I’ve been in Oxford for about a week now, yet it feels like it’s been way, way longer. This may have something to do with the fact that I can get to pretty much anywhere I need to go with minimal consulting of Google Maps, which usually takes me weeks if not months. If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to relive freshman year orientation week two years after the fact, read on!The equivalent of what Cornell calls O-Week, Freshers’ Week is when first years arrive early on campus to move in, get to know each other over fun and cringe-worthy ice breakers, and participate in general debauchery during the first week away from home — only this time, all the alcohol-centric events are organized by the college! Because England’s drinking age is actually reasonable!
If that wasn’t a shock to Americans back home, this might be: all rooms in LMH are singles. Nobody in the entire college has a roommate. Even if you’re in the crappiest hall (dorm) around, at least you still have it to yourself! Most of the British people I’ve discussed this with have been unable to comprehend the concept of “forced triples,” which are so commonplace in American universities. There is much more emphasis on privacy here, I feel, and I’m 100% on board. Plus, my room is really freaking spacious and comfortable and homey — I have a sink, a closet, a mantel over what I’m assuming used to be a fireplace, a beautiful view, and SO much shelf space for all the books I couldn’t bring on the plane. Clearly, I love my little room at the end of the hall.
Like my first go-round of orientation week, Freshers’ Week at LMH/Oxford was all about meeting an overwhelming number of new people and learning how to live life away from home. However, these processes were much less guided by the college here. I only participated in one break-the-ice kind of activity; the vast majority of the exhaustingly enthusiastic interactions were not forced by RAs (which we don’t even have!) or orientation leaders (which barely exist). Along the same lines, we were told nothing about rules regarding bathrooms, kitchens, laundry, collecting packages, etc. Attendance at sessions were “mandatory,” but the mandate was not enforced even a little bit. They (and I’m not even sure who I’m talking about when I say “they,” that’s how absent authority is) left us to figure everything out for ourselves. And that’s fine — everybody is perfectly capable of doing so. It’s just so different from starting at Cornell because they told us essentially everything we would ever need to know about three times over.
Over the course of the week, also referred to as 0th or Noughth Week, we had tons of events and sessions to attend. Instead of writing about every single one, which not even my parents would make it through, I’ll give some short summaries.
International Student Orientation: A welcome session with a few helpful modules, none of which I remember much at all. Left halfway through.
Nights Out: Always starting from the college bar, usually involving a nightclub in town. Quality drunk bonding time, but nothing outrageous.
Visiting Students Welcome: Reception where we met our tutors, at least some of them, and took a few group pictures. There was also food and champagne.
Meet the Principal: This was actually really cool — the principal of LMH meets with every single new student for a few minutes basically just to say hello and welcome. He asked about our “life story in two minutes,” and made some notes on his iPad. Altogether it was a very pleasant meeting and not nearly as scary as it sounds.
College Families: LMH’s closest approximation to RAs and/or orientation leaders, except they’re grouped by subject, which is super helpful. In our college family, we have four “children” (all visiting students) and two second-year Dads. Family dinner felt just like home in that we ordered Domino’s, an American classic.
Freshers’ Fair: A GIANT fair where clubs and organizations have booths and sheets of paper calling your name (and email address). While it was still overwhelming, it was not nearly as overwhelming as Cornell’s free-for-all in Barton Hall. Oxford streamlines it, moving you through the queue like Disneyland workers, no kidding. It was super efficient.
Formal Hall: Everybody dresses fancy, gets pre-drinks with their tutors (if they’re lucky enough to have a tutor hosting a pre-drink), and gets a really nice three-course meal in the beautifully decorated dining hall. I’m trying to use this comparison sparingly, but with the long tables and the setup of the room, it really did look like Hogwarts.
Bop: A party for the whole college at the college bar. There wasn’t much dancing and nobody got wrecked (the party wrapped up around 11:30), but it was still a good time.
Clearly there was a lot to do during Freshers’ Week. Yet unlike in America, most everyone got assigned work by their tutors about mid-week, before classes even started, so there was also a lot of studying/reading/writing mixed in. Today I had my first tutorial, but as this post is already brimming with stuff, I think I’ll save that post for later. After all, I won’t be doing much else besides reading for the rest of the week, so there won’t be too much to report on.
Doing freshman year over again having already completed two years of college is definitely a weird experience. To top it off, I’m also in a foreign country (not as foreign as it could be, but it’s also very different from America). The biggest difference I’ve experienced this time is that I feel significantly less pressure to find a “group” or “squad.” I’m comfortable doing my own thing, or just finding one person to hang out with, and I think the environment here really facilitates that, what with the single rooms and the independent study.
From my conversations with some of them, I can tell the freshers are feeling that pressure a bit, but that’s understandable for them — they’re leaving home for the first time, they want to belong, preferably to a group that makes other people enviously think, “#squadgoals.” Yet I think that I’m much more comfortable with who I am now, in my third year of uni/college. I am not a person who needs, or even wants, a huge squad. I am a person who genuinely enjoys spending time with myself. And if I didn’t know that freshman year, I certainly know it now. Because I do, I’m a lot more comfortable at LMH than I might have been a few years ago. I’m starting to really like my life here.
Bonus British Bit:
“Fancy Dress” does not mean, as an American would assume, formal clothes. It means costume, like Halloween style. If you show up to a “fancy dress” party in a cocktail dress and heels, you’ll find yourself in a reverse Elle-Woods-playboy-bunny situation.