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The Oxford Experience

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With roots dating back to the 11th century, the prestigious University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world, and the second-oldest surviving university in the world. Located about 60 miles northwest of London, it is divided into 44 independent colleges that allow students from different cultures and countries to come together to share in a truly global and collaborative manner.

From July 14 through August 4, 10 students from St. Joseph’s College — along with students from Boise State and Texas State universities — visited the university as part of the Oxford 2013 study abroad program. During their stay at Oxford’s St. Hilda’s College, a coeducational institution originally founded as a college for women in 1893, students completed a rigorous three-week course of intellectual study and immersed themselves in the English culture with trips to London Museums, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and

Stonehenge. The students were accompanied by Christopher Frost, Ph.D., the Long Island Campus’ academic dean and head of the SJC Oxford 2013 program. Dr. Frost also led these students through a rigorous preparatory course of study during the spring 2013 semester.

“Among other things, an international immersion experience can get us out of the ‘blip culture’ and prod us to pay attention to something long enough and in a sustained enough way that, in itself, promotes some kind of perceptual shift,” Dr. Frost said. “Even our experience of time, for example, is not a given, and that’s one of the things that can shift fundamentally — if we live long enough or stay in a place long enough where we operate at a different pace.”

Since he became the academic dean of the Long Island Campus’ School of Arts and Sciences in January 2012, Dr. Frost has emphasized the importance of studying abroad. The former associate dean of undergraduate studies and professor of psychology and religion at San Diego State University (SDSU) has traveled extensively himself.

oxford_side_imagesA native of Austin, Texas, who began his college career at the United States Naval Academy and then Baylor University, Dr. Frost later earned an M.A. in Psychology of Religion and a Ph.D. in Psychology and Interdisciplinary Studies at Boston University. From 1986-2006 he taught psychology and directed the honors program at Texas State University, along with brief interludes as a visiting professor at Midway Women’s College in Kentucky, a Fulbright senior research scholar at the University of Bucharest in Romania, and a visiting associate professor at Al Akhwayn University in Morocco.

This year, Dr. Frost brought the Oxford program to SJC and encouraged students to participate in its course of study. Now in its 10th year, the program began at Texas State University and followed him to SDSU. According to Dr. Frost, he was inspired to start the program through his belief in a teaching style in which students don’t just study from a text book in a classroom, but read from primary sources and then engage in discussion with the authors of these texts in an academic setting. He believes in a full academic immersion when seeking an all-encompassing education.

“There is a kind of respect for this level of engagement between primary text, author, professor and direct engagement of students in a fundamental way,” Dr. Frost noted in regard to the teaching method utilized in the Oxford program. “That model of education, for me, is something that I don’t want to see colleges and universities lose.”

Before departing for Oxford in July, students took part in a series of related events during their spring 2013 semester, such as attending a question-and-answer session and a public lecture, “Jeremiah and His Lamentations” given by Dr. Frost’s mentor: Holocaust survivor and acclaimed author Elie Wiesel, with whom he studied at Boston University in the early 1980s.

SJC President S. Elizabeth A Hill, C.S.J., and Provost S. Loretta McGrann, C.S.J., joined the students and Dr. Frost for the lecture, and each student received a personally inscribed copy of Mr. Wiesel’s critically acclaimed book, Night. During the Q&A session held before Mr. Wiesel’s public lecture, students were provided with a kosher meal and afforded the opportunity to ask questions and take pictures with him in a private setting.

Students in the program also met with Partners in Health co-founder Paul Farmer, M.D., Ph.D., who is known for his work in delivering the benefits of modern medical science to developing nations worldwide, and welcomed distinguished Skidmore College professor Sheldon Solomon, Ph.D. — best known for developing the Terror Management Theory, which is concerned with how humans deal with the concept of their own mortality — who traveled to the Long Island Campus to lead a three-hour seminar.

In April, they participated in a religion-science panel discussion in New York City titled “The Future of God: The Merging of Science and Religion.” According to Dr. Frost, the relationship between science and religion has been a question that he has pursued for decades. “Oxford provides this kind of optimum place for an intense experience for students concerning these issues,” he noted.

Students involved in the program studied the con- nections between the two enterprises in courses that were designed to cross traditional disciplinary boundaries. The overall goal of these courses was to encourage students to think critically about the topics of science and religion, and to challenge students to examine the gap between these two intellectual domains, inspiring students to bridge it.

Dr. Frost commented that the courses in the pro- gram are not ones that “try to provide answers,” but rather courses that “try to raise very good questions” concerning the topics of religion and science. “I have chosen primary texts that I found very powerful,” he said, to include “a wide span of authors who are quite different from each other, with distinctive takes, but that are all provocative and that are all connected to Oxford in some way.” He cites novelist and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, Lewis scholar and biographer Walter Hooper, and evolutionary biologist and noted atheist Richard Dawkins among these authors.

Former students of the Oxford program also noted that their experience through the program taught them to be more open to differing viewpoints about the world and that, because of the small sizes of the classes for the program, that they were encouraged to speak their minds more than in some of their other, larger classes. Keith Boone, a previous Oxford Program participant from SDSU, commented that the program was “an excellent opportunity for growth and development,” and that at Oxford, “there seemed to be a desire to have more meaningful conversations and discussions.”

“These trips are as deeply enriching for me as I hope they are for students,” Dr. Frost said. “Twenty-five years after I began teaching, it helps me to reconnect with why I chose this profession in the first place, and that’s a pretty nice feeling.”

Over the years Dr. Frost has taken between 400 and 450 students abroad to places such as Tanzania and the Yucatán Penninsula. He has also taken close to 250 students to Oxford (and Canterbury, prior to Oxford) since that program began in 2003. Dr. Frost’s advice for students is to remember what is meaningful to them. “Who you are and what you do should align, should be of one piece,” he said. “I encourage students to figure out a way in which everything from the career they’re pursuing to the hobbies they have and the relationships they hold, reflect who they are and what is meaningful to them.”

SJC Oxford Group at large table

 

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