When I finished writing the article about my first year at Brasenose, I wasn’t quite expecting the rest of my time at Oxford to unfold as it did. Having to do my year abroad during a global pandemic provided its fair share of difficulties, and some restrictions continued into my final year meaning my university experience was quite unorthodox. However, I have still really enjoyed my time at Brasenose and feel lucky to have spent the past few years in such vibrant, enjoyable company.
The first two terms of my second year were normal and, after the set texts/modules of first year, it was nice to start choosing the topics I wanted to study, and for which I would eventually be examined. I continued my singing (with weekly lessons funded by college) and took part in a few more student productions. I also continued my squash which I had picked up in first year, going down to the weekly college sessions. College sport is always very relaxed and social, so it was always nice and fun to go down with some friends and just hit a ball around.
It was over the Easter holidays of my second year that we went into the first lockdown meaning none of us returned for summer term and all teaching was online. Fortunately for me, just because of how my course worked out, that term was more relaxed than others and so the online teaching was manageable. Because the majority of my teaching was in small classes or tutorials, I didn’t feel the conversion to online teaching saw too much of a sacrifice in standard of education (obviously, for STEM students the opposite was probably the case).
Navigating a year abroad during covid was less than ideal but the faculty reduced the compulsory time abroad to reflect these difficulties. Though the central university were quite strict about means-testing covid financial assistance, Brasenose was far more relaxed and kindly agreed to pay for all of my PCR fit-to-fly tests (of which there were many) even though I could technically afford them. By sheer luck I was in Italy at a time when they had few restrictions: restaurants and bars were allowed to stay open and inter-regional travel was permitted. My year abroad was, compared to many people’s, quite normal, but the faculty were very kind to those who couldn’t get out for covid/Brexit reasons. I stayed for 6 months in Genoa, Liguria, the first three helping out in a hostel (in exchange for free accommodation) and the second three doing an Italian language course in a similar part of the city. I also did a lot of travel in the surrounding area, exploring the Cinque Terre, meeting up in Milan with some friends from Oxford, and doing day trips to lots of small towns just outside of Genoa.
There is a bit of a misconception about doing a 4 year degree that, by the time you reach your 4th year you’ll be a bit lonely because most of your friends have already graduated. In my case, that wasn’t true, not least because all STEM degrees at Oxford are 4 years. I had also been a freshers helper in my 2nd year, so had a few friends in the year below me, and chose to be a freshers helper again at the start of my final year. Brasenose regularly offers opportunities to get involved in access and admissions (thanks to Joe Organ, our wonderful access and admissions officer), and doing this is not only a great way to help encourage people to apply to Oxford but a great way to meet other people from college you might not otherwise have become friends with. As such, my 4th year was probably my most social year, also helped by the fact that in the Easter and Summer terms I had very few contact hours as I was only doing my thesis and revision, not any new content learning. I also got re-involved in student drama, doing some Shakespeare in the autumn term and performing at a few concerts and open mic nights.
Then came finals, the last set of exams which constitute most of your degree at Oxford. Different faculties, since covid, have had different approaches to exams and are in regular consultation with students about what format of exams to offer. For modern languages, language papers (such as translation and writing an essay in your language) were closed-book in-person and literature papers were open-book online exams. For philosophy, all exams were closed-book in-person. I thought this struck a good balance of making sure we had actually learnt and absorbed content without unfairly disadvantaging people who don’t have an encyclopaedic memory (literature exams that are closed-book can sometimes come down to who can remember the best quotes, rather than who has the best understanding of the book). I was fortunate to have a good support network around me during finals and college provide lots of helpful resources to get you through the most intense exams of your life. Luckily, I also finished a week and a half before I had to move out of college, and so had plenty of time to celebrate and unwind with friends in Oxford on this rare occasion where none of us had deadlines to be working towards.
Next year I’m doing a master’s in philosophy at the University of Essex, something I really wasn’t considering before I came to Oxford. Living in a city surrounded by such great academics and opportunities to study your subject in such great depth made me realise that I wasn’t quite done with studying just yet. I have really enjoyed my time at Brasenose and have made lifelong friends and picked up lifelong hobbies. Four unforgettable years.
By Josh Taylor - Philosophy and Beginners' Italian (formerly of Charters School)