PR student Lila Maiolo recounts UGA at Oxford semester

Lila (left) and other students on the program on a day-trip to London visiting the British Parliament. They are standing together for a group photo.
Maiolo (left) and other students on the program on a day-trip to London visiting the British Parliament. (Photos: Submitted)

PR student Lila Maiolo recounts UGA at Oxford semester

March 29, 2024

The following recount was written by Lila Maiolo, a third-year public relations major and fashion merchandising minor with a certificate in new media. She is a Yarbrough Crisis Communication Fellow and is involved with Talking Dog Agency and the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA).  

Over the course of the past 3 months, I had the opportunity to participate in one of UGA’s most esteemed study abroad programs, UGA at Oxford. In pursuit of more rigorous coursework and exposure to new cultures, I took a semester off of my study of public relations to study at the University of Oxford through UGA’s School of Public and International Affairs. 

This was a transformative experience, both academically and personally. I had the opportunity to take courses outside of my major, exploring subjects in history, psychology and politics. We also got to participate in unique Oxford traditions and spend the term delving into the university’s student culture.  

Maiolo (left) and Mary Anna Wearing (right) in front of the Radcliffe Camera, one of Oxford’s famous Bodleian Libraries.
Maiolo (left) and Mary Anna Wearing (right) in front of the Radcliffe Camera, one of Oxford’s famous Bodleian Libraries.

During my first two weeks in Oxford, we acclimated to our new environment and workload with a two-week seminar in British Politics. We also had the opportunity to go on a trip to London and visit the British Houses of Parliament and the Churchill War Rooms. This was just one of many educational excursions that truly enhanced my experiences while learning abroad. 

This introductory period went quickly, and was followed by the eight-week Oxford term in which we were fully immersed in the university’s culture. We were associate members of Keble College, one of 39 colleges at Oxford that serve as student-communities making up the greater university. 

One of my favorite Oxford traditions was attending formal dinners every week. These are meals in Keble’s beautiful dining hall during which students dress up and wear robes indicating their level of education. The formality of the experience was incredibly charming and distinct from practices at UGA. 

Beyond engaging with Oxford’s culture, the greater part of my experience abroad consisted of taking tutorial-style courses. These courses are taught by Oxford professors in a direct format, generally meeting once a week with only one to three students in each class. This allows students to engage with the content and instructor much more intensely than we typically do in UGA’s courses. 

The tutorials I chose to take were Roman History and Psychopathology. As a public relations major, it would suffice to say I was a bit out of my depth. On the first days of each of these classes, my tutors posed questions that I could only meet with blank stares. I walked out of my each tutorial humbled, but increasingly eager to improve each week. 

When the program began, we were told we would be challenged. Our advisors claimed that for many courses, we’d be assigned several books to read each week and tasked with writing an essay. I laughed when I heard that, figuring it was surely an exaggeration. Nonetheless, each week I found myself in Oxford’s historic and expansive Bodleian libraries writing essay after essay. 

Each tutorial pushed my thinking further. I was challenged to dig beyond the information in my assigned reading lists and learned to question everything I read. I came to understand that curiosity is the most integral part of learning. I now understand that history is by no means fact, and we must always interpret and qualify the things we are told, rather than take them at face value. 

Throughout the program, my group of 40 students was guided by a group of exceptional UGA faculty members, including Dr. Jamie McClung, director of the UGA at Oxford program. 

Reflecting on our academic journey, Dr. McClung aptly noted, “Oxford certainly pushes students to think about their engagement with their chosen subjects differently… This group was a prime example of the way that courses in Oxford can be both beneficial in an immediate academic context but can enhance ongoing student learning by offering a different perspective on familiar topics as well.”

Despite occasionally feeling overwhelmed, I found solace by reminding myself that studying is a privilege and I was so fortunate to be learning more about the world in a town so rich with history of its own. Between the long days in the library, I found time to travel throughout Europe. On weekends, I visited France, Belgium, Scotland, Spain and Ireland, eager to learn about other cultures and experience more of the world.

Particularly at a college with as kind and lovely of a community as UGA, it can be easy to get comfortable. There were many days where I missed Athens and the Georgia sunshine. But, I believe that in order to truly grow, it is critical to make ourselves uncomfortable. That is exactly what I sought to do by dropping myself in a new, challenging place this semester. Upon returning to Athens, I can now say that a lot about the way I see the world has changed and it is all for the better. 

Of course, throughout this semester I have also continued my work as a Yarbrough Crisis Communication Fellow and have sought to bring my newfound perspectives to the Crisis Communication Think Tank (CCTT) Leadership Team. Though I was not directly learning about public relations or crisis management, the skills I learned at Oxford, like managing work under pressure and learning to be adaptable, align with the key principles of readiness that the CCTT has highlighted this year. I am thankful for the opportunity to build more worldly connections as the CCTT itself expands internationally this year. I also look forward to joining our leadership team and international members in Amsterdam this September at the inaugural CCTT International Gathering at the University of Amsterdam.