I was utterly terrified the day I arrived at Brasenose. It was a pleasant, sunny Monday morning in October 2015. I’d spent a good hour the day before picking out what I was going to wear, convinced that I needed a baggy jumper and trainers to make a point of separating myself from the public school crowd I assumed (completely falsely as it turned out - most of our students are from state schools) the imposing sandstone buildings would be filled with.
I remember walking into a small but bright lecture room with my Mum, two Brasenose student helpers and all my luggage in tow. I approached the Academic Administrator – the first of many new titles I would quickly get used to – worrying that if I stood too still everybody in the room would see that my legs were shaking. I stooped down to sign my name in a huge blue leather-bound book, hearing how thousands of Brasenostrils (title number two) before me had written on those same pages. While meant to impress me and fill me with pride about the institution I was about to join, this only had the effect of convincing me further that there had been some sort of mistake – that it was some other Miles Overton who should’ve shown up in Radcliffe Square at 11.30am on Monday 5th October.
My feelings weren’t all bad though. I was eager for a new challenge, in part fuelled by my frustration at spending the summer post-Sixth Form working with a bunch of kids at a holiday camp where I pretended to be interested in whether the red or blue team had won the morning’s football match. I was also excited to meet other sparky young people who liked school and were good at it. Plus there was the fact that I could now study Geography – my favourite subject – without having to show up to a double-period Chemistry lesson every other day.
Fortunately, those feeling of eagerness and excitement were the emotions that came to dominate the next three years. Upon leaving that lecture room, my posse of four lugged my bags up three (!) flights of stairs, through multiple sets of massive wooden doors and into my Staircase XI Room 5 bedroom where I would be living during term time for the next nine months. It wasn’t the biggest room in College, with a slanted ceiling and a big curved wooden beam (where I could hang the staple of student life that are fairy lights) that made the room feel smaller but gave it character. The view, however, was spectacular. Because I was on the top floor I could see not only the entirety of New Quad below, but further onto the dome of the Radcliffe Camera and spires of the University Church.
My Mum and I unpacked the contents of two suitcases, three industrial-sized plastic Ikea sacks and countless tote bags over the course of an hour or so, and then it was time for her to say goodbye. This was a strange moment for both of us, full of so many conflicting emotions. She took a photo of me on my windowsill (as pictured) and I walked her through the as yet unfamiliar grounds back to her car in Radcliffe Square. This cycle of unpacking and goodbyes would become a ritual we repeated nine times while I was a student.
After the goodbye, I headed to the JCR – the common space where us freshers were meant to gather and mingle before any of the planned activities of the day began. Almost instantly, many of my apprehensions about the place were quashed. People were friendly! My Essex accent was complemented by the plethora of local and international voices. I remember who I spoke to first in that room that hummed with a nervous energy, easing my nerves. Freshers’ Week had begun.
The next nine weeks flew by. Fancy dinners, bops (College parties), weird traditions, club nights, meeting Sue Perkins, a College pantomime and just a little bit of Geography later, it was time to reverse what had happened on 5th October, pack up and head home for Christmas. The weeks went so fast that I now feel an outsider gazing at a whirlwind time in my own life. But already, in that short space of time, I had made amazing friends I knew I would become inseparable from.
I felt more settled when I came back after Christmas. I knew what I was doing now: I knew my way around the city, I knew which clubs I liked and I was starting to understand how to write academic essays. So I decided that I was ready to think about what activities I might like to tackle outside of my relatively light studying timetable. Over the next eight terms, I would volunteer at a number of outreach events, become a Broadcasting Editor for a student newspaper and get elected as the College’s student President.
While I loved my degree: learning about people and places; spending a week in the lush forests and black sand beaches of Tenerife; and even interviewing local fishermen back in Essex for my dissertation; what really made my time at Oxford were the activities that I threw myself into wholeheartedly outside of my studies (as well as my friends, of course). I got to help make a short documentary about homelessness in Oxford, a desperate problem that is so visible and tragically under-funded in the small city. Through my role as JCR President I was able to campaign for real change in Brasenose to make the College even more welcoming than it already was. It also allowed me to learn so many valuable skills about communication, negotiation and leadership; make more wonderful friends; and even organise (and perform at...) a music festival.
Yet one question hung over me during much of my time at Brasenose: what next?
From careers events to summer internship applications, putting over 300 bright students in close proximity for three years is bound to spark questions of potential and the future. My mind seemed to cycle through as many career options as there were students, settling on a new field each week. I was going to be a management consultant... a lawyer... a politician... a weather person... live and work in a Sri Lankan yoga retreat (okay, this last one is still on the cards).
At Oxford we were frequently told that we were among the top students not just in the country, but in the world, and that we could therefore do whatever we wanted with our degrees. This was a scary prospect, and I found (and still do find!) this promise of choice overwhelming. But throughout the buzz of career chat I never really took the time to delve deep and think about what I truly enjoyed.
Starting to dig helped me realise that I wanted to do something creative. I’d made videos with a student newspaper, ‘produced’ a festival, and had created countless videos at school and in my free time. I was also great at watching all the latest Netflix series, and usually had something to say about them. So I decided that working in TV could be just the right fit for me. Unfortunately, television isn’t the easiest industry to break in to: nepotism remains an almost requirement for many entry-level roles, and lots of those roles pay so little that you need money before you even start to work. But I learned that the BBC offered a competitive, paid, entry-level scheme and like Oxford, this scheme had an application process with a large number of stages.
I joined the BBC in October last year – nearly five months after my final exam. This time, I didn’t worry so much about what I would wear on my first day. This time, my legs didn’t shake.
The three years that had passed since October 2015 had taught me so much: not just about geography or fighting your cause in a room full of older, more qualified people; but about myself. I was a vastly different person. More confident than I ever had been before. More assertive. Happier. I knew I’d be able to tackle whatever challenges the next phase of my life threw at me.
I’m on the BBC’s Production Trainee Scheme, which means that I spend my days learning camera and radio skills, how to produce telly and tell stories, getting hands-on experience at BBC Three, and making even more dynamic, inspiring friends. I’d always loved consuming content – especially content about people and places, which I suppose is partly why I chose to study Geography – and realised in my final year that I might be able to convert that love into a job post-University. The media industry is often neglected at Oxford in favour of corporate titans like banking and law. This is a shame, because the media world is hard-working, rewarding and most importantly, fun. I love that I get the opportunity to help make content for young people. While I don’t ‘use’ my Geography degree on a day to day basis, I’m grateful for the doors that it has opened for me. Or rather, I am grateful that it hasn’t shut many doors at all.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you want to do in the future. And it doesn’t matter if you make a choice without being 100% certain. No decision is finite. No career is necessarily forever. And I wish I’d known this back at Brasenose when I was fretting at night about what came next. Sometimes, it’s okay to just enjoy what’s happening right now.
By Miles Overton (Southend High School for Boys and Brasenose College)