This Student Did One Thing to Get Into Oxford
Posted August 15th, 2019
Update: This story refers to Lauren using her maiden name (Usherwood) at the time it was written; she recently married Marcus and is now Lauren Dip Silas.
At Emily Charter School in Central Minnesota, a young girl was keeping her teachers busy with lots of questions. She had bright red hair, inquisitive eyes, and a determination to study everything. Her name was Lauren Usherwood, and she loved to learn.
Usherwood moved from Denver, Colorado, to Emily, Minnesota, at three years old after her parents divorced. In Central Minnesota, she discovered a fundamental part of her character: curiosity.
At home, she enjoyed the company of her mother and new father (who quickly became her beloved dad), and acquired a love for thinking and learning. There was a ten-year gap between Usherwood and her three older step-siblings, so she had a lot of time left to herself.
“The defining thing that made me very curious as a child was the amount of time I spent by myself,” Usherwood says, reflecting on her childhood. “I just loved to read. I would go outside and play in the dirt and the garden. I had a lot of time to just let questions come to mind and to explore.”
Usherwood’s world was wondrous and imaginative. She would seek quiet reflection in plants and wildlife, and wonder how the world around her worked. Those times would shape Usherwood’s life far beyond such early years.
Usherwood’s Freshman Year at Crown
After completing middle school, Usherwood attended Crosby-Ironton High School, where she participated in PSEO (Post-Secondary Enrollment Options). She also ran on the cross country team, was part of the National Honor Society (NHS), and was the salutatorian (ranked second highest among her peers) of her class, with the honor of speaking at the graduation ceremony.
After graduating with about a hundred other students, Usherwood started at Crown in the fall of 2014. She was also awarded Crown’s JD Williams Scholarship in high school, which allowed her to afford tuition.
“I came to Crown to get a teaching degree,” says Usherwood, “so I was about to take a lot of educational classes which would teach me how to teach, along with a lot of science classes.”
After her first few weeks at Crown, Usherwood showed promise in the Teacher Education Department. Dr. Thor Benson, a former professor in the program, encouraged her academic success. At that time, Dr. Benson was also the director of the honors program and had invited her to join during her JD Williams Scholarship interview.
“The honors program gave me another area of academics to explore, and then taught me how to explore it with critical thinking skills. From there, lots of doors were opened,” she says.
In Usherwood’s freshman year, she took classes with Dr. Glenn Myers and Dr. Michial Farmer. Both professors encouraged her to continue in her honors studies and inspired her to thrive academically.
“I first met Lauren in a Critical Thinking and Writing class,” Dr. Myers recalls. “In this freshman class, the quality of her term paper was so high, we enrolled her in the Senior Seminar class the following semester.”
“I had one conversation with her,” Dr. Farmer says, “and it became clear she was interested in literally everything in the world. I thought, ‘Wow, this person can do anything she wants to do — and she wants to do everything.’”
Usherwood also became a part of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS) while at Crown.
With both honors events and Teacher Education classes tucked into her calendar, Usherwood still made time for friends. Throughout her time at Crown, she encountered deep, nurturing friendships that grew and stretched her spiritually. Right off the bat, she connected with someone who quickly became a lifelong friend — Marcus Dip Silas.
“I met Marcus when I was a freshman, during Welcome Week,” Usherwood remembers. “He’s a few years older than I am, so he was part of the Welcome Week staff. When I first met him, he was behind a camera, filming for the event. We became fast friends.”
Dip Silas and Usherwood got to know each other at a bubble tea shop in Waconia. Dip Silas introduced himself by saying, “I’m from Malaysia.” After receiving a confused look in return, he asked, “Do you know where that is?” Usherwood, prideful about things she didn’t know, casually replied, “I don’t really remember; can you show me?”
“I’d never heard of the place Malaysia,” Usherwood says, laughing. “I didn’t know it was a country. I thought, ‘Well, is it a language? Is it a culture? Is it a habit?’ I’ve done a lot of learning since then.”
From the start, Usherwood and Dip Silas did everything together, from studying to grocery shopping.
“We had a lot of fun together,” Usherwood says with a smile. “He loves going to Trader Joe’s for groceries — and I had a car — so I would drive and we would go on shopping trips.”
Dip Silas double-majored in Biblical and Theological Studies and Intercultural Ministry, and was someone Usherwood could look up to and count on for spiritual growth and intellectual-stretching. The two friends were drawn to each other, and Dip Silas fell in love with her the day they met.
“Marcus brings people together in such a tangible, soul-deep way, and that was one of the things that really drew me to him,” Usherwood states. “He would often have dinner parties or game nights at his apartment and invite people over. That kind of selflessness and desire to see people grow and to be the best that they can be — I love that about him. I love his tender heart for people.”
But Dip Silas and Usherwood were both still young, and decided to wait to officially commit to a relationship.
“It just wasn’t good timing,” says Usherwood. “We still had a lot of growing up to do. It wasn’t until I was a senior four years later that we actually started dating.”
In the meantime, Usherwood excelled in her classes, learning about new opportunities. Like any good student, Usherwood spent time with her professors outside of the classroom. One day, she found herself in Dr. Benson’s office when he tossed a pamphlet across the coffee table and encouraged her to take a look. The pamphlet outlined a study abroad program at Oxford University. “You’re qualified,” he said. “You should do this!”
Usherwood was understandably hesitant, and even laughed at Dr. Benson’s suggestion.
“Oxford? You hear the word ‘Oxford’ and you almost tremble with fear,” she says. “So I was flattered, but I was like, ‘No, that’s for someone else.’”
However, the idea stayed in the back of her head until the right moment arose.
Resident Assistant, Student Chaplain, and a Call from the Holy Spirit
The next two years were filled with learning, growth, and leadership. Dip Silas graduated and transitioned into a three-year nomadic journey to explore the world. He traveled and ministered in over 15 countries. Dip Silas led worship, sometimes making appearances at Crown’s special chapel services, and also went back to school for a time.
In Usherwood’s sophomore year, she became a Resident Assistant for one of Crown’s residence halls, and in her junior year was chosen for the Student Chaplain position.
In the honors program, Usherwood befriended Scotti Moats, Assistant Professor and Chair of the Teacher Education Department. Moats was one of her biggest inspirations, always lifting her up to achieve her goals and be the best she could be.
“Lauren questions what she’s learning and the impact it will have on her life,” says Moats. “With her thoughtful inquisition, she causes me to challenge my own thinking and my way of being.”
At the end of her junior year, that old idea in the back of Usherwood’s head came to the surface. There was a short panel on campus, and someone from the study abroad program came to talk about studying at Oxford. During the panel, something stirred inside Usherwood.
Usherwood could feel the Holy Spirit urging her to take the opportunity. The community of people around her confirmed that this is where God wanted her to go.
With no idea what she was getting herself into, Usherwood sought counsel from Dr. Farmer. She was soon in his office, going over the opportunity with him. It was an eye-opening moment for her.
“He said, ‘You know you have to do this, right? You’d be crazy not to.’”
After she filled out piles of paperwork and sent in the application, all Usherwood could do was wait and pray.
“I didn’t let myself get excited,” Usherwood says. “I was so afraid of being let down.”
It was Usherwood’s senior year. She was student-teaching a high school biology class when she finally received their decision. The program accepted her. It was official, she was going to Oxford. At that moment, Usherwood realized her life would never be the same.
Usherwood’s Unforgettable Semester Abroad
As soon as she stepped off the plane, Usherwood fell in love with Oxford. Dip Silas was faithfully by her side, traveling with to send her on her way to an unforgettable semester.
“Once you see a city like Oxford,” she explains, “with such historical depth, and once you experience the beauty of the people there and the wealth of knowledge, you can’t live as if you’ve not seen those things, you know? It changes everything. It fills your whole world with so much wonder, curiosity, and thankfulness.”
Usherwood studied at Wycliffe Hall, a college within the University of Oxford committed to the Christian life and discovery of truth. She lived in a four-story Victorian-style home with a shared living room and kitchen, studying and communing with the other students living there.
The education at Wycliffe Hall was rigorous. She worked on two new projects every week, attended lectures, and shared knowledge and experiences with everyone she met.
“On Mondays,” Usherwood recalls, “I would sit down with my professor, and he would give me one sheet of paper with a question at the top. For instance, ‘What were the main factors influencing Augustine’s address to so-and-so?’”
It would be her mission for the week to answer that question in detail.
Usherwood got lost in the library, searching for and reading countless books and articles. For every question, she would read 20 sources and soak up all the information she could.
“You have to learn to skim thoroughly,” says Usherwood. “You can’t read word for word, you know. You want to really get the book in your head, and then move on to the next one.”
Once she finished “reading and reading until [her] eyeballs fell out,” Usherwood would present her studies to her professor in a one-hour session. During the session, her professor would give feedback, offer critiques, and talk about the topic. It was expected that by the time she finished, she would be an expert on the subject. After that, she would receive another question.
When Usherwood wasn’t in the library (or at lectures, or talking with professors), she could be found with friends.
“You kind of make your own schedule day-to-day,” Usherwood says. “For me, the days always ended with a ‘food group’. It always ended with eating food with friends.”
She and five of her peers would gather together each night to share a meal.
“In Oxford, you bike or walk, because the buses are kind of expensive,” says Usherwood. “I would fill my backpack half-full with books after leaving the library, then go to the grocery store and fill it the rest of the way with vegetables, potatoes, milk, or anything I needed. At the end of the day, I would ride up the giant hill to where I stayed.”
This daily pattern was so important to Usherwood. It was a way to show hospitality by presenting a meal to her friends, and a way to receive love by having her friends provide a meal for her.
In September, another dream came true when Dip Silas proposed, and she said yes. The newly-engaged couple had one more thing to be excited about.
With a wedding to plan, graduation just around the corner, and a wealth of knowledge, Usherwood’s time at Oxford came to a close. But her life of learning, exploration, and wonder had just begun.
Spring came, and so did graduation.
On May 11, Usherwood had the privilege to speak at the commencement ceremony, donning a purple cord for her Honors Program Scholar award. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in Science Education and a minor in History.
Two weeks later, Lauren Usherwood would become Lauren Dip Silas. Back in Emily, Minnesota, near that old garden and the nature preserve where Usherwood so often played and asked questions, she and Dip Silas committed to a life together of learning, wonder, and love.
As for their future plans, the couple plans to move to Malaysia, where Usherwood will teach English in July, and Dip Silas will do pastoral work. Both of them are also interested in continuing their schooling, perhaps even together.
Although Usherwood has a lot of immediate plans for the future, she still questions what to do with the rest of her life.
“The best answer is, I want to take every opportunity that comes my way,” says Usherwood. “I don’t want to say no to something because I’m scared.”
Usherwood can speak at length on why everyone should pursue academic excellence and explore those unanswered questions.
Here’s a fraction of her encouragement to everyone who is curious like Lauren:
“A bachelor’s degree is a difficult, difficult thing. It’s a life choice, and it’s draining. But it’s so worth it. And education is never wasted. I don’t regret any of the educational opportunities I took. Going to Oxford was expensive. It was super expensive. But having student loans is a privilege. It’s not a burden. It feels like it, but it’s a privilege. The opportunity to keep asking questions even if you think you know the answers, to have those doors opened, and to extend a helping hand to other people — it’s so worth it.”
You may also be interested in: