Living away from home for the first time can seem daunting at first. You shouldn’t be too worried – it really is pretty cushy, and certainly a long way from ‘the real world’, where you have to sort out bills and clean your own toilet. And yet, despite the allure of college living: I had a mouse in my second year room. No, I didn’t buy him from a pet shop and keep him illegally in a tank under my desk and hide him when people came in, feeding him sultanas and reading him the first drafts of my essays. Oh no. He decided to stay of his own accord.
During a particularly cold period in Hilary term, he was in my room almost daily. Every time I was alerted to his presence by a rustle and tried to locate him, he would dart back into a hole in the wall or down a pipe. On one occasion, I triumphantly cornered him and placed a shoebox over his miniscule body. I should have crushed him there and then but I wasn’t wearing shoes, and didn’t want fractured mouse rib embedded in my soft soles.
Gradually, I began to warm to him. When I saw his little face and whiskers I just couldn’t think of hurting him. He was a poor defenceless little rodent! I was much bigger than him, and it was horrible outside, who could blame him for seeking some warmth and company?
My noble extension of clemency was rapidly regretted. He bothered me for weeks thereafter, which taught me a lesson. This was evolution in reverse – survival of the weakest. I needed to learn to stand up to the weak. Hornets are black and orange to ward off predators. Perhaps nowadays the human race is so far divorced from the realities of nature that a more effective defence against Homo sapiens’s superior strength and brain size is to look really cute.
The other regular visitor to my room was of course my scout. This is yet another one of those Oxford words you will initially feel self-conscious about using at first. Your home friends will hate you now. Oxford has changed you, mate. A good scout can be an adviser, confidante, gatekeeper, even an advocate if you are ever in trouble with the powers that be. If you are enriching uranium in your sink or subletting your wardrobe, you are probably putting them in an unreasonably difficult position. However illicit toastie makers, sticking up your posters with blu-tac, one-night stands, or that one time something unspeakable happened in your bin – the likelihood of these events being reported will depend on your relationship with your scout. Buy them chocolate at the end of term. Be nice to them.
So, what about the other people you will be living in college with? Living in close proximity to people you don’t (initially) know very well brings with it some responsibility, particularly if you are sharing a bathroom or kitchen. Even if there is no shared space it is important to retain at least some awareness of your neighbours’ existence. One boy on my fresher staircase habitually urinated in the landing when intoxicated, hurled empty beer cans from his first floor window in the mid-afternoon, and listened to songs such as ‘Elton John – Are You Ready For Love?’ and ‘The Darkness – I Believe in a Thing Called Love’ at full volume at all hours. This isn’t really on. Do unto others and all that.
It inevitably takes a while to make your close friends in college. Don’t worry too much if you don’t immediately click with the people you spend freshers’ week with. The Oxford system is very good at ensuring you make good friends in a fairly quick space of time. You will instantly get to know people doing your subject and those on your corridor or staircase. Over a short space of time thereafter you will get to know pretty much everyone in your year.
Once you have a close friendship group in your year it is easy to expand to older years and other colleges. People in your year at your own college will probably (but not necessarily) be your closest friends while you are at Oxford – it will take you a while to find these, but once you have them you will start to enjoy Oxford and all it has to offer a lot more. Living in college is an amazing opportunity. You get to live a few metres away from all your mates for at least one year. Academic work in Oxford is difficult and time consuming for every subject, but ultimately prelims (first year exams) don’t matter. Have some fun while it lasts.