Freshers Week

Originally posted October 10, 2011.

I have now officially been at Oxford for a week and now that I have a start for my first essay, I can finally provide myself time to share my adventures here with the rest of the world.

It’s surreal finally being here.  I couldn’t even take it in that I was staring at the Thames when I looked out my bedroom window or that when I stare straight out of the main entrance to Hertford College, I’m looking directly at the Bodleian Library.  It took so much for me to get here, both literally and figuratively, that I couldn’t believe that these weren’t more of my best dreams.  I can see why so many people see Hogwarts when they walk around the city.  The old buildings, the green meadows, the banks of the Thames, the cute shops, and the people walking around in black robes all contribute to this idea of the fantasy school.  I try not to walk around with my camera out all the time because the tourists can get really annoying, but it’s hard not to want to capture every moment.

The view out of my window. Over to the right, the river continues and that’s where all the boathouses are located. Oh yeah, and the bridge to the left, which I walk over everyday, is from Saxon times. What the heck!

The first week was a lot like my first week at Rice.  They call is “Week Naught” or “0th Week” because it’s when students are trickling back to college, but tutorials haven’t yet started.  It’s also called “Freshers Week” because it’s when all the new students or first years are moving in also.  Even though I’m a junior in college in America, I felt very much like a “fresher” this week.  It was like going through orientation all over again, except with an entirely new country and culture thrown into the mix.  For the first few days I was extremely overwhelmed.  I had so many activities to choose from, plus there was a lot of pressure to meet British students.  As the visiting students’ tutor and others warned me, the British can be reserved at first.  They don’t smile at people in the street and they can seem unfriendly.  But, as I learned, if you just keep showing up, you’ll eventually start making connections.

I’ve also loved exploring the different libraries.  Because of the tutorial system, I only meet with my tutors for about an hour every week or every other week.  Instead of going to lots of classes, I work on readings and an essay on my own.  It’s a much more independent system and I’ll have to explain more about it later.  Since a lot of the books can’t be checked out of the libraries, it means I have to spend most of my days working outside of my room.  I thought this would be a challenge for me.  I spend all of my study time at Rice in my room, but I’ve found it to be a smooth transition actually.  I think it helps that there are so many libraries and so many of them are close to the Hertford College buildings.  I can walk across the street to the Bodleian Library, step just across the street to the Radcliffe Camera (iconic circular building pictured below), or remain inside Hertford to work in their cozy library.  Instead of feeling claustrophobic or bored, I like hearing the sounds of another student’s laptop quietly clicking or the pages of a book being softly turned.  Most of all, I feel inspired to be surrounded by so many books.  I feel like they are above me, below me, and on shelves in every direction.  As I read Bronte, I can see old tomes of Wilde and the Oxford English Dictionary peeking out from the shelves above me.  More than anything else, I think these iconic places are what make studying at Oxford University so special.  Here I am part of a long, long legacy of great literary minds and I can see this legacy everywhere I turn.

So much has happened this week, so I’ll try to hit some of the other highlights:

1) DTB: This is the name of the Hertford College Bar.  I still don’t know what it stands for, but inside they have lots of cheap (and good) beer and it’s where all the students hang out.  Thanks to DTB I got to meet a lot of the second years on my first night in town.

2) Parkend: Parkend is technically the name of the street where the club was located and not the club’s actual name, but apparently it’s a Hertford thing to continue and call it by this name.  It was actually my first visit to a club period.  I planned to go at home to celebrate my 21stbirthday, but that never worked out.  It was great fun, besides the fact that we had to wear burgundy polos that said Hertford on them. Definitely not appropriate club attire.  But the music was bouncy, they had bubbles, and we all were glad we braved the ugly clothes and the rain to get there.

3) “Oxford at Night:” So this was the sly name the freshers committee gave to the pub-crawl.  In the end we only visited two pubs, but I had a great ale at one (it wasn’t cold but I barely even noticed) and the other one wasn’t too expensive.  But most importantly, I got to chat with a big group of freshers.  There was a kid of Poland who was really nice, a girl studying law, and one girl studying English who gave me a lot of great suggestions for what to read next.

4) Hertford Chapel Choir: When I heard the choir was non-auditioning, I was in.  Not that I can’t pass an audition, but I didn’t want the pressure.  This way it’s just relaxing at the end of the week to slip into the small Hertford chapel and sing for about an hour and a half about God with a bunch of other students.  Most of them are older students from Hertford, but there are some members that have graduated and just come back or are from other colleges in the area.  Plus, they served us pizza for dinner on Friday and usually everybody goes to dinner after service on Sundays, too.  I’m looking forward to lots of bonding time. Also, because of this I had the excuse to buy one of the commoner’s gowns.  I wasn’t going to at first because I’m only here for the term, but when I heard we had to wear them for choir performances on Sundays, I knew it would be worth it.  I feel so much like a Hogwarts student when I wear it!

5) Rowing: I wasn’t going to try rowing here because so many people have told me that it sucks your life away.  On a whim, I scribbled my name down on the sign-up list and ended up at the Hertford boathouse on Saturday afternoon.  And I’m so happy I went.  Not only is it great exercise (I barely did anything and my back was sore the next day), but also you get to be outdoors on the Thames (which they call the Isis here because of course that wouldn’t be confusing).  I know it may take my time away from other things, but I feel like it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing to say you rowed at Oxford, even just for the term.  And again, lots of team bonding will occur, and I love that.

6) My College Family: Over the summer I got this a letter from my “college parents.”  It was really welcoming and sweet, but I didn’t quite understand the system until I got here.  Within the colleges, they set up families for everyone so when you get here, you have a little group to get to know and some older students to lead you into life at Hertford. It’s fun because you have brothers and sisters and—if your family is really close—even some grandparents and great-grandparents.  Then traditionally on the Saturday night of 0th week, the parents will host a family meal.  Most of the families went out to Pizza Express or something, but my parents cooked for us.  The pasta and salad were so good, especially after eating lots of really starchy, heavy food for the past week.  I enjoyed getting to know my brothers and sisters: one Geography student from Bristol, an engineer who likes to play cricket, and then two other visiting students from SMU and Princeton.  Even though my parents are actually younger than me, I’m happy to have them.  I felt very much part of Hertford after that.

7) Jazz and Cocktails: This is the culminating event of freshers week. Everyone gathers in “fancy dress” in hall for … well, jazz and cocktails. Some of the cocktails were good, some were too sweet, and some tasted way too alcoholic, but it was fun to mingle with the other students.  My favorite part was when Out of the Blue, the men’s a cappella group, performed.  They started with “Use Somebody” and the entire room went from loud conversation buzzing to silent (or almost silent).  I have to admit, I usually hate this song; it’s overplayed on the radio and I don’t like the main idea of what they are singing anyways.  In this case I could make an exception.  I loved their rendition.  Also, they are probably the most engaging a cappella group that I’ve seen perform live.  I love the Rice Phils, but they do not have the same moves as these guys!  I was sad when they finished singing and the normal jazz music started up again.

Originally I was nervous for this event because of the dress code.  When I arrived, I didn’t have any clothing formal enough for this event.  I got nervous and when I went shopping on Tuesday, I asked my friend Rabia timidly if she thought the dress I’d picked was right.  She said it looked fine, but I still wasn’t sure.  I went to check out.  The checkout lady commented, “My, that’s smart!” when she folded the dress.  I felt a little better.  And then I arrived at the event on Saturday.  I got so many compliments on my dress.  Everyone said that I looked very classic, which is my favorite look, so I was extremely pleased.  I hope all my worries at Oxford turn out to be similarly unfounded, and that I can find more excuses to go shopping!

Freshers Week was a bunch of bustling fun, but I hope this week will help me settle into a routine.  Hopefully I won’t spend all days like today—library, lunch, library, dinner—but that I can find a balance between all the lectures, tutorials, clubs, sports, and socializing.

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About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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