Emmy Song '24


Major: Computer Science (BSE)
College: Whitman
International Experience: University of Oxford, Worcester College
Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

When people ask me about my semester abroad, I never know where to start. How can I put into words what the last five months have meant to me? Now that I’ve returned home from the University of Oxford in England, I finally have the chance to sit down and make an attempt. My study abroad experience was about much more than school and academics—it was an entirely new lifestyle, with an abundance of freedom and independence that is rare to find while in college.

The visiting students coordinator at Worcester College, one of over 30 constituent colleges at Oxford, told us on Day 1 that every student has a different experience with the university. That’s because we are entirely responsible for our time, whether it’s spent cooped up studying in dorm rooms or blowing off work all day.

Academics at Oxford are organized in the tutorial system, where our only required class is a weekly one-on-one lesson with a tutor (think preceptor). As a COS major, my tutorials involved going over problem sheets and correcting mistakes, explaining ambiguities in my proofs, and learning extensions of the content.

Emmy and her friends at a formal dinner at Oxford

Formal dinner at Worcester College's dining hall

Besides these 1-2 hours a week, the rest of the time was mine. Some days, I really would spend most of the time in my room, working at my desk. Others, I’d head to the beautiful libraries, have a picnic on the lawn with friends, or attend my college’s formal dinner. Since I only took two classes per term, I had the time and energy to pursue interests that I had to set aside during the busy Princeton semesters. I read a dozen books, learned to cook my own meals, revived my hobby of making YouTube videos, had a concert with my a cappella group, and tried out rowing. I went on weekend trips to explore fascinating cities all around Europe.

At Princeton, I often felt suffocated by the Orange Bubble. Our campus is so small and enclosed that it’s easy to become stuck in the grind mindset, fixated on grades and forgetting what you’re working towards. In contrast, the city of Oxford is small enough to be walkable but large enough to remind me of what the world has to offer beyond college.

Emmy Song and her hallmates in their shared kitchen space at Oxford

Group photo with my hallmates in our shared kitchen.

I go grocery shopping, stop by the bookstores to see which new titles have come in, and peek into coffee shops to see people of all ages conversing. Oxford’s vibrance provided a much-needed, comforting reminder that there is much more to life than the problem sheet I was struggling through at the moment. 

Finally, the people are what make both Princeton and Oxford feel like home. I lived in the same hallway and shared the same kitchen with five other visiting students who quickly became my close friends. Quick chats as I dashed to tutorial, group cooking sessions, and late night talks in the kitchen are the moments I will remember most. Having spent my freshman year online due to COVID, I never got the traditional zee group experience, but I imagine it’s something like this.

When I made the choice to study abroad, I had wanted a break from Princeton and its relentless academic, social, and emotional pressure. Oxford gave me exactly that: a chance to learn who I am when I am wholly alone. I was rejuvenated by my semester abroad, while also discovering newfound gratitude for Princeton and the friends and campus I had grown to miss. With senior year just around the corner, I’m excited to make my last year at Princeton the very best yet.

Main Quad of Worcester College

The main quad of Worcester College

Taylorian Library at Oxford

Taylorian Library at Oxford

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