When I agreed to write this blog about my time at Brasenose, I didn’t quite realise how hard it would be. Sitting in front of a blank page and wishing for words to sort of magically appear did hark back to the early days of First Year. Writing your first essay as a Fresher is a rite of passage. It’s exciting, but also daunting. It’s messy. You don’t know how to structure it, how to footnote, how to begin. Do I even have any opinions? Yes. Yes? But maybe they’re the wrong ones? But hang on, is there such a thing as a wrong argument? I wonder what everyone else is doing… Maybe I should find a book on this. But which book? Oh wait, I’m still not even sure how the library works. Hmmm… maybe if I look at the screen hard enough, some sentences will magically form.
And, as if by magic, four years go by. And guess what? You are still in front of a blank screen willing words into action. Only this time it isn’t the weight of inexperience that’s holding you back. It’s the prospect of condensing four years of uni into a 700-word blog post. That’s four years’ worth (well, technically three years plus a Year Abroad’s worth) of tutes, essays, translations, and reading lists. It’s also four years of touring coffee shops, working your way through the G&Ds ice cream flavours, strolling through Uni Parks, chatting over Hall brunch, meeting new people, trying new things, or simply doing old things you loved but with new people. It’s four years of making life-long friendships. It’s four years of learning. Yes, learning-learning, but also life-learning learning.
I very nearly didn’t apply to Oxford, and very nearly didn’t accept the offer when it did come through. It hadn’t been my ‘life’s dream’ to go there. I loved my subject and worked hard, but was convinced that everyone else applying would already be leaps and bounds ahead. You see, a non-selective state schooling in the North East very kindly leaves its mark of self-doubt. Don’t get me wrong, I’d been fortunate enough to have encouraging teachers, friends, and parents – something that should never be taken for granted. However, I just couldn’t shake the looming sense of imposter syndrome for even applying. It felt that everyone back home would be thinking that I thought I was smarter than I was, that I was somehow ‘too’ ambitious for my station and clearly taking on more than I could chew. Yet, there was also the creeping doubt that they were probably right, and that I’d either be alienated or fall behind, if only because of these very concerns in the first place! Spoiler alert: I did apply. I did get in. I did accept the offer. And next month, I graduate from what I now consider my second home.
That is at least in part attributable to Brasenose itself. Having rocked up pretty last minute to the September Open Day in Year 13 (I was dead-set against Oxbridge at the end of Year 12), it was all smiles from the get-go. Think big banners and the kindest student helpers you can imagine (and no, I’m not just saying that because my Brasenose friends and I did it two years later). With a train to catch imminently, I had a five-minute speed-tour of the college, during which time every apprehension of mine and every Oxbridge myth was shattered. No, not everyone is from private school [editor's note: 80% of our UK undergraduates are from state schools - but everyone is welcome). No, not everyone is fluent in umpteen languages. No, not everyone has interned for the EU. Fast forward several months, and the down-to-earth heart of Brasenose was on full show for interviews. In a packed JCR, student helpers and interviewees were chatting over tea and biscuits, playing board games, sprawled over sofas left right and centre. A former County Durhamer himself, our Head Porter even popped by to say hello and swap stories of places and histories we both knew.
Leaving interviews, I was firmly of the attitude that what will be will be. If anything, I’d had a lovely trip down South for a few days! Oxford wasn’t the be all and end all, and I do stand by that to this day. But it also isn’t the place that many Northern state schoolers think it to be. Be it through my own experiences, or the education I’ve received these past few years, my Oxford years have taught me to look beyond knee-jerk reactions. They have taught me to think critically about the world, to put aside your biases, and to believe firmly in your own capabilities. I encourage any applicant to do the same.
by Rebecca Hopper - formerly of Durham Johnston School