Oxford is famously depicted as a ‘bubble,’ as a geographically and culturally limited sphere in which we might move between the library, the college bar and the local Tesco without encountering many individuals who aren't affiliated with the University. Whilst this is on the whole a comfortable and homely existence, it can be refreshing to sometimes escape this bubble, and for me the best way to do this during term time is by volunteering. It’s remarkable and eye-opening how a 15 minute bus journey is all it takes to be in a completely different part of Oxford. Given how fortunate we are to be studying and living here, it seems right to me that we engage with those who have had a trickier path in life.
I personally volunteer with Schools Plus, tutoring languages at a school outside of central Oxford where there are a high proportion of pupils on Free School Meals, who have English as a a second language and have special educational needs, and with Branch Up, running fun and educational activity days for children referred by social services. This said, there is such a range of volunteering opportunities offered by the Oxford Hub that there’s almost certainly something to suit every interest, such as volunteering with the elderly, helping the homeless, social enterprise schemes and environmental projects.
For me volunteering in the local community has been something which has broadened my horizons, given me a sense of purpose and also been an incredibly gratifying and sociable opportunity. There is no denying that it can be intense at times, especially when dealing with children who are prone to being (enthusiastically!) unruly, but it is immensely rewarding. The few hours I spend with these young people leaves me feeling like I have made a genuine difference, and is certainly more fulfilling and productive than the many hours I can spend flicking through books in a library without feeling I’ve achieved much! Meeting the children is lots of fun and they never fail to entertain me with their stories and energy. Just last week a pupil I was tutoring French to asked me how to say ‘it’s all gucci’ in French as an answer to an oral question on what they think of their hometown. Additionally it’s really nice to meet other like-minded volunteers and build friendships outside of college. What I particularly like is that it’s largely up to us how much time we commit, so it’s very much possible to balance volunteering alongside our workload and the general frenzy of college life. (And equally any expenses are usually covered which is always a bonus!)
Volunteering is very much open to everyone: unlike with sports teams, musical ensembles or drama productions, you do not necessarily need to have specific qualifications or experience. Mostly it comes down to your enthusiasm for actively supporting good causes. Given that the Oxford environment can feel quite pressured and competitive at times, I have really appreciated this. It has also genuinely helped me develop those all important ‘transferable skills,’ such as resilience, public speaking and time management, which we love to namedrop in applications, but are actually really useful in everyday life as well as just on a CV!
So if you're looking to do something which takes you outside of the cosy OX1 bubble, allows you to meet a range of new people, and broadens your horizons, I would 100% recommend getting involved in volunteering. There are so many options out there and it can be as little time commitment as a few hours per term, whilst making a noteworthy difference in the lives of people less privileged than us and also being a lot of fun!