An Interview with an Oxford Student on One’s “Bubble”


Name: Sainbayar Erdenebulgan

Home: From Mongolia, but grew up in northwest London

College: New College

Major: History

I interviewed my friend Sainbayar on the ideas of personal “bubbles” in a chain coffee shop called Pret a Manger which is always packed with students and queues out the door. We met at a club I joined (OUAPS – Oxford University Asian Pacific Society). After hearing his story of his time at Oxford and hopes of bringing his Mongolian culture into the university, I asked if I could interview him about his current bubble, how Oxford has changed his bubble, and how he wishes to change his bubble if he could. He kindly agreed. Below is our conversation, some bits cobbled together due to the crowded cafe, but all bits incredibly enlightening to see someone’s bubble through their eyes and words. 

Interview Transcript:

Silvia: How has coming to Oxford from London and Mongolia changed your bubble?

Sainbayar: I think, in a family sense, it definitely decreased my bubble because remaining in contact is very difficult. Like celebrating Mongolian festivals is very difficult. And with the language issue, because I speak English and they speak Mongolian, it is very difficult to maintain a relationship. So I don’t know my family in Mongolia very well because of that. But in a different way, other immigrant families who are not connected to their families from their native home, I’m a lot closer to. So I grew up with this Thai family, and the mum I saw as an auntie and her son I saw as my cousin. I think in ways just as an individual, with other immigrants, I feel like they’re my bubble more. So like people from Arab countries, Africa, because sometimes they’re not close with their family bubble as well. I feel as if I’m more like one of them – especially in London.  


Silvia: And is it like this feeling of familiarity or because you feel as if you’re similar to them that makes them (immigrant students who are not close to families back home) primarily your bubble?

Sainbayar: I think at Oxford it’s more the sense of we’re all different, but we’re different together. Whereas in London, I think it’s much more, I feel familiar with them because they’re the type of people I went to school with. 


Silvia: Even when you went to school in London, did you see yourself gravitate more towards immigrants that weren’t as connected to their native country? 

Sainbayar: I think in London I just gravitated towards anyone because there weren’t that many white kids in London. Actually white kids were the real minority in my school. It’s a real kind of switch at Oxford where suddenly they become the #1 demographic. 


Silvia: After you came to Oxford, how did you go about creating your bubble? And what does your bubble look like right now? 

Sainbayar: So with my bubble, I wouldn’t say I have a friendship group. I think my bubble is just particular individuals that I get along with. I feel as though my bubble can be quite small in that sense because I see people really irregularly and even my closer friends, not so regularly as well. And I feel like Oxford has a very strong kind of friendship group clique social structure. So if you’re not in one, it can be quite difficult to make friends. That’s why it kind of made it necessary for me to find other people who weren’t in cliques or friendship groups – I tend to be a lot closer to them. 


Silvia: What do these cliques usually look like?

Sainbayar: They’ll usually be between subjects or different social backgrounds. So at every Oxford college you’ll find like your white, private school middle class clique and they’ll be like a boy and girl (version) – they’re the two main ones. And then you’ll find like a LGBT clique, you’ll find specific subject cliques, like biology cliques. 


Silvia: So do you think Oxford, in general, is a very inclusive place? 

Sainbayar: I’d say it’s not as inclusive as people make it out to be. And if you want to be included, you have to make it so that you make sure that you’re included. Don’t really rely on other people to sort that out for you. 


Silvia: Also Oxford is very different from other universities and colleges in that there are 39 different colleges under Oxford. Do you think that structure hinders or enhances increasing your bubble?

Sainbayar: I think it does both. So in one way it enhances because it means that there are specific people I bump into (in one’s college) and come across all the time. But it also hinders it in the sense that it kind of restricts the greater capacity of people that I could meet from other subjects. Because, for example, my college (New College) doesn’t do some subjects like material science or geography. So I don’t really know many students doing those (subjects). 


Silvia: Are you satisfied with your bubble right now and your daily habits, your classes, your friends?

Sainbayar: I’d say that I think I made it the best as it could be, considering the circumstances. I feel that I am a very particular kind of person – a lot more reserved but also sociable. I know what kind of people I like. And I think Oxford’s just not the best place for people like me – like I think I’ve done the best I can with my interest in Asia, Christianity, those kinds of stuff. I also find that at Oxford, there are lots of people that are academically intelligent, but in the case of emotional intelligence – it’s quite lacking. Something like lots of people can study, revise, memorize stuff really well, but when it comes to knowing how to get to places or empathizing with people or trying to understand people from a different perspective or background, it’s very difficult. Part of it is because they’ve been raised up in very secluded environments, their entire life. So it can make it that they just haven’t had that type of experience, so it’s quite difficult for them to socialize with someone of a different skin color.  


Silvia: Is that something you would see yourself changing here? Do you want to make more connections between different groups?

Sainbayar: In college I try to be as friendly and as warm to people. I make sure to send friend requests to everyone. I also try to make a conscious effort to talk to people different from me and teach them a bit. 


Silvia: How else do you think you would like to change your bubble if you’re not satisfied with it in any way?

Sainbayar: I guess one aspect that I’m not satisfied with is the irregularity of contact. Using social media can be quite difficult, people can have really bad response times and I don’t have that regular go-to spot or that regular event that I can go to and people can meet up and hang out in. So I think a good thing for my bubble, I guess to have one good friend I do things regularly with, or just meet at a regular time. It doesn’t  have to be so strict, but something that’s more regular, like once or twice a week. Lots of people can be very busy so the workload is quite intense, but also because there’s a lot of things at once – some people get overwhelmed by it. Other people just really struggle to make time for things.

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