Where to begin! Terms at Oxford are only 8 weeks long, so whilst time flies by and I can still remember Freshers’ week like it was yesterday, because so much has happened it also feels like I’ve been here for much longer (in a good way).
When I first arrived, there were plenty of 2nd and 3rd year helpers to help me get moved and settled in and throughout the week there was an abundance of activities to help us get to know college and each other a bit better. We had ‘speed-friending’, puppies down the bar (it was amazing as it sounds), a pub quiz in subject-teams, Tutors dinner so we got to meet our Tutors, and of course Family Dinner. At Oxford, during your first year you have to get ‘married’ to someone, normally one (or two – I have three parents) of your best friends and then when you move into 2nd year, you become ‘parents’ of Freshers. As parents are given children based on subjects, they’re really helpful from both an academic perspective, and at helping you settle into college more generally. Different families do different things throughout the term together and it’s a great way to have some fun with a group of people with similar interests. I’m not much of a party-animal but there was no pressure to go out at all during Freshers – every night there was a movie in the Junior Common Room for those who didn’t fancy going clubbing. In the end, I went out quite a few times during the week and had lots of fun but there was always something else for me to do when I stayed in too.
One thing I learnt early on in my time at Brasenose is that food here is very good, very cheap, and can be a very social occasion. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are available everyday, and we have three formal dinners a week where you have to wear a gown but get a three course meal. Brunch is available instead of Breakfast and Lunch on the weekends, so you don’t miss food by having a lie-in or hangover and it is genuinely university famous. Cheap and insanely delicious.
Freshers Fair was a good example of how special Oxford university is as there was literally a society for everything. From improv to lacrosse to parkour to opera to Octopush (look it up – I had no clue either), there are loads of societies for extra-curriculars. There are also some more ‘serious’ societies, like ones for foreign students, or students from a minority background, to ensure that Oxford is as welcoming a place to be as possible.
Matriculation, a posh word for you officially joining the university, was a great day: the actual ceremony only lasted a few minutes and it was nice to see everyone in black-tie and gowns for the first time. Brasenose also did a scavenger hunt afterwards for teams of freshers with the winners winning rare Brasenose stash and then we had Matriculation Ball at a local venue.
One of my (and I think many other peoples’) main concerns before Oxford was that I’d be constantly working and never have time to do anything extra-curricular or social or just to relax and listen to some music or have a nice hot shower. As I’m doing a language from scratch, I have a few more contact hours (lectures, tutorials, and seminars) than most other subjects, but even then, I still only have 14 hours a week (and, to the annoyance of many of my friends, only one 9am start). Obviously, there are essays and translations and grammar exercises I have to do as homework for each week but I still found time for lots of extracurricular and social activities throughout term. When I did need to work though, the college library was open 24/7 so there was always a quiet, focused environment literally on my doorstep. I get on really well with all my tutors and it’s always a slightly surreal moment when one of their own books is on the suggested reading list: it’s a very humbling reminder that you really are studying the subject you love with genuine experts. Tutorials are always in very small groups (4 at most) as well, so the feedback you get is very precise and personalised which makes the learning a lot easier as you know exactly where you need to improve.
I really enjoy singing and music so joined Brasenose Choir – unlike many other colleges Brasenose’s choir is non-auditioned and very low-pressure so its really fun to be a part of. Having never sung in public before, I thought I’d give it a go as there are plenty of opportunities in college and in the university to perform. I sang at a few college recitals and in a concert of Opera Scenes put on by the Opera Society. There are also loads of student-run arts events every term including plays, concerts, Jazz bands, open-mic nights, charity gigs etc.
I also played Badminton for college with my only real experience being GCSE PE and playing in the garden against my 10-year-old brother. College sport is as committed as you want it to be and there’s plenty of opportunity for low-pressure, friendly games against other colleges. Once a year there is a ‘Cuppers’ tournament in pretty much every sport, and other extra-curriculars like Drama and Music, which is where colleges play against each other to see which one is the best. There’s lots of friendly college rivalry, new and ongoing, that adds to the competition whilst keeping it fun and light-hearted.
Coming from a low-income background I was a bit worried that I’d have to fund some of my time here with money from my parents, but my maintenance grant and University Bursary has covered all my expenses, including several trips to support friends in concerts and plays, and the odd night out and Ball ticket. The subsidised food and accommodation is a great help and there are loads of bursaries that Brasenose provides throughout the year for things like summer courses or educational activities like doing language classes whilst at university. College also provides opportunities for employment outside of term-time, like helping out at interview by taking Year 13s to and from the interview rooms or just playing Bananagrams with them to take their mind off things, which I will be doing after the end of term.
My first term here at Brasenose has been an absolute blast and I’ve achieved so much more (academically and with my extra-curriculars) than I thought I could in a much longer period of time, let alone in 8 weeks. Already I can tell I’m really going to enjoy learning here, living here, and spending time with some amazing people here. I cannot wait for the rest of the year.
By Josh Taylor (Philosophy and Italian 1st Year - formerly of Charters School, Berkshire)