Things They Don't Tell You About Starting Oxford

By Charlotte ‘Poddy’ Wilson @poddywilson

It can be hard to know what to expect from university, especially one with so many preconceived ideas as Oxford. One fear I had was that I would be launched into an intellectual boxing ring, where every word out of my mouth would have to be backed up with a dozen critical sources, and where I would be endlessly pitted against my peers. This, of course, could not be further from the truth. The thing that strikes you right away in classes is the encouraged group dynamic, whether that’s in our in-person discussions, or on the group chat at 10pm the night before a translation’s due.

Similarly, I had been afraid that my laughable incompetence on the college-wide group chat might lead me to going unnoticed during freshers’ week, having not really succeeded in making my digital mark. Again, this was not the case. Those texts and Zoom calls were the opportunity to make acquaintances, and this is the opportunity to make friends, something which no longer strikes fear into my heart, now that I’m surrounded by people with whom I’m bound to have something in common. On the Monday of freshers’ week, a group of us were sat on my bedroom floor, drinking red wine out of novelty gin glasses and talking about Hamlet, and it struck me that we really were students at THE University of Oxford. That was truly the best feeling.

In terms of work, it was a bit alarming at first how much we were left to our own devices. Unlike at A-level, we were asked in our first week to prepare a presentation on a text, and an essay on a film, before even having one class in which to discuss it. However, as my college dad said to me after receiving a string of panicked I-don’t-know-how-to-do-this-please-help messages, the important thing to remember is that absolutely no-one is expecting this to be your best work. Your first essay is always a foundation from which you inevitably improve.

I also realised very quickly how comforting (and useful!) a college family can be. My college dad was actually the first person I met upon arrival at college, and both he and my college mum have been absolute complete gems when it comes to advice, be it laundry hacks, or tips on tackling the reading list.

Finally, my most important discovery was the real meaning of the word ‘adult’. My biggest insecurity coming to uni was (what I thought would be) a complete inability to look after myself – I felt more like a child with a driver’s licence than an actual grown-up. When I met one of my tutors one-on-one, she told me that no-one here completely knows what they’re doing; it’s all an illusion. Everyone here is simply trying to make the best of their situation.

I learnt that you don’t need to have an existential panic every time you’re not sure about something, because your first term is nothing if not a collaborative rite-of-passage.