Students Abroad Explore London’s Culture, History

Katherine Hamilton, Staff Writer

A group of 25 students arrived in London for the Danenberg Oberlin-In-London program on Feb. 1, where they are exploring English, politics, art, culture and the history of London by experiencing this vibrant, cosmopolitan city for themselves.

“We had about four days of orientation, in which we plied them with pastries and caffeine in order to keep them awake enough despite their jetlag to absorb some information necessary to function well in London,” said Professor of English and Creative Writing David Walker, OC ’72. “They were also negotiating complex transitions like meeting new flatmates, and figuring out British currency and plumbing and mastering the intricacies of the ticketing system for the London Underground, all of which can be more stressful than you’d think. Fortunately, everybody seems to have remained remarkably cheerful and engaged through the whole process.”

This year’s program is taught by Walker and Professor of Politics and East Asian Studies Marc Blecher. Students were able to choose from an English track, which includes the courses “The London Stage” and “Modernism in England,” or a politics track with the course “Class, Gender, Race and Politics in England” and a research workshop on British politics and class. All students take the “History of London” course, which is taught by Oberlin’s Faculty-in-Residence Katy Layton-Jones, who gives students the insider’s perspective on London.

The classes offer a more hands-on, experiential approach than students could find on a college campus. “We’re seeing at least 27 plays for the London Stage course, with probably a few more to be added,” said Walker. “They range … from elaborate productions in famous West End theaters to small-scale, low-budget shows in improvised spaces, from plays written in the 16th century to brand-new work. Part of the point is to think about what theater is and how it works under various conditions and in different sorts of spaces.” So far, students have seen several plays, including Michael Frayn’s Noises Off and Conor McPherson’s Port Authority.

The program’s focus shifts every year. In Spring 2013, Associate Professor and Chair of Sociology Veljko Vujacic and Professor of Politics Harlan Wilson will team-teach a course for all students on the birth of modern politics in 19th century Britain. Students will then have the option of choosing between courses in sociology, politics, the history of London and the London stage.

For students looking for study-abroad opportunities, there’s no need to perform an exhaustive search. Participation in an Oberlin-sponsored program is actually one of the simplest, most convenient and most intellectually stimulating options, according to Professor of English and Chair of the Oberlin-in-London Committee Nick Jones, who presented to a large group of students at an informational meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21. Because the program is run by Oberlin itself, students do not need to apply for an Academic Leave of Absence, or go through the work of obtaining transfer credits from another institution; instead, they directly register for the classes they will take in London.

In addition, the program offers a smoother social transition than programs offered outside of Oberlin.

“One of the advantages of the program is that you come into London with a group of Oberlin students, and leave London with that same group of students,” said Jones. “When you arrive back on campus, you still have that very special group.”