Christina Pathoumthong ’22 was so grateful for her Dominican Scholar at the University of Oxford experience in the fall of 2021 that she sent thoughtful five-page `thank you’ letters to the program’s benefactors telling them how much she learned in her courses in Politics in the Middle East and Political Violence. And how much she learned about herself.
“I think the value of studying abroad is gaining a sense of self that is outside of your community, and kind of what people know and perceive of you. I believe I became a different person, closer to my true self,” says Christina, who in August 2023 began an 11-month experience as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Health and Science in Laos.
Christina, who was a double major in political science and history, particularly valued Oxford’s distinctive tutorial style of teaching.
“At Oxford, I learned the value of having an opinion and having that opinion being challenged,” says Christina, who is now a legal intern in the Marin County District Attorney’s Office. “When you’re at Oxford you meet people from all around the world and usually those people have very strong political stances. Inside the tutorials there were serious conversations about human rights, the state of the Middle East, and everyone had to share an opinion and present an argument.”
There is no doubt how impactful Oxford and the trip were for Christina. She wants to go to law school with a focus on international law. Her political violence course work convinced her of that. Her goal is to get more experience in law and possibly return to her parents’ native Laos and teach English while working toward law school.
Academically, Oxford was sometimes daunting for Christina – her first essay assignment came with 21 research recommendations -- but ultimately, she gained assurance and confidence and the process was enriching, rewarding and memorable.
“I could tell you about every single thing I learned in every week of each of my classes,” she says. “There were so many little aha moments it’s hard to pinpoint a couple.”
Originally, Christina, who applied for the Dominican Scholar at Oxford program through the Global Education Office, was scheduled to go to Oxford in the Fall of 2020. But the worldwide pandemic delayed that. She was appreciative of the support she received from professors such as Dr. Jordan Lieser and Alison Howard in the School of Liberal Arts and Education that helped her realize a dream-come-true.
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“Dominican has truly offered me an unparalleled experience. In addition to achieving a sense of belonging, I have grown to become confident and outspoken,” Christina said before heading to Oxford. “After I received an email in which Dr. Lieser stated that he would trust me with an Oxford nomination, I realized that the Dominican community is unlike any other. I was so touched to be nominated and to know how much he thought of me as a student. Applying to become the Dominican Scholar at Oxford felt like a long shot.”
It became a slam dunk once Christina arrived to study at Oxford’s St. Catherine’s College.
“The canals, historic buildings, skyline, and student bicycle races delighted my eyes,” she says. “I felt like I was on a movie set, and it did not sink in that this would be home for the next nine weeks.”
Christina didn’t waste time. She quickly learned how to adapt and take a stand in her tutorials. She discovered the value of critical evaluation and not becoming stagnant. Her natural curiosity became her ally.
“You have to have an interdisciplinary understanding. It can’t just be like the economy is bad so there are going to be conflicts. Or there are more immigrants settling in this country so there are going to be more conflicts. You can’t just look at things from one side,” Christina says. “My Political Violence class instilled in me that I can have an opinion about things. Even if they’re wrong, at least I’m contributing to a greater conversation that is important to people’s lives. I always want to do work that means something, that can help amplify the struggles of marginalized people across the world.”
Christina also found time to escape the rigors of research to enjoy the Oxford cafes and nightlife and even ventured into London multiple times, once with her Dominican friend Julia Reinhard ’22. Christina came to develop an adoration of art and visited museums that were readily affordable (often free) and accessible.
“There was a day I can objectively say was the best day in my life. I just read and looked at art the entire day,” she says. “I sat in front of Buckingham Palace at six in the morning and took out a copy of James Baldwin’s Another Country and started reading. I then took the Tube to the National Portrait Gallery where I stayed for about three hours.”
Christina’s adventures also included trips to Bath, Windsor, and Stonehenge and she attended an English Premier League match at Stamford Bridge between Chelsea and Arsenal. She also visited Amsterdam.
“For the first time I felt like a grown adult,” she says, smiling. “I was my own person. I was whole in a sense from my explorations and revelations.”
Through it all, Christina came back to Dominican more inspired and motivated than ever before. Oxford was indeed life changing.
“I found pieces of myself that I didn’t know were missing from my life,” she says. “I also learned at Oxford to never settle for what you know. I hear so many people say ‘Oh, I already know that.’ Or `I know I’m right.’ Make room to listen to other people and what their arguments are. You will learn something new … I think that’s what makes an academic an academic. You can’t think of your opinion as the end all be all; everything is an ongoing conversation. You have to be willing to grow and listen; be open to what you might not know or agree with.”