To Oxford and Beyond

SDSU grad finishes up first term as Rhodes Scholar

Symmone Gauer, Lifestyles Editor (She/Her)

Just over a year ago, Hattie Seten received the news that she was a Rhodes Scholarship recipient, only the second student from South Dakota State University to ever receive this honor. For the then-SDSU senior, that news changed her life.

Seten graduated from SDSU this May with a triple major in political science, Spanish and global studies, and her achievement in becoming a Rhodes Scholar meant she was able to start her master’s program at Oxford University in England this fall.

“I’d say what a year,” she said. “The final semester of my senior year at SDSU was just such a special one, and then starting at Oxford is an experience that is really quite incredible. And I am learning so much and am so very appreciative that I have the chance to be here.”

Seten is getting her master’s in comparative government, which is also called an MPhil in Politics. Her major is under the Department of Political and International Relations, which is part of St. John’s College—one of the 39 college communities at Oxford.

“I feel like it’s really going well, and I’m really loving it,” Seten said. “I’ve also made quite a few friends in those social communities.”

 The school year operates on a trimester schedule, with eight weeks of courses, six weeks off and then a summer break. Seten is just finishing the Michaelmas term, which goes from Oct. 10 through Dec. 4. The Hilary term is from Jan. 16 to March 12, and the Trinity term is from April 24 to June 18.

This first year of her program is taught courses, and next year will be entirely independent research and working on her thesis. This term, Seten has three courses: comparative government core seminar, research methods and design, and statistics.

“It’s quite rigorous, but I feel like SDSU has prepared me to be really successful in my courses,” she said.

So far, Seten has had the opportunity to meet and interact with several faculty members through different guest lectures and events. She also has a new professor each week in her core seminar class, and Oxford has what’s called the tutorial system.

That is where two students are assigned to one faculty member, and each student will write essays that are then critiqued by their peer partner and professor. They go through point by point to refine each other’s writing skills.

“It’s a little intimidating, [but a] really helpful process,” she said.

She and the other 13 students in her master’s group also have “robust discussions” each week on varying topics such as voting, democracy, immigration and ethnic groups. Seten sees a huge benefit in studying comparative government outside of her home country.

“I think that global classroom transforms my educational experience because of the variety and perspectives and experiences that are brought into our course discussion.”

The school day looks a little different from what she experienced at State. Seten joined Oxford’s rowing team, so by 6 a.m., she is on the river. The sun comes up at about 7:40 a.m. now, and Seten describes watching the sunrise as a “breathtaking experience.”

Afterward, she’ll usually have breakfast at the dining hall, and she eats lunch with friends.

Seten has classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and typically spends most of her day bouncing around to different libraries.

“There are a lot of readings, and a lot of the study is independent, very self-focused and self-driven,” she said.

Later in the day, she likes to walk around campus and grab a snack or have tea, and there are always guest speakers or fun “artsy” events to attend in the evenings.

Seten also loves to hang out with friends or wander around Oxford and admire the architecture or visit museums. She’s taken weekend trips to London, visited Bath and even participated in a fun, competitive race between Oxford and Cambridge students.

“I’m fortunate that I’m beginning my journey here at Oxford right as everything is opening up,” Seten said, noting that the previous year’s Rhodes scholars were greatly affected by the pandemic.

England has a high vaccination rate — over 90% having received at least one dose and about 80% being fully vaccinated, according to statistics from — and students place a lot of emphasis on at-home testing, many of them taking a test at least twice a week before going to class.

This is Seten’s first time in Europe, but not her first time abroad. She’s done study abroad programs in Morocco, Jordan and one briefly in Canada as well as interned at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.

“Having studied abroad and being away from home has prepared me to be really competent in myself,” she said. “I feel like I have the skills and abilities to navigate a foreign country.”

Though very different from her previous experiences, England was less daunting because English is the native language, whereas before she’d have to depend on Spanish and Arabic language skills.

“Speaking the language of a country,” Seten said, “helps you form connections and have a deeper understanding of where you’re at and the people you’re surrounded by.” Her skills have allowed her to read other news sources and better understand what’s going on in the world.

Language is not only something she loves, but also something that will come in handy with her future career: joining the U.S. Foreign Service and working for the U.S. Department of State.

This dream came about when she took a career test in eighth grade, and foreign service was in the top three career suggestions. From then on, Seten made a commitment to learning languages and studying global politics. Being at Oxford is helping her to reach her goal.

“One really strong asset of the Rhodes is that there is a huge Rhodes community here at Oxford, and so I am surrounded by people who are committed to making a difference—to fighting the world’s fight, which is one of the main tenets of the Rhodes Scholarship program.”

Missing people is always a challenge, but Seten’s previous study abroad opportunities have allowed her to get used to being away from home. In addition, her mom is her biggest supporter.

“If there’s something that I’m interested in, my mom is right there behind me,” she said.

She keeps in touch with everyone through apps like FaceTime and WhatsApp. She also finds other ways to connect to SDSU like by streaming the football season and watching games with her new British roommates.

“That’s a lot of fun—we always like to watch a Jackrabbit win!”

Staying connected to SDSU is important to her. Seten couldn’t stress enough how thankful she was to SDSU for the time she spent there and for the support she received.

“I have a lot of pride in being a Jackrabbit, and I am so proud to be able to represent SDSU at Oxford … I truly wouldn’t be here without SDSU.”

She cited Molly Enz and Evren Celik Wiltse as two specific faculty members who made an impact.

“They challenged me and encouraged me to grow. And even outside of faculty, community members and SDSU Administration were very supportive of me during my time at SDSU as well as within the Rhodes Scholarship application process.”

The opportunity to study at Oxford is a true gift, Seten said.

“And I couldn’t be more grateful.”