A Johnnie Abroad: From Annapolis to Oxford, Part II

St. John’s students and alumni can now participate in a two-week summer exchange program through Oxford University, an institution with which the college shares extensive intellectual DNA: the Great Books. In fact, the founders of the St. John’s Program, Stringfellow Barr and Scott Buchanan, both attended Oxford, so the relationship is an easy and fitting one. Inaugurated in 2023, the newly launched program provides Johnnies with a two-week summer experience designed especially for them. Participants read some of Western civilization’s greatest texts and study philosophy, politics, and economics (“PPE”) in small classes led by Oxford faculty. And when they’re not nose-deep in books, they’re connecting with friends new and old, exploring Oxfordshire, and enjoying field trips across the U.K. Here, student Fiona Guinness (A25) shares memories of her time across the pond; for more information on OEX, visit the program’s website. Registration deadline is January 31, 2024.

My interest in studying abroad in England last summer was piqued after learning about the opportunity to take a course in philosophy, politics, and economics (“PPE”) at Oxford University in partnership with St. John’s College. Staying at University College, studying at the school’s historic Bodleian Library, connecting with Oxford tutors, and exploring the city seemed like a dream. My decision to enroll was cemented once I met the passionate and kind Oxford Exchange (OEX) team facilitating the experience. Like all St. John’s students, I jump at the chance to engage in thoughtful dialogue, and being able to participate in it with an Oxford twist was too exciting to miss.

The inaugural St. John’s Oxford Exchange cohort of 2023

Though I began my journey across the pond apprehensive at the idea of traveling to a new country alone, I was quickly put at ease by the attentive and clear instruction of the OEX support staff. They made it clear that they were there for us any time; they accommodated every need and made every hour feel valuable with a schedule full of fascinating lectures and exciting adventures.

During the day, we participated in seminars and attended lectures provided by the OEX program leaders and their guests. Topics accommodated a wide range of interests, including subjects such as democracy, conflict management, cultural heritage, Shakespeare, and social issues. I was especially interested in a lecture given by Mark Turnbull on digital democracy, in which he shared his experience working with Cambridge Analytica and his perspective on the impact of social media on modern politics. It was eye-opening to hear the extent of this influence and the value placed on it by politicians. Another intriguing lecture on cultural heritage was provided by OEX team lead Louise Formby, who introduced us to the history of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It was a privilege to hear from individuals who were so passionate and experienced in their fields, and their lectures sparked new interests I have carried with me ever since.

During our free time, we could do be doing anything from studying in the Bodleian Library to exploring local shops. One of my favorite evenings was spent attempting to “punt,” or boat, down the Thames, with small groups of Johnnies filing into thin, flat-bottomed boats with the purpose of propelling ourselves along with long poles. What followed was a hilariously clumsy attempt to keep straight and avoid falling into the murky water. Even the passing ducks seemed to roll their eyes. Another day I was especially fond of was our field trip to London. After a ride on a double-decker bus, we spent an afternoon admiring the Parthenon sculptures at the British Museum and touring the Palace of Westminster.

As the program came to a close, we Johnnies were treated to a lavish black-tie dinner, and we reminisced on our time in England over drinks in the Fellows’ Garden at University College Oxford. I found I had become close with other Johnnies I might never have met otherwise, whether because they had already graduated from the school or were students at our Santa Fe campus. We now had this shared experience, and from that had grown a camaraderie.

During my final walks through the city of Oxford, my eyes lingered over the iconic architecture I had now grown familiar with as I thought of all that had been born on those streets and in those antique buildings. I felt as though I had joined in their history. Now, amid a new academic year in Annapolis, many have asked me about my time in England, and I am always excited to share lessons and memories I will forever treasure. I am deeply grateful to the OEX program and its team, who worked tirelessly to provide a summer for the books. I would highly encourage my fellow Johnnies to enroll for summer 2024.

—Fiona Guinness (A25)