Returning to Oxford

3 minute read

Having studied for my MSc in Oxford over 20 years ago and worked in China for the past 18 years, I was so thrilled about going back to Oxford to experience the wonderful student life again when I was accepted on the Oxford Executive Diploma in Strategy and Innovation programme in November 2020. Never had I expected that Covid-19 was going to profoundly change the way we learn, think and connect with others and the world. To my biggest surprise, despite having not met any of our lecturers or classmates seven months into the course, I have enjoyed the programme immensely. I wanted to share the things that have made my experience so rewarding and memorable.

First and foremost are my wonderful classmates. We have a smaller cohort of 25 this year due to Covid-19, but we are still a very diverse group from many different countries, industries and walks of life. We bonded instantly from module one when we first met virtually online. Our WhatsApp group has remained very active throughout these seven months. It almost feels like a ‘family’, a virtual ‘home’ where you can gain warmth, support, care, strength and laughter at all times. Everyone is generously sharing and supporting each other, bringing different perspectives and knowledge to the table; we have learnt a lot from each other. 

We are also very fortunate to have two fantastic class representatives: Jose and Pavel, who have done so much for our cohort: attending to every classmate’s needs and supporting everyone; organising ‘TED talks’ every other weekend; coordinating with the School on our behalf. I can’t imagine how they managed to do all of this so proactively and professionally on top of their full-time jobs and study!

Second, I have found the Oxford Saïd learning experience so rewarding thanks to all the lecturers we have had so far. Each lecturer has his/her very distinct teaching style and character, but all professors have great knowledge and experience in their respective fields; they are all very engaging, stimulating, fun and kind. They are well connected to the ‘real world’ and shared with us the most up-to-date theories and practices. We have been taken on a fascinating learning and reflection journey by our professors. The diploma course is more rigorous than many of us have anticipated: tons of reading (all very interesting!), fast-paced lectures, many enrichment sessions and alumni events, and exams (we learnt that the way we handled exams hasn’t changed since we were in high school). But, at the end of the day, it is all worth the time and energy we invested in it! This world-class teaching and learning experience will enrich our lives and help us grow personally and professionally.

Last but not least is how I feel about digital learning. As someone who has worked in the education industry for 20 years, I firmly believed that in-person teaching was irreplaceable.  The pandemic has accelerated digital learning and digital life. I was surprised to find that our professors are extremely efficient and well-organised with online teaching. Our classmates are just as engaged as in person; online even has some benefits in terms of efficiency. Hence, the learning quality is not compromised. However, we are all terribly missing the campus life, longing to see each other in person, to enjoy a few drinks together, to walk in beautiful Oxford…The isolation caused by the pandemic is reminding us of that simple but profound insight that, by nature, we are social animals. Real-life interpersonal relations are the source of happiness and meaning.

With that, I am very much looking forward to attending our fourth and the last module at the end of September in person, finally meeting our wonderful professors, classmates and everyone at Saïd Business School who has been supporting us on this truly great journey.

Photo credit: istock