Oxford’s Continuing Education Department has been Rebecca's first experience of Higher Education.
'As a woman in my early 40s, study at Oxford’s Continuing Education Department has been my first experience of higher education. Two decades ago, at the age most young adults attend university, I was instead pursuing research for my first book. Being fascinated by music but unskilled at playing instruments, I wrote the biography of Alan Wilson, a groundbreaking popular musician who pioneered the blues-rock genre in the 1960s. This was released as Blind Owl Blues in 2007. I also spent time working in nonprofit radio and in the print media industry. When such businesses shifted to online formats that I found less rewarding, I learned the trade of a barista, and have assisted in the operation of various independent coffee houses around the United States.
'During a dark period in life, I turned to historical fiction as a means of mental escape. I was intrigued with the Tudor era, but more fascinating than Henry VIII’s marital dramas were the politics of the English Reformation. After reading various popular historical accounts, I turned to academic books, and subsequently discovered the online courses available through Oxford. The first few courses I took were historically enlightening, and immersion in the academic environment - even online - provided a purpose and focus that I had not encountered elsewhere.
'Eventually, I saw that the logical next step was to apply for the Certificate of Higher Education in History. As a barista, I lacked means to pay for the program, but my mother kindly sold a tractor at auction to pay my expenses (my late father had been a fruit farmer). Attending OUSSA in summer 2018, I felt that I had been transported to a fantastic world, surrounded by people who not only understood my obsession with books and long-dead historical figures, but shared it and were keen to discuss mutual interests. The tutors were knowledgeable and inspiring, encouraging each student to reach the highest level in their personal fields of study, while gently correcting weak points.
'Interestingly, I noted that I did not meet any other students who worked in service industries; all others I encountered worked in white-collar professions, or were full-time students or retired. However, a member of the Continuing Education Department staff pointed out a picture in the common room: dating from the 1950s, it showed a group of miners from North Staffordshire who had studied through the Department, noting that their period of attendance was their only holiday during the year. I was in the same situation, and was delighted to see that I was part of a historical continuum of working-class individuals studying at Oxford in conjunction with fulfillment of work responsibilities.
'The biggest challenge at OUSSA was producing an essay in a relatively short period of time. Being around other students who were going through the same thing, however, brought us together in an environment of great camaraderie. The atmosphere and resources have made a permanent impression on my consciousness, and as I continue my education through the Department and other resources suitable to my situation, I will always treasure the experience. I hope to return to OUSSA in future, and recommend it to anyone seeking a world of pure education.'