THE city of Oxford is known as “the city of dreaming spires.”
Its name is synonymous with one of the top and most famed universities in the world and its streets steeped in old-world English charm and history.
If you’ve ever wanted to get a taste of what life as an Oxford student is like, here’s your chance. The Oxbridge Academic Programmes (OAP) is a two to four-week summer school for secondary students (Forms Two to Six).
OAP president Prof James G. Basker experienced first-hand the benefits of immersion as a 22-year-old.
Back then, the Harvard University graduate had won a scholarship to pursue his Masters at the University of Cambridge.
It was the first time the American had stepped foot out of his country. “It changed everything about my life. It exposed me to a much bigger world,’’ he added.
As an English scholar specialising in 18th century literature, he had the added bonus of being immersed in the world he had been studying about.
“Suddenly, I was walking the streets, hearing the language and seeing the sights that informed of their (authors like Charles Dickens) literature. It was magic. All the history that had been theoretical, I could now see and feel all around me,” he said.
Prof Basker stayed on in Britain for four more years, completing his DPhil at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.
He started the programme not long after returning to American soil. OAP has come a long way from its first session in 1985 with 90 students and six staff members.
Today, it is held at seven institutions in Oxford, Cambridge, Barcelona, Salamanca, Paris, Montpellier and New York City every summer.
Selected students, who come from over 80 countries, choose a major and minor, with six classes held in the mornings and three in the afternoons every week.
Course fees, which include tuition and lodging but not airfare, are a little steep. But, students will benefit from a truly unique experience.
A small sample of unique courses offered includes subjects like Pop Culture as Knowledge, Psychopharmacology, Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Secondly, courses do not follow a strict curriculum with conventional assessment.
Students enrolled in an art course, for example, might be taken to a gallery or studio to make sketches. Or, drama students might learn a Shakespeare play, then see a production of it and later hold a discussion with the director and actors.
According to Prof Basker, the hallmark of the programme is that it is teacher-driven.
“For every course, teachers are free to set up the curriculum so long as it teaches the subject in an imaginative way and incorporates experiential learning and extramural connections,” said Prof Basker, who is currently the Richard Gilder Professor of Literary History at Barnard College, Columbia University in New York.
OAP attracts teachers such as Rhodes, Gates, Marshall and Fulbright scholars.
Famous guest speakers are also brought in every year to engage with the students.
“The best pedagogical experience is about the people; having a stimulating teacher and an eager and responsive student. The rest is secondary,” he said.
Which is why OAP puts a lot of energy into “creating an all-star team for the future”, as Prof Basker puts it.
One such “all-star” is Dr Nick Chan, an emerging international climate policy adviser who has participated as a faculty member for the last four years and as a student himself back in 2002. In the OAP, Chan majored in International Relations - the subject that he would eventually devote his tertiary studies to.
“What I took away from the programme was a sense of knowing what the subject is about. It helped me be sure of myself to pursue it.”
As a teacher, Chan enjoys the experiential and extramural nature of the programme, often bringing his students for a walk down the river in Oxford or taking them to the Ashmolean Museum.
For over 10 years, Malaysian students like Chan have been attending OAP and interest has been picking up steam of late.
Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia are also having the same experience.
Sri KDU International School student Idris Azim took part in the Cambridge Tradition two years ago, enrolling in History as a major and Drama as a minor.
He said the level of freedom and independence helped him mature a lot.
“The programme allowed me to explore Cambridge on my own. During our free time, I explored the university and city.
“I remember being so impressed by the architecture. I can’t begin to describe how amazing it was to see it in real life.”
Sri KDU Secondary School student Rachel Nur Jaswa Nadin, an Oxford Tradition (Oxtrad) 2014 alumni who majored in International Law, said: “Classes in Oxtrad were so much more different than classes here. Each lesson was exciting and stimulating. Everyone participated and there was never a dull class.
“I was constantly surrounded by people who wanted to learn and it definitely pushed me to perform my best.”
She said the experience gave her exposure and knowledge into the subject that she wouldn’t have had otherwise, adding that it was truly unforgettable.
“Till this day, I still wear my Oxtrad wristband and think back about that one amazing month spent in Oxford.”
For more information, visit http://www.oxbridgeacademicprograms.com.