By Mark Thomson ’13
Alameda, California

Over the course of a single semester, I wrote 24 papers of 1,500 to 2,500 words each.

Harry Potter Land. That’s what I thought I was getting myself into when I arrived for a semester abroad at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University. Indeed, some aspects of St. Catherine’s were quite Potter-esque. The dining hall meals were straight out of the books, with dimmed lighting and long rows of dishes. Hogwarts is divided into four houses; Oxford is divided into 38 colleges. And though their books didn’t magically levitate to me (I used the digital interlibrary loan system instead), the Bodleian Library would have fit right in at Hogwarts.

Instead of classes, we had tutorials. Tutorials are typically one-on-one, hour-long sessions with a professor or graduate student. Each term visiting students take a primary (weekly) tutorial and a secondary (biweekly) tutorial. I took tutorials in English and philosophy, my major and minor. At each session I’d read aloud an essay I’d written. As I read, my tutor would interrupt and ask me questions about my paper and the relevant readings, forcing me to be instantly accountable for whatever work I’d produced.

Most of my days were spent preparing for tutorials, often in the English Faculty Library or Bodleian Law Library, doing research for my papers. I’d eat lunch at one of Oxford’s amazing sandwich shops and eat dinner Harry Potter-style at St. Catherine’s. After dinner I’d play pool with friends in the Junior Common Room, which is like Macalester’s student lounge, but rowdier.

Looking back, I can’t believe how much I accomplished. Over the course of a single semester, I wrote 24 papers of 1,500 to 2,500 words each. As a result, I definitely feel much more prepared for law school, where I hope to put to use the skills I polished while studying abroad.

July 29 2013

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