Image credit: Will Cross-Birmingham
Isabella Deutsch is from Austria and is pursuing a MSc in Statistical Science at Oxford.
“This all must be a bureaucratic error,” I thought to myself countless times this past summer – “Do I really belong at Oxford?” After my successful application, the allocation of my college, countless emails with my department, loads of paperwork, and the first social events with my MCR, I still cannot fully believe that I am indeed a student at the University of Oxford.
Talking to my peers both in college and in class, pretty much every single one of them has expressed similar concerns: that they got admitted because of a glitch in the IT-system, that there must have been a mix up of applications, and so on. Yes, most of us feel that way, it’s called ‘imposter syndrome’, and the first step to combating it is to acknowledge that loads of people around you feel the same way.
For me, small incidents like the mispronunciation of a word (I’m looking at you, Magdalen College!) or confusing academic words (because ‘spring term’ just isn’t fancy enough?) enhance my feelings of not fitting in. What helped me most when I first arrived was talking to senior students who were able to explain the quirks of this extraordinary place in such a way that enabled me to become fluent in Oxford’s unique vocabulary in no time at all.
“Walking through Oxford still feels strange to me – as if I visited a Harry Potter film set rather than my university city.”
From an academic point of view, I am worried that the level of skill I bring will not be sufficient to keep up with my lectures. Though, I believe we are all here for a reason and we must trust that our CVs and personal statements had impressed our departments enough to have accepted us in the first place, implying that they trust us now to be able to tackle the academic challenges ahead. It is easy to get demotivated by tough worksheets, long reading lists, and countless lab hours – I know. However, the resources provided by the university, as well as a good night out with our friends, can work wonders to help us on the bumpy road towards our degrees.
Walking through Oxford still feels strange to me – as if I visited a Harry Potter film set rather than my university city. Putting on my subfusc as I attend a formal hall at my college is still an extraordinary experience, as if I entered another century almost. Oxford is indeed a special place and I can imagine that most of us international students have probably never experienced anything remotely like it before. In these first few weeks, I had a hard time getting used to all the specialties and peculiarities of this university, but I am working towards absorbing every last bit of this surreal experience. What helped me most were the extraordinary people I met along the way: those wonderful individuals that I am proud to call my friends are what transformed Oxford into a ‘home away from home’ for me.
So next time you find yourself going down that rabbit hole of ‘imposter syndrome,’ keep these heartfelt words in mind. Yes, it is okay to feel like this, but no – you are not alone. Find like-minded people to share your thoughts and have a few pints with. Just know, I feel ya’.