Season 2, Episode 5 - An International Student goes to Oxford University

Apr 30 / Charlie Baxter

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By Charlie Baxter

Season 2

What's this episode about?

In this episode, Charlie gets to hear what it's actually like going to Oxford University from an International Student's perspective. This fascinating talk with Vanessa from Speak English With Vanessa gives you everything from native expressions to secrets only an Oxford University Student would know. What more can you ask for!? 😜  
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Transcript of S2/E5 Pt. 1 - An International student's experience at Oxford University

Charlie:
Oh, well, hello. Fancy seeing you again, Charlie, here from the British English podcast, did you know that we are now getting into the tail end of season two as this is episode five of Season two. So the content in the academy really is getting rather monstrous. We've probably got over 2000 native intermediate to advanced expressions taught for academy members to learn in there. But I'll tell you more about the academy and the premium podcast later on in the show. Just know that this part of this episode is the tip of the iceberg in comparison to what I have for you to enjoy as a language learner on the British English podcast dot com. All right. Today's episode is with a delightful human being who is American. So a great chance for you to try and spot the differences between a British and American accent. And I met this woman, hmm, it's weird to say woman in English. Actually, it kind of suggests that she's a little older than she is. I mean, she's around my age and I'm 30, but it still feels a little bit odd to say woman. Hmm. I mean, I used to say girl referring to a young adult girl. Yeah. For the majority of my early 20s, I would say, girl, I met a girl last night or I met a girl in the day. I could have met her in the day. It doesn't have to be at night. Um, what else could we say? We could say, young lady, but that sounds like I'm older than her and it often implies that I'm about to tell her off. Young lady, don't do that. Don't go out and meet young men at the early hours of the morning, no young lady, so young woman we could say a young woman or woman

Charlie:
For a male, the word guy, that's pretty harmless. I met this guy the other day. Easy, easy. Not offending anybody. No assumption of age either. You could be, I dunno, 16 onwards. Hmm. Perhaps what I'm doing wrong is focussing on the gender too much. Yeah. And then the pronoun will give you the information you need. So let's see. I met this American English teacher when I began my online English teaching journey back in 2015, and we hadn't caught up in a few years. So it was marvellous to reconnect, to hear how she's doing with her online teaching business and to give you her opinion of what it was like to visit the UK and particularly to experience going to Oxford University. Oxford University, yes. So if you're interested in hearing about Oxford University as an international student, then this is your chance. Vanessa goes into detail about this. So enjoy. I had no idea how the colleges in Oxford are organised and how intimate students get with their professors. It's fascinating. So I give you a conversation with Vanessa from Speak English with Vanessa.

Charlie:
Hello, Vanessa. Welcome to the British English podcast. How are you today?

Vanessa:
Hello. I'm doing great.

Charlie:
Lovely, lovely stuff. I. I forgot about how infectious your smile is. I remember that when we used to collaborate back in the day. Do you remember that?

Vanessa:
I do. Back a long time ago. Well, thank you for your kindness.

Charlie:
Yeah. So how is everything going at the moment? Like it's been about three or four years for us since we last spoke. Some things have changed for you, I assume.

Vanessa:
Yes. No, everything is exactly, exactly the same as before. Yeah. I think the last time we talked, I was pregnant with my first child and now I have two. So that's changed. But I'm still teaching English online, still trucking along, teaching English lessons, making YouTube videos, trying to get some breaths of fresh air in there, too. So, yeah, that's what's going on.

Charlie:
This episode comes with a free worksheet over on the website, the British English podcast dot com. So grab that and you can listen along whilst using it.

Charlie:
Yeah, yeah. You're killing it. I also really enjoyed your car vocabulary video recently. I saw that one. Yeah.

Vanessa:
Did you learn some Americanisms?

Charlie:
I did, yeah. Yeah. Loads of different vocabulary actually. British and...

Vanessa:
Oh yeah? Especially related to cars.

Charlie:
Yeah. Yeah definitely. But yeah we don't need to go into, into the exact vocabulary. But guys if you, if you're wanting to learn then head over to that one. What. Do you remember the title of that video?

Vanessa:
I think it was like a hundred car words in English. Yeah. I tried to semi count them to see if there was around about that many, you know, give or take a hundred. But I think that's the title.

Charlie:
Yeah, give or take. I used that recently. I like that expression. What does it mean.

Vanessa:
Yeah, it means we don't really say so-so but I think a lot of English learners say that like a little bit here, a little bit there not exactly like give or take. I ate five cookies give or take, like I ate about five cookies, maybe four, maybe six, maybe seven give or take.

Charlie:
I like your example Yeah. It's kind of suggesting that it might not be accurate and that's not important right now. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Cool. So yeah. I reached out to you to to come on here and potentially chat about your experience coming to the UK because you told me that you did that. You did do that didn't you?

Vanessa:
Yes. Yeah. That was actually my first experience abroad going to the UK by myself, which was amazing.

Charlie:
Yeah. And can you tell the audience where you're from and where you, like, identify as...culturally.

Vanessa:
Yeah, yeah. I'm an American from the United States. And usually when I meet someone who's not from the US, I say that I'm from the south of the US in general. Mm hmm. Because I think there's not an awful lot of landmarks in the South, like people know New York or Chicago, like big cities. But if you say I'm from South Carolina, you know, they might go, oh, that's nice. And not really know exactly what you mean. So usually I say the south of the U.S. But the strange thing is that I was born in the north. So most people who are really from the south say, Vanessa, you're not from the south, you weren't born here. You don't sound like you're from here. But I've lived in the South since I was six years old, so I feel like I'm more southern or I relate to Southern culture more than I relate to Northern culture, even though like my grandparents lived there, my extended family lives in the north. That's not really where I grew up. So that's where I still live is in the south of the US. But now I live in North Carolina. Not South Carolina. I've moved very far.

Charlie:
Okay. And is there a big difference between the cultures the South and the North Carolina's?

Vanessa:
People would say yes. Yeah, I think there's often a lot of Southern rivalry between states. So every state, every city or almost every region within the south has a really strong sense of like this is what our city is like, or especially when you hear people imitating Southern accents, people will be very offended by saying, no, that's just like a specific accent from this part in Alabama. That's not how people sound in Greenville, South Carolina. That's not how people in the mountains in North Carolina like where I live. That's not how they sound. And it's there's a lot of I'm sure this is the same in the UK, but there's a lot of regional differences. If any listeners are interested. There's a great YouTube channel called It's a Southern Thing, and it's all about specific things in Southern culture. So this kind of accent idea or tons of different cultural concepts, they're all like little funny three minute videos about Southern culture and almost every single one of those that I see, I think, oh, yeah, I get it. It's funny to me because I relate to that, even though some people would say I'm not really Southern

Charlie:
Or do you feel like they they don't they don't have permission to say that, or do you kind of agree with them?

Vanessa:
Yeah, I mean, I think it makes sense. As far as my parents didn't cook Southern food, my grandparents aren't from here. So it's not like I have the, you know, the family cast iron pan that's been passed down in the family that everyone cooks cornbread in. Like, we don't have that kind of concept. But, you know, I'm curious what my kids will will relate to. Like, will they be more southern or be allowed to be Southern because they are born here and grew up here. So we'll see.

Charlie:
Yeah. Yeah. And you mentioned about the food. What's a typical dish in the South that you might not eat in the north?

Vanessa:
Um, I'd say that people eat very typical southern dish might be like fried chicken and okra, fried okra, everything's fried, maybe cornbread. If you're going to have a classic southern meal, that would probably be it. OK, yeah. Do you guys eat okra?

Charlie:
No, I just I just Googled it. Okra. Yeah. OK, I wonder

Vanessa:
It's kind of like a pod, it kind of looks like I mean, it's kind of like a green bean pod, but you can eat the whole thing and it's kind of gooey, almost like there's a a gooeyness when you cut it and you pull it apart, that seems kind of gross, but it has like a goop inside of it.

Charlie:
Wow. Yeah, that just sounds gross. I think. I think I know it as ladies fingers.

Vanessa:
Whoa, that's amazing. I've never heard that. Yeah. How do you eat it. How would you prepare that?

Charlie:
Just the same as you eat ladies. Do you eat the goop?

Vanessa:
Yeah. That's just part of the inner wall of the vegetable. So usually you cut the pod into a couple of pieces and then fry it, but some people fry them whole and then some people don't even fry it. They'll just kind of saute it. That's how my in-laws cook that. And it's so great. OK, I generally prefer food that's not fried. Maybe that's why I'm not really Southern.

Charlie:
Oh yeah I think you've given away your...

Vanessa:
Too healthy?

Northernness there Yeah. So you're not a true Southern fried chicken girl?

Vanessa:
I could enjoy that, but it's certainly not my go to meal. I prefer more like light or healthy food. Yeah.

Charlie:
Yeah I, I'm sure that doesn't score you any points in the South. OK, so you are a misfit to some extent and then you decided to go over to the UK and did you feel like you had found yourself a new home or were you just as much of a misfit there?

Vanessa:
Ahh I felt so happy when I was there, it was I think, and for me, a really important time in life when I was kind of branching out on my own and doing something by myself for the first time. I wasn't just in school. I was still studying, kind of studying. We can talk about that later, but having a lot of personal freedom to be able to you know, I was living in a flat with some other students and just having all of that type of freedom. It felt really lovely. So I think that combined with being in a beautiful, incredible city really imprinted upon me that it was a wonderful experience.

Charlie:
Very nice. How. Yeah, how positive. So the city was

Vanessa:
Oxford and I always feel very, how should I say tentative when people say, Oh, you studied abroad, where did you study? I usually say the UK or England, because if you say I studied abroad in Oxford, it's kind of like patting yourself on the back. I'm so smart. But in reality, all that you had to do was just sign some papers and the first like fifteen people could get in. It was no type of an* intellectual skill. It was just kind of first come, first serve.

Charlie:
And as I've been letting you, this is part of the academy and the academy is where I give you part two and part three of this episode with transcripts as well. I also give you exclusive videos, breaking down the language used and giving you real life examples of how to use it. I give you pronunciation, practice audios, questions to help you retain the information you are learning within these episodes and many more things. As one Academy student said, it's like I've created a whole world of online learning in the academy. So if you feel like you want to get more from these episodes, then head over to the website and check out the sample stuff available for the Academy for free to get a taster of what it's all about. I personally think it will blow your socks off, meaning it will really surprise you and hopefully in a good way. Although I do want to say, if all your wanting out of this is the extended podcast episodes with transcripts, then I have created the premium podcast as that is. Well, it's cheap as chips, really, but you get the full length of the show and the oh so useful transcripts. So we've got the free podcast, the premium podcast and the academy. There we go.

Charlie:
So it was it was a system in place between your university in America and Oxford.

Vanessa:
Yeah, there was a study abroad programme within Oxford it was kind of like a private company almost. And they had connections to a couple of different universities and they allowed like 15 students or something. And I'm sure that you had to have some kind of GPA and, you know, not be like an awful person. But in reality, it wasn't what we think of when we think of Oxford, like the cream of the crop. These people are the geniuses of the world. At least that's my interpretation. When someone says they went to Cambridge or Oxford, that's like the stereotype. But that was not why I got in.

Charlie:
I think I think you're being modest. So your your your mention of GPA there that gives you away. We don't really use that. It means grade point average. I've just Googled, right? Yeah. Yeah, I've heard that a lot in sitcoms and stuff. And I was a little bit.

Vanessa:
What would you say?

Charlie:
Yeah. We, I mean we don't talk about it as much in the way that you guys do because you talk about your S.A.T. scores a lot I think.

Vanessa:
We have lots of acronyms.

Charlie:
Yeah, we have. We abbreviated it to SATs, which was a test that we would do every like three or four years in school. But it was never such a like a gloating point. You just talk about maybe during the procedure, you talk about your UCAS points, which is the. Yeah. The points that go towards your entitlement to which university you go to. Yeah. I don't think we've got as much as you guys. Maybe it's due to your competitive nature. I'm gunna, I'm gunna guess.

Vanessa:
Oh maybe so. There's a lot of a lot of things depend on your GPA too though, like scholarships. When you go to a college, you have to maintain a certain GPA to keep your scholarships or you'll lose that money that helps you pay for the school. So it kind of is like a way for the organisation to see. Are you doing well enough to keep our money to pay for the school? So there's there's a lot of stuff that depends on that. Yeah. And we think about it a lot.

Charlie:
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. That makes sense. Yeah, we do have scholarships but yeah I think once you've got it generally I think you keep it. But I could be wrong, I could be wrong there but yeah. Like that. OK, so you got into Oxford because you were a keen bean because you got in there very quickly and obviously your GPA wasn't too bad. So you arrived in Oxford or did you arrive in one of the London airports? I want to imagine your first day landing.

Vanessa:
Yes. Oh, it was a nightmare. Yeah. I landed in the airport and I tried to find a bus. I had never I'd never I'd flown one time, but it was a bit like a school trip. This is the first time I'd ever flown, really by myself. I'd never taken a bus before.

Charlie:
Did you did you have a passport before this?

Vanessa:
No, I had to get a passport for this, so this is like the first time ever leaving the U.S..

Charlie:
Yeah, because that's quite a big difference, isn't it? Americans don't really need to leave the US to have a great holiday, whereas Brits need a passport to fly around.

Vanessa:
It's a pretty big trip. If you leave the US like you have to fly pretty far except for Mexico or Canada. But Mexico for us is pretty much just as far as going to Europe from where I live on the East Coast. So it's a pretty big trip if you leave the US compared to the UK. Yeah, you're pretty close to other countries.

Charlie:
So you grow up with like road trip kind of holidays as a family?

Vanessa:
Yeah, yeah. We usually just like went to the beach or went to the mountains or visited family or yeah stuff like that. Not really travelling abroad. It's also much cheaper. But if we consider like for a family of four, if a flight to Europe cost at least a thousand dollars, if not more, you know, compared to just driving to the beach, it's much more affordable for a family to kind of have a domestic vacation instead of international vacation.

Charlie:
Yeah, yeah. It makes sense. Yeah, I wasn't allowed to set foot on a plane until I was about ten, which is which is definitely reasonable. But yeah, they thought it wasn't worth spending money on, on us at that age. We went up to Scotland and went to Wales and did like camping trips, a lot of camping in tents. I remember. Did you do tents?

Vanessa:
Yeah. Yeah, we went tent camping like once a year, I think from the time I was a teenager. I love that kind of stuff. We do that now and it's great even with kids. We haven't done it with my second baby yet. But hopefully this summer I think that's kind of the essence of life. You're just in nature cutting out everything unnecessary suffering,

Charlie:
Especially with your own children. I feel like that makes you feel like a real, you know. I don't want to say primitive, because that's that's negative, but just like. At one with the wild,

Vanessa:
Yeah, you're like a real homosapien, like I'm doing this thing, and then you have a whole car full of all your supplies, you know?

Charlie:
Yeah. Don't look at that car. I know. I've got my bow and arrow.

Vanessa:
I'm good. I'm Fine. I got fire.

Charlie:
Yeah. OK, so you landed in the UK and. Yeah. So how long was your experience there.

Vanessa:
It was four months, four months, Yeah, and I think that first period there, there's a lot of adjusting because. The system is completely different than the school system in the US. I'm not sure if this is common in the UK, but we didn't have classes. You just had two tutors and beforehand, so like a couple of months before the school where I was going in the US asked me to choose two classes that I wanted to take. And I thought, OK, you're going to give me a list and I just choose two. And they said, no, you make it up, you choose whatever you want. And I was like, this is very unusual, OK? And I chose short stories, modern short stories, because I was studying literature, modern short stories and Yiddish literature. One of my obsessions

Charlie:
Yiddish?

Vanessa:
Yiddish literature, yet which is like generally between World War One and World War Two. The European Jewish Community was writing literature in Yiddish, which is they're like not religious language. They would use Hebrew for religious situations. But this was like the mother tongue, which is what they call it because the mothers would speak it and the fathers in the synagogues would speak Hebrew. But this is like in the home anyway. I could talk for hours about Yiddish, but I took that and then I was so excited about it. And when I had a meeting with my the professor who was teaching that class, he said I felt very embarrassed. He said, you are the first student who I've taught this topic to who is not studying it in the original Yiddish. And I thought, oh, no, because all of the other students knew Yiddish and they came from like a Jewish background and or they had studied the language just to learn the literature and to kind of dive into that, because that was their life trajectory was to do that. And for me, it was just, you know, a passion. But anyway so I chose those two classes.

Charlie:
God I've got a lot of questions, but okay I've got to narrow it down to one right now. So is Yiddish used still?

Vanessa:
Yeah, yeah, so Yiddish is still.

Charlie:
It's their informal version?,

Vanessa:
Yes, I'm not an expert by any means, on like the language itself. But in that time period, like they say, interwar time period between World War One and World War Two, the stories have you ever seen Fiddler on the Roof, this musical and movie, this is written by his pen name is Shulem Alaykum, and it's in that genre. So it's that style of story where it's kind of depicting life, the traditional life. But they often wrote those stories, as like a way to talk with other Jewish groups because they weren't allowed to have news or to share things very clearly. So they would write stories and they could find out kind of like what was happening or to preserve different struggles that were happening anyway it's very deep. And there's so many like symbols of Jewish history and religion and all of that in the literature. But I was apparently just the only one studying it in the translated version in English.

Charlie:
and you're american in the UK.

Vanessa:
And I'm an American. So embarrassing,

Charlie:
Not embarrassing. But you must have stuck out like a sore thumb. Very different, I imagine.

Vanessa:
Yeah, well, this was actually all of the classes. It was just one on one with the professor. So you have a specific time. Once a week you have a primary class that's once a week and then a secondary class, which was the Yiddish one once every two weeks. And you have like a time slot where you meet with that professor in his office for like two hours or one guy, the primary guy I met with in his house for like two hours, I think, per person. And you go over your assignment for the week. And that that's extremely nerve racking.

Charlie:
This is very different. I think most people who go to the universities in the UK won't experience this. Maybe it's an Oxford, Cambridge kind of thing. But for me, it was like lectures every day. And then you had a a tutor with a form group like ten or twelve people. And then towards the third year, the last year for us, you'd have a professor that would lead you with your third year project, your thesis, and that would be one on one. But I would be in that office in the in the university

Vanessa:
That seems more traditional, like typical university college style.

Charlie:
But I can't comment on Oxford, Cambridge because I didn't go to one of those schools.

Vanessa:
Well, they also did have lectures, though, like you could choose to attend lectures based on different topics. But because I was not really there to study. Yeah, I wasn't really gung-ho about that. Yeah, it was a pass or fail study abroad system. So if I was passing, that's kind of all I cared about. And I wasn't embarrassing myself too much in front of the professor then I was good.

Charlie:
Ok, ok. But yeah, this must have been very intense for you to go to this professor's home that seems strange to go to their home. But lovely.

Vanessa:
Yeah, my time was at teatime with him. Whatever his, I forget if it was three or four o'clock for him and his wife would make a big pot of PG tips with lots of milk and sugar and we would just drink it non-stop for two hours while I did the scariest thing I've ever done.

Charlie:
Ahh what do you mean?

Charlie:
And I'm going to be an absolute bastard and leave it there for part one.

Charlie:
Oh, terrible. How terrible of me. Well, all you academy members go enjoy that. And premium podcast members can also enjoy parts two and three of this episode. And this recording went on for over 90 minutes, I think. And I decided to include all of it as I felt like it was really nice content for you. So, yes, for a very affordable price, you can become a premium podcast member, get access to all parts of every episode with manually edited transcripts, glossaries and flashcards. And becoming a premium member is another way of showing your support to help this podcast grow if you value the show, you can also delve deeper by becoming an Academy member and get access to the exclusive videos, quizzes, bonus content, et cetera, that I mentioned earlier in this episode and the weekly speaking classes. The last one we did, the students were in there for ages practising the target language brilliantly. So if you fancy connecting with a bunch of brilliant learners and myself, then check out the academy. Right. So Part one is done. We'll say goodbye to Vanessa. Now, but do remember, we have over an hour more in part two and three with Vanessa waiting for you over on the British English podcast Dotcom, where Vanessa tells us the scariest thing she's ever done. She reveals the truth or at least a conspiracy about Shakespeare. Shakespeare. Would you believe it? She also tells us some travelling tales, one of which includes Harry Potter and food poisoning or. Oh, and then the differences between American and British people, in her opinion. And I also give my two cents as well.

Charlie:
So everyone listening. The channel YouTube channel is Speak English with Vanessa,

Vanessa:
That's it.

Charlie:
Speak English with Vanessa. And the website is the same speakenglishwithvanessa.com ?

Vanessa:
That's it.

Charlie:
I'll have the links in the show notes. But thank you so much, Vanessa. And I look forward to potentially doing this one day in the future again.

Vanessa:
That would be great. Nice to talk to you, Charlie. Thanks so much.

Charlie:
Take care. Bye bye.

Vanessa:
Bye.

Charlie:
Don't forget to go and grab that free worksheet that goes over some of the best language that was used in today's episode. And lastly, if you haven't tried the academy or the premium podcast, there is a free sample for you to try. Learn a huge amount in the process of doing so and then at the end of that, you can decide whether you want to continue or not. Simple anyway until next time. Happy listening. My name is Charlie and thank you for listening to The British English podcast.

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Meet today's guest

Vanessa

From "Speak English With Vanessa"

Vanessa has been teaching English for over 10 years to English learners around the world. She helps English learners speak confidently, naturally, and without stress.
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Podcast host: Charlie:
This will be quite a bit harder for you to understand, as there are a number of accents in the conversation, some poorly delivered at times, as you will notice.

Podcast host: Charlie:
But the aim is to give you a variety of dialects in one conversation and some dialogue to give you native expressions in context. So enter, if you will, to Charlie's pub and his imaginary world.

Character: Mike:
Alright geezer, how's it going?

Character: Chris:
Yes, I'm well thanks. How about you? Have you had a good day?

Character: Mike:
Can't say good mate. No my old man he's been giving me a right old earful for what happened on site last week.

Character: Chris:
Oh that's a pity. Are you back on your dad's building project again?

Character: Mike:
Sad to say mate, but yeah, I am. Couldn't resist this one though. Cash in hand, you know.

Character: Chris:
Oh fair play, hard to resist those I imagine. Oh, here she is.

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Oh, hi.

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I was wondering if you're ever going to join us tonight.

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About Your Teacher

Charlie Baxter

Teacher, Podcast Host, YouTuber
Charlie is the host and creator of The British English Podcast & Academy. He has also been an active YouTube English Teacher since 2016 but after seeing how many of his students wanted a more structured, carefully designed way to study he decided to create The British English Podcast Academy.

It focuses on British culture, informal expressions, accent and history that is all unique to the UK.

Charlie has spent 6000+ hours teaching intermediate-advanced students since 2014 privately on Skype and has seen a lot of different styles of learning and while he believes there will never be a single CORRECT way to improve your English there are a large number of methods that people use that do waste people's time and prevent them from improving quickly.

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