Sighs and Thrills
Freshers’ Week at Oxford
Read the Spanish version of this here.
If I were to define Freshers’ Week, it would be ‘sighs and thrills’. If I were to speak more plainly, it would really be ‘bureaucracy and fun’, even if those two words should not appear in the same sentence at all. But in Oxford in general, and even more so in the first weeks as a fresher, everything happens simultaneously and perhaps too fast: the annoying paperwork and the first relaxed chats; the ordinary facts of settling in and the strange but unique university, especially the Matriculation ceremony. That happy whirlwind known as Freshers’ Week mixes it all!
I am Spanish, so as an international student the initial experience was even more exciting but also more complicated. The flight from Madrid (my homeplace) to Oxford was already an important event to kick off Freshers’ Week. I did not travel alone, because my mother came with me to stay for the first few days, so that she could visit the city and help me out with the dreaded bureaucratic procedures of entering the university. It was not as much of a shock as it might have been for other international students, but it was the first time I became truly aware of my new independence. There I was, dragging overpacked suitcases, with necessary books that didn’t fit into the luggage crammed into the pockets of my coat, and I was not used to that discomfort when travelling, but university life and studying English Literature come at that cost, a literal weight on my shoulders). However, even after feeling nostalgic when I waved goodbye to the rest of my family, excitement was bubbling inside me. The thrill of going abroad, which I had always dreamt of, became real.
When I got to Oxford, my college dad (an older student who helps you settle into college life) came to help me out with the suitcases. (Thanks Arthur!) While we trudged to college with the luggage, he kindly asked about the flight and gave me some cheeky advice on how to approach Freshers’ Week. When we arrived at Mansfield (my college), we dumped my stuff in my room and then I rushed off to an assembly to which I was late. After that, I met my classmates, who would afterwards become my friendship group too, and I could hardly believe how easy-going our first chat was, considering we were all a bit exhausted. From day one, I was overwhelmed by both tiring duties and fun with wonderful people; it was a lifestyle change that remains similar today. I went to bed early that day, in a swirl of excited tiredness.
The next few days were brimming with timetabled events, fun activities and obligations. In the morning, I would maybe go to a library induction (although I got lost in the Radcliffe Camera later all the same) or have an academic induction in which I already envisioned the demanding workload that was ahead. Dazed and confused as we all were by the overload of information, every English Lit student is amazed by beautiful libraries and plunging into new books to explore and learn from. On the day after one of these inductions, the JCR would also organise entertainment, like a Treasure Hunt, going here and there for fun. Half dazed, half amazed, in the middle of Freshers’ Week the pinnacle of this Oxford-style excess was Freshers’ Fair, with millions of societies (who would then send me annoying emails) introducing us to that special part of student experience, although I’ve only gone to a few since.
I enjoyed the nights the most, with events like pub quizzes, in which I met people who would then become my close friends today (who knew?). I remember fondly the Wednesday night in which we had a dinner with tutors. At first, we were slightly tense (“must make a good impression…”), but some interesting chats developed easily. Afterwards, the English Literature lot gathered and we enjoyed card games despite sitting in a cramped accommodation kitchen: fantastic imperfection. As an introvert, I realise how lucky I am to have such a friendly college that made it all easier. Other students in other colleges might have found it more awkward.
Nevertheless, in those ‘free’ moments between inductions and fun, I found out that a major problem for foreigners was bureaucracy, the pragmatic details that Brits need not worry about. Fortunately, I didn’t have to face xenophobia, which I had been worried about after Brexit, but the extra paperwork did assault me. Opening a bank account. Waiting for it to be successfully opened. These forms. International student orientation sessions. Those other forms for the Spanish embassy. Buying a gown (what my friends had done already on Open Day, which I couldn’t attend). Etc. (For non-EU students, it’s even worse, considering visas and so on.) Apart from the bureaucratic limbo, I must confess how worried I was about practical issues such as laundry or ironing, mysteries beyond my clumsier, younger dependent self. Thankfully, most people were as clumsy as me, so there was empathy. After blocking the washing machine once and triggering fire alarms due to ironing vapour, I handled it alright. Independence is worth the hassle.
Overall, from the start, Oxford life became life on the fast lane in which everything, all the time, comes upon you, from sighs to thrills. It is an intense life-change. This fast pace (so fast that I had an exam on my fifth day here!) doesn’t suit everyone. However, it was an incomparable social, academic and practical experience that I’ll always remember.
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