I am aware that my last post is well over a year ago, and this is why: during this period of silence I was busy trying to complete a Master in Classical Archaeology at the University of Oxford. It has been a hell of a year, partly because of the academic challenges, partly because Oxford is simply peculiar, with plenty of rules and just as many opportunities to wonder. If you have ever asked yourself how the life of an Oxford student looks like, read on.
Oxford’s peculiarities: Traditions
As I said, Oxford is weird. It starts that we have degrees with funny names. Unlike in almost every other university in the world, the title of my degree is not simply a M.A. (Master of Arts), or even the frequently used alternative of an M.Phil. (Master of Philosophy), it is an M.St. (Master of Studies). The reason for that is that Oxford gives away the M.A. title to Oxford undergraduates seven years after their graduation. You literally just have to live long enough to get this title. Hence, one seeks for alternatives in names that are unknown to everyone outside of Oxford. My personal favourite: Doctor of Divinity, and the list is ridiculously long.
And then there are the names. When I arrived in Oxford I was given an information kit with a glossary because in Oxford everything has a different name. For example, we don’t just say ‘Winter Term’, we call it ‘Michaelmas’ because our terms have names (Michaelmas – Hilary – Trinity). When you go on a college party, it’s not just a party, it’s a bop. There surely must have been a plausible reason for those names but it’s long forgotten and nobody really cares about the original intention anyway because in Oxford, we like traditions.
Speaking of college, nobody outside of Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge) and maybe Durham understands that weird university-college-relation and there are good reasons for that, because it is again complicated. As a graduate student – which was my case – your academic life is administrated by the department/faculty, which are part of the university. However, everything related to accommodation, welfare, meals, social events and general living, falls into the responsibility area of your college. But more about this later.
If you Google ‘Oxford Students’ you will realise that all are dressed in the same clothes. That is not because of a general lack of fashion, nor is it because you lose all care about how you look during submission periods, but mostly because we have to ware the same clothes for certain events. The first is matriculation: every student attending his/her first degree in Oxford (or Cambridge, or Trinity College Dublin) has to be matriculated. This is only a formal ceremony confirming that you are now officially a student of Oxford, and has to live according to their values and believes (blablabla). But during this event it is crucial to wear the so-called sub-fusc, which is basically a combination of formal black trousers/skirt, white shirt, and a black grown (never forget to carry your mortar board, although you mustn’t wear it until you are officially graduated!). This outfit has to be worn also during official exams, which mostly take place at the so-called ‘Examination School’, at vivas, and graduation. Funny fact: there had been a vote last year whether or not to keep this tradition. Oxford voted for, Cambridge against it. Oxford is thus officially more tradition-loaded than Cambridge. It’s all about competition.
Whilst applying for Oxford, I was asked which college I want to go. Fact is, I didn’t really think it would matter this much until I spoke to someone who graduated the year before. Your college can contribute a great deal to your comfort. If you decide to go for a college accommodation and would like to live centrally, it is good to choose one of the old colleges that are in the centre of the town. There are several reasons why I chose Lincoln College:
- Size: I knew I would only be there for a short time. Therefore, it was important to me to be part of a smaller/medium-sized college that would make it easier for me to meet people and know my way around. With only around 300 Graduate students Lincoln was great for that, and you felt homely already after the first week. Well done, Lincoln!
- Fellows: Every lecturer in Oxford is fellow at a college. To have fellows at the college from your department has sometimes the benefit that money will be invested in your area of studies. Thus, there might be scholarships for Classics/Archaeology students (St. Cross College), or your college library might be well equipped with books related to your subject (Lincoln and Wolfson). After being 24/7 h at the faculty library during the first two terms, I appreciated a change of setting at the Lincoln library.
- Money: It is wise to choose a college that is wealthy. This is easy to find out. On the college homepage you can usually see what kind of grants are offered to students: Book grant, travel grant, printing money. Lincoln has it all. There are even more generous colleges in Oxford (I’ve heard Merton has a lot), but I didn’t want to compromise on the points above.
Lastly, you sometimes can guess the colleges’ political direction. Colleges such as Brasenose (Cameron hello!), Merton, Christ Church, and Magdalen, tend to be very conservative, and posh people with political ambition might want to choose that. Retrospective, if you like to avoid those people, choose another college (I did!). Your college will decide a lot about what people you will meet on a daily basis. The Middle Common Room (MCR, for graduates) and the Junior Common Room (JCR, for undergraduates) organises loads of social events (such as the ominous bop), music and sports societies etc. and you will end up doing most of the non-academic stuff with fellow college-members. It is therefore wise to deal with the questions mentioned above before deciding on your college.
The Lincoln MCR (this is both a physical room in college as well as a community of graduate students) is very social and its ‘Social Reps’ organise a wide range of events throughout the year. One of the most beloved events is the termly Emily Carr Party. Emily Carr was a friendly lady from the 15th century who had a good taste in spending her money. Upon her depart, she donated loads of money to the college with the exception, that this money needs to be spend on a party every term named after her. Free booze for Lincolnites three times a year. We love Emily Carr!
But there are many more reasons to love Lincoln College. We are a small group of young people from different parts of the world. Our term card consists of a bazillion events, from wine-and-cheese on a Friday to board games evening. We have a fantastic boat club, and even though I was too lazy to join the morning row, cheap Pimms has always brought our community together to cheer for the rowers. Lincoln, you will always be in my heart! ❤
As a graduate students it is virtually impossible to do nothing. If you are not busy studying you are invited to millions of parties. You are constantly torn between joining different societies, from music to sport to women in business (etc.), you can become part of wine and cheese appreciation clubs, book clubs, vegan clubs, and many many more. And then there are the parties. Basically everything in Oxford is made into a big event. You don’t just have a picnic, you have a garden party. Everything is grander and fancier in Oxford. It might seem lavish at the beginning, but you grow to love it. My wardrobe is now full with extravagant ball gowns and cocktail dresses that I might never wear again, but so is Oxford and you do not transgress the dress code. Oh Oxford, you really are special…