Here’s to VPO 2017

How does one measure one of the most influential experiences of their college career? It could be measured in hours spent in the library, lecture, or in the pub. It could be counted by the massive amounts of coffee and tea consumed. It could be assessed by the success of the day trips to Bath, Swansea, Wincester, and other places on the Great Western Railway. Each of those measurements were important parts of my experience, yet my time cannot be calculated in hours, pints, or miles traveled. It can only be understood through stories which incorporate all of these elements.

After a long day working in the library and overall frustration, we knew one of our friends could use a cup of ice cream. We did not care that it was raining outside because we knew it would make them feel better. And as I walked back from the local ice cream shop, I realized just how beautiful Oxford was. How beautiful it was because it was filled with people who cared for one another. I felt completely content in that moment as I was getting drenched. The relationships one forms in this program expands beyond the walls of the lecture room. I spent almost every waking hour with a group of people who previously I had never really known. I learned to respect my colleagues as academics and as people. They were the shoulders I would lean upon or the backboards I would bounce ideas off of for my papers. They listened and debated with me over topics such as the influence on religion in Elizabethan England, the meaning of Marvell’s poems, or we would talk about current events, John Mayer, and Quiz Bowl. These are the people I would brainstorm with over ideas about Jacobean foreign policy and over where we wanted to travel that weekend. I want to leave the blog with this last thought. The Virginia Program at Oxford not only is a challenging academic program. It is a well rounded experience which gives its participants to opportunity to travel, forge relationships, and learn about themselves. It was a life changing opportunity which I was fortunate to be part of this summer.

La cité des lumières brillantes

Sam Farley, the contributing writer for this post, is a foreign affairs and history double major with a minor in law and public policy. He is a rising senior at Hampden-Sydney College with hopes of pursuing law school upon graduation. His interest in foreign affairs sparked the idea for this post.

I am not typically one who settles for being of lower importance than a fellow countryman, but President Trump’s Bastille Day trip ensured that I would not be the most renowned American in Paris during the long weekend. In fact, it was Trump’s visit that set the tone for what would be some of the most memorable days of my life. En route to Paris, I read a newspaper article on how President Macron of France had been lavishing Trump in all the luxuries that could be extracted from the French capital after inviting him to Paris for the national holiday. The article suggested that France, with England and Germany’s ambiguity on European integration, was now situated to become America’s liaison to the European Union. Therefore, the invitation was bound to serve political purposes, especially given Macron and Trump’s conspicuous disagreements. The theme that Macron and the French people conveyed, to both Trump and myself, was that France is willing to fully embrace her diversity and revel in her identity as a society of mixed cultures and backgrounds.

The first thing for me to do on Bastille Day was to go to the world-famous fireworks from the Eiffel Tower. Half a million Parisians, and surely more tourists such as myself, crowded onto the Champs de Mars to watch the glistening spectacle. It was a good thing we arrived about 6 hours before the actual event took place to find the best possible seats. To attempt to describe the event to someone not in attendance would be futile. My inadequate eloquence could never do justice to the harmony of iron, fire, and lighting that combined to be more graceful than any sight that has met my eyes in Europe. The song selections that the sparks and explosions pirouetted and danced to were clearly carefully chosen to portray certain messages to the spectators, not least of which was the POTUS. One of the longest and most extravagant pieces – the entire show is broken into approximately twenty pieces, each with its own theme and song choice – was to the song Nation by Tibz. While the majority of the song is in French, and my familiarity with the language is minimal, there is an English chorus that emphasizes that importance of a nation that accepts its singularity, despite its citizens having different origins. Inserting the song into Google Translate confirmed my suspicion that this theme was reverberated throughout the entire song.

It was also fitting that fresh of the heels of Pride Month there would be a segment that incorporated LGBTQ iconography. It seemed that while the French celebrated their identity as a nation, they were also celebrating their individuality and diversity. The Parisians were celebrating being Parisian. The French were celebrating being French. Nobody seemed to be celebrating excluding people from French nationality. This unison was paralleled when the entire crowd broke out singing La Marseillaise, the French national anthem. Macron did not invite Trump to simply admire the splendor that Paris was capable of producing, but the purpose of the invitation was surely more focused on how it was capable of producing such magnificence. This message could not have been more timely than on the day that celebrates the unity of the French people and their ability to pursue their interests as a nation.

*The city of brilliant lights

Bod Squad

The title of this post is not only the title of the GroupMe Message for all the VPO students, it also represents our love and constant attendance in the Bodleian Library. The Bodleian, or the Bod as we fondly refer to it, is a world renowned library which we all have the privilege utilizing as VPO students. It was built in 1602 and was the first library to request a copy of every book published in England which still occurs today and adds up to around 1,000 books a day. Even though the library may seem bogged down, it continues to uphold the prestige it has maintained for centuries. The library as a whole is extremely serious about preserving its many books. Therefore, as a new reader of the library, one must recite the following oath:

“I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, or to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document, or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library or kindle therein any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.”

I was most definitely intimidated by the oath and ceremony preceding it on our first official day of the program. But it put in perspective how much the staff cares for the library and also makes me want to protect it even more. The absolute beauty of the library is not only recognized by readers and tourists, but Hollywood has also taken note. The most famous movie set in the Duke Humphrey’s Library of the Bodleian was the Harry Potter franchise which used this space as the Hogwarts library. Another marvelous place to study is the Radcliffe Camera. It is the most quiet portion, and only readers have access to it. It can be quite intimidating to sit in there because one sneeze or pen drop rings through the entire space. Yet even though it can be embarrassing if you drop your book too loudly, I am constantly inspired to work diligently in a space so vast and inspiring.

Now even though we frequent the Bod almost every day, the St. Anne’s Libraries are still quite extensive. The new library which was recently finished in January 2017 has many private study spaces, computers, printing access, and a rooftop garden. This is where we have our daily lectures on the top floor followed by coffee with the lecturers on the rooftop garden. The old library is where most of the historical and English books can be found and contains magnificent wood paneling in the reading rooms. Also, since St. Anne’s started its life as a women’s college, the library contains more content than most Oxford college libraries because women were not allowed access to the Bodleian for quite the beginning of the college’s life. I think that this is a huge advantage of having the program here because we are not forced to walk to the Bodleian unless of course we chose to go. Also, the librarians

I am quite a nerd when it comes to libraries, and I find myself to be quite at home in them. I adore the smell of old books, the peace and quiet, and being surrounded by fact and fiction alike. I try and soak up any opportunity to simply sit or study in the Bod or St. Anne’s libraries because the opportunity is always there. When the opportunity to be present in one of the most famous libraries in the world presents itself, why not seize it?

~Behind the scenes in the Radcliffe Camera~

Twelfth Night to Remember


On our first full weekend of the program, we went on a day trip to Hampton Court Palace and then into London to see a performance at the Globe. Both localities are representative and important when studying Tudor England. Hampton Court was built by Cardinal Wolsey who then handed it over to Henry VIII. The gardens were absolutely magnificent, and I have included some pictures below. The highlight of our day out was definitely the performance of Twelfth Night in the Globe. I have asked two of my colleagues to write reviews of their experience.

Emma Thom is a rising senior at Sweet Briar College, majoring in English Creative Writing. She is an active member of the Sweet Briar Theatre Department, starring in both “The God of Carnage” and “Shrek.” In high school she was in several shows including A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Emma also spent her first year of college studying at the American University in Paris.

Twelfth Night: A Visual Spectacle

By, Emma Thom

Being a thespian myself and an avid Shakespeare reader, I was looking forward to the performance of Twelfth Night at none other than the Globe Theatre. Famous for classic, traditional portrayals of Shakespearean, the Globe is a world renowned playhouse with shows selling out months before their opening. I had expected Elizabethan garb, stockings, a few funny hats, and maybe a tambourine or a Renaissance guitar or two. Aside from my visual expectations, I had planned to listen — to the language, the craft in Shakespeare’s hand, and the comedy inherent in his writing. What I got was something else entirely.

I was somewhat familiar with the premise of the play before it began; I had heard word of cross-dressing and questions of gender and disguise, but also of humor and fruitless love. As Feste, written as the clown or fool in the original text, made his/her debut onto the stage, eyes widened at the sight of an extravagant gold lamé dress, five inch platform heels, and an afro-style wig with gold hoops attached at the ears. I say his/her but there is no question of the 250 pound black man’s gender. The juxtaposition of his curly chest hair and bushy beard against the sequined dress made for an image that is difficult to forget. His billowy baritone voice was enough to command attention but his wardrobe made him impossible to avoid. In fact, the talent of all of these actors, be it dancing, singing or acting, is undisputable. The phrase “there are no small parts, only small actors,” rings true in the case of this show; it was a cast of triple threats.

What followed in the almost two and a half hour rendition can best be described as a 70’s revival of Shakespeare’s 16th century play. Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” was sung with soul and sheer joy at the opening and closing as the actors waved white flags in one of many dance numbers. Some took issue with what you could call the gender agenda, or the issue of sexuality. I think it’s a fair point to say lines were crossed, some leaning towards crude humor and distaste. But in defense of director Emma Rice, Shakespeare toyed with gender identity centuries ago with viable rumors claiming he himself experimented sexually. She essentially amplified ideas already present in the text with Malvolio’s role played by a woman, Feste in the role of a drag queen, and Sir Andrew who spoke with a lisp, dressed in various shades of pink, and took pride in his prissy demeanor. The Duke, on the other side of the spectrum, was just shy of irritating with a personality so pompous I found myself rolling my eyes with nearly every line. The opening scene, which was either removed or moved elsewhere on Saturday, details the Duke as a much more sensitive and poignant character while Rice chose to portray him as disingenuous and daft. As a result, any sadness becomes comical and difficult to take seriously.

Visually, Rice’s interpretation was flashy. 16th century audiences came for the auditory experience; they came to close their eyes and relish the genius in the language. On Saturday night, I was sure if I had shut my eyes even for a moment, forgetting the strobe lights and disco balls, I would’ve opened them feeling lost in a sea of sequins and interpretive dance. Rice shattered ceilings, broke boundaries and lead audiences members far outside their comfort zones. I found myself unable to look away from the glare of Feste’s dress as he took his final bow, applause roaring from the audience. I may have left with more questions than answers but if Rice’s aim was to entertain, she succeeded with flying rainbow colors. If her aim was to portray a traditional Shakespearean play, her efforts fell short. If nothing else, this was a Twelfth Night to remember.

Dalton Hall is a rising junior at Hampden Sydney College, majoring in English and minoring in classical studies. He is a Shakespeare aficionado having previously seen “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth,” and “Arden of Faversham.” Dalton was also in “The Tempest” as Prospero, and if he could go anywhere in the world it would be Vienna for the music.

Midsummer Madness: Emma Rice’s Twelfth Night at Shakespeare’s Globe

By, Dalton P. Hall, Judgmental Hampden-Sydney Student and Self-Important, Self-Appointed Arts Critic

Opening to mixed reviews, Globe Artistic Director Emma Rice’s new production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was exactly as the title of this review suggests—a madcap mélange of gender-bending servants, tightly-choreographed song-and-dance numbers, and basso profondo drag queens.  After a varied career at the Globe and with many cheering her exit, Rice’s production of Twelfth Night, her last main-stage production, seems very much to be a final, cavalier goodbye to the theatre that has been at such odds with her.  Her anachronistic choice of setting, use of amplified music, and characteristically daring light design, all of which have been hallmarks of her style at the Globe and, many would say, the reason for her ouster as “unworthy” of the Globe’s dignity and traditions.  

Personal politics aside, Rice’s production of Twelfth Night was, to this reviewer, a mixed bag, alternating delights with outrages and innovative staging choices with tiresome low comedy.  The play begins with a scene on the doomed S.S. Unity and an opening rendition of the gay anthem “We Are Family” by the ensemble (lead by the incomparable Le Gateau Chocolat as Feste, whose role was expanded to include duties as master of ceremonies and “narrator”).  Notably, this number is only made possible by the redaction of the play’s original first scene as it appears in Shakespeare’s text, a key scene in establishing the character and motivations of the play’s leading man, Duke Orsino.  Following the shipwreck scene and the apparent death of her brother Sebastian, Anita-Joy Uwajeh’s Viola assumes the guise of the eunuch Cesario and serves the love-struck Duke as an emissary between the Duke himself and the unattainable Lady Olivia.  As the play’s action unfolded and Rice’s number of artistic licenses began to mount, alternating a clever use of the stage space with bawdy physical comedy that cheapened the play’s more dramatic elements, it became harder and harder to ignore the play for what it was: an irreverent, well-intentioned farewell that often fell flat.  

All told, Emma Rice’s new production of Twelfth Night was alternatively a faithful and heretical interpretation of Shakespeare’s comic masterpiece.  Starring turns from Anita-Joy Uwajeh as Viola and Le Gateau Chocolat as Feste, as well as Katy Owen as a brilliantly-acted, gender-bent Malvolio and Carly Bawden as Maria, make the production worth seeing; Rice’s addition of musical numbers, several of which are incredibly well-sung by the cast, and clever appeals to the play’s central theme of the subversion of identity through the gender-bending and sexual ambiguity of many of her characters, make the play well worth seeing.  Alternatively, Rice’s redaction of key lines and scenes, lack of attention to traditional methods of stagecraft and presentation, as well as her re-christening of the play as a musical, will leave ardent Shakespeare fans palpitating in their seats.  I myself was largely pleased with the play as a piece of theatrical folly if not as a piece of thought-provoking drama, and it was as funny, entertaining, and subversive as any introduction to the Globe could have been.   

Students at the Globe before the performance of Twelfth Night

Sweet Briar, VMI, and W&L students at Hampton Court Palace

Sojourner’s Survey

My journey in country has begun. I landed on Thursday June 22nd, and have been adjusting and preparing since I set foot in the UK. Even though I have been here for four days, the program officially started today, Monday June 27th. Before setting foot in St. Anne’s, I observed and learned many useful lessons, and I would like to share them with you.

First of all, come early! I am so glad I arrived a few days early. I did not feel rushed to find my AirBnB. Sue, my AirBnb host, could not have been more welcoming. She really made Emma and I feel welcomed and at home. Her puppy, Muffy, was absolutely adorable and showered us with morning kisses and excitement. On our first day, Emma and I stayed awake until nightfall in order to completely adjust. We did everything in our power not to fall asleep, and we were adjusted to the 5 hour time difference in one day. Also, we had time to explore Oxford, Bath and Windsor, and feel confident about where we were going before our counterparts even arrived.

Explore. We did not sit idly in our AirBnB. Instead, we chose to dedicate a day to explore Oxford. Emma and I may have gone a little overboard by going to four museums, but it kept us moving and allowed us to get acquainted with our new home. My personal favorite museums were the Ashmolean and the Natural History Museum. The Ashmolean had some beautiful Islamic tiles on display that took my breath away, and the architecture of the Natural History Museum is worth the visit alone. The next day we explored Bath, and sat in the splendor of the Royal Crescent. Then the last day before we started the program, we visited Windsor and took a river cruise down the Thames which is a definite must see. By exploring so heavily the first few days, I curbed any jet lag and learned how to adapt to the weather conditions in the UK.

The last lesson I learned was the weather can be quite variable, so always be prepared. On our first day exploring Oxford that the weather is subject to change by the moment. Emma and I both wore dresses on the first day, and oh boy, it was windy. Think Marilyn Monroe in the “Seven Year Itch.” Dresses are not the preferred attire for exploring. Also, the wind is chilly so bring a light jacket or cardigan. A few days later when we moved into our dorms it was bright and sunny, and we were sweating in our long sleeves. Walking shoes are also an absolute must. On our first day we walked around 8 miles and have averaged around 6 miles everyday since. I would advise comfortable stylish shoes because nothing looks more American than white New Balances. Best piece of advice? Bring layers and good shoes.
Overall, Oxford has already started to teach me valuable lessons even before we started lectures. I will be writing at the end of this week about my experiences in my first lectures, and how I survived my first tutorial experience.

Muffy joined us for breakfast

Sitting on the lawn of the Royal Crescent

Side street in Windsor, featuring Tudor architecture

On the bridge over the Thames between Windsor and Eton

Advice from Alums

Since we are only two weeks away from the start of the Virginia Program at Oxford, I asked a couple of VPO alums to share some wisdom and helpful tips to this year’s participants.

Kim Uglum, who attended VPO in Summer 2015, and Olivia Myers who went in Summer 2016 both responded to my inquiry for advice. Kim was an anthropology and history double major who graduated this past May at Sweet Briar. Olivia was a psychology and history double major who also graduated this past May from SBC. When I was applying to the program and becoming concerned with funding my trip to Oxford, Olivia encouraged me to keep pursuing the program and find some way to attend. Looking back on her trip, she told me that if she had to do it all over again, the experience would have been worth taking out a student loan. Her sincere enthusiasm about the program really gave me insight into how special she believed it was, and it motivated me to go. I am excited to share Kim and Olivia’s advice in hopes that we can learn from their experiences.


VPO Class of 2016

Six Weeks – Six Pieces of Advice from Alums

1.) Explore

“Don’t be afraid to travel alone, it tests your character, and how good you are at running with luggage.”


“Also, don’t be afraid to go off and explore on your own. If you’re directionally challenged like me, definitely make sure your phone is charged and that you have a map if you can’t use data or wifi is unavailable.”


2.) Challenge yourself

“Push yourself outside your comfort zone (but also know your limitations and don’t be reckless).” -Olivia

3.) Utilize your resources

“Take advantage of the Bodleian libraries. There’s so much knowledge in one place, don’t let it go to waste.” -Kim

4.) Get a phone plan

“Also, a phone plan for 6 weeks is totally worth it. I did not have international calling, texting, or data, and there were a couple situations where I was relying on the kindness of strangers to find where I needed to be or contact the people I needed to get in touch with. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, and I wouldn’t change anything about it because it gave me more confidence in being able to handle myself in that situation, but it’s not something I would choose to repeat.”


5.) Bring a water bottle, walking shoes, and versatile wardrobe

“Definitely bring a refillable water bottle and comfortable walking shoes. You are going to have so much time to explore Oxford after lectures, and other parts of Europe on the weekends if you choose to travel, so definitely have a water bottle you can refill. As for the walking shoes, make sure they’re comfortable before you walk around all of Oxford in them. I learned the hard way and ended up with a swollen ankle for about a week after wearing shoes I had assumed would be comfortable and ended up killing my feet. Definitely always have a cardigan and umbrella, but also be prepared for some potentially really hot days.”


6.) Have fun

“Most of all, have fun and don’t hold back, unless it puts you in jail or the hospital.” -Kim

Next time I write I will be living the dream in Oxford.



Olivia Myer’s pictures from Summer 2016

Sweet Briar VPO Students

“Well be with you, gentlemen and ladies!”

Welcome to the Virginia Program at Oxford (VPO) blog! I am Emily Dodson, a rising senior at Sweet Briar College. I am majoring in business and minoring in environmental studies which probably makes you wonder, “Why is she studying English Renaissance history and literature at Oxford?” The reasons I chose this program are actually quite simple. I wanted a program in the summer that would seamlessly transfer credits back to Sweet Briar. Check and check, Oxford was my best bet. Also, the beauty of attending a liberal arts college is that it has allowed me to grow an appreciation and love of subjects outside my major. I have always enjoyed analyzing literature and history, and Oxford is a great opportunity to do so. I have traveled some before this trip which meant I did not have to worry about getting a passport. In my travels the summer before college, I visited Scotland and England. I spent a few days in St. Andrew’s, the Lake District, a day in Bath, a day in Oxford, and the last leg in London. During this trip, I caught the travel bug. I promised myself that I would find a way to study abroad in college. And I have found a way to go without sacrificing a semester or year at my dream school. Win-win situation, am I right? I am both excited and nervous for the program, and I want to share my enthusiasm and anxiety with you in this first post.


This is me looking towards my Oxford summer adventure.

Now, the purpose of this blog is to showcase the life of a student taking part in the Virginia Program at Oxford. I not only want to showcase the program, but I also want to share my personal experiences and thoughts. Of course in anticipation of the start of this program I have conflicting feelings of both excitement and a little bit of terror. I cannot wait for the opportunity to learn and study in one of the premiere colleges and universities in the world. Yes, the world. I will have opportunities to learn and question lecturers and tutors who are at the tops of their field. We also will have access to the Bodleian library which has miles of books, and I will be able to use those resources when writing my papers. It is a “once in a lifetime experience” which every single adult reminds me when I discuss the details of the program. I would completely agree with them because it is the last opportunity for me to be immersed in another culture while studying in college. That in itself is exciting and terrifying. Also, the traveling opportunities are endless. I will be in such close proximity to mainland Europe, and during the long weekend in the middle of the program, I plan to travel to Paris for four days. There are so many aspects of the program I cannot wait to take part in, but I am still nervous about some things as well. First of all, I have never traveled by myself which causes me a little bit of anxiety. I know I can overcome this by acting confident when I am walking in airports and just simply pretend I know what I am doing, yet it is still pretty intimidating. Also, I am a business major, and I will most definitely have to work a little bit harder than some of the history and English majors since I do not regularly stretch my literary and history muscles. I do have a pure love for history and literature, but that will only get me so far when I have to defend my position.  Another aspect I am nervous about is the fact that I have not been in a co-educational academic setting in three years. This is definitely a unique challenge for a few of the schools in the program. I think being in a co-ed program will serve me well as a great last summer before graduation opportunity. In my tutorial group, I will be the only woman paired with a Hampden-Sydney student, another single sex school, and Washington and Lee. I think the confidence and love for learning that I have acquired while at Sweet Briar will bode me well. I will have to work with men for the rest of my life, and I look forward to adjusting to that atmosphere while in Oxford. VPO is going to be difficult, but I cannot wait to meet the challenges head on. Here’s to the adventures!




I took these images the first time I visited Oxford in 2014.

*”Well be with you, gentlemen” (Ham II. ii. 379)