Olivet College

Taylor Thorn at Opening Convocation Aug. 31, 2016

Picture this: picture a girl who has lived in Olivet for the past 15 years. Now, picture this same girl, as a sophomore in College, STILL trying to learn the street names in her small home town of Olivet. Now place this same directionally challenged girl in a completely different country for four weeks. Are you feeling slightly nervous for this girl?  I was.

The day I left for England, I sat on the porch of Soronian, looking out at Olivet. I remember thinking, “This is finally it, I finally get to leave Olivet.” Don’t get me wrong, I adore Olivet, but this is my home. At that point in my life, I had never been away for more than a few nights. Most of you are away from your home now. You are starting a new chapter in your lives. You get the privilege of starting a new adventure away from home. Going to Oxford, England was the start to my adventure. All I could think about was that I would be without cell service, without GPS and would have to figure out how to maneuver through a foreign airport to get home with just the help of one other student. I knew that this trip was going to provide me with many challenges, but these challenges changed how I viewed my education and my perspective on the world.

How the Oxford system works is that once a week, you meet one-on-one with your professor that is commonly referred to as a tutor. During this period of time, you discuss with your tutor what it is that you would like to learn, focus on and become an expert on. The students are the ones that choose what they would like to learn within the focus of a topic. Taking from what the tutor has gathered from the student, he or she then provides a topic question and sends you away. These are not your average paper topics. These are deep questions that target not only the information that will be needed to answer the basis of the question but will also target one’s ethics and standing on the topic. From there, each student goes and reads 10 to 12 books on the subject matter, gathering all the information they can. A three-page research paper is then formulated from your information. The next week, students bring their papers back to the tutor and have to argue their stance on the topic. These tutors aren’t just your average teachers. Many of them have written a magnitude of books on the exact subject matter you are studying. Many of them are on break from traveling the world for their research. Can you imagine trying to argue your thoughts on a topic that they are already an expert on?

These educational challenges changed the way I viewed my education. I realized that my depth of learning shouldn’t rely on one teacher in one class. It shouldn’t be drawn from one perspective in one lecture. My experience as a student at Oxford showed me that I have to be responsible for my own learning. I have to put the work into truly being an expert in the subjects I am most passionate about. We, as students, as future competitors in the business world, have to have the want to become experts in what we want to succeed in. The research, the amount of time and motivation it took to write a research paper each week, and the argument you were forced to encounter every week was the challenge of my studies at Oxford University that changed my education.

Living in Oxford was a completely different challenge (even after finding my way around). Upon arriving, the students of our program were taken through a seminar that taught us how the English live and why they act the way they do. It was a seminar to teach how to show respect for a different culture. It was a challenge knowing that as you walked through the streets, even in a culture that is similar to your own, you are still stranger and an outsider. The interactions I had with the citizens broadened my view of this world and how even small things, such as saying chips instead of fries and crisps instead of chips, put differences in our two worlds.  Besides learning how to fit in with the flow of the people, learning how to live in a different part of the world was a challenge. I spent an hour walking around a grocery store looking for eggs. Turns out, unlike here, where eggs are stored in fridges, they are stored on a shelf in England. There, you can be fined enormously for not recycling, there are strict regulations on preservatives in food and Pizza Hut is a high end place to eat. And these are just some of the differences that gave me a new perspective on our own culture and why other countries see us in perspectives we don’t understand.

This trip changed my perspective on the world. The phrase “small world” is so completely true. Though I was thousands of miles away from home, my mind couldn’t wrap around the fact that life doesn’t stop because you are gone, nor does time stop when you go back home. This trip made me realize that there is so much going on in this world every day, though our lives move as they always do. When I came to Olivet, I never thought I would get the chance to go out of the country, let alone live internationally. It is one of the best experiences I have ever had. So students, I encourage you to let Olivet surprise you, let it challenge you, let it change you.