How the global pandemic changed an Honors student’s spring 2020 semester abroad

September 17, 2020

Honors student Braedon Sims ’21

Braedon Lee Sims started the spring 2020 semester with his first flight overseas to England to participate in the Oxford Exchange Program at St. Catherine’s College at the University of Oxford.

The Oxford program prioritized self-discipline and self-guided learning. Students were provided with a reading list and essay topic each week and were expected to meet with an assigned tutor to ensure that they were making appropriate progress on their work. “The workload was pretty strong,” Sims reflected.

Within the program, he was a member of a cohort of about 30 to 40 students from all over the world. “It seemed like [the students] were from anywhere you could possibly think of,” he said. “Being around so many different individuals from so many different places was probably the best part of the experience.”

In between his school work, Sims made time to explore the city of Oxford (including attending an Oxford United soccer game) and took weekend trips to London and the famed city of Bath.

As he entered the fifth week of his first eight-week term, the coronavirus started wreaking havoc across Europe, particularly in Italy.

Sims (second from left) with a group of friends in Oxford, England.

He recalls the uncertainty that he and his Oxford classmates felt over the next few weeks. “We didn’t really know what to do,” he said. “I was concerned about going back to Texas because [at the time] it seemed to be worse there than in Oxford. It seemed like I may as well just ‘hunker down’ at Oxford.”

Eventually, all Oxford courses and programs went fully online and Sims returned to the U.S.

Luckily, the transition to virtual learning was a fairly seamless one due to the Oxford program structure. Sims was still able to get his readings done and meet with his tutor (albeit through a screen rather than in person). “Really, what’s crazy is, aside from not being at Oxford [for the second half of the semester], a lot of it was pretty much the same,” he considered. “It really wasn’t all that much different from what I experienced before.”

Sims ended up completing the program virtually but missed his diverse cohort.

“In my eight weeks [at Oxford], I met the people I was closest to throughout college,” he said.
Now back at TCU as a senior for a historic semester, he’s looking forward to taking his first steps towards graduation, and eventually, law school.

“Coming back from Oxford makes this semester feel a lot weirder, but I am excited to see what my courses offer!” he enthused.

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