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Being Scottish at Oxford

Phoebe Walls discusses juggling her Scottish heritage with Oxford's southern-dominated student scene.

When I was seventeen, I moved over three hundred miles from Edinburgh to Oxford. I expected there to be more Scottish students. I pottered around my new home, noticing how flat the earth is here and the tap water’s different taste. I was surrounded by English accents I’d never heard before and my Scottish money was rejected. Being Scottish quickly became a talking point and in turn a personality trait. My very mild accent was deemed ‘remarkably Scottish’. Yet in fresher’s week I was asked twice where in Ireland I was from. One of my tutors once tried to tell me I was a northerner and peers suggested I went along to northerner’s society events. I’m not a northerner, I’m Scottish, I insisted, as they bragged the furthest north they’ve been is Durham. When I first visited Oxford after receiving my offer it felt like stepping into a foreign country with June’s sweltering heat, and yet the English still complain about college turning off heating in Trinity term.

It was thrilling to bring out the summer clothes I could only wear a couple times a year in Edinburgh. I arrived in Michaelmas without a hat or gloves and was surprised to see snow fall after our Christmas dinner. To my bitter disappointment, the Burns Supper was cancelled and many of my new friends asked what Hogmanay was after I wished them a happy Hoggers on New Year’s Eve.

During the vacs it is very hard to meet up with anyone. Justifiably nobody really fancies a terribly expensive train journey.

The Oxford Scottish society has been a wonderful way to meet fellow Scots at uni. Our first meet up was at The Swan and castle. Squashed together at a sticky table, we quickly formed a committee. A random thirty-five-year-old man, without a connection to Scotland or the university turned up at our table. He then proceeded to send lots of messages promising that he ‘a gentleman fully’. ‘OxScotSoc’ has really taken off this term. Last week we had a welcome drinks at New College bar. After finding the bar – New College is a maze of dark tunnels and turrets – we gathered to get to know each other and have a drink. No Tenants in sight unfortunately. Then I ended up at a New College karaoke event at the mad hatter and sang This Is The Life.

This week we had a Celtic pub crawl in collaboration with the Welsh and Irish societies. The Welsh students came fully geared out with Welsh hats. We poured into The Crown, Chequers, The Swan and Castle, The Cow and Creek and Four Candles. Then the remaining Celtic clan went on to Atik. I had a 9am, one-on-one tutorial and was not led into temptation. I managed to make the sensible decision to return to my chambers after the final pub. We went to McDonalds – a dystopian reality late at night, full of tipsy and tenacious students clinging on to their tickets like gold dust.

Running the social media for Scottish society has been so much fun. I’ve downloaded Canva and enjoyed documenting events such as the pub crawl. Being Scottish at Oxford was more of a big deal then I thought it would be. Sometimes when I’m sat on a delayed train clinging onto my suitcase, jam packed with books, I wish the uni was not so very far away. At least being Scottish at Oxford has given me a talking point. I often approach people in tartan trews or kilts only to discover they’re in fact American, so I’m looking forward to meeting more fellow Scots at our next event.

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