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Interview with Gap student Nika Filippov
1st December 2020
Nika came to us in September of this year for a Gap semester, she studied Cross-Cultural Communication, Ethics, Values and the Law, Film Studies, Philosophy of Religion, and her tutorial was in Contemporary British Fiction. She is a passionate fencer, fencing for the Alliance Fencing Academy in Houston, Texas.
Hi Nika, first of all please tell us a little about yourself and why you chose to participate in a gap year program?
I am a 2020 US High School graduate, who will study Mechanical Engineering at Columbia University next year. I wanted to take a gap year due to the COVID-19 restrictions in the US and because I wanted to study liberal arts before submerging myself in STEM subjects for four years. I also have never been away from home for more than a couple of weeks at a time or lived outside of my hometown Houston, Texas. I wanted to experience the challenge of not living with my parents and to study in a relatively stress-free environment subjects I chose for personal fulfilment vs. a required college curriculum. This would be the first time I could go to classes and not stress about my GPA.
How did you decide which gap program was right for you?
My friend found this program and shared it with me. We decided that this program would be the best fit for us because we would not have to learn another language since everyone in the UK speaks English. The Oxford Gap Year program also offered a vast array of subjects and interesting classes that I thought could help me become a better well-rounded individual.
What is a typical day like in your gap experience?
During the week: take the bus to morning classes, walk to Viny’s café to pick up a sandwich, walk to university parks to eat lunch with friends in the field while doing some assigned reading, go to afternoon classes, stop by the store on the way back to Logan house to pick up groceries, shower then go to dinner in the city with friends and have drinks at Turf Tavern or Plush later.
Weekends away: take a train Thursday evening to a UK destination (i.e. London or Edinburgh) with a small group of friends, explore the city Friday and Saturday, do homework on Sunday during the train ride back to Oxford.
Weekends in Oxford: when it’s sunny go punting down Cherwell river or swimming in Port Meadow, on Saturday go on a pub crawl down Cowley road, and on Sunday enjoy the open mic at Harcourt Arms.
What was your favourite class?
Such a hard question because I loved all my classes so much! Film studies with Keith Hopper was probably my favourite. Not only did I get lots of movie suggestions, but I also learned how to analyse films from different angles and appreciate film as an art form. I was also able to apply the various forms of literary criticism I learned in my Cross Cultural Communication class to understanding films and relating the topics from each film we studied to themes covered in books from my Contemporary British Fiction class.
What advice do you have for others looking for a gap year experience?
On travel: Get a bus pass – it’s much cheaper than buying daily passes and you will end up using it more often than you think. The “Train” app is great for looking up and booking train tickets.
On leisure: Especially for students coming from the US, expect that you and everyone else in the program will take advantage of the drinking age (18) and be sure to drink responsibly.
Also don’t forget to call your parents. For the first few weeks I only contacted them when something unexpected happened so they were under the impression I was not having a good time when really I was enjoying the most enriching and exciting experience of my life. However, it is hard to find time to talk to relatives (especially with time difference between UK and USA) so I resorted to spamming my family WhatsApp group chat with pictures at least weekly – you do what you can.
Is there something special about the teaching methods on the Oxford Gap Year course?
There is a special relationship built on respect between the professors and students. Teachers treat you like adults and expect the same from you as any other university student. I especially appreciated that most of my teachers were also Oxford University professors, either previously or currently.
The best part of my learning experience was that all my classes related to each other in some way, so I could take an interdisciplinary approach to learning. All my teachers listened to the experiences shared by students about living in Oxford and took the time to relate our anecdotes back to the course material. For example, in Cross Cultural Communication we studied culture shock for a week so the entire class would reference things they noticed during the day, such as driving on the other side of the road and British speech patterns, that surprised us.
What’s been the biggest surprise of studying abroad for your gap year?
The biggest surprise was having to deal with COVID-19 and adjusting my schedule and plans often in light of the pandemic. I decided on a last-minute travel during the half-term break with a friend I had just made on the same day. We had a good talk in the morning and then that afternoon ended up on a flight to Amsterdam together. During our travels, many countries began to shut down due to the rising COVID-19 numbers, so we had to book flights and Airbnbs ourselves with only a day’s notice. We would also plan our own tourist activities (while studying during the day) so we could enjoy as much of each city we travelled to. Managing our time and scheduling travel arrangements on our own with little to no input from our parents helped us both grow as individuals and become a lot more responsible. I feel like I can tackle any challenge now with just a moment’s notice.
Obviously, you were in Oxford during a pandemic, but what was your favourite part of the City and why?
Even with clubs being closed, I still found all the socially distanced bars and pubs to be a fun night out. The pub culture in Oxford is different from anywhere else in the world and I could still experience the feeling of nightlife in a unique Oxford setting despite the COVID-19 restrictions. Every time we went out, we were surrounded by history which ignited intellectual discourse.
Is there anything else you would like to add or comment on that might help other students decide whether or not to take a gap year?
I think taking a gap year is the right choice for everyone. You will discover so much more about yourself than you could in any other scenario. My advice is to be ready to step out of your comfort zone and expect to learn something new every hour. Also write in a journal or on your phone so you don’t forget all that you are bound to experience.
Thank you, Nika, it was lovely to ‘talk’ to you!