Oxford: no formal classes

By Hannah Rosenberg and Catherine Wang

Walking down the cobblestone streets in Oxford with a suitcase the size of a refrigerator, incoming freshman Cody Cohen ’05 arrived at Merton College for the first day of university. Walking up to check-in, Cohen was advised to use his real name, David, instead of his current nickname, Cody, short for his middle name, Dakota.

After helping him register, the student council representative, named James, asked Cohen, “Why don’t you just change your name and go by David? I used to go by Jimmy and once I got here, I changed to James.”

Cohen, who said he had “terrible grades but good test scores” in high school, was inspired to apply to Oxford by fellow Chronicle staff member Penn Lawrence ’04, who told him that he wouldn’t get into American universities because of his grades, but that his test scores could get him into Oxford.

Cohen randomly picked Merton College, one of 30 colleges at Oxford, which he now calls “a bad choice” since it was “one of the most academic, a lot of work but a really tight-knit community.”

His favorite thing about going to school in Oxford, where he graduated last June, was that he didn’t have to attend class. Although the university did provide lectures, attending was not mandatory, he said.

Instead, he and up to four other students met with a tutor for an hour once a week to be assigned an essay question and a list of 10 to 20 books that could be read to help with the essay. He would have a week to produce a 2,000 word essay and meet with the tutor to “hear what was wrong with it” and get another assignment. This method of learning allowed Cohen to work during the day and hang out with friends at night.

“It’s pretty pretentious,” Cohen said of the lifestyle in England. “Everyone there is very studious.”

Now at the Annenberg Graduate School of Journalism at the University of Southern California pursuing a master’s degree in journalism, Cohen is the opinion editor for the online newspaper, Neon Tommy, which will be officially published within the next week.

Cohen is also studying Chinese with the idea of working as a journalist in China.

“What occurred to me is I really don’t like sitting down, I need a job where I will be on my feet,” he said.

He recommends going to college abroad instead of taking a year abroad.

“If you want to experience culture in a certain country, taking a year abroad just shows what it is like to live in a country if only American people lived there,” he said. “Moving there is the best way to experience the culture of a country.”