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A First Year at Oxford…during Covid

By Nicola Boys

Suffice to say, beginning at Oxford during a pandemic certainly wasn’t what I’d imagined when I applied. There was even a time where I worried that I wouldn’t be able to physically go to university at all, either because the government would decide my grades for me or because we wouldn’t be allowed to travel across the country. Fortunately, despite all the confusing ‘guidance’, October 2020 saw me unpacking in my new room at St Hughs and sitting down for my first (online) lectures. In fact, that room was not only where I did all my lectures from, but also in which I did lab practicals, computer sessions and sat my end-of- year exams (prelims).

First term, or Michaelmas, was tricky. Even in normal years, getting allocated strangers to live with in a new city is nerve-wracking for most. This year however, they were the only people we could legally socialise with. St Hughs did its best, allowing for people to change accommodation and rusticate (return next year) if they chose to. November saw us plunged into another lockdown and this combination of grey skies, new people and new ways of learning was a big challenge to me. I am, however, incredibly grateful to the Biology team, who did a fantastic job of trying to engage with us as much as was possible. While I still haven’t had a face-to-face tutorial, I have held birds, dissected sharks and done my own mini-project in the Botanic Gardens.

Hilary term didn’t quite go to plan. When we left at the end of Michaelmas, it was with promises to each other of all returning in six weeks time and properly starting our lives in Oxford. Then came more government rules and another setback. Those students who were deemed able enough to work through the term at home were made to do so. I was fortunate to be allowed to return to my college room due to problems at home, back to an empty accommodation building and a very empty Oxford. Slowly, other science students and those with more hands-on courses returned and eventually, the majority were back months later for third term.

Trinity term felt like another world to me. I finally experienced what all the excitement for a ‘normal life’ at Oxford was for. I joined rowing and raced in Bumps, I attended my first formal and took pictures in long dresses, I had a week of fieldtrips with my department and celebrated finishing my exams! I made some awesome friends, enjoyed many happy days and now I can’t wait to return for my second year.

If you’re that student arriving in their new room in October, I can say it’s worth all that hard work you’ve put into your application and the past two years of sixth form. You may struggle when you first arrive, moving away and learning how to learn at Oxford is not easy, but it’ll only get better.


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