Tolkien at Oxford

by Jasmine Revels

For the first week of July 2020, I had set aside plans to travel from Los Angeles to the United Kingdom to study at the University of Oxford in Oxford, England. As a student of English literature, studying abroad in England is a goal, but studying at the University of Oxford is a dream. It was an opportunity provided by my university that I could not possibly pass up. I had never gotten the chance to study abroad as an undergraduate, so I was determined to do so as a graduate student. I had applied and been accepted to study at Oxford in July for one month. We were either going to study the works of Jane Austen or of J.R.R. Tolkien; I was hoping we would study the former. I received news that we would be studying Tolkien, and although I was excited to possibly study the literary great that is Jane Austen, I was more than happy to trade Mr. Darcy for Gandalf to study Tolkien, a great in his own right. I considered the fact that none of my undergraduate professors had Tolkien in their syllabi, but did include Austen, so I was ecstatic to study works that I had not encountered in a college classroom before.

My excitement for my study abroad opportunity was unfortunately short-lived. As news about COVID-19 began to appear more frequently in the United States, I naturally became concerned, but I also brushed it off. My naivety allowed me to believe that the virus could not possibly spread too much around the States. Giving myself the benefit of the doubt, I had never personally experienced a pandemic before COVID-19 and had assumed it would run its course in a matter of weeks. However, as the weeks passed, the virus did not. The number of cases climbed across the United States and I eventually knew an Oxford cancellation announcement was inevitable. That announcement appeared in my inbox in late March and I had to accept that I would in fact not be fulfilling my dream of studying at Oxford this summer.

COVID-19 has robbed many students like me of the opportunity to study abroad this summer and most likely during this upcoming fall semester or quarter. How will study abroad programs change as COVID-19 continues to spread around the world? This is a question I am sure not only students, but faculty and administrators working in the areas of study abroad are thinking about. An article written for Inside Higher Ed suggests that we must think about studying abroad beyond students physically studying and learning overseas, expanding the idea of studying abroad to include studying different cultures and customs from around the world without leaving one’s native country. Hundreds of thousands of college students across the United States moved from in-person classes to online classes as the number of COVID-19 cases soared. Would something like online learning at home with a foreign university be an attractive option for students who were initially looking to study abroad this year? Surely it is an interesting idea to ponder. While an online experience like this would offer students a different learning experience in some way (i.e. different essay structures, grading system, learning outcomes, etc.), arguably the biggest draw of being a study abroad student is being physically in a different country and getting the opportunity to experience and learn about the culture and people of their host country; studying abroad is much more than just a different learning experience for students. The future of studying abroad for college students is uncertain, but I can only hope that as countries continue to contain the spread of COVID-19, at the same time, educators, administrators, and colleges from around the world are thinking of ways in which doors can be kept safely open to welcome students, myself included, to study abroad beyond 2020. Until then, I will be getting reacquainted with Austen’s works from my home. As for Tolkien, I will patiently wait for another Oxford opportunity.

Jasmine Revels is a native of Los Angeles, California. She has a Bachelors degree in English from Mount Saint Mary’s University, a Masters degree in educational counseling from the University of Southern California, and is in the process of earning another Masters degree in English from Bridgewater State University. Reading classic literature and traveling are her passions, she hopes to continue to find time to do both in the future!

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