Michaelmas reflections of a fresher

Oxford is like a high-maintenance spouse who gives just enough to make the relationship worth it.

“I suppose you still think Oxford’s really fun, don’t you?” I’ve just admitted to a third year at the bus stop that I am, indeed, a fresher. And my answer to the question? Yes, I do.

Perhaps I’m still in the ‘honeymoon period’. Having exchanged vows at that solemn marriage ceremony that is matriculation, I’m tied to the place, ’til graduation do us part. When I looked in the mirror at ‘Ede & Ravenscroft’, wearing my subfusc and (holding) my cap, I’ll admit I caught my breath like a bride would in her wedding dress. Equally I caught my breath when the shop assistant broke it to me that it would be £64.99. Off I went to the Primark of subfusc, ‘Shepherd and Woodward’, where a more manageable £25 was handed over.

During the actual, albeit rather brief, ceremony, sitting in the Sheldonian as one of the thousands of students on the conveyor belt being “formally initiated into the University”, I looked at the awestruck faces in front of me. We had all stopped feeling smug by the Thursday of fresher’s week. Reality had caught up. I wonder if the University has ever been jilted at the altar, if one fresher-fiancé with cold feet has been overwhelmed by the commitment. I could relate. Oxford is like an incredibly high-maintenance spouse who gives just enough to make the relationship worth it. It’s as Marilyn Monroe said: “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.” While Ms Monroe may not exactly be a relationship guru, this is the way many of us see Oxford – it’s the beginning of a new relationship.

The magic of it is still there for me. I’m still excited to glance up at the RadCam’s ceiling while labouring over an essay (which, at best, will be branded with the phrase ‘some improvement’ at my next tute). I still explore the city: the parks, the meadows, the weird side streets. And who could forget Fudge Kitchen…I’m on my third loyalty card already. Every time I have a pint in a new pub I feel as though I have discovered yet another trait of my new partner, as we slowly become better acquainted.

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Fresher’s week was fun, but couldn’t mask the looming inevitability that reality was on its way. Yet for me it never fully set in. Yes, I get that libraries, lectures and referencing aren’t exactly part of the typical holiday experience, but you have to at least like your subject to be here, so is it really so bad? Naturally, I was overwhelmed at the Fresher’s Fair, and, like most naive freshers, signed up to things which would only clog up my inbox. The emails from Amnesty International constantly remind me I won’t be going to Kenya on that humanitarian mission, as I thought I might be for the duration it took to tap my details into the spreadsheet. However, among these there were some things which only the unique enthusiasm of being a fresher gave me the courage to try.

My relationship with Oxford wasn’t the only new one I would be embarking on – I was going to have to make some friends. My tutor told me at our first meeting, ‘We like to throw you in the deep end first, watch you try and swim, throw you a life-ring and then show you how to do it’. I suppose friends are like arm-bands in this metaphor – they can’t teach you to swim, but they help you catch your breath and float while you give it a go. So I guess it only makes sense, the speed at which freshers tend to bond. But it made me suspicious. Initially, I couldn’t stop myself thinking, “they can’t all be this nice. One of them must be a backstabbing snake.” I still haven’t identified such a snake, but I really don’t think these relationships are all still simply in the ‘honeymoon stage’ too.

College bops are the perfect example of how fortunate I’ve been. At first, I thought I was stronger than the juice – Christ, I even pre’d. I was put to bed long before 11pm and woke up to a glass of water and a painkiller on the bedside table, a bin strategically placed on the floor next to my head. All from people I’d known less than a week. Then there’s the post-bop trip to A&E after my friend sustained an injury dancing to ‘Man’s Not Hot’. We sat waiting for hours, me dressed as a fairy and her as (young) Stalin. We ended the night on a high with a Soloman’s.

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It’s not all smiles and rainbows, parts of Oxford are wearing a little thin. After all, something like 50% of marriages do end in divorce. There’s the perilous burden of work, Eduroam, approaching deadlines, the Bridge queue, never feeling quite good enough and of course the cost of a single rum and coke being basically half my student loan. Those endearing quirks may soon become irritating, but even for the broken-in there must be something to make it worth sticking around for – only 1.3% of Oxford students walk-out, compared with the national average of 7.4%. Maybe it’s for the degree (and wow have we put in the work to get here), but could it be that the feelings of excitement and wonder linger?

At least for now, I’m still enchanted with Oxford. I only have eight terms left here, so I’ll try to keep them, and myself, fresh.

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