Studying abroad is an invaluable experience. Do you think you’ve missed your opportunity because you have a family? Maybe not!! Maria Hussain, a student at UTM with two children, writes about her experience going on a Summer Abroad program in Oxford, England. While Maria writes about Oxford specifically, readers of this blog post will get general tips about studying and travelling with a family.
By Maria Hussain
University of Toronto Mississauga student
Family Care Office UTM Outreach and Communications Coordinator
In August 2022 I travelled with my two children (ages 1 and 5) to Oxford, UK to participate in the University of Toronto’s Summer Abroad Program at Worcester College at Oxford University. The initial thought of travelling and then studying in a different and unknown place with young children was daunting at first. However, once in Oxford everything went smoothly and much better than I expected. As a parent and student, it was not only a great learning experience for me, but my family also had a great time and made memories for a lifetime. Here are my top tips to make the Summer Abroad experience with children hassle free and enjoyable without compromising on your quality of education.
Where to Stay
The Summer Abroad program offers on-campus accommodation for students. However, these accommodations are for a single person only. As a student with family, I opted for an Airbnb near campus. You can easily do this by ‘opting out’ of on-campus residence on your Summer Abroad portal. As Oxford is a tourist and student city there are many full-houses available for short term rentals on Airbnb. The cost for these is similar to the Summer Abroad on residence accommodation cost.
Pro tip 1: When searching for accommodations search the walking distance between the rental and the college you will be at on Google Maps. Anywhere between 15-20 minutes is an ideal location.
Pro tip 2: Search for accommodations with a full kitchen and in house laundry, this will save you cost of eating out and save you the trouble of having to find a laundromat (piles of laundry with little kids is no secret!).
Traveling within Oxford: Oxford is a biking town. You can easily walk to most places, or you can download the app Voi to easily rent an e-scooter or e-bike. The bus system in Oxford is also very convenient with frequent buses taking you in all directions. To see the sights and learn about the history of Oxford and its mesmerizing architecture I recommend taking the hop-on hop-off Oxford City Bus tour. Not only did my kids love the double decker red bus, but the pass is also valid all day long and you can get on and off the bus as many times as you need from various locations around Oxford.
Buy tickets online here
Traveling to London or other cities: Google Maps here is your best-friend. It will give you all possible options of bus, train or cab you can take to your destination. For travelling to London, I recommend taking the Oxford Tube bus service. For commuting to and from Oxford to London Heathrow or Gatwick Airport I recommend taking the Airline bus service. You can book the tickets in advance and you are all set.
Pro tip: Keep in mind that the sidewalks are mostly cobbled stone. For young kids you will need a stroller with strong wheels. I used the Contours Bitsy stroller. It not only has strong wheels it also packs compact and can be stored in the overhead compartment in the plane!
Oxford is a town with an abundance of delicious foods to choose from. You can easily find vegan, vegetarian and halal food options around town. Can’t go out? If you have a kitchen in your accommodation, then groceries are very affordable, and you can easily whip up a meal in your own house.
A very good and flexible Summer Camp option is KIDACTIVE in Headington. They are also a licensed daycare providing childcare services from birth up to 11 years from 8 am to 6pm. While my daughter stayed home with my partner, my 5-year-old loved his camp experience and even picked up a British accent! Keep in mind that KIDACTIVE is about a 20-minute bus ride from Worcester (not a walkable distance). However, keep in mind that you might be travelling to London once a week for educational field trips. These trips can take all day and it is likely you will return well past 6 pm on those days. Fortunately, my partner was there to care for the children while I was in London for the field trips. If you are not traveling with a family member or care provider for your children plan for your childcare needs ahead of time for your field trips.
Pro-tip: Ask in advance on your Summer Abroad WhatsApp group if any students would be interested in casual paid babysitting!
Child friendly things to do in Oxford
- See some truly magnificent dinosaur fossil displays at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History,
- Enjoy the many displays at the Ashmolean Museum.
- Visit the Westgate Mall and let the kids run around in designated children’s spaces.
- Go punting and look out for ducks! (opt for a chauffeured boat when going with kids)
- Visit the Oxford Public Library and enjoy exploring the books on the kids floor or take part in a library sponsored children’s activity.
- Visit the birthplace of Winston Churchill, The Blenheim Palace. A thirty-minute direct bus ride from Oxford, Blenheim Palace is full of history, grandiose and splendor. Children are welcome and there is even a special area for kids to dress up as prince, princesses, and knights. Their afternoon tea is one of the best we had in UK, and I highly recommend it!
Managing your academics with your children and traveling
I would recommend spending 2-3 hours after class going over class discussions, posted readings, and upcoming assignments. I also let my professor know before classes started that I was travelling with my family. Informing your professor is especially helpful in case of emergencies such as your kids feeling unwell and any need to isolate or maintain distance from your class.
Summer Abroad is truly a wonderful experience and a great opportunity to broaden your international experience. It is certainly manageable with children. I truly enjoyed my time in Oxford with my family and now we have beautiful memories for a lifetime.
Good luck with your Summer Abroad applications! Bon voyage!