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Current junior Politics major Johnathan Hershey is currently spending his semester studying abroad in Oxford. Below are his reflections on Oxford and what he learned from European students about their views on America’s health care debate.

Greetings from across the pond!

Messiah has graciously granted me the opportunity to study abroad at Oxford for a semester, so here I am in the UK!

096The Oxford system is pretty different. I recently wrote about it on my own blog (a shameless plug for johnathanhershey.wordpress.com) so you can check out how it works there! It’s so different from anything we experience in the States, and requires A LOT of time management skills, which has taken some adjustment for me (for those of you who know me, you would understand). I definitely encourage anyone interested to check it out. It’s definitely an experience I would recommend; I love it here. Fall has set in here in England with winter not far behind, which means a lot of rain, a lot of clouds when there is no rain, a lot of rain, really short days, cold weather, and, last but not least, a lot of rain.

One thing I have always heard about in the U.S. is how British people typically look down upon U.S. politics, and how they may see their system as “superior”, or in the 092very least, more effective. One night, I was talking to a new British friend who identifies himself as a staunch member of the Conservative party (for those of you who don’t know, there are three major parties in Parliament – Conservative, Liberal Democrats, and Labour). My friend spent his time railing against the evils of what he perceived as Socialist ideals advanced by the Labour party, and how he simply didn’t understand their view on economics and the government’s role in the economy. He thought that government should take a decreased role, and essentially, stay out altogether. Sound familiar?

Like any good students of politics, our topic of conversation eventually shifted to what was currently happening at the time – the American government shutdown over the funding of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more commonly referred to as “Obamacare”. My original perception coming to the UK was that Conservatives here were much more “liberal” (in the American sense of the term; in terms of government control) than Republicans in America, fueled by the memory of one of my more conservative friends from Northern Ireland calling the American Republican Party “pointless”. My new friend here was shattering all my preconceived notions, voicing his support for Conservative policy that sounded much like Republican rhetoric I have heard many times in good ole’ Central Pennsylvania. This shift in conversation, however, put all of my previous thoughts back into play.

“The fact that your government shut down over universal healthcare is just [silly] to me. Why shouldn’t you give anyone healthcare? And you are denying it to the most 097vulnerable and the most helpless of your citizens. This is [absurd]. Here in the UK it is simply a given, everyone deserves free healthcare and everyone has it,” my friend remarked (comments have been edited to make them more appropriate). Our shutdown was childish to him. Even though it was quickly resolved, he saw no point in this overtly partisan conflict. My German roommate shared the same sentiment with me as my British friend: why prevent access to healthcare for the lowest income bracket of people? Aren’t these the people we should be helping onto their feet? My German roommate, needless to say, is a member of the Christian Social Union: Bavaria’s Christian conservative party.

Whether you support the Affordable Care Act, the government shutdown, or neither (there are certainly cogent arguments from both sides of the aisle), I believe that studying a broader array of viewpoints is helpful to anyone, regardless of field of study. Additionally, their thoughts reflect on two fundamental beliefs of Christianity that can sometimes become a paradox: helping the poor and financial stewardship. How do we begin or continue to assist the “least of these”, while efficiently stewarding the resources we have been blessed with? I found my European friends’ opinions to be immensely helpful in my own studies, and beneficial for this student of politics and international relations for living in this increasingly pluralistic world.

Thank you, Johnathan, for sharing your experiences! We wish you luck at Oxford, look forward to hearing more about your semester as it progresses!  

(Pictures: first depicts the main entrance to the Bodleian library, second is a quick view of Magdalen College, third is Radcliffe Camera – part of the Bodleian library)