St John's College Oxford
St John's is currently travelling to Hong Kong, Singapore, the United States and Canada, to meet alumni and friends. Follow our progress in this series of blog posts.

Director of Development and Alumni Relations, Amber Bielby, is travelling with Agnes, our Lamb mascot, whose name was suggested by students and alumni before she set off.

Day 26 

Alumni Tour - Toronto CN Tower at NightJuanita and I had the privilege of hosting a few St John's alumni for dinner at Canoe, on the 54th floor of the TD Tower. The alumni attending have supported the College over many years, helping to engage our Canadian community, taking the lead in organising events and contributing to the Lester B Pearson Scholarship. It was our way of saying thank you and recognising their long-term commitment and volunteering their time on behalf of St John's. I am also grateful for being presented with a pin proudly displaying the Canadian flag, which I will wear on future visits.

The dinner was our final event on this worldwide tour. In addition to the events I hosted in Hong Kong and Singapore, over the last few weeks we have reached out to a quarter of the St John's alumni based in the US and Canada. We hope that you have enjoyed our events and reading about our adventures on this blog. I hope that Agnes will become a feature at Gaudies, Thirty Tuesdays, St John's on the Road and on future travels.

Please join us as we offer alumni the opportunity to connect with each other and with the College at events in the UK and around the world. We understand that there are Alumni Chapters in Hong Kong, Singapore and New York, as well as an interest in creating Chapters in San Francisco and London. For further details, please get in touch by email alumni@sjc.ox.ac.uk.

Day 25 Toronto

It was sad to say goodbye to everyone in New York. We had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed our visit. 

Arriving in Toronto, we prepared for our Thirsty Tuesday event at Firkin on Harbour, a British themed bar in the heart of the St Lawrence area. It was a real treat to meet some of our Toronto-based alumni. Competing with the Blue Jays first home game of the season, we send a big thanks to everyone for making the effort to attend our first Thirsty Tuesday in North America. After a few hours of drinks, nibbles and conversation, we closed the evening on a merry note with all enjoying the relaxed event and good company.

Day 24 New York

The President, Juanita and I attended a wonderful gathering of St John's alumni at the home of Daniel Slifkin (Jurisprudence, 1984) on New York's Upper West Side. We are most grateful to Daniel and his wife for their generous hospitality. 

Following a cold and rainy weekend, the weather turned and we enjoyed a glorious evening on the terrace. Drinks and canapés were served throughout the event and it was fantastic watching alumni reconnect and make new acquaintances, particularly when they discovered common professional and personal interests.

The President gave a short address as the sun went down over the Hudson. She was pleased to update alumni on St John's recent academic success as well as the opening of the Bainton Road Nursery and progress on the Library and Study Centre.

Thank you to everyone attending this special evening in New York. We look forward to future visits to the Big Apple. (Please remember that there is now an established New York Alumni Chapter. For more details, get in touch at alumni@sjc.ox.ac.uk).

New York drinks reception

Day 23  Boston

Arriving in Boston on an early train, I travelled on to Cambridge and Harvard Square. It was a delight to host St John's alumni at Henrietta's Table in The Charles Hotel, over Sunday Brunch, where many alumni were meeting each other for the first time. I then took a tour of Harvard with an alumnus who is an alum of both St John’s and Harvard – an expert tour guide indeed. With a little time remaining in the city on my day trip, I took Agnes over to Boston Common and the Massachusetts State House. 

Day 22  Oysters and alumni

Today I met with an alumnus at Grand Central Station, in the fabulous Oyster Bar – ticking another New York landmark off of my list. An early start tomorrow, off to Boston to host an alumni Sunday Brunch. Juanita and I are really looking forward to meeting more alumni on our travels through North America.

Day 21  The Big Apple

New York spring 2017Our first full day in New York was full of hustle and bustle, a day filled with the sights and sounds of Fifth Avenue, Times Square and Central Park. Agnes attracted attention in Times Square during our little photoshoot. Following all this activity, I had the privilege of meeting with alumni for a drink at the St Regis. We each sampled one of the hotel's cocktails and enjoyed a fantastic start to our New York visit.

Day 20  To the East Coast

Our stay in Vancouver was regrettably short, but the Big Apple beckoned, and Juanita and I travelled to New York for the next leg of our journey. We look forward to meeting many of our alumni in the City, which has the largest contingent of St John's alumni outside the UK.

Day 19  Vancouver

Vancouver spring 2017We left sunny California for the evergreen beauty of Vancouver. Surrounded by mountains and lush forests, southwestern Canada is an outdoor paradise for skiers and hikers alike.

Alongside the Principal Bursar, Juanita and I hosted a group of alumni for dinner at Cibo Trattoria. Located in the heart of Vancouver, the restaurant offered wonderful hospitality with seemingly endless courses. The event was attended not only by alumni living locally, but also by a few on holiday making an effort to join our gathering during their travels. At the end of the night we wished everyone a fond farewell, as we look forward to future events in this exquisite part of the world.

Day 18  California dreaming

San Francisco alumni tour 2017

Juanita and I were grateful to spend a wonderful day with an alumnus, who generously gave us a tour of Dana Point, a city south of Los Angeles. It is truly a stunning part of the world, and we felt very privileged to be able to experience it. Travelling from LA, the highway took us through several areas, including Laguna Beach, on our way to Dana Point. We toured the harbour as well as the coastline, before having lunch with a wonderful ocean view.

Following our return to LA, we headed to the alumni dinner and drinks at Wolfgang Puck's restaurant at the Hotel Belair. Joined by a number of alumni and their guests, as well as the President and Principal Bursar, we sampled the six-course tasting menu and enjoyed each other's company into the evening.

Day 17  Los Angeles

In Los Angeles today, where Juanita and I hosted informal drinks for alumni at The Bungalow in Santa Monica. Situated adjacent to the beach, we had a very enjoyable evening in this quirky, bohemian bar. All the alumni were able to say hello to Agnes, and were delighted learning about our trip to North America, the forthcoming St John's Online Community, the creation of local alumni chapters, and the many ways we are reaching out to alumni around the world.

Day 16  San Francisco

San Francisco spring 2017Sunday Brunch is one of America's great traditions and no visit to the US would be complete without stopping by a restaurant to enjoy a relaxed weekend meal. Joined by the President and Principal Bursar, we held a lovely Sunday Brunch with alumni at Beretta in the Mission area. It was a terrific way to start the day and everyone enjoyed each other's company. There was palpable excitement for our trip to the West Coast, and we were encouraged to arrange regular events for alumni in San Francisco.

We then headed to Palo Alto, for dinner at Il Fornaio. The restaurant kindly gave us the private dining room and we had an evening of great conversation led by the President and Principal Bursar. Alumni learned about progress on the Library and Study Centre, as well as student and academic achievement over the past year. Lively discussions went on well into the evening, a wonderful way to close our visit to Northern California. Alumnus Simon Tong (1994, Mathematics and Computer Science) said after the event: 

‘My wife and I look back at our time at St John’s with great fondness. We feel immensely fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend our formative adult years in such a vibrant and welcoming community. The College truly looked after our wellbeing, and it was a place where we forged several lifelong friendships. Thank you for arranging a wonderful dinner in Palo Alto. It was very enjoyable meeting new faces, hearing the latest developments and recalling old times.’

Day 15  To the West Coast

San Francisco alumni tour 2017Glorious sunshine greeted us in San Francisco, so before all the alumni activities kicked off we explored the city a little, heading to the Golden Gate Bridge and Pier 39. Whether shrouded in clouds or basking in the sun, the Bay Area is beautiful, and on this particular day we were greeted by seals sunning themselves on the pier and boats racing across the water. Tomorrow will be filled with events and we look forward to meeting our West Coast alumni.

Day 14  Seeing the sights

Washington DC alumni tour 2017Following a fantastic evening with St John's alumni, Juanita and I spent our final day in Washington, DC taking in a few sights. At the Museum of American History we enjoyed the Star Spangled Banner exhibit as well as Dorothy's ruby slippers from 'The Wizard of Oz', Julia Child's Kitchen, the First Ladies Gallery and the exhibition on the American Presidency.

With Agnes in tow, we went to the Washington Monument and viewed the White House from the South Lawn. We had a wonderful time in DC and are so grateful for the hospitality and welcome we received from St John's alumni. Tomorrow we leave for San Francisco!

Day 13  Building connections

It was a real privilege spending the day meeting alumni for coffee and learning about their experiences in College, as well as how their lives have been shaped since then. We spoke about their careers, and how coming to the US was not part of their plan when leaving St John's; sometimes great journeys are unexpected. What has been heartening is the thread running through all of my conversations from Asia to North America thus far - the request to connect with fellow alumni locally and around the world. (We will be launching a St John's Online Community in the autumn, but more on that at a later time.)

Washington DC alumni dinnerIn the evening, we gathered together for dinner at Cafe Deluxe. Many of the alumni had not met before and it was fantastic to see the jovial discussions and connections being made throughout our time together. Adam Sandman (1993, Physics) commented: 'It is always a pleasure to reconnect with friends and colleagues from the Washington, DC St John's community. Considering the somber mood back in the UK over Brexit and the turmoil over fake news and hacking here in the USA, it is nice to have a dinner with people from different backgrounds. It shows that the universal thread of humanity is stronger than the politicians would have us believe!' And Roger Arjoon (1995, Economics), said, 'It was great to relive old memories. St Johns was a special place and a special time. Dinner was terrific, it’s always good to see old friends, and make new ones.'

It was a terrific start to our North American adventure, and Juanita and I look forward to meeting more alumni on our travels.

Day 12  Washington DC

Wide boulevards, spacious pavements and expansive buildings make Washington, DC quite a change from Hong Kong and Singapore. My first full day in the US has been spent managing jet lag. Adjusting to Eastern Standard Time from Asia is more of a challenge than expected. Thankfully, Juanita Hughes (Alumni and Benefactor Relations Manager) travelled in from London today. She successfully kept me awake as we made the final preparations for our meetings with alumni, as well as our events in DC and elsewhere. 

Day 11  Around the world

From Singapore to London and London to Washington DC, I travelled for 25 hours and arrived in the US in a bit of a daze. I managed to get some sleep and, in the late evening, indulged in some fantastic jazz at both Service Bar and Jojo's. The music was just what I needed to stay awake and adjust to the new time zone. Looking forward to feeling more oriented to Eastern Standard Time, and to meeting as many of our alumni as I can!

Day 10  On my way

My time in Singapore is coming to an end. I've had a fantastic visit, and am so grateful for the warm welcome and hospitality shown by St John's alumni. On my last day I had lunch with an alumna and learned about Japanese cuisine. Tomorrow I say hello to the United States, and look forward to another exciting leg of the journey. Stay tuned!

Day 9  A delightful dinner

My first visit to Singapore would not have been complete without a trip to Raffles and the obligatory Singapore Sling. The hotel and the flavourful drink were both exquisite. The evening's dinner with alumni was extremely enjoyable, and I'm so grateful to my hosts for a night of lively discussion and a delightful meal.

Day 8  Alumni Weekend

Alumni tour Singapore 2017Alumni from across colleges and faculties gathered in Singapore for the Alumni Weekend. It was evident that the academic rigour our alumni experienced as students continues to play a role in their lives. The exploration of and critical thinking on diverse subjects drew over 500 alumni, to a day filled with talks from Oxford's world-class academic community. 

One of the sessions I attended was entitled 'The Power of Evolution'. Professor Ben Sheldon presented on the impact of our understanding of evolution, and how that understanding can enable us to change our world today. For instance, genetic research into the ancestral location reconstruction of the Zika virus in the Americas has enabled researchers to identify its origin in Brazil in 2013, and not in 2015 at the height of the outbreak. Understanding evolution could generate new ideas about how to solve these types of challenges. (My apologies to Professor Sheldon for taking an eloquent presentation and reducing it to a few sentences.)

The day concluded with a stunning Gala dinner at the Flower Field Hall at Gardens by the Bay. It was my honour to host a table of the College's alumni, and continue with the festivities celebrating our connection to Oxford and St John's.

Day 7  Singapore

Alumni tour Singapore 2017An early flight from Hong Kong to Singapore, for the University's Alumni Weekend and the St John's alumni dinner. The evening was warm, but the drinks were cool and refreshing at Curry Culture on Robertson Quay. Dinner was very jovial and a wide variety of subjects were discussed including, of course, how St John's has transformed over several decades. I'm so pleased that the alumni on the evening were supportive of creating a St John's Alumni Chapter in Singapore, to join the Alumni Chapters in Hong Kong and New York. Please keep an eye on future correspondence as this idea develops. Pictured here are Ian Chai (Jurisprudence, 2011), Sara Norton (Human Sciences, 1989) and, holding a well-travelled Agnes, Oliver Wilkinson (Maths and Philosophy, 2000).

I'm looking forward to the University's Alumni Weekend and the many activities taking place. I hope to meet more St John's alumni from Singapore and those travelling in for this exciting event.

Day 6  A dynamic city

Hong Kong Alumni tour 2017My final day in Hong Kong was spent meeting with alumni and taking a last look at this bustling and dynamic city. I'm tremendously grateful for the warm welcome and hospitality I have received from everyone I have met. St John's alumni have incredibly busy lives, balancing work and family commitments. I greatly appreciate all of them taking the time to say hello and share their stories about life in College and their journeys to where they are today.

A visit to Hong Kong would not be complete without experiencing the nightly Symphony of Lights from the harbour. It was a spectacular multimedia show of music and light across 40 buildings and a fitting send off to my next destination.

Day 5  A great party

HK tour 2017 Nick HunsworthTonight we held a lovely reception for our local alumni, with drinks and dinner at the Hong Kong Club. Our kind host was the Club Chairman, alumnus Nick Hunsworth (seen here with Agnes). Nick studied Law at St John's in 1976-79 and is a Partner at Mayer Brown JSM. 

The event was a wonderful opportunity for alumni to connect and share stories about St John's over a delicious meal. It was fantastic to see alumni, who matriculated across many decades, able to discover that while many things about College have changed, many more have remained the same. From the Lamb and Flag to Canterbury Quad (and even a few Fellows), there were many memories and connections that the alumni had in common.

Hong Kong reception 2017At the end of the evening, I was honoured to make a few remarks about St John's and our achievements, particularly recent student success. The alumni were very proud and pleased to learn about the impact of the College, our academic community and our students.

It is clear that the St John's Alumni Chapter in Hong Kong will thrive with such enthusiastic alumni interested in continuing their connection both with College and with one another.

Day 4  Hong Kong alumni

Hong Kong alumni tour 2017I was delighted to spend a fantastic day seeing another side of Hong Kong, as an alumnus guided me on a walking tour from Parkview to Stanley. Along the way, we saw some stunning sights including the Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir and the surrounding hillside. Stanley, on the south side of the island, has a lively market and wonderful views of Tai Tam Bay.

On returning to Central Hong Kong, I had dinner with another alumnus at the Foreign Correspondents' Club. We sampled both Chinese and Indian cuisine in the charming Hughes Room - a lovely way to end a day meeting with our alumni.

Day 3  Seeing the city

Hong Kong St John's cathedralGlorious sunshine in Hong Kong today, showing off the best of the Central District. I headed to another St John's, the 19th-century St John the Evangelist cathedral (pictured), and from there to the HSBC building, designed by Sir Norman Foster and completed in 1985. This really demonstrates how Hong Kong easily mixes the old with the new. On my way to my meeting with a St John's alumnus at Alexandra House, I took in the stunning views at Victoria Harbour, as the Star Ferries came in and out of the piers.  

Tomorrow I'm meeting another alumnus for an excursion from Parkview to Stanley. I've been told the views are beautiful and a distinct contrast to Hong Kong Central. See you then!

Day 2  Arrival in Hong Kong

Hong KongI've made it to Hong Kong! As I have never been here before, I'm struck by how familiar yet exotic everything is. As I left the airport, the sound of birdsong was incredible. The President had recommended to me a Japanese restaurant in Kennedy Town, so I went in search of it. At Yakiniku Shichirin in the Western District guests grill their own meal; the Wagyu beef was delicious, and a scrumptious way to end a very long day.

Tomorrow, I hit the ground running. Stay tuned!

Day 1  At 37,000 feet

Here at St John's HQ we thought it might be interesting for our alumni, students and friends to join us online as we travel around the world meeting alumni. I will be writing a regular blog with updates on my adventures. I'm currently at 37,000 feet, en route from London to Hong Kong on the first leg of the trip.

I can't wait to meet St John's alumni and friends, and hope to include you in this blog. I'll be taking lots of photos at our events. If you are unable to join us in person, I hope you will enjoy reading about our visits and follow my travels online here and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.