Campus Profile: Courtney Watts

Imagine what life would be like if you had the chance to study abroad at Hogwarts for an entire year. Besides learning magic, you’d marvel at your school’s architecture, meet people from around the world and travel to other European countries. Although she didn’t learn magic, UNC-CH student Courtney Watts experienced all these things while attending the University of Oxford (a.k.a. the real-life Hogwarts).

Year: Senior


Hometown: Apex, NC

Majors: English and Peace, War and Defense

Minor: History


HC: Last year you studied abroad at the University of Oxford. What was your experience like?

CW: I was there for an entire year; I didn’t even come home over break. There were only two other UNC students, so I definitely experienced being integrated in a different university system other than UNC. Academics at Oxford were extremely demanding and I was forced to adapt to writing multiple essays. Overall, my experience there benefited me academically because I felt like I was successful in bringing writing skills back to UNC.

HC: I understand that the workload there is pretty intense. What was academically expected of you?


CW: The Oxford education style is “the tutorial style” that’s also used by Cambridge where you’re taught by a professor with up to two students, meet once a week, and bring a 10-page research paper every week. I also had a class every other week you where I had to bring in a 10-page paper and discuss it in class. Afterwards, your tutor challenges you, and in the tutorial you have to defend what you’ve written. I had to in some ways direct myself during my research because material is not given to you in a lecture. I especially found it difficult in my history classes, where I had to read and write quickly. In most history classes, you’re given a narrative you have to learn, but Oxford plunged us into the debate by just reading the text, so it really forces you to find your own way through the material. Although challenging, I found it to be a good method to approach learning in a new way.

HC: Did you travel anywhere else abroad during your time in England?

CW: I was fortunate to have a lot of time to travel abroad. The Oxford school year is broken down into trimesters with a month break in between. After my first trimester, I explored the UK and Ireland, after my second I visited Spain and France and during the summer I went backpacking around Europe with my brother and someone I met at Oxford. We had to catch trains, make our own accommodations, and travel on our own, so it was a really exciting experience. It was my first time traveling independently, so it was a lot of responsibility, but it gave me lots of opportunity to set my own itinerary.

HC: What was your favorite part of studying abroad?

CW: I think my favorite part was the general experience of forging my way into a new place without having a previous background. When I came to UNC, I came with several friends and lived close by so it wasn’t as far outside my comfort zone as going to a different country was, but when I went to Oxford, it was an entirely fresh start.

HC: When you came back from England, you took on a serious research project. What was it about?

CW: When I came back to UNC, I started working on a senior honors thesis. I had taken a course at Oxford on Arthurian Romance, which inspired me to research less studied, non-Arthurian romances for my thesis. Romance is a genre in the Middle Ages that’s secular fiction.

HC: How do you feel about finally being finished with your thesis?

CW: It’s pretty hard to believe that a project I’ve been working on for a year is finally done; there were times that I thought it would never be done. It felt great handing in 70 pages of my work.

HC: What’s your favorite part about studying English?

CW: I think that English gives you the opportunity to study anything through the lens of literature. In a way, English is the study of the human experience in literature. So just about anything important that people experience has been written about somewhere.

HC: As a senior about to graduate soon, what is your advice for underclassmen?

CW:  Even though your schedule is stressful and you have to take classes you’re not excited about, really enjoy the experience while it lasts because this is a special time of life when you’re surrounded by your friends, get to pick your schedule, and pick the brains of experts of any subject you’re interested in. Don’t go overboard trying to do everything while you’re here, do what makes you happy and take advantage of whatever opportunities you have. Take a class in a department you’ve never heard of.

Although her time at UNC-CH may be coming to an end, Courtney will always have memories from the University of Oxford and she’ll continue exploring fields she is passionate about as she works toward her doctorate degree in English. Someday, she hopes to become a professor and share her discoveries with future motivated students.