Perhaps the biggest opportunity and challenge in my life - studying abroad and being a part of such a prestigious course. Demanding so much more of myself physically, emotionally, and mentally. Learning new cultures, embracing people from different backgrounds and walks of life, working towards becoming a better person, and learning more about the world around me. More importantly, fulfilling a dream I have long put on hold. Being one of the international students (and the only Filipino) at Oxford Summer Courses is one of the greatest achievements of my life - and I am intellectually, culturally, and emotionally emancipated by this experience, forever.

I’ve shelved writing about this for months simply because I feel like I wont be able to put into words just how magical this experience was. So please bear with me as I will have written better entries than what you are about to read. 

First, the basics: it has always been a dream to study abroad - I've always been one to seek deliberate learning, looking for opportunities to grow whenever and wherever possible; so in the third quarter of 2015 I decided to start searching for universities that offered short-term courses for international students. I stumbled upon Oxford Summer Courses on Google, passed my grades from UP, submitted my exam essay, and paid for the fees, all while still doubting the possibility that I had the chance to fly to, live in, and study in one of Oxford University’s colleges. Three months later I had an email confirming my acceptance - stating that I am one of the few students from all over the world with a spot for Philosophy, to be taken up in Somerville College in the summer of 2016.

 

I couldn’t believe it. Neither did I tell anybody until I actually got my students visa and my ticket to the UK. I had expected for something to go wrong, for someone to tell me this was all a mistake, it was some other kid named Joy Spring from California, and I can tell my boss that I won't be taking that extended leave I had asked for, months back. But on June, I took the 15hr nonstop flight from Manila to Heathrow, slept at the airport then flew at 6am straight to Edinburgh, Scotland, spent a few days before taking the train to Leeds and partying with girlfriends during an overnight trip, then finally going to my last and most important stop - Oxford.

 

There are just too many stories to cramp into one verbose post but let me try at least by starting with the program. Oxford Summer Courses was founded, and is led, by Oxford University alumni who facilitate different courses that cater to students from all over the world. We had classmates from Malaysia, USA, Australia, France, India, etc and we were all parked in Somerville College. I took up Philosophy while some of us chose Engineering, Medicine, Psychology, Literature. We were divided into groups with whom we all did the tours, field trips, dinners, and eventually (not part of the program -) pub crawls.

 

If you are a Harry Potter fan, it was basically Hogwarts. Breakfast was served in the dining hall, everyday, where our profs had breakfasts with us but on an elevated, elongated table. On Fridays, everyone gathers for formal dinner where leaders wore their black Oxford gowns (the bigger the sleeve flaps, the higher the grades, apparently)  while the students dress up formally, eat fancy food, and talk amongst ourselves about the classes we are taking and how it’s been pushing us to tears with challenge. We then eventually end up in (still not part of the program -) the club.

During the week, the schedule consists of three day classes, another day for research, self-study, and writing (and passing) our paper, then another day for tutorial which basically means you get to sit in the room with your (University of Oxford alum) tutor (!!!) and discuss (!!!), challenge (!!!) (yup sorry lots of ‘challenge’ in this story), and defend (!!!) the paper you had written on the subject. Since I took up Philosophy, I cried almost everyday because it was extremely difficult and sometimes, I couldn't properly digest the discussions we had.

I needed to go over lessons a hundred times over to fully wrap my head around it, and we were tasked to debate our classmates on opposing views, if we had any. Lesson learned: you will never win against an incredibly intelligent, Mathematics major, Indian kid. So befriend him instead and get on the team!

There are many more stories that I’d like to share but for now, this is it. It’s a challenge (there it is again!) to sum it all up in one post but I just would like to take this opportunity to encourage you to keep seeking deliberate learning and push yourself beyond what you think you can do.

I finished my course and got my certificate with so much joy in my heart, being reminded not only of the classes we took, the lessons we learned, the side trips of history we immersed in, but also of the wonderful diversity that is to be celebrated all around us.

I learned a little bit of Hindi because most of my mates were Indians. I keep my phone away now while with company because I admired, and wanted to adapt, what I saw as English culture, that encouraged continuous conversation instead of staring into black mirrors. Now, even more than ever, I see everything as an opportunity to learn, understand, grow, and contribute. 

Photos from Oxford Summer Courses website:

I only wish for you to find the same. May we become grittier and smarter and kinder in each passing day.