Stephanie LeVasseur recognized by Scholarship & Christianity in Oxford.
Prior to 2020, studying abroad meant traveling to experience academia—in a different location, immersed in a new culture, learning from a unique set of expert professors. However, for senior Stephanie LeVasseur’s fall semester, her experience studying at the University of Oxford looked a bit different.
Making Changes on the Fly
Before even starting the application to study at Oxford, Stephanie, who is double-majoring in English and Writing, with a minor in Christian Education, was hesitant to pursue the opportunity. She knew that admission into the prestigious Scholarship & Christianity in Oxford (SCIO) program would be competitive. However, after receiving encouragement from students who had previously studied abroad in the program, she took a leap of faith and applied. In the spring of her junior year at Olivet Stephanie received an acceptance letter and she excitedly made plans to spend fall 2020 in Oxford, England.
No stranger to travel, Stephanie, who frequently makes the road trip between her hometown of West Chester, Pennsylvania, and Bourbonnais, was on a trip to Ireland with Olivet’s English department last March when the threat of the spread of COVID-19 forced an abbreviated tour of the British Isle. In order to navigate back to the States, the group of faculty and students spent an unexpected 24 hours in London on a layover. With plans to return to England in the fall, Stephanie soaked up every moment in anticipation of a semester abroad once things settled down. By summer, however, the SCIO program was effectively canceled due to travel restrictions.
Stephanie was devastated to learn of the cancellation, but was unwilling to count the opportunity a loss until she had exhausted every avenue of possibility. She and her mom quickly set up a virtual meeting with the program director of SCIO to discuss potential options. Although there was no precedent for operating the program for just one student, SCIO approved Stephanie to study “abroad” for the semester by taking classes via Zoom.
Resources and Research
Working remotely—and on an inverted sleep schedule due to a five-hour time difference, and for the sake of productivity—Stephanie had to make significant adjustments at her parents’ home in Pennsylvania, including sharing her brother’s ethernet cord to secure the internet connection and creating a dedicated work zone in her dining room. Given that she was 3,900 miles from campus, she also had to be more intentional in accessing quality research materials. Fortunately, the faculty at Oxford provided her with remote access to many of her source texts to help alleviate the hardship.
Another adjustment Stephanie had to make was adapting to Oxford’s style of instruction. Different from the American standard of college students taking 3-5 classes simultaneously, Stephanie took only two classes during her first two months, and then finished the semester with two more classes. The content ranged from psychology and literature, to C.S. Lewis in context, to creative writing. Despite the breadth of subjects, the format of reading, discussion and response writing was consistent throughout the courses, allowing Stephanie to really develop her strengths in critical analysis and writing.
“I know that the opportunity gave me better passion for writing,” she reflected. “With SCIO I had such an incredible level of discussion and depth with professors. The experience really breathed life into my studies.”
Throughout the semester, Stephanie had weekly one-on-one sessions with professors to discuss reading assignments and connect the resources with other research. She also worked on developing an overarching thesis paper with theology tutor, Dr. Matthew Kirkpatrick .
Unfortunately given the circumstances, there weren’t many opportunities to build community with other students. However, because Oxford was in session virtually for other programs, Stephanie was invited to sit in on other lectures that her professors taught over Zoom, to learn more on topics including Gothic Literature and Women in Oxford's School of Geography. Throughout the semester she also received mentorship from the Director of Studies, Jonathan Kirkpatrick, with whom she met biweekly to informally track coursework progress and check in about life and well-being. These bonus sessions gave her a more well-rounded academic and cultural experience.
Making an Impression
Stephanie completed her Oxford semester with outstanding grades and was recognized with Oxford Academic Excellence for scoring all As and A-s in her courses. Despite being the only student in the SCIO program, she made an exceptional impression on the faculty and was given a SCIO alumni prize for the Michaelmas Term 2020 Scholars’ Semester. The prize recognized her academic performance and demeanor, and came with a bookstore voucher to encourage further scholarship.
Stephanie’s persistence in finding a way for SCIO to operate last fall not only gave her a unique opportunity, but it also paved the way for the program to offer more online courses and invite alumni to join classes. Stephanie anticipates more virtual options will be available through the program in the future.
Following graduation from Olivet in May, Stephanie hopes to begin a career in writing. But first, her plan is to travel to spend her summer in Oxford. The SCIO program officials offered an alternate plan for Stephanie to fully enjoy the academic and cultural experience of life at Oxford in summer 2021. Pending any travel restrictions, she will still get her experience abroad.
Even though her Oxford semester was unconventional, Stephanie loved the experience and heartily recommends that other students take advantage of completing a portion of their degree at another institution.
“The whole experience was very fulfilling and life-changing,” she reflected. “I was challenged deeply on a personal and professional level. I now feel so affirmed in my career pursuits.”
Photos submitted & used with permission.