While great pressure lies upon most United States college students to join extracurricular activities (and seek leadership roles in these organizations), the expectation for students at Oxford to participate in clubs and societies does not exist to nearly the same extent. Because of this difference, people seem to genuinely enjoy the activities that they pursue outside of academics at Oxford. This detail appears to promote a healthy balance of work and fun. Sports are also much less “serious” at British universities than at most US colleges, and there is a common joke that Oxford sports teams spend more time drinking together than practicing their sport (which might often be true). British universities cannot recruit athletes, and serious athletes who remain in the United Kingdom often skip college to play in semi-professional and professional sports leagues. Rivalry is usually less intense at Oxford than at American colleges, although the annual rowing competition against Cambridge is always very well-attended to celebrate the centuries-old rivalry within the traditional sport. At Oxford, most of the sports teams are student-led and student-organized. At St Catherine’s College this year, they just began reimbursing students up to £200 ($310) for each sport that they participate in for each academic year. Many of the colleges offer their own sports clubs, which meet less frequently and are less competitive than those of the entire university (which has about 1,000 students).
At Oxford, each of the 44 college offers its own bar and many have cafés, and the bar at St Catherine’s (my college at Oxford) has pints of beer from £1.40 ($2.15) and glasses of wine from £1.80 ($2.80). This bar is open between 6:30p.m. and 11:30p.m. Monday through Saturday, and is regularly fully packed every night after 8pm. At Oxford, Wednesday is oddly the most common night for parties, and most people arrive at dance clubs in downtown Oxford after 12am, which often charge £5 ($7.75) entree fees and offer drinks from £2 ($3.10).
Each of the Oxford colleges are “open” to all Oxford students, although students only have access to a few of the libraries in addition to that of their home college. Students can also dine in the halls of other colleges, as long as a friend who is a home student of that college covers the expense.
I have been frequenting a café on the third floor of the four-story bookstore Blackwells Bookshop, which offers lattes and americanos for a mere £1 ($1.55) between 4:00 and 6:00p.m. for students. During this “happy hour,” the café contains mostly Oxford students working on papers and other assignments. Throughout most coffee shops in Oxford, both mugs and pots of tea often are served with their own pots of cream on a giant circular tray, and many cafes have jars of brown and white sugar cubes on each table.
Many Britons have shared their strong socialist views with me and have supported a woman’s right to choose in regard to abortion. Most of the Britons with whom I have spoken have struggled to understand how Donald Trump has received high support ratings in his campaign for US presidency, and verbalized their disbelief toward the “ridiculousness” of US gun laws. Many English students also bear love for universal healthcare and disdain toward flat taxes.Because the University of Oxford is subsidized by the British government, tuition is £9,000 per year, or about $14,000 (and recently rose from £3,000 per year). Additionally, for most majors in the United Kingdom, undergraduate is achieved in three years and a master’s program is one year. Several Britons have told me that they applied to US and Canadian colleges but ultimately did not attend because they were too expensive (and most do not offer financial aid to international students). Britons are allowed to apply to a maximum of five universities in the United Kingdom, making the application process more self-selected than in the United States.
Throughout my first month at Oxford, I have felt very much at home with a large group of US students; St Catherine’s College has about 35 visiting students (who study at Oxford for between one and three “terms,” or trimesters) from the US. I have also found it easy to relate to students from Hong Kong, as the city appears highly westernized and English-speaking. I have also made several friends from completing psychology surveys, which generally pay around £10 ($15.50) per hour and encourage participants to visit the different colleges and converse with one another. Although my daily life somewhat resembles my years at Amherst, four weeks in Oxford has certainly offered a new outlook on the education system throughout the English-speaking world.