Making the Most of Summer

It’s mid-July and we’re not in Barcelona or Oxford.  We’re not on campus at Berkeley or Stanford or Tufts.  We’re mostly staying home and we’re wearing masks and avoiding crowds or crowded places.  It’s a very different summer than the one we imagined even six months ago but we’re happy to report that in spite of all of the changes and new restrictions, we are connecting students from around the world and continuing to foster learning and growth throughout the summer.

When we first talked about virtual classes we were doubtful.  How would it work?  Sure, we have fantastic faculty but would anyone listen when they couldn’t go to a new, exciting location?  Well, as it turns out, we have quite a few students who decided that they wanted to keep learning even if they had to stay home.  And we are SO excited!  Our classes have been really well received.  Our students have been so focused and engaged and attentive.  The discussions and debates and sharing of ideas has been absolutely rejuvenating for our Summerfuel team.  SF Virtual has given us the motivation and energy to continue planning for an in-person 2021.  And it has helped US to remember to think outside the box and look beyond the immediate barriers.  Thank you to all of the students who took a leap of faith and joined us for Sessions 1 and 2.  We have two more sessions on offer this summer so if you’re looking for something to fill your day, take a look.  Session 3 begins July 20th and Session 4 starts August 3rd.  We’d love to have you!

We miss you Boston!

Summer in Oxford: A few of our favorite things…

Oxford is more than just the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’ and the oldest university in the English-speaking world. It is also a vibrant student-centric city, home to some of the best art, the best food, the best parks and the best people in the world. And, we would know. We’ve been spending our summers there for more than 30 years.  Some of our favorite spots:

Cornmarket Street

Oxford Blog_Cornmarket

Running through the center of downtown Oxford, this pedestrian-only street is the place to find the thing you’re looking for in Oxford. Whether you want to grab souvenirs, a quick lunch, or stop into Jack Wills for an English inspired outfit, Cornmarket is where you’ll head.

Afternoon Tea

Oxford Blog_High Tea

You’re living in England now, so there’s no excuse not to have a spot of tea in the afternoon. Head out for a full service tea at one of the local tea houses or join Summerfuel’s “Voyages in Afternoon Tea” to learn the history of tea drinking.

Harry Potter

Oxford Blog_Harry Potter

Many of the Harry Potter sets are based on the historic college architecture in Oxford, especially Christ Church College.  If you’re a Potter fan you’ll feel like you’re wandering Hogwarts at almost every turn.

English Sweets

Oxford Blog_Sweets

Along with other British “favorites” – Fish and chips, mushy peas, meat pies and bangers & mash – don’t forget to sample Oxford’s finest sweets. Join us on a sweets tour or head out on your own. Beware, lines for Ben’s Cookies and Moo-Moo’s in the Covered Market routinely snake around the aisles at lunch and can take a while to get through. Insiders tip – buy cookies at Ben’s and take them to Moo-Moo’s where they’ll mix them into your milkshake. Nom nom nom.

The Covered Market

Oxford Blog_Covered Market

Ah, the Covered Market where you really will find a little bit of everything. Wander through the stalls to grab a snack (ahem, cookies), fresh flowers, fancy tea or a pair of Hunter Wellington boots. The boots just may come in handy during the occasional English downpour!


Oxford Blog_Punting

On a warm, sunny summer day, there really is nothing lovelier than heading our for an afternoon of punting on the Thames (which runs through Oxford). It can be a bit tricky to get the hang of, but we promise it’s fun and an ‘only in Oxford’ experience. Plus, there’s nothing funnier than a friend tumbling in the water after a stuck pole pulls you in. At Lady Margaret Hall, we have our own boat house, so punting is a regular adventure.

The Lady Margaret Hall (LMH) Gardens

Oxford Blog_LMH Gardens

Perhaps one of the best kept secrets is how magnificent the LMH gardens are in the summer (12 acres!). The gardens serve as reading nook, croquet lawn, cricket pitch, soccer field, outdoor movie venue and less-than-conventional classroom. LMH also has basketball and tennis courts nearby, so it’s easy to stay active!

Oxford Blog_LMH Gardens 2

Last Day! :(

Cyle here, fully exhausted after a full day and night of classes, activities, and excitement. Not to mention no small amount of emotion and nostalgia for departing students and the culmination of what has been a truly superb three weeks here in the City of Dreaming Spires. One of our students, India, came to the office this morning to show Lindsey and I her final project for her Oxford Art and Architecture class- a hand-rendered map of Oxford that shares what she feels is special about this lovely city.

Look at that lettering!

Now that we’ve come to the last day, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic myself. Especially as students find me and tell me things like:

“I can’t believe all that we saw and did! It seems like I saw every part of Oxford three or four times over!”

“My Shakespeare class was so interesting! It didn’t even really feel like class- just talking with really smart people and getting to ask questions that I’ve always had.”

“It feels cheesy to say, I know, but I really feel like I met my people- like I made friends that I’ll have for the rest of my life. I can hardly believe it!”

“I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed getting to know the people around me as much as I enjoyed meeting the staff and students at Summerfuel.”

“Cyle! Please don’t make any more puns!”

(Okay, I’m not so nostalgic about that last one…)

Lindsey, the RAs, and I agree that this group of students is truly special, and we feel so fortunate to have gotten to have taken them through castles and churches and gardens and museums and- okay, even a mall or two.

Our last night was, to steal a British phrase, chockablock full of activity. Pizzas were ordered and consumed (turns out teenagers really don’t care for veggie pizzas, so if you’re hungry, I think I’ve still got a few slices left over…), and then we gathered in Talbot Hall for an award ceremony where academic awards were given out, students were recognized by teachers for their contributions, and the RAs gave “Superlatives”- our way of recognizing cultural leaders and getting to tell each student how special they are as individuals.

Then Cameron led a Talent Show and, as if I weren’t already impressed enough by these students, they got up and sang or danced.

I was especially impressed by a student’s choreographed dance to Adele’s “To Make You Feel My Love”. I had no idea that the student was a dancer- nor did many of her peers- but we all did by the time she was through! The applause was thunderous for her.

Students stayed up late into the evening, reminiscing and making promises of adventures to come and we, the staff, took our opportunities to get to hear what students enjoyed about their time and what they were headed home to.

Perhaps the best encapsulation of Oxford 2019 is another sentiment from a student:

“I can’t wait for next summer to come back!”

Neither can I, kid. Neither can I.

Thanks for reading, and thank you for trusting us with the care and education of your students. We truly enjoyed each and every one of them.

Museums of London (and, The Boys of Lady Margaret Hall Meet an NBA Player in Harrods)

Cyle here, with a very full cup. Let me explain. My great uncle was a successful commercial illustrator who, when I was a kid, told me that everyone has a proverbial “cup”. Into that cup goes many things: stories, art, books, movies, friendships, experiences, etc. Out of that cup comes our “work”- the things we put our energy into. I say this because, after today, everyone’s cup- students and staff alike- is very full. We spent all day in London and saw some amazing things: a Narwal’s tusk! 15th Century Persian Porcelain! Marble sculptures by Rodin! Original sketches by Christian Dior!

Oh, and an NBA player in Harrod’s.

Students were given the option to visit one of three museums based upon their interests: the Museum of Natural History (self explanatory), Victoria and Albert Museum (fine art), and the Science Museum (also self explanatory). I was fortunate enough to lead a group to the Museum of Natural History, a building that, to put it quite mildly, is pretty impressive.

And housed some pretty impressive things, including a full skeleton of Earth’s largest mammal: the blue whale.

(It’s so large, I couldn’t fit it in the frame!)

Later in the day, several students went to see Tina: The Tina Turner Musical at the Aldwych Theatre- but not before getting themselves some fancy ice cream.


Oh, I almost forgot! I’m going to tell the story as it was told to me: Some of our male students went through Harrod’s and saw an extremely tall man perusing the newest Apple gear. They suspected that the man in question was Clint Capela, who plays for the Houston Rockets, and did a quick Google Images search to prove or disprove their suspicion. One of the students (The bravest among them? You decide.) ventured up to the man, asking, “Clint?”

“Who?” the man replied.

“Oh, we just- my friends and I thought you were Clint Capela.”

“No, I don’t know that guy.”


“No, I’m kidding. I’m his brother.”


“No, I’m kidding. It’s me.”

Or, at least, that’s how I imagined it went.

Two Plays, Ice Skating, and a Birthday!

Cyle here, and if you become exhausted by my use of language as you read this post, please kindly blame the wonderful (and outdoor!) performance of The Merchant of Venice I am just returning from. I was fortunate to accompany the Actor’s Workshop class as they attended the Bard’s tale about love, business, prejudice, and the notion of justice. To a person, we’ve all come back delighted and talking about the creative choices that the theatre company made in production, and all of us are impressed by seeing actors perform out in the open in the middle of University Parks. What projection! What expression! What enunciation! (Apologies for the lackluster photograph- I was too taken by the performance!)

At the same time that the Actor’s Workshop class and I were getting to see Antonio and Shylock, a group of students was seeing a performance of The Picture of Dorian Gray that featured a cast of actors who, depending upon the night, were one of two parts, which allows for the play to be performed in four different variations. The students’ reviews of this play were similarly gushing.

Meanwhile, a group of students led by Riley went ice skating at a local rink. There were several students going ice skating for the first time and Riley was impressed by their “can do” spirit!

As if all of that weren’t enough, we all returned to Lady Margaret Hall to celebrate the birthday of twins Grace and Cooper!

We ordered 15 pizzas- and nearly ate them all (while arguing about whether to fold, roll, cut, or bite one’s slice). Ping pong and football were played, cakes were had, and merriment was in the air.


Blenheim Palace

Cyle here, with another episode in our ongoing summer of academics, adventure, and camaraderie. Today, we took a Sunday afternoon trip to Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Short version of this blog post: Blenheim Palace is magnificent.

The day was just the slightest bit overcast, and the grey clouds against the palace made the grounds… well, resplendent. 

The grounds are enormous and many students reported walking several miles over the course of the afternoon, as they circled the lakes…

And took in, perhaps my favorite part of Blenheim- the Rose Garden.

There is also a section of the grounds known as the “Pleasure Gardens” where there are lawn games, and a MAZE. I ran into several students trying to make it to the center of the hedge-walled behemoth, and each one I came upon was grinning and laughing.

Upon return to Lady Margaret Hall, we hosted a Harry Potter Pub Quiz Party in the commons area where students were sorted into houses by drinks (we put a drop of red, green, yellow, or blue food coloring in the bottom of cups and, when we filled the cup with Sprite, their “house” was revealed.

RA Monica created an AP-level Harry Potter quiz (example questions: “Give the full names of each of the founders of the four houses.” and “What are the first four lines of the Sorting Hat’s song?”), and we had a guest: Max, a student magician from Balliol College, a constituent college here at Oxford.

Koby and Will were FASCINATED by Max- in borderline disbelief. It was hysterical to watch.

Ah, summer!


It’s Saturday and we’re in London seeing the sights, including The Globe Theatre, the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Tate Modern Museum. It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: London is incredible. Such history! Such stories! The severity of the grey skies and clouds makes everything so much more so!

Students are loving the tea culture as well, and enjoying it wherever they can- including in the museums themselves!

Slowly, each student is learning whether they prefer the clotted cream over the jam on their scones, or if the jam goes over the top of the clotted cream. Tough choices.

Tomorrow is Blenheim Palace! Birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill!

Harry Potter Tour

This afternoon, students were led on a tour of locations featured throughout the eight Harry Potter films. 

As a high school literature teacher, it’s heartening for me to see students so passionate about these stories. Throughout the tour, they were wholly taken in by the architecture and wealth of little details that each location had to offer. “Oh, this is where Harry,” and “Do you remember the scene when,” and “Oh my gosh!” were common refrains throughout the afternoon.

One of my favorite things about Summerfuel is diversity of students’ backgrounds. Because of Harry Potter and Oxford, students from the United States, Spain, and Brazil made personal connections with one another and learned about where they come from.