The biggest benefit of living in Oxford – you get to meet Prof Richard Dawkins fairly often.
This is part 2 of Oxford city. The post will focus on the life of residing in Oxford, rather than just introducing the sights.
This is of course not going to be a comprehensive guide, and I don’t have the photos to demonstrate everything (some intentionally withheld as I don’t want to post photos where my friends’ faces are visible).
The typical applicant may start their Oxonian experience by going to an open day. Staff and current students work on the days as helpers and we get a free exclusive Oxford-branded t-shirt as a gift.
There are many different information sessions so you will need to do your research before getting there, as even walking through the city looking at the buildings would cost you the entire day.
Congratulations! You have been accepted and you have met your offer!
After your first week, you are expected to show up for matriculation, the official ceremony that makes you a member of the University. You have to do it in your first two terms or you’re sent down. If you are a graduate who has attended Cambridge, Trinity College Dublin, or Oxford as an undergraduate, you go for the aforementioned incorporation route instead. Basically, you don’t do anything and you get an instant degree just by living another day.
Us matriculants, with our gowns – either the commoner’s gown for undergrads or the advanced students’ gown for grads – wait our turn to sit in the Sheldonian Theatre. The latter gown is a full version of the former. You will need your gown for many events, such as certain dinners at your college, your graduation, your examinations (if you do one at the Examination Schools in person), your viva (if you’re a doctoral candidate), the honorary degree ceremony (if you manage to get a ticket), and if unfortunately you are being disciplined.
The mortarboard/cap is a controversial part of this. Many say you don’t wear it before you’ve graduated, but that’s just a myth. In reality, no-one cares when you’re outdoors, and traditionally, you’re only asked to take it off indoors (if you’re a man) before it’d be improper for a man to wear a hat indoors.
After the ceremony, you go to your college and take individual and group photos. And you eat.
You don’t just walk around with your gown, but with your sub-fusc. In Latin, it means dark brown; at Oxford, it means this – shirt with black trousers/skirts (with a suit if you’re a man), white or black bowtie, or black necktie (white bows are the traditional and most common one), or a black ribbon if like Shania Twain, you feel like a woman (you don’t have to actually be a woman to go for the traditionally feminine rendition of this). If you don’t want the cap, you wear a soft cap (feminine alternative) – but you can’t take it off if you choose that option. Very, very few people go for a soft cap.
If you don’t have the correct attire, you can actually be denied entry. Your college may ask you to buy something on the spot, or maybe someone will be able to lend you something.
A big part of student life is to go to the Oxford Union.
The Oxford Union is not the students’ union but a debating society. It has produced many prominent politicians such as some British prime ministers, the first female prime minister in the Islamic world, as well as other people like Secretary Boris Johnson, former mayor of London.
Many famous people, such as Shakira, Michael Jackson, Stephen Fry, Sir Ian McKellan, and President Dilma of Brazil have spoken at the Union.
If you’re very keen, you may participate in student politics here. If you’re active enough, you may get the title “union hack”.
I never really cared for the union but I was a representative for social sciences graduates at the Oxford University Student Union (used to be called OUSU, now Oxford SU). I sat on the University’s Social Sciences Board, Social Sciences Graduate Studies Committee, and Social Sciences Library Committee. It was an extremely interesting experience.
After that, you will probably start going into other colleges just to sightsee. This was from Hertford College.
Then you will also need to study. This was taken in the library of the OUP.
How about some sports? Not good at sports? Don’t worry!
There’s always quidditch. Yes, the one from Harry Potter. It’s for everyone.
Along with my other stuff, I volunteered a lot.
I was the coordinator and English tutor at St Gregory’s The Great Catholic School for the Schools Plus programme at Oxford Hub. I was a trainer and active listener at Oxford Nightline. I was a mentor at IntoUniversity.
As a member of Hong Kong Round Table, I joined Oxford Round Table as a guest member and helped them out with the annual Fawkes’s night bonfire and fieworks.
We had to build it up very tall.
Some people just like to watch the world burn.
You probably will join societies and attend events.
This was a talk with the Chancellor of the University, The Rt Hon Lord Patten, advisor to His Holiness The Pope, former chairman of the Conservative and Unionist Party, former Secretary of State, former European Commissioner, former chairman of the BBC Trust, and of course the last governor of Hong Kong.
That was an event organized by the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA). It was free to join during freshers’ week.
Inevitably, you will want to try punting. It’s quite physical and not that easy, but still fun.
Lots of ducks.
If you’re a graduate student, you may also do some graduate stuff like making an academic presentation.
I was presenting my research on Ed Ball’s Day.
If you’re lucky, you can see a day of snow!
Needless to say, there are many student parties but I’m not going to post any of those photos. They are called “bops”.
To make a tiny little bit of money, you can also volunteer at your college. This was me stealing a Master of Arts as a helper. We had a graduation ceremony that day.
I got a ticket to the encarnia, the honorary degree ceremony! Dame Hilary Mantel was honored there.
Towards the end of the year, you get to the balls’ season. (There are balls throughout the year but most of them are in May/June.)
I went to my college’s ball and pictured above was at Magd’s ball. Some balls are black tie, few are white. The white ones are more expensive and more formal. Different colleges do different things, but it’s basically a night of excessive drinking until 3am.
Gay pride. LGBT History month is a big thing at Oxford with many colleges flying the rainbow flag, even some of the religious PPHs.
In the end, you graduate.
I actually missed my own ceremony – we can delay for however long we want, but I didn’t want to wait, and I didn’t realize there were ceremonies during the summer as well, so I opted to graduate in absentia.
I went back this summer partly to take photos. Different degrees get different colours on the hood, and different levels of degree get different types of gown.
That’s Keble College. I thought it was absolutely beautiful from the inside, but back in the days, people hated it. St John’s College has/had this thing to steal one brick from Keble at a time until it collapses (it was built on John’s land).
If you have a bike, you will need to secure it. Oxford and Cambridge are the Top 2 cities in the nation for bike theft.
My department’s garden, As a graduate student, you get a mail box not just at your college (and wherever you’re living in), but also at your department. You also get two email addresses – one with your college’s name in it, one with your department like the one used by academics.
Inside of my college.
Your thesis, if you have one, is forever stored in the Bodleian Libraries (even though it may be in the closed stack if it’s old). If you were awarded distinction, you get a sticker (pictured above).
As for the study experience, the undergrad and postgrad experiences are quite different, and different postgrads courses certainly vary depends on your discipline and specific course. But if you have a question, you’re welcome to ask me!
I did quite a lot during my year, actually. Apart from the above and the parties and normal socials and pulling and a student union representative (I even attended an NUS conference in London), I was a coordinating tutor at St Gregory’s The Great Catholic School on the Schools Plus programme at Oxford Hub, a mentor for IntoUniversity, and trainer at Oxford Nightline.
Beyond being an MSc, a member of Kellogg and the Education Department, I have several more connections to Oxford. I’m a life donor of the Bod, a “friend” of Exeter, and one of my exes went to Magdalen. I was, for two years, also a “country champion” at Oxford Education Society.
With my Oxford part concluding (for now), I’m planning to update this blog only periodically. I’m currently thinking of one update per week. We will see I guess!