Arrivals and Life as a New College “Fresher”
One thing that I’m very happy to report is that I was wrong about the weather. Except for one gray day, my first week has been sunny and relatively mild. Something I’m told will continue for most of the month. Everything else is just as beautiful as I expected, from the Radcliffe Camera outside my window (see photo) to the delicious and fun Fresher’s dinner.
Tomorrow is the last week of Fresher’s week, an annual orientation program mostly put on by student government filled with parties and events, so I thought it would be a good time to start reporting on my study abroad experience. There’s certainly a lot to talk about so far, so let’s begin.
The arrival was surprisingly seamless given COVID’s difficulties and I believe will be similar for future students. A few months before you’re set to start your year, which at Oxford is in the first or second week of October, you fill out forms and apply to the UK government for a Visa. There is rarely any need to purchase an expedited package, as you should have your visa in about two weeks, and I should note that while Visas are handled by private companies, if you need to contact them, go through your local consulate as they will have the best contact information and will help you get your documents back in time if there seems to be a delay.
I arrived to Oxford last Sunday, visa stapled in passport and about half the reading list completed. I had one night in my beautiful room in the Old Quad of New College Oxford before the first years were due to arrive, for 0th week, or the week before term starts. For upper level students, this is a week of exams, but for first years, or freshers, it’s a week to make friends and follow an events schedule that goes at break-neck pace (and will likely leave you with a bit of a cold, known as Freshers flu).
On the first day, we mostly had information sessions, but by Monday night, the party scene was in full swing. One thing I should definitely note, particularly as a pretty reticent drinker myself, is that drinking culture is unavoidable – though you will not be pressured to take part, most of the other kids will and will be able to drink more than you frankly thought possible. There will, however, be sober angels each night, mostly members of the college’s student council, the JCR, to make sure that everyone is safe and that any one not drinking will have buddies.
Each night featured multiple events, always ending with a club, none of which were mandatory. In addition to clubbing (which actually almost all of the Amherst students did not do out of COVID concerns), we had pizza with all of the first years; on Tuesday, there was a film night and an LGBT drinks, on Wednesday, there was a quiz night (the Amherst team triumphed), on Thursday, there was a toga party (I wore a Star Wars duvet cover over leggings and a t shirt) and Friday there was evening drinks and games in the JCR. They keep you busy in order to stave off homesickness, and I think, especially given that I was never more than a few hours from home at Amherst (and never left last year), it works perfectly. I’ve had a lot of fun every day. What’s more, I need to reiterate just how nice and friendly everyone is here. The other kids are non-judgmental, intelligent, and relaxed. They will talk with you about anything and everything, and they’re just as terrified about the work (which will be next week’s topic) as you are. I mean everyone, the porters (the people who take care of the college), the tutors, and the other study abroad students are just beyond kind and open. That said, I’ve been really glad that there has been other Amherst students here as well. When I don’t want to go clubbing, there’s always someone open to watching Ali Wong comedy specials and then going to bed. I can already feel how much control I have over the experience: for example, while I did go on the “riddle tour of Oxford” with a mix of freshers and study abroad students, we skipped out early to get cookies and just didn’t finish, and that was completely fine.
Over the next year, I look forward to visiting the other colleges that make up Oxford (if, say there was something called Five College University, made up of Amherst, UMass, Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Hampshire, but you went to Amherst, that’s basically how the Oxford undergrad system works. You are a student both at Oxford University and at New College. Your teachers and most of your classes are at New College, but you might take courses with students at other colleges, and no college is specialized in a certain type of degree). I also look forward to going to museums, taking tutorials, and taking part in different clubs and organizations. I’m excited to take you along and tell you about it, so that you too can make an informed decision in applying for the New College direct enroll program.