Welcome to Oxford
The city of Oxford has many things going for it, but being easy to navigate late at night is not one of them. At least, that’s how I feel on my first night at the University of Oxford. The rest of the “freshers” and I have been released into town after an evening of orientation, and it’s a free for all of directional incompetence as we walk along the cobbled streets. I look for landmarks, but the buildings in the area look like shuttered castles, all cold stone and brass knockers on thick wooden doors. The freshers are in good spirits though, whooping and laughing. I can’t decide whether the city feels really old or really young. One girl, in a red party dress, skips along the street next to an ancient church. New Student Orientation at CC was two years ago for me, but I can’t help but be swept up into the excitement. Fresher’s Week, like any worthy beginning, feels like endless possibility.
I didn’t know what to expect when I signed up to come to Oxford, but what I have found in my first week on campus is a talented and friendly bunch of people. At Oxford, each student is placed into a residential “college,” (there are 38), which is where he eats, sleeps, hangs out, and on occasion panics due to the ridiculous amount of work left for his essays. Many of the colleges have been here for hundreds of years and contain gorgeous gardens or student rooms older than the United States. My college, St. Catherine’s (affectionately known as Catz), is Oxford’s youngest and largest. We have nearly 500 undergraduates who live in “staircases” surrounding a central quad. (Literally, the rooms are off a staircase; there’s nary a hallway in sight.) For those who were wondering, I can confirm that it is indeed forbidden to walk on the quads here; some colleges even levy fines. Since the legal drinking age is eighteen, the college has a cozy bar where people hang out in the evenings and play darts. During the day however, the bar and the rest of the Junior Common Room are empty. Even during orientation weekend, we have library hours to look forward to.
Rather than going to seminars every day, students here go to a library (there are an infinite number of them, it seems) to independently research essays. The actual instructional time is called a “tutorial” and happens for an hour either once a week or once every other week. What happens during the tutorial is up to the tutor but it could include discussion, debate, question and answer time, or even (gulp) the student reading his essay aloud and then defending it. My tutorials are not yet underway, but I imagine them as a combination of a friendly chat with Professor McGonagall, and being interrogated by Simon Cowell in front of a jeering crowd.
What is there to do here outside of class? As far as I can tell, literally anything you can imagine. On the second day of my stay in Oxford, I was invited to an event innocently titled “Fresher’s Fair,” where the typically austere Exam School was converted into a maze of stalls advertising every one of the University’s student organizations. Perhaps some readers will identify with the sinking sensation that follows subscribing to a listserv for an activity such as reenacting medieval battles (complete with mead and feasting afterwards for the survivors)? I also discovered a sport that sounds like underwater hockey. And a classical drama society that puts on Greek tragedies in Greek. And an organization dedicated specifically to strolling in the countryside. You get the idea.
What will my time in Oxford hold? Aside from an increased appreciation for meat pies and finally learning how to use an umbrella, who can say. I invite you to join me and find out.
Welcome to Oxford.