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Oxford: Challenges and Charm
An NAA trip to one of the oldest universities in the world offers exciting intellectual opportunities and many pleasures.

Sue and Dan Toll at Broughton Castle in Banbury, Oxfordshire, England

photo courtesy of Dan and Sue Toll

Since the 12th century the University of Oxford’s classrooms and libraries have expanded the minds of kings, cardinals, Nobel prize winners, political leaders and saints — from explorer Sir Walter Raleigh and poet T.S. Eliot to physicist Steven Hawking and British prime minister Tony Blair.

And since 1989 Northwestern Anglophiles have had the opportunity to immerse themselves in this rich academic culture through Odyssey to Oxford — a two-week travel-study program co-sponsored by the Northwestern Alumni Association. The opportunity allows alumni to feed their own intellects amidst the tradition and scenery of the world’s oldest English-speaking university.

Odyssey to Oxford, the product of a partnership between Northwestern and Michigan State University, is scheduled each year at the end of summer. The 2001 trip, from Aug. 25 through Sept. 8, let alumni from both schools take on the role of Oxford students — they attended lectures in the morning and field trips in the afternoon relating to British history, archaeology, literature or architecture. They even stayed on campus at Rewley House, a recently renovated building that overlooks a courtyard. Though it is a vacation, Odyssey travelers tend to take their studies very seriously and come prepared to explore a course of their choosing, often reading up for months before the trip.

From the start, first-time Odyssey traveler Barbara Simons (J55) was as enchanted with Oxford as her many companions on the trip who were repeat Odyssey travelers. She selected early medieval British archaeology as her focus.

A field trip to a site dating back to the Dark Ages is already a treasured memory for her. Simons also visited the Ashmolean Museum, Britain’s first public museum and the place where 19th-century English painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti persuaded William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, to pursue art rather than religious studies. "It was absolutely fascinating," she explains. "We were able to handle English artifacts like bows, arrows and jewelry from the 1600s and 1700s."

Other courses, all of which are taught by Oxford faculty, called dons, included an exploration of the English detective novel and research on historic houses, castles and gardens. Participants also journeyed as a group to Stratford-on-Avon to see Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and toured the Cotswold countryside, Worcester Cathedral and Blenheim Palace, where former prime minister Winston Churchill was born.

There was also enough free time to wander through the English gardens of Oxford and enjoy the lush green landscape. "Driving around the English countryside is just magnificent," says Kathie Ross, who made her eighth trip to Oxford last summer.

The 2002 excursion will again feature the course on historical houses, with visits planned to Broughton Castle and William Morris’ Kelmscott Manor. Other tempting choices include a presentation on British contemporary politics, with a guided visit to Parliament, and a class on Shakespeare and the supernatural, with tours of theaters in Stratford and London.

Lynn Carver (S53), NAA senior coordinator, accompanied the alumni group last summer on her seventh trip to Oxford. She never tires of them and always looks forward to finding out something new about Oxford and British culture. "No matter how many times you’ve been there," Carver says, "there’s still something you haven’t seen or discovered."

— Michele Hogan with research assistance
from Yelena Shapiro (WCAS03)

For more information about Northwestern’s travel programs, log on to www.alumni.northwestern.edu or call 847-491-7987.