Lived Studies: My Summer at Oxford

Avery Lacey

For the past month, I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad at Oxford University. I loved every minute of my study—the breathtaking libraries, the rich history, the limitless resources. Sometimes the hardest part was exiting the library and receiving the blast of cold air, tourist-filled streets, and shouts of homeless people.

One day in particular, I was engrossed in my reading of Thomas Chalmers, a nineteenth-century pastor and social reformer. My heart raced as my eyes ran down the pages. His affirmation of life, family, and work was so beautiful!

When my stomach started interrupting the silence in the library, I packed up my things and headed out to get a sandwich. I knew what was coming. I would pass the woman who always sat outside the library asking for money. How could I spend all morning reading lofty thoughts about helping the poor and then ignore this woman right in front of me?

I passed her, got my sandwich cut in two, walked back, and offered her half. Maybe we could have lunch together and chat, I thought. My dreams were quickly cut short when I found out she spoke only a few words of English and had little interest in talking to me. I walked away, disappointed at the reality of living out the ideals I had been studying.

This ever pushing-in of reality onto our school studies is something that happens constantly at Hillsdale. In a small community, we see our professors and classmates at church, gas stations, and grocery stores. The integrated culture keeps us accountable to the ideas we espouse in class.

At Hillsdale, we reject the idea that the liberal arts should provide specific vocational training or produce quantitative results. We do, however, care about the end product. We agree with Jacques Maritain that “the aim of education is to guide young persons in the process through which they shape themselves as human persons—armed with knowledge, strength of judgment, and moral virtues.” If school is about actualizing our personhood, it is inseparable from life. Indeed, formal classrooms are just a part of our whole education, which encompasses everything that forms our being, including short conversations with people on the street.

As I walked away awkwardly from this woman, holding my half of the sandwich, I thought, You know, this is how it works. Applying our studies to life is never seamless, because we run up against other broken human beings. This is what it means to study and live in community. In his essay The Work of Local Culture, Wendel Berry writes that a “love [of learning] cannot exist, because it makes no sense, apart from the love of a place and a community.” Learning must be lived. This small encounter in Oxford gave me a profound gratitude for the ideals and community of Hillsdale, which teach me to take seriously what I am learning. What a gift it is to experience becoming someone at Hillsdale.

Avery Lacey, ’20, studies philosophy, politics, and economics at Hillsdale. She avoids doing homework by volunteering, talking with friends, or determinedly hanging out at Baw Beese, no matter the temperature.