Saturday, 20 October 2012

Apparently I'm an Oxford student

Several things have changed since my last post. Firstly, I'm married (I'll explain shortly). Secondly, I've had my first essay crisis. Thirdly, I'm actually feeling pretty settled in. Each of these will be explained in due course.

Freshers' week was an initially intimidating but ultimately lovely experience. Everyone being chucked into the same crazy world together means that everyone bonds so, so easily and by now (end of my third week) I feel like I know everyone in my year at least by sight. I've detailed my very first day in the previous post, but in the first few days after that you're kept busy even though work doesn't begin until the next Monday. Various activities included registering with a local GP, signing a ceremonial book that every student passing through the college in the last zillion years has written in, and meeting the college chaplain who is willing to look out for students' welfare whether or not they are religious.

There are loads of bonding activities in the evenings to look forward to; tickets were available for nights out, but if people fancied something quieter there were trips to G&D's (by far the best ice cream shop not only in Oxford but in the entire world), as well as midnight ice hockey and film nights. We also had casual meetings with our tutors in the first week. It feels slightly strange to call people who are largely world experts in their fields by their first names, but you get used to it quickly and it feels nice to be treated like an adult.

Freshers' week culminated with Freshers' Fair in town. Everyone was given wristbands and we snaked our way into a large elegant building before being bombarded by more societies and stalls than you'd believe could possibly exist. Before my scrawly email address became illegible as I jotted it down on signup sheets at various booths, I somehow signed up for Gliding Club, Alternative Ice Hockey, the International Relations Society, Mountain Climbing Society, and a host of others that I may or may not never become involved with beyond occasionally reading the society emails that hop into my inbox every half hour.

Monday morning, 1st week (Freshers' Week is known as 0th week) - that important bit known as 'studying' actually begins, and for me it's with three consecutive one hour lectures from 10am to 1pm. So far things have been great. Lectures vary in terms of their depth, but for most it's more of a general overview of a topic - the important work that will get you a good degree is done during private study, which is why the ability to motivate yourself to work is one of the most important skills (I'm pretty bad at it to be honest, but surviving so far!). Lectures are an easy way to learn things without having to stick your head in a book, and if you're lucky the lecturer makes handouts of printouts of slides; if not, prepare to practice your touch-typing skills for note-taking! I've got 9 per week, but they're all optional.

The Oxford Union is a world famous debating society and you'll always hear two sides about whether it's worth joining. As a PPE student I'm definitely interested in all that stuff, and my first taste of it was, quite frankly, amazing. On Wednesday I saw John McCain give a speech before being grilled by a bunch of budding politicians including, I am convinced, the next Boris Johnson; on Thursday it was the annual 'This House Has No Faith in Her Majesty's Government' debate, which was incredible. There were representative MPs from Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives (lots of them from my own college weirdly enough, which resulted in a bit of good natured reminiscing between ideological opponents) and each gave a speech before taking questions. Just the fact that it's so easy to see such prestigious speakers and even, if you can pluck up the courage, engage with them, reaffirms the fact that I feel so incredibly grateful to be in the position that I am and have all these opportunities before me.

Of course, it's not all perfect. Having an essay crisis on your first essay is really not a good idea because then your brain convinces itself that staying up late (or early, or even not-that-early as was my case...) is now an option. I think I'll find it easier to manage in the future - we have our Moral Philosophy tutorial once every two weeks, and our Microeconomics tutorial every week as well as a logic class each week (we do other topics during the next two terms), so the workload is spread out. This is especially the case compared to other subjects and there's already been a bit of good natured joking about how PPE students never do any work (I'll withhold judgement on that one). Anyway, I handed in my essay an embarrassingly small number of hours after I'd finished it, but it's just a lesson to myself that it's easy to get distracted when there are so many opportunities here, and it's important to take time out and just go and do the necessary reading and research.

Matriculation was last weekend, and it was quite hilarious to see everyone buttoned up in suits and blouses with either ribbons for the girls or fancy white bow ties (fake or real) for the boys. The Oxford gown is a decidedly strange garment with strange long flaps that never seem to hang properly unless you have wide shoulders and a six pack, which sadly doesn't include me. I managed to find myself awkwardly turning my head in the middle of the matriculation photo and given that I was standing in the middle of the back row and am therefore noticeable to everyone who bothers to peruse the photo, it definitely ranks in the Top 10 most embarrassing moments of my life. We all filed down to the Sheldonian to listen to a bit of Latin and to be gawped at by tourists, before enjoying the rest of the day socialising.

If you've made it all this way - well done! I hope that gives you a bit of a flavour of my first couple of weeks. The final piece of news is that I am now happily married to an E&M student, and am very much looking forward to meeting our children next year... Don't worry, this isn't actual marriage - all the freshers pair up over the academic year and end up mentoring the 2013 freshers, our 'children,' next September.

Have a lovely week everyone! If you have comments or questions please do let me know below.


Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Home sweet home away from home

Seeing all my friends go off to uni, one by one, should have meant that when the time finally came for me to make the *long* journey up to my new home, I was prepared. Naturally, I wasn’t. Last weekend was a hectic mix of shopping, salvaging and hair-pulling.

Packing to go and live somewhere else for the next 8 weeks straight was quite a strange experience. I kept finding odd items in my room, such as an old autograph book I'd forced my 10-year-old friends to sign, or fairy lights, and then deciding that they might possibly be vital. Universities have varyingly vague rules about what is appropriate to put in your room – for me, blu tack is banned, and any intriguing appliances like a sandwich maker aren’t allowed because of the fire risk. When it all came down to it on Monday afternoon, I had a suitcase, a soft suitcase, a big blue box, a small blue box, a cardboard box without a lid, two larger cardboard boxes with lids, and a slightly frowny expression on my face. I wasn't ready to move out and go to university. I felt (and still feel, 8 days later) about as mature as a little Year 7 who spends the entire lunch time playing 'running' in the playground. Doing serious work with people who are all really smart and articulate and confident? The only appropriate response is "pffft," really.

So, I rocked up to my college in Oxford feeling intimidated and unworthy. The sight of the beautiful building that would presumably be my home for the next three years (assuming I don't fail - oh yeah, you start worrying about that pretty soon) was alternately amazing and terrifying. As soon as you arrive, you are directed to collect bits and pieces of admin from the Freshers Week team (who rock, by the way!) before beginning the long laborious job of lugging your luggage up three flights of stairs. Having spent a summer largely loafing on the sofa and moaning whenever the remote naughtily removes itself to outside my 1m reach, I probably benefitted from this minimal exercise.

Then unpacking begins. My favourite feature of my room is definitely my gigantic pinboard which I immediately decorated with photos of my friends and family - I printed off 30-odd photos at Boots which was definitely a good investment. I did extremely well on the room front overall, as I got a bit of a say in where I would want to go, but really this varies by college and university. I also brought a Beatles poster, which makes it look as though I have a much better taste in music than I actually do. There are lots of miscellaneous bits of kit that I wouldn't have considered having to own and make me feel pretty domestic, such as a dishcloth, tumbler glasses and a healthy supply of Otrivine (Freshers' Flu has hit, by the way. Three days solid with a gravelly manly voice and forcing my poor friends to listen to me hack up a lung instead of being able to focus on a lecture on the joys of logic). 

After unpacking, I said goodbye to my mum, which was emotional for her and embarrassing for me (kidding, Mum, I'm kidding) and then twiddled my thumbs in my room for a while before summoning up the courage to throw myself into the sanctuary known as the Junior Common Room (JCR). It has not been a week and I cannot count how much money I have wasted playing pool and the Are You Smarter Than A 10 Year Old? arcade game (evidently, despite being 18+ years old, relatively capable university students, we are not). One of my biggest worries, and it remains a big worry, was that I would hop up to an unfamiliar person, throw out "HiI'mEmma-I'mdoingPPE-howaboutyou?" and they would look at me like a squashed pigeon before telling me "finalists don't mingle with freshers..." When I was interviewing, the older years helpfully wore pinks scarves to enable easy differentiation, but now we just have to trust fate and general common sense.

Thankfully, everyone has been lovely. I hopped into the JCR and it was stuffed with a load of happy, talkative freshers who are all just as eager to make friends as you are. One of the best things Oxford does is to organise college parents for freshers, which is actually quite a big deal - freshers of different subjects pair up rather soon after the start of term, necessitating full on proposals (I've already heard stories of a proposal involving a lift and a heart shaped flower arrangement) and by next September they are mentoring two new freshers who look to them for advice, subject-specific and not, throughout their first year. Mine are absolutely lovely and extremely kind which seems to be the general rule! We went out for drinks with them, before heading off to dinner with our subject reps and classmates. The evening ended with a trip out into town as a group, where everyone bonded over some very amazing bad dancing. I flopped into bed on Day 1 feeling overwhelmed, but a little bit more confident than ever before that I was going to fit in.

I hope that's given you a good overview of my first day, and I'll be posting soon with updates on the saner parts of freshers' week and, of course, my first proper pieces of work. I really want to use this blog to give good advice, now that I feel as though I have genuinely learned so much from my experiences ever since I started this blog a year ago; so if you feel as if I could help with anything, or you want me to point you to someone who can, please comment below and I will definitely get back to you.

Now it's bedtime for me. Up early tomorrow for a General Philosophy lecture!

Emma xxx