jonathan Kirkpatrick

While it was challenging at first to discover a balance between reading, research, and writing, I quickly found a rhythm that fit my learning style and allowed me to thrive. As a result of working closely with Oxford tutors, I am markedly more confident in my writing skills and my competence in scholarly discourse. One aspect of studying in Oxford that was particularly special was having access to the libraries. There were over 25 libraries at our disposal, providing research material in almost any discipline imaginable. Getting to study day-to-day in world-famous libraries, surrounded by centuries-old books and architecture enriched my experience in Oxford. All in all, SCIO’s academic program provides once-in-a-lifetime opportunities in a city rich with scholarly history. I would not hesitate to recommend this program to any student serious about academic work.

Navigating the Unexpected (co-written by the group)

While in Oxford I had the chance to attend a church of a tradition different from what I am used to. I was not familiar with the High-Church, liturgical style of worship, but I discovered that I greatly appreciated this tradition. Being immersed in a worship service that is different from my norm in almost every way offered a “clean slate,” as it were, for my understanding of what it looks like for me to enter a space of worship. I walked away from my experience at St. Mary Magdalen’s refreshed and with a new perspective on my faith and how I relate to Christ. While I was not expecting church in Oxford to have such a great impact on my life, I am very thankful that it did.

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Cailin Elliott, Halle Kibben, and Timothy Fehn at Salisbury Cathedral, photographed by Jonathan Kirkpatrick

Coming from Los Angeles, I remember being really frustrated with having to walk everywhere in Oxford at the beginning of the term. The Vines is located about 30–40 minutes away from the city center, and it felt like a lot of effort just to get to essential places, like the SCIO office, grocery stores, or even the library. However, as time went on, I began to appreciate the time of slowing down engrained in my daily schedule. I now deeply cherish the memories of walking with friends, or even alone, through the various little roads and parks leading towards the city. Moments like these gave me room to process my day, joke around with those I was walking with, and gaze in awe at every tree and flower I passed. (In fact, much of my camera roll is of little natural wonders I saw on my way to class or studying.) Though I was frustrated at first by the culture shock of a walkable city, I now am grateful of being forced to slow down and look at the world around me.

Life in Oxford (written by Carmen Covington)

One of my favourite things about living in Oxford was being able to walk everywhere. In a quickly paced semester, opting to walk to and from city center most days was a lovely opportunity to slow down and reflect. Walking also gave me the opportunity to get to know the city better, and I discovered places I might not have if I were driving or constantly taking public transport. If you’re a confident cyclist, Oxford has one of the highest rates of bicycle-riding in the UK, so that’s not only another great option, but you’ll be in good company as well.

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Aimee Smith, Juliette Kuhn, Carmen Covington, and Annie Murphy, photographed by Jonathan Kirkpatrick

Living in Oxford for an entire semester as opposed to a program where I might have moved around every few weeks, also allowed me to connect with the local community in ways I couldn’t have otherwise. During ‘term time’, I was able to attend a Bible study at a local church on Thursday evenings, where the dinner beforehand and my small group helped me feel as though I was really living in Oxford more than I was a visitor. Also during term, I was able to join one of the college choirs that doesn’t require an audition, and being part of that community, complete with social events like karaoke night, a black-tie dinner, and a football (soccer) tournament between different colleges’ choirs was a highlight of my time in Oxford. If neither of those is particularly appealing, I’d still recommend focusing on building community and routines to feel connected to the city even apart from academics.

Another wonderful part of life in Oxford is the abundance of coffee and tea shops that are great for getting work done, caffeinating, or just spending time with friends! I probably went to Vaults & Garden or Queen’s Lane Coffee House, both of which are on the way to city centre from the Vines, and I would highly recommend both, but if you don’t mind a chain, Cafe Nero has a location on the first floor of a wonderful bookshop called Blackwells’ that I would definitely recommend for its views and its mismatched-but-cozy seating.

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Karah Snyder, Carmen Covington, Aletheia Hitz, and Chloe DuBois at Stonehenge, photographed by Jonathan Kirkpatrick

Outside the city itself, its excellent location also makes day-trips accessible, even during a busy term. Two of my favourite non-program-sponsored trips were to Bath, where we climbed to the roof of Bath Abbey, visited cool bookstores, and went on a hike, and to London, where a group of us visited 221B Bake Street, King’s Cross Station, Trafalgar Square, and split up to attend evening shows of Les Misérables and Hadestown on the West End. London is only about an hour and a half coach (bus) ride away, and the train is even faster! Through SCIO, we also got to visit Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral (more climbing of old churches!), Hampton Court Palace, and Portsmouth, where seeing the British navy’s evolution through the centuries to the present day—it’s still a functional naval base—was quite a heady experience.

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End of the Hampton Court Palace field trip, photographed by Jonathan Kirkpatrick

Conclusion (written by SCIO staff)

Spending a semester with SCIO in Oxford is always transformative for the students. The stories told above are just a few of many, and they highlight how their time in Oxford has impacted every area of their life. Collectively, these voices tell of challenge and triumph, of nights spent in the library and days exploring ancient streets, of profound questions and the quest for answers. More than simply a place of study, it is a place of becoming.


So, how about you? Are you ready to take your place in this ongoing story of academic excellence and personal growth? Visit our admissions page to learn more about how you can apply to study with SCIO in Oxford, or contact our admissions officer for more information. Your Oxford story awaits!

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