A letter to my fresher self21st September 2017
Emma. It’s the day after your nineteenth birthday, you’re moving to university and you’re terrified. You’re a home bird at heart, you’ve got a brilliant group of friends in your hometown and you’d quite happily let that long summer after A-levels go on forever. Oxford is a place of the unknown in every sense, it’s going to be full of people far cleverer than you who you’ll never be friends with, you won’t be able to keep up with your course and you’ll always feel like you’ve cheated somehow by getting there in the first place. This is what you’re thinking in the weeks between results day and the first day of Freshers’ Week. And you couldn’t be more wrong.
Firstly, you deserve your place just as much as everyone else. You’ve worked your socks off, got great grades and in doing so have fulfilled the offer which was made to you based on your application, how you came across at interview and the potential your tutors knew you had. Stop feeling like you’re making up a quota: you’re not. If you weren’t good enough to be at Oxford you wouldn’t be – it really is as simple as everyone keeps telling you. Sure, there will be people who got six A*s or people who seem to have read everything under the sun but don’t allow yourself to be made to feel inferior – you’re studying at the best university in the world, end of.
Which brings me nicely onto my next point of ‘things you really shouldn’t be worrying about’. Yes, you’ve been sent a comically long reading list over the summer which you’ve tried your best to make a dent in, but, chances are, you haven’t crossed everything off. I’ve got news for you – no one will have done. If you haven’t read Middlemarch, you’re not doomed to fail (trust me, you’ll get through your prelims without it). Your first encounter with your course-mates will probably be discussing all the things you haven’t read, so really, calm down and enjoy the rest of the summer.
Everyone is a bit of a mess in Freshers’ in one way or another – too much alcohol, too many late nights, struggling to adapt to being away from home and in a different environment. Whatever it is, it’ll pass more quickly than it came.
Now, Freshers’ Week itself. Go out if you want to, but don’t if you don’t fancy it. There is no point forcing yourself to do the things you hate if you’ll then spend the whole night miserable. There’s a fine line between pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and making the week a living hell, and it’s a line you know very well. If people think you’re uncool for not wanting to go clubbing every night, it’s not you that needs to change. Just make an effort during Freshers’ and the weeks that follow – leave your bedroom door open (within reason).
It’s cliché, but everyone is in the same boat and no-one other than the uber confident are going to knock on someone’s closed door to introduce themselves. So leave it open, offer people a cup of tea and get chatting. Ask for help settling into your room, swap notes on what you’ve done over the summer (get used to acting interested when listening to gap year stories), ask your neighbour what they’re doing that evening and see if you can go along too. It’s all about making an effort to get to know people (most importantly, their names – you really need to get better at remembering those). I know you want to spend time updating your friends from home on everything that’s happening, but please don’t spend the whole week with your phone glued to your hand. Live a little, and give the group chat a break for a while. While I’m on the subject, videos from clubs don’t make good Snapchat stories. That’s all.
Remind yourself that Freshers’ Week doesn’t have to be the best week of your life. You won’t necessarily meet your best friends as soon as you move into your halls, it might take weeks or terms for you to realise who your friends really are. But that’s all OK. Everyone is a bit of a mess in Freshers’ in one way or another – too much alcohol, too many late nights, struggling to adapt to being away from home and in a different environment. Whatever it is, it’ll pass more quickly than it came and you’ll get stuck into life in this beautiful city, you’ll find your feet in your course and eventually those feet will find their way into the libraries (for goodness sake, girl, ask someone to show you around the RadCam and Gladstone Link sooner), hallowed halls and even, at times, rowing boats of this University, and never want to leave. You’ll feel as happy and as ‘you’ in Oxford as you do at home, you’ll have friends who you’ll feel like you’ve known forever and you’ll be simply amazed at how long it’s possible to survive without an oven.