From Hillsdale to Oxford and Back Again
Written by Jo Kroeker
When senior Madison Moore met Oxford student of physical sciences Matthew Riding while studying abroad, they talked for hours about how she—an English person—also enjoyed studying sciences.
Madison spent six weeks studying at Oxford this summer and is interning this fall with NASA. She said being away has made her notice the interdisciplinary quality of Hillsdale conversations—how students engage the intersection of politics, theology, and philosophy to understand the greater sphere of things.
“I always find I can have significant, expansive conversations with students,”Madison said. “That is something I’ve missed while being away. The contrast is pretty stark, but it does make you appreciate what Hillsdale has.”
Going between Hillsdale and Oxford and experiencing the different teaching styles and focal points changed the way Madison understands the role and scope of undergraduate and graduate educations.
Madison spent her entire session abroad studying John Milton. Every week, she picked a different narrow topic to study and on which she wrote a paper. First, she read Paradise Lost, then Milton’s poetry, prose, mini-epics and longer fiction, and his political writings. She said she went as deep as she possibly could every week, which changed her reading of Paradise Lost when she returned to it during her sixth week of study.
“I highly valued the fact I had only one concrete obligation each week, tutorial each week. The rest of the days of the week, I could go to any number of gorgeous libraries and study at my own academic leisure, letting my intellect take me where I needed it to so it was more organic.”
She was able to conclude that Paradise Lost and Milton’s political writings are inseparable, an insight that can’t be taught in a survey undergraduate English course.
“That experience got me committed to the English major on a more personal level,”Madison said.
During her time at Oxford,Madison kept in touch with assistant professor of English Benedict Whalen who taught the Renaissance British literature course in which she first encountered Paradise Lost. She recounted her experience via email and was able to continue the class’s conversation with more sophisticated insights.
Senior Brigette Hall studied abroad with Madison at the same time and gleaned many of the same lessons about how a liberal-arts undergraduate degree differs from an Oxford education and from graduate studies. Both women noticed that Hillsdale and Oxford prepare students for graduate school in contrasting ways. Hillsdale furnishes students with a diversity of coursework from which students choose their focus, while Oxford students get a taste of focused graduate work through a hyperfocused undergraduate education.
Brigette said Hillsdale’s array of three hundred and four-hundred-level English classes allows students to choose courses for lecture quality and subject matter, while at Oxford, it’s possible to study with the same professor for three years because he or she fits the chosen focus.
“Graduate school is not an extension of your undergraduate experience,” Madison said of her Hillsdale education. “It seems more like a narrowing of a scope of what you’re doing as an undergraduate. It’s fundamentally different.”
Leaving the hyperfocus for later study, Hillsdale students develop a common knowledge during their first two years. Hall said with this common language, they can take the specifics they learn and bring them back to other disciplines in a more relatable way.
JoAnna Kroeker (but everyone calls her Jo), ’19, exchanged flip flops and eternal sunshine in Fresno, California, for snow-boots and school at Hillsdale, where she studies French and journalism. Former Opinions and current Features Editor of the Hillsdale Collegian, she gives thanks for the coffee and brown sugar Pop Tarts that make school and a weekly newspaper possible. When she’s not writing, she’s tutoring other writers or thinking about writing while doing yoga, baking, or reading.