So a few days ago I tackled a little bit of what it’s like at Oxford academically. Now I’d like to talk a about what it is like being here in general and what I’ve been doing besides academics.
Let me just start out by saying that as a first gen college student, this place is intimidating.
I keep thinking back to what it was like in my first few months at Whitman,when I was trying to learn what was normal and expected on a college campus. Whitman is sort of a ‘legacy’ type of school. Many of my fellow students’ parents went to Whitman when they were younger, and it isn’t uncommon for students to have siblings that are currently attending or have recently graduated. When I got to campus, it seemed like everyone else already had friends from high school at Whitman to show them around or at least had parents who were professors at other schools who could give general college advice. I felt like I had shown up from another planet: I was not just a lost freshman, but a lost freshman who knew no one, had no idea how college worked, and certainly didn’t have the courage to ask anyone for help. Luckily, I started to meet other first gen students with similar experiences, and I realized that it wasn’t abnormal to feel alienated. Last fall, I got to help out with first year orientation, and I saw how many new students were in the same situation I had been in–and how consistently first gen students tend to feel marginalized in a new college atmosphere. I realized that my being confused and overwhelmed and out of my element and completely terrified (about nearly every aspect of college, from academics to social life) was 100% normal. This realization is huge in learning to cope and to feel comfortable asking for help.
Now that I’m at Oxford, I have many of the same feelings, but magnified. I’ve changed in that I’ve already had nearly three years’ experience in college: I’m no longer a total newbie. But learning the lingo here (both British terms and Oxford-specific terms), trying to find my way around formidable academic buildings, and adjusting to a very unique social scene (I think much socializing happens at ‘bops,’ which are dances/parties usually at clubs, but as a non-drinker I haven’t gotten the courage to go to one yet) have all made me feel completely overwhelmed again. The funny thing is, rather than feeling alienated by the other visiting students around me, I feel so much more comfortable opening up to them. Yes, they are very similar to the usual student at Whitman–upper middle class, often with professors as parents. But it feels like no one has an advantage here, because we are all equally lost. The environment here is so different that regardless of background, we are all pretty clueless and in need of help. I have made several close friends already by admitting to them that I am very nervous and confused here, and by hearing similar sentiments from them in return. Just like at Whitman, I’ve learned that it is perfectly normal and acceptable to feel these things and accept them for what they are.
Oxford does feel like a place for the ‘higher-ups’ of society sometimes. A friend and I were talking a few days ago about all the towers and spires of the old buildings here, and how they make us feel like we need to live up to some magnificent standard of excellence to be worthy in the presence of such grandiose architecture. It sounds silly, but that really is the vibe that I’ve gotten here. Confusion and nervousness don’t help in making me feel worthy of those spires. But I think that beneath the magnificence of this place, every student is just a scared teen or twenty-something, even the most brilliant minds here. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself!
Anyway, as for doing: it is incredible to be living in a city with so many opportunities for exploration. I’m from a pretty rural area, and I normally go to school in a similarly rural area. I’m not used to being able to walk down the street and find world-renowned museums to wander through, or constantly have the opportunity to attend talks by famous people who come to visit (I just saw Jill Stein speak last week, and friends of mine saw Gloria Steinem and Shia Labeouf as well!). Plus there are beautiful churches everywhere–I walked into the University Church (gorgeous, I’ll attach a photo I took the other evening, it is the large building with blossomed trees in front) one Saturday and there was a wind ensemble practicing right in the center, filling the whole place with music. What an experience! The University is made up of many smaller colleges (I go to Hertford), so another fun activity is visiting other colleges for events. Two nights ago I saw a play adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray at St. Hilda’s College, and I often see a friend of mine perform in the choral evensong at St. John’s.
There’s also the fact that Oxford is so close to many other great locations. A few weeks ago I took a lovely trip with IFSA-Butler to Bath, once home to Jane Austen and also the location of the ancient Roman baths! It was terribly cold and rainy, but I’ll attach some photos to show just how wonderful the trip was. In general, I’m open to pretty much any and every travel opportunity. It is thrilling to come to a place where there is so much to do and see. As spring break approaches, I am getting fidgety just thinking of all the plans that I’ve made…but more on that soon!