Mark White took a gamble when he applied to spend his junior year studying abroad at the University of Oxford’s St. Edmund Hall. Unlike most study abroad programs, an acceptance from the University of Richmond’s Office of International Education doesn’t guarantee an acceptance at Oxford.

Oxford requires an additional interview, and White’s acceptance was slow in coming. It was April before he got the news that he’d be studying philosophy at the oldest university in the English-speaking world.

“I had a nail-biting few weeks. I knew I wanted a cultural experience, I also wanted an academically challenging program where I’d still be held to the highest academic standard. When I found out I’d been accepted, I was thrilled,” White said.

Oxford’s tutorial system is familiar around the world but can be intimidating for students studying abroad. Lectures are purely optional and students take two tutorials per term. Tutorials are one-hour, one-on-one weekly meetings with a professor in which students come prepared to discuss readings and defend research papers.

“The professors provided me with a reading list, but it was up to me to figure out what I was meant to get from the material. In preparation for our meetings each week, I’d write a six- to eight-page paper. When I arrived, I’d read the paper to the professor and my work would launch us into our discussion of the week’s topic,” White said.

With two tutorials each term and three terms per year, it’s clear that White stayed busy.

“I wrote a grand total of 36 papers. Each eight-week term was the most intense experience. At an American university like Richmond, particularly a liberal arts institution, we expect everyone to dabble in lots of different fields of study, become active on campus and even hold down a part-time job. At Oxford, when it’s term time, that’s it.”

White took six philosophy tutorials in subjects like the history of philosophy, knowledge and reality and Kant’s metaphysics. In between reading and writing, he did manage to spend a term practicing with the University’s novice rowing team. He also joined the university’s Model United Nations club, which had been one of his favorite activities at Richmond.

“Traveling to London and Geneva to compete with Model United Nations was another nice way to cement this concept of multiple world views that I was getting in my philosophy classes. For instance, when students compete in the United States, the very first ideological hurdle that comes up when you’re trying to pass a resolution is that people claim the resolution impinges on their country’s national sovereignty. That’s the American frame of mind coming through. In Europe, national sovereignty never even enters the discussion.”

Back at Richmond, White doesn’t have many philosophy classes left to take. Instead, he’s concentrating on finishing his second major in political science. These days, he’s interested in rediscovering the liberal arts experience.

“I realized I did miss some of my political science study. Studying one subject for a year was kind of intense, so I’m happy to be able to try a few different things this year for variety’s sake,” White said. “At the moment, I’m thinking I’d like to go do public policy work, but I’m a big picture type of guy. Philosophy fits me pretty well, so you never can tell.”