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A reflection on Freshers’ Week

Josie Thornton muses on the overwhelming beginnings of a new year.

A week of forgetting names, failing to log-in to Eduroam, and dressing up as a jigsaw puzzle: I’m pleased to find that freshers’ week is still the chaotic, exhausting and thrilling experience that I remember it being the first time. From the initial night in a new bed, through the sticky clubbing, formal dinners, start of term meetings and ending with the inevitable case of freshers flu, it’s a start to term so utterly over-loaded with activity that it’s enough to tire anyone out for the entire academic year: eighth week has never seemed so far away. 

Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is the academic timetable, which students receive in bits and pieces, scattered across emails and Canvas documents and envelopes in pidges, rather than the traditional timetable most other universities and educational institutions opt for. But Oxford has to do things in a very ‘Oxford’ way. It’s no wonder, therefore, that the university is so picky about who it offers places to – it seems that students here have to have an above-average IQ just in order to work out where they should be, and when they should be there. The UCAS form, admissions tests and interviews were not enough: Oxford has one final challenge up its sleeve before it actually lets students receive an education. 

Whatsmore, our life will truly become a lot easier with a breakthrough in the science of time travel, given that we are undoubtedly torn at least five times a week between a lecture finishing at 11am and a tutorial beginning at 11am, both inevitably taking place on opposite sides of the city. Classes will take place in weeks 2, 3, 5.2 and 7.8, we are told, but only for students with an ‘s’ in their name, who are between 4ft 6 and 5ft 2. Anyone else should attend on Fridays, but at a different hour each week, which you will only be warned about three hours before: please find attached the 101 pages of reading to be completed in advance. 

Nevertheless, there is something to be said for the return of a routine after the chaos of freshers’ week. Am I even bold enough to suggest that I enjoyed being in bed by nine thirty on Sunday night, catching up with Bake Off, anticipating a suitably-timed 8.45am Monday morning alarm and the thought of waking up feeling not even the slightest bit hungover? Yes. Yes I am. Of course, the first tutorial always stings a little, but soon you remember that being an Oxford student is a perpetual state of feeling slightly lost and talking as if you were an expert about things you do not fully understand yet. Referencing an essay does feel like a state of endless hell – but then, surprisingly, it does end, and you can sigh a small sigh of relief, before heading off to the library to start the reading for your next essay. 

In all seriousness, the end of first week can be a tough point in term. Once the novelty of freshers’ week has worn off, and the planned events that once took over your every waking minute fade into fortnightly bops, you are faced with the very real issue of living in a new city, working long, hard hours, and being away from home. Things are still new, but not startlingly so; faces, streets and routines are familiar and yet also they are strange. Fear not, freshers, you are not alone. Whilst it is easier for second and third years, who have friends and routines that they can return to, know the best corners of the best libraries, and the nicest places to buy lunch, the return to university is not always plain-sailing. True, we do not have to spend an hour marching back and forth in Tesco to find the pesto (supposedly, at least – anyone who saw me in there this morning might think otherwise) but the majority of us still imagine Oxford as we left it: nothing but thoughts of long sunny days and prelims exams we would rather forget. The early Michaelmas nights, the rain that manages to hit you right in the eyes as you cycle back from a lecture. It has been a while, Oxford, and you are going to have to give me a moment to catch my breath. 

Catch my breath I will, though, and probably more quickly and easily than I imagine in my current freshers’ flu ridden state. Because there is something to be said for the early evenings, Oxford stone lit up in orange street lamps, the chatter echoing around a dining hall as the rain hammers the windows. One hundred bikes weaving down St Giles at nine thirty, and the town filled with matriculation gowns. Freezing to death wearing a crop top in a two hour queue outside atik. A productive afternoon in the Bodleian. Hungover speed reading before a tutorial. 

Ah, Oxford. It really has been far too long. 

Image credit: 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič

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