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Letter From Oxford

Letter from Oxford by Tafadzwa Muguwe

  My arrival in Oxford last fall was very momentous, and one that I will never forget. I literally jumped off the bus, planted my feet, and let the sights sink in. This was the moment I was building towards. And then the craziness of orientation began.

The group of Rhodes Scholars I traveled with scattered virtually immediately, since we were all enrolling in different colleges. I felt disoriented at first, but separating in this way afforded me the opportunity to mix with and get to know other students. I joined Hertford, one of 39 colleges in the university. Later I was introduced to my department, immunology. My class has 11 students, and we are drawn from 10 countries.

Eventually, Rhodes House hosted a welcome, or "coming up," dinner for the new class. That's when the 92 of us met for the first time. It was an overwhelming experience, and I still haven't met them all yet. Rhodes House is an elegant historic building, completed in 1928, and the dining hall is quite grand.

'Formal Hall' on a Sunday night in Hertford College. Dressed in mandatory gown and suit.
Often there are panel discussions and talks at Rhodes House and some socializing, but a lot of socializing takes place in less formal settings. One famous hangout spot is a pub, The Turf, where we meet up on Tuesday evenings. It's the place where Bill Clinton says he smoked marijuana but "didn't inhale," and his claim is now immortalized on one of the walls.

E-mail listservs also provide a forum for discussion of various issues, and for the most part I find them quite enriching. A couple of us in the first-year class have been in the habit of meeting once a week or so to discuss topics of interest, sometimes spilling over from listserv discussions. Topics can range from individual holiday experiences to research projects and theses to current affairs. These have been educational as well, and, in my opinion, the most interesting one to date was on feminism. Now that it's springtime, perhaps I could talk about allergies and the hygiene hypothesis?


Soon after first semester exams (dressed in mandatory 'sub fusc' i.e. gown, suit, and white bow tie for men)
Rhodes Scholars are actually very normal people. They exhibit the same zeal for learning and an interest in the world around them that is customary at Swarthmore. A lot of them are actively involved in community projects locally and in different parts of the world. Currently, I am the treasurer of the Rhodes Scholars Southern Africa Forum, a charity organization that raises funds for donation to organizations in sub-Saharan Africa, and also raises awareness of issues affecting the region.

I think the smallness and intimacy of community at Hertford helped my transition to life at Oxford. Now I can say I am a part of three rather distinct communities: college, department, and the Rhodes group. I settled in well, and have found enough time in my hectic schedule to play in the college's football (soccer) team.

May the picture is John Robbins '07, Sarah Goldberg '05, and myself inside Hertford College Bridge (popularly know as the 'Bridge of Sighs' after a similar bridge in Venice).
The scope of interactions is wide, and I have really enjoyed meeting people. However, this situation was challenging initially because I had to be engaging and disengaging from the different communities at different times. At Swarthmore, it was easier getting to know people because the incidental interactions were significant. We shared one dining hall, and the campus size was small. With some people, I even shared both dorm space and classes.

Over time I learned to integrate my communities here more and now have decided to stay in Oxford for an additional year after completing my master's in immunology. My decision to stay came about after learning of a new master's of global health science program offered by the Oxford School of Public Health. I hope to fulfill my fieldwork requirement for the global health program back home in Zimbabwe next year and am excited about the opportunity to utilize the remaining year of my Rhodes funding while exploring this area of interest.


Presenting a poster at the end of first semester.
Oxford is a wonderful place. But while I have enjoyed my time here so far, I have also gained greater appreciation for Swarthmore and it has been a joy to keep the Swarthmore connection going. I hang out quite regularly with Sarah Goldberg '05, who is studying public policy, and my old friend John Robbins '07, who is studying English. And I've bumped into Taku Chakravarti '07 and Katie Chamblee '07, who are also at Oxford on study abroad missions. When we first arrived in Oxford, Matt Landreman '03 invited Sarah and me to dinner at his college. Matt is a third-year Rhodes Scholar studying physics, and I have known him since we were hallmates in Parrish my freshman year. Recently Matt and I attended an alumni event in London and learned about Professor Ken Sharpe's new course on 'Practical Wisdom.'

That's where I am now. Time is moving fast. I'm not sure where I will end up after my training, but I am grateful for the luxury to explore my interests, and I am confident that things will work out.

Tafadzwa Muguwe '05 is a biology major from Gweru, Zimbabwe. His mentor at Swarthmore, biology professor Amy Cheng Vollmer, helped him secure research opportunities at the University of Nebraska and at Mount Sinai, where he studied HIV pathology over two summers. Last year, he deferred his acceptance to Harvard Medical School to study immunology at Oxford University. Write to him at