I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I had some of my happiest and most challenging moments in my first year at Oxford. I’ve felt both fully in my element, and very far away from home. I won’t pretend I’ve been through anything like the hardships I know that many people face; I’m sure I’ve been relatively lucky compared to some.
Why should I get out at all?
There was one night, however, when I’d never felt less like doing an essay. What I did feel like doing was turning all the lights off and crawling under my desk, so that’s what I did instead for a little while. It was probably more comfortable than it sounds, and felt quite tranquil. There I was, amidst the sturdy wooden buttresses of my desk, in my cosy College bedroom, cased in by the solid stone walls of my ivory tower. The only difficult part was answering ‘why should I get out at all?’
Moving to a new place and lifestyle can be a daunting experience for some, and a liberating one for others. For most of us it’s a mixture of the two, with days at either end of the spectrum. Whatever the case, flying the nest is inevitable for all of us. Some of you reading this will shortly be arriving in Oxford for the first time, and the message I want to get across is simply (to misquote Douglas Adams): don’t worry.
The absolute best of help and support is available
We all have bad days at some point. Sometimes unpleasant things happen to us or the people that we care about. There is nothing I (nor all the brilliant minds in Oxford put together) can say to make this any less true, as much as I wish that were so. Nevertheless, what I can do is reassure you that the absolute best of help and support is available here for when things don’t go so well. The mere knowledge of a safety net that you will hopefully never use can be enough to soothe your pre-freshers’ week nerves.
Colleges spend thousands of pounds each year on making these services available
There are many people who you can go to, whichever College or PPH you find yourself in. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by great friends, but there may be times when that’s neither sufficient nor appropriate for whatever reason. I won’t go into an exhaustive list of all the welfare provisions at Oxford, but each College spends thousands of pounds each year on making these services available. That may be in the form of trained PhD students (whom I found tremendously useful), senior members of College, fellow undergraduate appointees, or even the Chaplain (no, you don’t need to believe in God to qualify for a cup of tea and chat). On top of this there’s the professional University Counselling Service and the all-night student-run helpline Nightline, alongside many others. Tutors make time allowances for work and are generally unconcerned if it isn’t always up to scratch, and [I sincerely hope] the lecturers don’t mind the occasional absence whatsoever.
All I really want to say is this: come whatever may, when you’re ready to talk, there are plenty of people on the other end of the phone or just down the corridor, whatever time of night or day it is. Please climb out from under your desk.