The first and most immediately striking thing about Oxford is its appearance. Buildings from the 14th century abound, grand cathedral-like halls of learning are common, renaissance statues preside over the quads, and quaint, idyllic, and tranquil gardens offer a sense of seclusion and intimacy. These characteristics, as Mr. Makey explained, are indicative of Oxford's approach to learning. Focused strongly on independent study, the tranquil and unmistakably collegiate ambiance allows one easily to fall into a studious mindset. Why, it is quite appealing to imagine oneself lounging on a bench in a quiet garden leafing through a book on a subject which you are fascinated with.
The architecture (with some truly unfortunate 1970's exceptions) is remarkable, and it is clear where so many American universities got their inspiration for the collegiate gothic revival style. This devotion to creating a beautiful and tranquil space for learning is something which I observe Cal Poly to lack in the extreme. For all our clout as a renowned architecture school, the best of our buildings are reminiscent of the regrettable worst of Oxford's. In this respect I did envy those students fortunate enough to attend and of Oxford's esteemed colleges.
In its education philosophy Oxford once again differs greatly from my Cal Poly. While a lecture room filled with 200 students, none of whom major in the subject at hand, is the norm at Cal Poly SLO, the average Oxford student engages in 2 to 4 person tutorials, intimately with a professor or advisor. Additionally, these tutorials would only deal with subject matter directly relevant to the student's degree. This strikes me as very odd. The moral relativist in me, as an anthropologist, must accept this for what it is in its cultural context, but admittedly, it seems to me that this closes the student to a number of doors and intellectual opportunities that might have had the chance to better them in some way or truly expand their mind. I know that I was very much enriched by an introductory astronomy course I took last quarter, and to think that I would never be exposed to such material (irrelevant to my degree as it may outwardly appear) saddens me immensely.
There are, of course, benefits I am certain to small tutorial groups, but my reservations remain all the same.
The last thing I noticed was quite different was the general attitude of the place. While I am used to a somewhat loud, hustling and bustling campus, Oxford was very peaceful and quite. It had a stronger feeling of respectful solemnity, and I am tempted to say that its ancient age weighed heavily on its ambiance. Cal Poly, on the other hand, being scarcely one hundred years old, is quite vibrant and new, with very little quiet and solemn areas on campus (not accounting for the many quiet and meditative places that cover the rugged hills surrounding the university).
Quite expectedly, my home university and this foreign and ancient one had marked differences, but ultimately it is inspiring for me to see how the proud and noble tradition of enlightening young minds and training them in the most important knowledge and wisdom humanity has to offer continues from its origins on this European island all the way to a polytechnic university an ocean and a continent away.