For six weeks this summer, Katelyn Walls lived and studied in places she had only ever read about in books.
“Everything we learn in the classroom – we have an idea of what that looks like in our heads, but to go to Oxford and see those things gave it life,” said Walls, senior English and Christian thought and tradition major. “It just made me want to learn more, and it reminded me how little I know.”
Walls studied at Oxford University’s Magdalen College, where C.S. Lewis taught and converted to Christianity. Through her Inklings of Oxford class, she learned about Lewis and his friends like J.R.R. Tolkein, who would get together and discuss their religious beliefs and books they were writing.
About 40 students from across the country traveled to England through Butler University’s external studies program this summer. Walls said she always knew she wanted to study at Oxford because of its academic prestige.
“I love school, and I love learning, so why not go to the place where a lot of education originated?” Walls said.
A Jackson native, Walls said she got homesick last summer when working at WinShape summer camp in Georgia and was worried that might happen again. But she was surprised at how familiar England seemed. Although she didn’t know anyone, the rich history there was comforting, she said.
“It seems so familiar to me because a lot of the books I read as a kid were set in Oxford or were influenced by Oxford,” she said, noting The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings.
After her morning classes, Walls said she would visit museums or see Shakespeare plays. While everyone at Oxford was busy, things didn’t feel rushed, she said.
Classes that met in the afternoon would break for high tea. She said there was no such thing as tea to-go because taking a refreshing break during the day was a priority.
During weekly excursions, Walls visited the Royal Shakespeare Company, Bath, the Cotswolds and more. One weekend, she even ventured to Paris to visit Notre Dame.
Besides visiting sites she had read about in Jane Austen novels or perusing through letters from Albert Einstein in the Bodleian Library, Walls studied the history of Christianity and the church during her time in England. She visited churches that were still rooted in deep tradition, she said.
“One of the most beautiful things I heard while I was there was ‘welcome to church,’” she said. “That phrase struck me one day as I walked into church, and it was just an amazing reminder that God’s church is global.”
Walls said before her departure, people told her the church was dead in England and cathedrals were just for tourists. But when she got there, she said she was reminded that even though she was far from home, she had a family in the church.
Learning about herself, the world and God was an experience unlike any other, Walls said. She recommends students take advantage of study abroad programs during college.
“If people have the opportunity to study abroad, they should take it,” Walls said. “It’s expensive, but it’s most definitely worth it. I’m just so glad that I chose to go because it’s an experience I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”