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Umar Patel

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Umar Patel (he/him) - Stanford in Oxford

Majors: Computer Science & Archaeology

College year while abroad: Senior

About the photo: Here I am during a visit to Canterbury Cathedral in Kent!


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Why did you choose to study abroad in Oxford?

I had visited England several times before and really admired the juxtaposition of modern culture and deep-rooted history here. And I thought studying abroad at Oxford would be a great way to explore England as a whole and visit places I wouldn’t otherwise be able to see on short visits. Furthermore, the more focused academic approach of the tutorial structure (meaning I could take just 2 courses) meant that I could have a relatively light course load, giving me the ability to fully immerse in the “abroad” experience while also getting credit for my major.

What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Oxford?

I went into my Study Abroad experience with a list of places I wanted to visit throughout the UK, but I expected most people not to be interested in them and so saw myself visiting them solo. However, after mentioning some of the things I wanted to do to others in my cohort, I was shocked to see how many people were interested, and I was later fortunate to have such wonderful company on many of these adventures. So don’t hesitate to put your study abroad plans out there. Others are also likely looking to go on an exciting trip!

What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Oxford?

For me, it was the ability to choose exactly what you want to study and building your own curriculum in a way you couldn’t really do at Stanford. For 3 years, I had wanted to take a history or archaeology course revolving around the Anglo-Saxon period, but such a course was difficult to find. The tutorial system allows you to hone in on your interests and construct a highly personalized 8-week curriculum. Oxford is also known to be exceptional in its humanities and a lot of STEM students in my cohort, including myself, found humanities tutorials to be very accessible.

What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?

As obvious as it may sound, I learned that I could find meaningful friendships doing things that I wanted to do instead of trying to find those relationships doing what other people wanted to do. I think at Stanford, a lot of times you fall into the trap of something like “Oh everybody is doing that or going there, so I should too!”. But I think when I was abroad, my mindset completely shifted, and I focused on what I wanted to get out of my experience and did those things and found incredible company along the way.

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?

I was once in London when there was a rail strike, meaning everybody who needed to leave the city was taking the Oxford Tube (a London to Oxford coach service). I found it difficult to find a station to get on a coach because most were at full capacity. I eventually was able to get on a coach, but one thing I learned was that the terminals of some routes are usually the most reliable in terms of having space available, and so it would save you lots of time to board a bus there if it’s not too far.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

Tipping at restaurants in the UK is a bit different than here in the U.S. The standards are not all the same so don't hesitate to ask Oxford staff about when to tip and when not to. In most cases, the tip would be pre-added to your final check!

What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Oxford?

Being part of the Brasenose college boat club novice rowing team was a tremendous highlight of my time at Oxford. I loved how fun and inclusive Brasenose’s rowing community was, and it was also a great way to meet Oxford students! I remember how miserable I felt rowing early in the morning under pouring rain or the moment we spent half an hour waiting for our opponent at the start line during our late November regatta in the frigid cold. But ironically, those were some of the best memories I had during my time at Oxford. A truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Oxford?

Among all the incredible experiences at Oxford, none could beat the trip several of us took to the Seven Sisters cliffs along the southern coast of England. I remember feeling so at peace walking along the beautiful, elevated coastline and seeing the chalk cliffs rise above the English Channel. But the company was what really made it special. I had incredible conversations about life that I never had back at Stanford, where the busy day-to-day schedule often prevents us from such reflection. That is something I cherish about my experiences traveling with friends and exploring new places while I was abroad.

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

Meaningful. Inspiring. Peaceful. Friendships. Spontaneous.

What was your favorite food you had in Oxford?

Cafes in England were the pinnacle of my food experience while I was abroad. And what’s great is that you have a plethora of them on every street corner in Oxford and throughout the country, so you quite literally have an unlimited number of options to choose from. I often took morning walks from Stanford house to a café called GAIL’s, whose plain scones were perfectly crisp on the outside with a buttery inside that tasted great with their clotted cream. Vaults & Garden is also another breakfast hidden gem not too far from Stanford house that I’d recommend!

What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?

Gloves! Mornings and evenings definitely get chilly in Oxford and the UK as a whole, and it's hard to enjoy yourself when your fingers are cold. I'd definitely recommend getting some good quality gloves for your study abroad at Oxford. You won't regret it!

What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Oxford?

It was cool that many radio stations in the UK frequently played classic hits, which is unlike the US where radio music is usually whatever is currently at the top of the charts. I loved walking into ice cream shops or grocery stores and hearing some older Ed Sheeran bangers like "Photograph" or "The A Team". I also was a Coldplay fan prior to my Oxford experience, but after attending an Oxford Singers A Capella rehearsal with some friends, "Viva La Vida" quickly became our study abroad theme song.