Athens, Georgia, is in many ways the quintessential American college town. The University of Georgia and Athens are synonymous, yet they have distinct identities that play off each other and make each entity stronger and more appealing.
There are other town and gown models outside of the U.S. The United Kingdom, for example.
“Oxford is a big university in the middle of what is a very small city, and I think that’s one of the reasons why our students are so comfortable there,” said Jamie McClung, director of the UGA at Oxford program. Georgia’s study away program at the University of Oxford is one of UGA’s oldest, most popular and educationally diverse. In many ways it’s an ideal destination for students looking for an international experience while at UGA.
“Despite the incredibly old architecture and the amazing atmosphere, there is something about it that feels familiar to them,” McClung said. “I think that’s what makes us a good fit.”
About 250 UGA students study at Oxford annually, and in many ways it is an immersive experience. They live in the Oxford Centre, a renovated 19-century Victorian mansion, and they take classes in the same way Oxford students do. The “tutorial” model, which focuses on very small group teaching sessions, challenges students to be more immediate and present in their classes.
Classes consist of an Oxford faculty member and no more than three students. Sometimes, courses are taught one-on-one. All are part of UGA’s course registration system and count toward students’ degrees. Dozens of options are available, and it is not an overstatement to say that UGA at Oxford can meet the education needs of any UGA student.
“With the tutorial style, you make such a strong connection with your professor over those eight weeks,” said Carolina Pinckney, a third-year double major in English and finance from Savannah. “They know your writing style and your thinking style. They watch you grow as a student and a person.”
While the experience at Oxford is hard to match, according to McClung—who has been director since 2007 and first went to Oxford in an administrative position four years prior while a UGA doctoral student—some of the most important takeaways from a semester in the U.K. arise when students return to Athens.
“Students realize that taking ownership of their educational experience is important,” McClung said. “When they come back to Athens, they get more involved and more engaged with faculty. They put more time in outside of class. That’s what we are hoping to see.”
“It’s the most challenging work you’ve ever done in your life,” said Omkara Rao, a third-year finance major from Suwanee. “But it’s worth it because you’ll be better prepared for any academic challenge in the future than you would have if you stayed in Athens.”