Along with the day to day slog of academic work, your first year at Oxford will be full of new experiences to take advantage of. Here’s the OxStu top ten things not to miss as a fresher, from summer balls to croquet games.
Christ Church Meadow/Port Meadow/University Parks/Magdalen Deer Park
These lovely parks are great for hanging out, especially when university life gets a little hectic and you need somewhere to clear your head. They’re also a good spot for runs, sports practice, romantic strolls or even the occasional picnic. As you can tell from the photo of Christ Church Meadow at the top of the page, they’re also just as beautiful in winter as summer.
Time to make the most out of those student discounts! Unidays is free and their app can be used at most high street shops. You can also use your bod card (your university card, which will become your lifeline) for nearly everything. Always ask about the student discount – student favourite Itsu has a 15 per cent discount after 3pm but they don’t advertise it in store. Oh, and if you haven’t got them already, get loyalty cards so you can get cashback, especially supermarkets.
The Covered Market
The Covered Market can be accessed off the High Street or Market Street and houses many shops and cafés as well as the Oxford Varsity Club. Alpha Bar sells takeaway homemade hot and cold lunch options, Ben’s Cookies serves delicious cookies and at the milkshake stand Moo Moo’s you can get almost anything made into a milkshake. It is also home to two florists, where you can get carnations when the dreaded Prelims (those pesky end of first year exams) come around, as well as Cards Galore which has a great selection of (would you believe it?) cards and small presents.
Extracurricular: Journalism/Drama/Sport etc.
Just because you’re doing an Oxford degree, doesn’t mean you have to give up all your other pursuits (especially if you’re a humanities student!). Oxford has a ton of clubs and societies, both across the university and in the colleges, as you will see in the labyrinth of Freshers’ Fair. Join whatever takes your fancy- you can always unsubscribe from the mailing lists later! But don’t just stick with what you already know, because one of the other key fresher experiences is trying…
A totally new activity just because
From Quidditch to croquet, historical reenactment to the Real Ale society- you will find many a slightly random but wonderful sport/club/societies that you can at least attempt. Forego your worries of humiliation, just go for it- at my college, a few of us formed a croquet team, called the ‘Croque Madames’ (blame our male counterparts the ‘Croque Monsieurs’ for the name) to compete in the inter-collegiate competition; we only learnt how to play half an hour before our first match!
The price may seem pretty shocking initially but the experience of your first Oxford ball is certainly worth it. Most of the big balls sell their tickets near the end of Michaelmas term, and while the best are almost certainly your own college balls, there are also plenty of other events such as RAG Ball (run by Oxford’s Raise and Give charity) which cover a range of budgets. Most balls also offer the chance to work for part of the night in return for a ticket, which seems like a reasonable payoff when you consider that ball entry includes unlimited food, drink and entertainment.
If you didn’t know (and if you didn’t know, you deserve to be killed in one of the grisly ways featured on these programmes) Oxford is the setting of several TV series- notably the murder mystery Inspector Morse which now has two spin-offs Lewis and Endeavour. One of my greatest regrets is missing the filming of Lewis in college…. ah, Lawrence Fox…. Sometimes production companies also contact college students looking for extras to appear in the background of shots, so could even find yourself showing off your theatrical talents on national TV!
May Day (insert other wonderful, and potentially strange, Oxford tradition)
Although May Day is not a specifically Oxford tradition there is something very special about staying up all night (for fun not an essay) and then craning your neck to listen to Magdalen College Choir sing at the unearthly hour of 6 am. Other activities occur on the day itself such as the Morris dancers on Radcliffe Square and madrigals below the Bridge of Sighs, but you may be sleeping by then.
Tips: plan different activities throughout the night (e.g. pub, chilling in someone’s room, club with breaks to keep energy levels going). Lots of local cafes open early on May Morning to cater to bleary-eyed revellers, and no breakfast ever tastes as good as one after an all-nighter with bed on the horizon.
Pro tip: make the best of May Morning freebees – in 2015, G and D’s handed out free hot-chocolate to the shivering crowds waiting underneath Magdalen Tower, and the Wesley Memorial Church provided free bacon rolls.
Nightlife: pubs ‘n’ clubs
The range of pubs in such small city is so impressive that there is even an Oxford pub poster available from Blackwells (the bookshop on Broad Street). A few notable names include The Eagle and Child and The Lamb and Flag on St Giles as well as Chequers (High Street) and Turf Tavern (warning: Old Rosie at the Turf is deceptively alcoholic). If you’re more into clubbing, Freshers’ week will provide enough introduction to all the mainstream clubs but otherwise I recommend trying the themed nights e.g. 00s and 90s music or jazz, depending on your tastes!
A speaker you wouldn’t hear anywhere else
The Oxford Union is probably the best known institution for attracting speakers, despite being almost constantly in the realms of scandal. Last year they hosted Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry, Anna Wintour among others. However, if you cannot afford, or face, spending over two hundred pounds on membership (albeit a lifetime one), there are plenty of other opportunities to listen to influential, and niche, speakers. The Oxford Guild hosted an ‘interesting’ talk by Kanye West and the subject societies often invite academics from their respective subject areas if you’re looking for something more scholarly. Most of these talks are advertised on Facebook or through society email lists, so keep an eye out for anything that appeals to you.