The Christopher Armitage Scholarship at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford: an Interview with Samantha Kichman, ‘17

Samantha Kichman is a junior who is double majoring in English and Peace, War, and Defense at UNC. This semester, she is studying abroad at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford University, through the prestigious Christopher Armitage Scholarship.

A few weeks into the program, we spoke with Samantha and asked her what it’s like to live at Teddy Hall.

How did you hear about the Christopher Armitage scholarship?

I have always known I wanted to go to Oxford in some capacity so from the minute I arrived at UNC my sophomore year I was looking into the study abroad options here. When I found the Teddy Hall study abroad, I was really just praying to actually get on that program and didn't think much about the scholarship options until discussing more with my study abroad advisor, Ashley Steed. 

After hearing about the scholarship from Ashley, particularly about Professor Armitage's ties with St. Edmund Hall, I decided to apply, although I wasn't hoping for much, obviously I just wanted to make it into Oxford. That being said, it seemed like a great opportunity and honor to get to come here with someone like Professor Armitage's blessing and with the gift of his amazing generosity. 

Could you describe your application process (what was required, which instructors you asked for recommendation, what was the hardest / easiest part of the process?)

For applying for the scholarship and program in general I had to write a few essays about why I wanted to study abroad and what getting on this program would mean to me. I also used 3 recommendations, 2 from Chapel Hill professors and 1 from my previous school. I felt these three people knew my ability and me best so that was a pretty easy choice.

The hardest part of applying was honestly the GPA requirement, which scared me a little, and the process of gathering my thoughts and composing another essay on why I wanted to go to a different school for a while (I had already done this twice at this point), but altogether the experience was rewarding in that I really focused on what drew me to Oxford and why I was so determined to get here.

Given that you had been planning to go to Oxford for quite some time, how does it feel now that you're there? Does it live up to your expectations? And what surprised you?

It is absolutely amazing and mind blowing! Oxford has lived up my expectations and surpassed them. It is one of the most beautiful, historical, and interesting places I've ever spent a significant amount of time actually living in. I still stop to pause and think, "Is this really happening?" whenever I walk around the town. 

I think what has surprised me most is how much I love the academic aspect. Hearing about tutorials and actually going to them is very different and I think Oxford's prestige combined with the completely new learning style the tutorials introduce can be extremely intimidating. In reality, I've found I really love it and have already gained a lot from it. I'm the type of person who loves office hours and connecting with my professors but connecting in the way you have to for tutorials is completely different and very fulfilling. 

About your time at Oxford, what does a typical day look like for you?

The thing about Oxford is that its very independently driven, especially for me because I'm studying Comp Lit and Film Studies which don't have a completely outlined department- it's within modern languages. This means that I have the complete freedom to choose which lectures I go to and how I spend my time, no required talks to attend. That being said, the workload is intense and I spend most of my days reading or writing for my tutorials. Each essay is around 2000-2500 words and you write 12 in an 8-week term, on top of that you have a lot of reading that goes into everything you write. It definitely takes organization and willingness to work alone, think for yourself, and push yourself really hard without strict guidelines. I also am rowing with the boat club here and I try to attend any guest talks that interest me while also maintaining friendships. It can be a lot, but even with the minor exhaustion and stress, it's very much worth it. 

And lastly, what advice would you offer a student interested in applying for the program?

First and foremost, I would say apply! It will be the best decision you ever make and worth the struggle to hit that UNC GPA requirement.

To attend Oxford you definitely need to know your learning style and if you think you'll benefit from lots of independent work and thinking. Your tutors really don't guide you and you have to seek out the things you're interested in as far as lectures and other events. In the past few weeks here I have gained more than I could imagine through what I've been learning, but there have been moments where I've completely struggled to get started on what I needed to do. Oxford is stressful, you have to make sacrifices to be successful here (I.e. sleep sometimes), but I'm confident what I have learned and will learn will stay with me and continue to benefit me forever.

Also, I would say make sure you're prepared to live abroad, in a different culture, with people very different from yourself. Even without a language barrier, English culture is different from the American one and while it's fun to explore that, it can be a bit of a culture shock. Overall, I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunity and what it's already given me that I would encourage anyone who's even a little interested to pursue it.

The Christopher Armitage Scholarship is a prestigious scholarship named after faculty member Christopher Armitage. It funds UNC juniors the opportunity to study for 8 weeks at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford University. This year’s deadline to apply is December 1st, 2016. Guidelines for applying can be found at the UNC Study Abroad, along with contact information and testimonials from previous scholarship awardees.