Who better to talk about the Reading program than those who've experienced it? Here are some comments from our alums.
Because Simmons College did not have its own program, I was put in a position of having to find a program that would meet my needs. I spent considerable time and effort researching the best programs available in and around London. After my research, I concluded that the best program available was the one offered by the College. I wanted a full rich experience not just a means to locate a spot for me at a university. The Reading Program offered a complete experience. My impression of other programs was that they were generic. Except for location, nothing really differentiated the programs. Upon my return and comparing experiences with other students in different programs, I was still convinced I made the best decision. There are many other programs available but none that offer the unique structure, curriculum and talented supportive staff as I found in Reading.
The program offers much more than any other program I know of. It allows a full year experience which is necessary to soak up the full essence of studying abroad. I had many friends who spent a semester in England who did not have nearly the appreciation for studying abroad that I did. As soon as their home-sickness wore off, it was time to return to the states. The seminar program educated me on English history and culture in ways that I would never have pursued on my own. As a biology major, I was never interested in history or literature; however the seminars enlightened me by bringing in true experts on each subject, and allowing me to follow up on what I learned by visiting historical sites, or an author’s home where they received their inspiration. Reading gave me an appreciation of these subjects that I should get with a liberal arts degree, but never received within the red brick wall. As a student in Reading I grew- both as a writer and a speaker. I learned how to stand up for myself when I was called a “stupid American” by a professor who had not yet met me, and I was able to prove that Americans are not stupid by earning an A in his class. I learned how to make my voice heard in a class of 200 while also feeling comfortable arguing points in a seminar of 10. I learned that there is more to life than academics, and that each day brings a new adventure worth appreciating. I learned so many life lessons of living with others, budgeting expenses, traveling, and gaining independence to feel confident in a foreign city, alone. I was able to gain this independence while knowing that I had the security of 30 women on “American Soil” on Whiteknights Road.
I had been searching for a yearlong study abroad program, but UNC, a premier educational institution, offered nothing of the sort. I had decided to settle on a semester program when I received the invitation from the College. I abandoned my plans at UNC, not knowing if I would be readmitted to the University if I went to Reading or if my credits would be accepted when I returned, and set out on an adventure to an unfamiliar place with unknown companions. I had never traveled outside of the United States, but by the end of my stay in Reading I had traveled to several destinations in Europe and had even set out on holiday by myself in Egypt. As my fellow alumnae have noted, participation in the Reading program offers more than the chance to travel, it allows its students to grow personally and academically.
I would like to share one of my experiences. While in the Reading program, I enrolled in two classes at Green College located at Oxford University. Once a week, I would travel with my R-MWC classmate to the office of Dr. Cook, our instructor, prepared to participate in an informed, rigorous discussion about theology. During those hours, I was challenged to think on my feet, to analyze facts and events, to question rules, to formulate my own opinions, and most importantly, to never stop this process. At the end of our last session, Dr. Cook reminded us that we had learned to think and process information in a new way during the course of our studies together and that we should make sure that we never slip back into our old, comfortable ways. We had been enlightened by the experience and it was our duty to continue to do what we had been taught. Dr. Cook also shared his recommendations for my personal improvement--I must never forget to see the forest in spite of the trees. Every skill that I learned in those classes at Oxford prepared me for the daily tasks of law school. And while on that day Dr. Cook may have resorted to cliché, I often find myself taking a moment to look at the big picture.
When I returned to UNC, my life had changed. I was able to meet the challenges of my senior year studies because nothing could ever amount to the rigors of my year in Reading. I was intrigued by the world and ready to conquer it. I returned to a group of friends who had aged, but I had grown.
As a prospective student, a great many things about the College appealed to me—the fierce academic environment, the unmistakable sense of community, that perhaps now passé notion of “education in the singular,” just to name a few from the top of my pros-and-cons list. But it was, hands down, the promise of an experience across the pond that most fueled my decision to choose the College as the landscape for my most formative years. And certainly, my freshman and sophomore years in Lynchburg were amazing; I wouldn’t trade them for the world. But my junior year—that’s when something miraculous happened. I went to Reading looking to discover the world, and what I actually found was everything I’d been waiting for Randolph College to be. I had never been so challenged academically, I had never felt so utterly independent in chartering my own educational course, and without a doubt, I had no idea what “community” was until I became a member of that thirty-three strong Reading group.
The year I spent in Reading was one of my most rewarding academic years. I was fortunate enough to take multiple courses with only one other student. The personal attention I received and the intensity of the preparation the professor required instilled me with a sense of confidence in my abilities that I continue to carry with me through law school. Similarly, Dr. Ivy's tutorial on Victorian literature provided me with the opportunity to speak freely in class. Learning to formulate and defend opinions in this nurturing environment has served me well when faced with law professors hurling questions at me.
In addition to the rigor of the academic offerings, I made some of my best friends during my year with the program. My friends and I stay in touch through on-line book clubs, annual reunions, and a nearly constant string of weddings of which we have all been a part. I feel strongly that the Reading Program fosters these special bonds between the girls who attend.
Allison Sterrett-Krause, R-MWC, Reading 2001-2002
I was extremely happy in the years I spent on campus, but I was thrilled to have the opportunity to go to Reading. My Reading year was, for me as for many others, a life-changing experience. It was a perfect complement to the three years I spent in Lynchburg, introducing me to the big-university experience. I was exposed to courses I never could have taken at the home campus. I established strong contacts with scholars at Reading, several of whom are very well respected in my field. It was at Reading that I realized that I was already becoming well-prepared for graduate school. A faculty member in the Department of Classics there even invited me to become his graduate student, and supplied me with a recommendation letter for my other applications. In addition to these tremendous academic benefits, I gained in other, less tangible--but no less important--ways. I made lifelong friends. I traveled for nearly 12 weeks (far more than my friends in other study-abroad programs). And I gained a invaluable perspective on America and the world, since I arrived in Reading a scant 3 weeks after 9/11.
The Reading Program is well-known and well-respected in the academic community. In fact, I was asked about my Reading experience in two graduate school interviews. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting a distinguished faculty member of the Department of Classics at Reading, who came to the University of Cincinnati for a guest lecture. Dr. Wallace-Hadrill had been on leave the year I was in residence at Reading, but when I mentioned my time there he responded enthusiastically. He had high praise for the program, both for the strong caliber of its students and for its unique character.
To quantify the Reading experience is difficult. I could go on for pages about the joys of living in England, about traveling abroad, about having an unforgettable experience in Reading, but those joys are not what make the Reading Program invaluable.
Rather, it is the academic aspect of the program which makes Reading unique. I was able to be mentored in bioethics by Dr. David Cook at Green College Oxford, to sit in Philosophy of Law classes and study the British understanding of Jurisprudence, to discuss the works of C.S. Lewis in his dining room at the Kilns, to attempt to describe the American South to a group of British students reading Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying.” These experiences would not have been possible without the Reading Program. A few years ago I returned to England to do graduate work for a summer with a large university. I saw the thin experience that the undergraduates I was with had and was thankful that I had had the rich experience at Reading.
The weekend I came to the College and heard about Reading I knew that I simply had to go. Knowing that I was applying to Reading I had worked on my writing with Dr. Mary Guthrow on a weekly basis. My hard work paid off. That glorious day in February when I received my acceptance I was ecstatic. In Reading, I continued to hone my writing skills under the careful tutelage of Dr. Randolph Ivy and other faculty. The skills I acquired and further developed in Reading were recognized when one of my papers written in Reading received the College's Sarah L. Davis Prize for a paper in American Literature or American Studies. To this day I am complimented by my professors in my Ph.D. program on the caliber of my academic writing.
After my graduation from R-MWC, I went on to complete an M.Div. program at the Graduate Theological Union, affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley. I also completed an M.A. and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology. I hold both of these achievements, as well as any professional achievements that I have enjoyed, as a direct result of my year in Reading. Prior to my time in England, I was a somewhat indifferent student who achieved good grades because they came easily, not because I was particularly interested or motivated to achieve academic excellence. My year in Reading, which challenged me to study because of my interest in the subject, and the challenge of defending my views each and every week in a public forum, rather than because I would be graded, allowed me to find my interest in learning and challenging myself for the first time. In addition, the rigor of my training in Reading allowed me to trust in my ability to be articulate, cogent, succinct, and parsimonious in my thinking and communication.
In addition, the year in Reading allowed me to broaden my view of the world, of other cultures and ways of living, that has extended far beyond the exposure I enjoyed that year. As a clinician, I am able to work with people of other cultures in a way I would never have been able to do, had I not had the Reading experience.
My very first memory of England was seeing a Coke machine at the airport and realizing I couldn't buy one because I didn't get coins when I exchanged my money- whoa, it is a foreign country... I remember the first weekend- about five of us decided to go to London for the day. We were extremely enthusiastic as we set off. Unfortunately, we couldn't figure out how to get to the train station. We ended up walking to the Ivys' house for help. Dr. Ivy laughed and drove us to the train station. We went to Picadilly Circus and the Victoria and Albert Museum that day- how cool is that? In a matter of days, we were doing things unimaginable a few weeks before. And it just got better- trying crew for the first time? Wales for the weekend? Riding mopeds in Greece over spring break? Count me in! Have you ever gone to every place listed in a guidebook on London? My friend Jen and I did- we have the highlighted entries in my 1990 London Access book to prove it.
As far as classes go, seminars were amazing- you could have a professor who was a bit dry, but the beauty of the seminar concept was that the next lecture might be on a fascinating subject you had never considered. At the University of Reading, I attended an English history class- it was incredibly hard because I didn't have the sort of ingrained sense of their own history that the English students had. For a little balance, I also took an American history class. Finally I had the advantage- the English students knew a lot about American history, but they didn't know some basic concepts. I admit I felt a little superior knowing how to properly abbreviate our states! You should try being the only American in the class when the Revolution is being discussed- there's a different perspective.
My favorite class was a small English literature class that Dr. Ivy taught. At the end of the class, Drs. Ivy and our class drove into London. We went to one of Dickens' homes, the Smithfield Meat Market, St. Bride's church, Fleet Street, etc. Dr. Ivy discussed all of these locations as they related to what we had read for the class. Okay, coolest field trip ever!!! Keep in mind this was over 15 years ago and I remember it like yesterday. Ironic, since I couldn't tell you what I had for lunch yesterday. That's how amazing it was. (Don't even get me started on my love for the Ivys!)
After Reading, I came back to the College a changed person. Trite, but true. The combination of being forced into being independent while living with a small group of Americans (whose parents kindly kept our pantry stocked with peanut butter and staples of American life) was incredible. The year before Reading I was still asking my mom to make my hair appointments. I went from being that pathetic to being able to do anything. (If you can do planes, trains, and automobiles (and ferries) across Europe, there are very few challenges that you can't take on). I think it is very telling that so many people who have written say most of their closest friends went to Reading. It's been roughly fifteen years since Reading, and one of the main disadvantages to living so far away from Virginia is that I will never, ever, ever find friends like my Reading group and I am too far away to see them as often as I would like.
I eventually went on to law school. The law school offered a summer class at Cambridge. I opted not to go. It turned out this was a good decision. All my returning friends could talk about was that England was hot, crowded, and I kid you not, that they couldn't get ice in their Cokes. You get the chance to live in England for the summer and all you care about is the temperature of your drinks? At first I decided my friends were morons, then I decided that maybe it was because they didn't have the same advantages. They were in England for too short of a time, had no real guidance, and the emphasis was just on taking a class to get a few credits and not immersing yourself in a different culture. I was still raving about how wonderful England was, and they came back hating the experience. I am convinced the combination of having the structure of the Reading program with the full year made the difference between coming home an Anglophile or a whiny, obnoxious American.
Though I have always known I have an appetite to continue schooling, it was during my junior year abroad that I began to know my ability. I felt much more involved in my education because it largely depended on my participation - not only did I need the ability to intelligently discuss that material, but in my cases, I also had to supply a portion of that material. Though it was a challenge, I really enjoyed it. For the first time, I felt that I was truly drawing my own conclusions and incorporating them into the information I gathered and was given. Rather than simply summarizing them into research and opinions, I was synthesizing others' with my own research and ideas. That method of well-guided independent study was the most beneficial approach to education I have experienced. It compliments my study and learning methods while also challenging them. During my year abroad, I had many distractions from my studies, but the glimpse I caught of my capacity to both enjoy and excel in my education encourage me that I could accomplish the difficult challenge of a Ph.D.