Johnny Vance


Diploma in Organisational Leadership


United States





By Johnny Vance

The Oxford Experience

In October of 2014, my CEO emailed me out of the blue to ask whether I would be interested in doing a Postgraduate Diploma programme at Oxford. Naturally, I was honoured to be asked, and was intrigued by the possibilities of the program. I was told to brush up my resume (fortunately, I hadn’t needed to for the seven years prior) and send it off for consideration. After being notified that I had been accepted in to the program shortly after, I did what any self-respecting millennial would do – I posted the good news on Facebook.

My self-promoting post received your regular congratulatory replies, but one really stuck out to me, a post from a colleague who had taken the same course years earlier. She said that I would ‘love the experience’, which at first, struck me as odd. Experience? I recalled back to my first University experience, and that was simply attending classes and doing exams – how would this be different? I chalked it up as being a comment lost in translation at the time, but I would recall this post about the ‘Oxford experience’ time and time again over the ensuing eighteen months.

The first trip to Oxford was a great unknown. I had prepared to the nth degree as far as study, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of what I knew would be a high caliber group. After spending the night in a hotel that used to be a prison and taking in some of the local sights, the first classes certainly did not disappoint. The group was full of bright, enthusiastic people from all walks of life, and I felt humbled to have been accepted as a part of the cohort.

The classwork and teachings were top notch throughout all four modules. We were able to learn from world class Professors, and were able to take away very practical and tangible lessons that all of us agreed would be incorporated in to our careers back in the real world. The exams were challenging but somewhat exciting, and the sub-fusc we wore for each exam provided some amusement and many selfies for the folks back home. The essays and thesis were both intellectually stimulating, and although I will probably never have to write a paper like my thesis again, I’m glad I had the opportunity to challenge myself, and to learn more about the academic writing process.

That said though, the class work and subsequent exams were only a small part of the ‘Oxford experience’, and if that was all we got, I would have looked back on that Facebook post and confirmed my suspicions of a language gap between myself and my colleague.

What I have come to learn of the Oxford experience is that it is everything outside of the academic work that makes it truly special. The city is gorgeous, and it would be hard to find a more beautiful walk on a sunny day than around the different Colleges and libraries around the town. We were fortunate enough to have events in several of the exquisite dining halls inside many Colleges, including Pembroke, Balliol, and of course, Harry Potter’s personal favourite, Christ Church. These dinners gave us real insight in to the history and essence of the University, as well as some fantastic after-dinner speakers such as the fascinating and inspiring John Lennox, who was kind enough to speak to our cohort at a dinner at the University Church of St Mary one night.

When reflecting on my time at Oxford, many special things stick out. Of course, there were the nights spent in the Turf Tavern, where Bill Clinton famously did not inhale and former Australian Prime Minister took down a full yard glass in seconds flat. Then there was the The Bear, where we once ‘borrowed’ the guitar off the live entertainment and proceeded to play our own set of Fleetwood Mac covers. The Pembroke College Middle Common Room also gave us some insight into ‘real’ college life, even if we did bring the average age up a little. Certainly, Oxford gave us our fair share of nights out and laughter.

I am sure every person in their life also has those moments that they will remember forever. For me, proposing to my girlfriend atop the University Church, overlooking the Radcliffe Camera during our second module will always be one of those moments. The view from the steeple is amazing in and of itself, but to have had private access after hours to be able to ask the most important question of my life is something I will always cherish, and the celebrations afterwards with the cohort just capped it all off!

The Oxford experience is something that unifies anyone who has had the opportunity to study at the University. It cannot be described eloquently in a 900 word blog post, and it can not be screen printed in a t-shirt or rugby jersey sold on High Street. The Oxford experience is timeless, and the bond that unifies the cohort is one that will last a long time, across continents and generations.

I am humbled and privileged to have had the opportunity to study at Oxford, if only for 12 months, and for anyone undertaking the Diploma programme in the future, I would say the exact same thing that my colleague said back to me in October of 2014. Best of luck, and enjoy your time in Oxford. You will love the experience.


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