Icelandic Volcano Shakes Up Oxford

The April 14 volcanic explosion in Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland came as a surprise to most people stateside, across the ocean, and caught in limbo while traveling between the two. For the Stanford students participating in the Bing Overseas Studies Program in Oxford this quarter, only a series of fortunate coincidences prevented the program from being completely paralyzed by the now-notorious ash cloud.

Over the course of several days in mid-April, the United Kingdom and several other European countries deemed air travel unsafe due to the presence of the ash cloud over part of the continent. On April 15, the United Kingdom suspended all air travel into and out of the country, only partially lifting the ban an agonizing five days later. The Stanford-in-Oxford students mainly arrived in the country on April 12, narrowly—and fortunately—missing the air travel suspension.

Stephanie Williams, Administrator at the Stanford Center in Oxford, was relieved when acknowledging the near miss with a logistical nightmare. She explains, “It would have been chaotic if the eruptions had occurred before everybody arrived on the 12th. The thought of getting everybody up and running when arriving in dribs and drabs and, possibly, very late, is nightmarish, so I’m thankful that we weren’t faced with that particular challenge.”

But given the travel restrictions, several of the program’s participants have experienced difficulties that have impacted them either academically or personally. In the Oxford program, Stanford students work in one-on-one academic environments with tutors—graduate students or faculty members. The tutorial system requires weekly meetings and weekly 7-10 page essays from students.

Because her tutor was stuck in South Africa during the first week of tutorial meetings, Ana Hauswirth ’11, is now a week behind her peers. She will likely have to make up her weekly essay and meeting later this quarter. “I can’t tell how much it will really affect me yet, but I am not looking forward to putting a tutorial into one less week than usual!” Hauswirth offered.

Katy Peaslee ’10 also found herself without a tutor in the volcanic eruption’s aftermath. Peaslee, a senior, intends to return early to Stanford from Oxford so that she can walk at graduation. Her original solution was to meet with her tutor earlier than the program’s other participants, but her tutor was stranded in New York during their first scheduled meeting. Thus, like Hauswirth, Peaslee will likely have to double her workload at some point in the quarter in order to get back on schedule.

In a more personal case, Cristal Garcia ’11, worried for days about whether she would be able to return to the U.S. for her older brother’s wedding during the April 23-25 weekend. The debate about state regulations of the airlines’ arrivals and departures held Garcia’s attention. “I was stressing myself out keeping up with the news since the [volcano] erupted and [I was] getting frustrated at the possibility of it just being a political complication as to why they wouldn’t let flights take off from Heathrow,” Garcia said.

Planes were permitted to depart from the U.K. just 2 days before Garcia needed to leave for the wedding. Though she managed to avoid the regret and disappointment she would have felt had she missed the wedding, emotions ran high before she heard the good news. “Yes, I have two brothers and one sister and plenty of other weddings to attend, but I was still regretting my coming to Oxford,” she said.

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