Apparently, as a finalist, I should expect to leave Oxford with either a Blue, a spouse, or a First, and yet I won’t even be leaving having experienced the full three years of my degree. I have Covid to thank for that.
I came to Oxford with few expectations, not thinking that I would go to university at all, but there is something about coming back for the final term of my degree, and talking to second and first years about their radically different experiences, that makes me realise how different my time at Oxford has been.
I’ll start at the beginning. Freshers week – a chance for people to socialise, meet new people, and have fun. But this is harder than it seems when the only way that you can talk to people is at a ‘speed dating’ event with masks, two-meter social distancing, and the voices of twenty other people drowning you out. Or when you’re sat outside in October separated into neat, socially distanced, household bubbles by colourful bunting. Instead of being able to make friends, lose them, and create my own social circle, I found myself assigned to a household bubble of four of my course mates. Throughout first year, attending societies, bars, and clubs was impossible, and even lunch breaks and shopping trips were complicated – a sharp contrast to the buzz of social activity on the streets of Oxford today. Now don’t get me wrong – I loved my flatmates, and I still do, but there were many times when I felt isolated and disconnected, and I often reflect on how different my university experience would have been if I was allowed to meet people outside of my subject and college. And although Covid may have been forgotten, or banished to the past, this social legacy has continued to haunt me. I not only felt the traditional imposter syndrome that so many of us at this university do, but a social imposter syndrome, where the Covid friendship groups formed in first year seemed impossible to break.
My academic experience has also suffered. The intimate and personal teaching environment of Oxford is something that makes this university distinct, and yet there is something about watching pre-recorded lectures in your room, and not having an in-person tute until second year that really flattens these experiences. First and second years often take these personal academic interactions for granted, or even dread them, but Covid made me realise how hard it is to care about your degree when you can mute yourself, turn off your camera, or have ‘internet problems’ and go on your phone in tutorials. I was also denied the opportunity to engage with my lecturers and tutors, some of the most world-renowned experts in topics which interested me, and I feel as though this led me to often resent, and not appreciate and love my course.
Despite this, I’m going to end on a positive note. I may not have a Blue, or a spouse, and I’m doubtful about getting a First, and I may be slightly bitter about the fun, socially packed lives that I have watched first and second years live. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t enjoyed my time here. I have made lifelong friends, joined a society, explored the city, and attended academic events. I believe that it is important not to dwell of what could have been, but to look back and appreciate the happy moments that have happened. It’s the small things that make your university experience what it is, and I wouldn’t give up those moments for the world.
Image Credit: Daniel Foster/ CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr