When I transitioned from GCSEs to A Levels, my mum and I created a mantra: “you have to float before you swim, otherwise you’ll sink”. It was a way for me to remember that I was learning, not just academically – but also personally. Sometimes, you have to let a new experience come at you like a tidal wave before you can try to interact with it, control it, and make the most of it. One of the first things I did after moving into my accommodation in Freshers’ Week was to write this little mantra on a post-it note and Sellotape it to the wall next to my bed.
University life is completely alien to anything I have experienced before. You would expect the excitement of being an ‘Oxford Student’ to disappear – after all, everyone here got into Oxford. For me, it did not disappear exactly; it was buried. Everyone has their moments of being excited about being here, whether it is their first walk past the Rad Cam on the way to a lecture, or simply Matriculation, but no one says it aloud. The reality that I was attending Oxford University didn’t hit me until I was taking down my room decorations at the end of term; I was imagining what I would say to my friends from home about my first term, comparing it to their university experience.
I visited a friend at Nottingham University – my second week, her third – and I was outraged. She had not written a single essay while I had already written three, and we were both studying English. But still I felt like she had done so much more than me: her flat-mates made her social life look just as exciting as the one she had at home, while I hadn’t formed a close circle of friends yet. It wasn’t until that visit that I realised how completely different Oxford is as a university experience, defined by its short terms, heavy workloads, and small class sizes.
My social life was strange to begin with. Looking back at photos of Freshers’ Week and seeing the crowd of people I befriended on day one, whom I have not since spoken to, is hilarious. Leaving Atik early on a Wednesday night because “I’ve got to translate some riddles tomorrow!” is never something that I imagined people to accept without mockery, but being surrounded by like-minded people is not just a cliché from a personal statement: it’s something that has made university life feel like everything I wanted it to be.
My approach to Michaelmas term was that it was a trial run for the rest of my university experience. I signed up to many societies at Freshers Fair so that I was on the mailing list but did not have any time to attend any meetings. I don’t regret that. Now, I’m walking into Hilary feeling like I know how to live independently and how to do my degree (more than I knew in October, at least). With Michaelmas completed, I know how much time my degree takes, and therefore how much time I have left to dedicate to societies and sports.
Stage one of my mantra has been completed: I have learned how to ‘float’ and how to get by at university. As I am packing my suitcase for Hilary term, I am preparing to start stage two – ‘swimming’, and thriving. The new term coinciding with the new year works perfectly – after a break for reflection, I get to give it another shot.