Studying Literature in the City of Dreaming Spires

It was a balmy July day in 2019 when I arrived in Oxford. I was amazed by views of stunning, stone steeples and sprawling spires that stretched along the roads. Oxford is known for both its academia and architecture. The city’s urban planning revolves around its 39 colleges. The city welcomes visitors with beautiful views of various colleges, parks, and shops.

I was studying at Oxford because I applied for and had been selected as a scholar for The English-Speaking Union’s TLab program, which allows teachers the opportunity to study English literature at Exeter College in Oxford. I had been teaching secondary English for fourteen years and had read online about the program when I applied. Each scholar completes two graduate courses at Oxford’s prestigious English Literature Summer School program at Exeter College. Teachers, professors, graduate students, and working professionals from all over the world participate in Oxford’s English Literature Summer School. Spending time in Oxford forever changed me.  

On my first night at Exeter College, I dined in the dining hall for a luxurious meal with the other students. Paintings adorned the walls, and dim lighting evoked a soothing atmosphere.  The tables were set up adjoining each other, spanning the length of the long dining hall. The students sat down at the tables and were instructed to rise to show their reverence for the tutors who entered the hall. The tutors sat at an elevated table that was perpendicular to the students’ tables. Knowing that J.R.R. Tolkien and Harper Lee had dined in this same hall profoundly moved me. Eating in the dining hall would become one of the most surreal and special moments during my time at Oxford. 

To an Anglophile like myself, I admired the ability to study in a place steeped in literary and historic significance. I relished the experience of meeting people from all over the world and learning from preeminent tutors. I enjoyed meeting one of my good friends at the same pub, the Eagle and Child, where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would gather. I loved sitting in the Fellows’ Garden and talking with my friends in the dining hall, which allowed us a place to discuss our day and share our enthusiasm for Oxford. 

I will always remember the enriching experience I had in my classes. I studied Jane Austen and Victorian fiction with preeminent tutors who influenced my literary understandings. I will cherish the memories, experiences, and knowledge I gained from this summer learning opportunity. Even though my friends and I live in different parts of the world, we have been able to stay connected through Zoom meetings. As lifelong learners, we have continued to share our knowledge with each other about stories and novels we have been reading. Studying at Oxford transformed me, and I will always treasure the life-long memories of my summer in the city of dreaming spires.