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The Oxford Experience and Other Summer Learning Vacations

The High Table in Christ Church College, Oxford University
The High Table in Christ Church College, Oxford University
Judy Zimmerman

“Why not opt for a learning vacation this summer?” wrote veteran travel writer Arthur Frommer. “Go back to a liberal arts college to study the subjects that so intrigued you when you were 20.

“There are summer programs at college campuses for adults of all ages. You don’t have to take exams; just learn for the fun of it! The most famous is the one offered by Oxford University. It is called the Oxford Experience.”

After reading Former’s glowing description of his own recent Oxford Experience, I enrolled in the program’s “Anglo-American Relations” class last summer. The required text was to be read in advance. Upon arrival, I was so impressed that I added a music course for the following week - “From the Blues to the Symphony.”

Designed for an international (mostly English-speaking) audience of all ages, the Oxford Experience offers over 60 one-week courses in the humanities. It is a unique opportunity to sample the pervading tradition at Christ Church College that was founded by Cardinal Wolsey in 1524 as one of the largest and most eminent of the University’s 39 colleges .

Due to a weak knee, I requested a ground floor dorm room and paid about $300 extra for an “ensuite” private bathroom. Luckily, I was assigned one of the largest student rooms that had an idyllic view of the meadow and river beyond. Early each morning I enjoyed a walk along the river where the girls’ rowing team was training.

My five classmates and I met with our excellent tutor in his study from 9 a.m. to noon with a mid-morning coffee break in the Junior Commons Room where optional excursions during the week were posted. However, we quickly made friends and often arranged our own afternoon and weekend activities . It was only a 30-minute local bus ride to Blenheim Palace, Churchill’s birthplace, and the charming Cotswold villages were further afield. Visits to grand manor homes and gardens were also popular, as well as boat trips on the River Cherwell and countryside walks to friendly village pubs nearby.

One of the greatest delights was exploring the city of Oxford with its grand architecture, its other colleges, gardens, libraries, concert halls, the Bodleian Library, and Ashmolean Museum . Everywhere we walked offered a magnificent view and an abiding sense of the history of the place.

All our meals were taken in the beautiful medieval Great Hall that was featured in the Henry Potter Films. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style while the excellent evening meal was served. Once during the week each student was invited to join the High Table at the front of the Hall, where several complimentary wines were poured. Others purchased wines at the Buttery (the bar) at the entrance to the dining hall.

After dinner, there was an optional lecture or musical performance , but some of us preferred to wander through the grand city’s now-tranquil lanes in search of other intrigues.

On Wednesday evening we attended Evensong in the Christ Church Cathedral and on Friday night at the end of the week, champagne was served in the Cathedral Garden (Alice’s forbidden garden). That night at dinner, each class sat with their tutor and received certificates to remind them of this very special week.




· Classes fill up quickly.


Offer Accommodations on-campus or nearby hotels
Non-alumni Welcome

· Santa Fe, NM– St. John’s College – - Select “Summer Classics” – July 7-25
· Annapolis, MD – St. John’s College – - Select “Summer Classes: - June 23-27
· Bloomington, IN – Indiana Univ. Mini-University – - June 8-13
· Ithaca, NY – Cornell’s Adult Univ. & Summer Programs – - July 8-Aug. 7
· Chapel Hill, NC – Univ. of NC – – June 13-16
· Chicago, IL – Univ. of Chicago Summer Session – – June – Aug
· Toronto, Canada – Classical Pursuits – – July 13-July 18

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