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A Sense of Belonging

By Zaynab Sarguroh

To this day, I have yet to come across a first generation immigrant who has not, at some stage in their life, encountered the dilemma that is an identity crisis; where do I belong?

As the Scottish born daughter of Indian immigrants I, paradoxically, consider myself to be ‘Indian’, whilst in Scotland, yet the moment I arrive in India I am undoubtedly considered ‘foreign’, and unquestionably Scottish.

It’s the deep-set uneasiness that, no matter how Scottish my accent or mannerisms are, I will always be perceived as, first and foremost, brown, and therefore different.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been fortunate enough to have received a wonderfully warm and fulfilling childhood, yet one can only overlook the strange looks you are met with on the streets for so long. I remember, quite recently, being politely pointed towards the non-British passport holders queue by a member of staff at airport immigration (despite the fact that I was as Scottish as the white men that sauntered straight into the queue I was barred from). Only upon revealing my British passport was the barrier dropped, allowing me to pass. Innocent as her intention was, it made me realise that, even today, in an increasingly multicultural society, colour can still mark one man as different from another.

These small, seemingly insignificant incidents are, I believe, what led to an unsubstantiated and frankly quite unnecessary anxiety throughout my personal experience of Oxford’s application process.

Again, I must stress how brilliant my application experience was on the whole, but I was eager to dampen my self-confidence, to block out any praise and far too eager to tell myself that no, I really was not made for Oxford.

Oxford was never an achievable goal for me; this time last year I happily would have settled for Glasgow or Strathclyde (the two most popular universities for prospective students at my school, and at most others across the country). Applying to somewhere as prestigious and physically (and metaphorically) distant as Oxford was rarely heard of. It never seemed to be a plausible option on the UCAS form.

Thus, when I sent my application off last year, on a whim more than anything else (I have five choices I need to fill, why not, I thought) I expected nothing. I vividly remember the evening I received my invitation to an interview at St. Hugh’s. It was a Friday evening, I had begun to unwind after another hectic week at school when I heard an email notification gently ping from the direction of my laptop. My heart skipped a beat. With sweaty palms, I prised open my laptop, and there it was: the irrefutable piece of evidence that I had crossed my very first hurdle.

I fell in love with St Hugh’s. The five days I spent there were thrilling, challenging and brimming with brilliant people from across the country.  In awe, I pondered perhaps I could get it. Absolutely not, I reminded myself soon after I indulged in such an absurd fantasy. Oxford is for the elite, white genius and I ticked none of the ‘right’ boxes.

Offers day came and went: I was fortunate enough (luck had everything to do with it: without it I was incapable of making it to the world’s most elite university) to receive a conditional offer. Inundated with well wishers I allowed myself, again, to entertain the prospect of studying at St. Hugh’s. It’s a conditional offer though, I still had one final hurdle to overcome.

Exams flew by, results day loomed overhead like a dark and ominous cloud for an eternity until one sunny morning, I received a much anticipated text; I surpassed my conditions.

Infuriatingly, however, I could not come to terms with my achievement; I could not accept my offer was on my own merit. I fabricated excuses, a clerical error I proudly explained to the pleasantly surprised family members. My admission was based on my colour- positive discrimination. For the following month I doggedly repeated it; I wasn’t good enough and this stroke of luck was down to a university desperate to fill their quotas, increase the number of students from ethnic minorities and state schools. Those two boxes I unquestionably ticked.

Only recently, I have accepted my minority background (in multiple ways) as something positive. I worked hard, in retrospect, and deserve to be where I am now.

I hope, if you are reading this, and believe you are not ‘right’ for Oxford you have changed your mind at least a little. There is no ‘right’ fit. We each possess a beautiful individualism, bringing with us our unique stories. It’s what makes the renowned, internationally acclaimed institute of Oxford so magical: the incredible people from all corners of this planet.


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