One of my favourite parts of Freshers’ week last year was arriving at the Freshers’ Fair. I wandered over to the Examination Schools, stepped through the archway and walked into a new world. Every room was full of bustling people stopping at different stalls to sign up for societies and grab free tote bags. I didn’t know that so many sports existed and I wanted to try every one of them.
This year’s Freshers’ Fair looked a little different. Rather than grand halls filled with bright signs ordering you to ‘Sign Up Today’, new students had their laptops and virtual Q&A’s.
This was not the only thing to change this year; everyone entering Oxford has been affected, along with the Oxford Societies. Although I never ended up playing Quidditch or learning how to fence, I did sign up for my college choir. This was a welcome release every week where you weren’t just encouraged to shout at the top of your lungs (tunefully, of course) but required to. I loved it so much that I decided to continue into my second year.
Rather than grand halls filled with bright signs ordering you to ‘Sign Up Today’, new students had their laptops and virtual Q&A’s.
Our choir is one of many who have had to make accommodations to conform to government guidelines. Certainly, shouting in a small chapel would not help people to “Stay Safe. Stay Home. Protect the NHS.” But thankfully we live in a marvellous age of technology, which meant that Trinity Term last year we were able to move away from the traditional world of real-life chapel singing and turn towards the internet. I thought having online tutorials was difficult, but it was nowhere near as complicated as singing in a virtual choir from my bedroom.
This year, along with many other societies who are struggling to welcome new members, we have changed tactics again. Rather than continuing to sing at home, our choir has returned to the vacant chapel to sing two metres apart – which my household is very thankful for. It is an eerie experience to sing, not only in masks, but to an empty room. Once our doors were open to worshippers, students and tourists alike. Now, they are closed to all but us. Each Wednesday night, instead of performing to a congregation, we sing to a camera whilst standing apart with our faces covered.
I thought having online tutorials was difficult, but it was nowhere near as complicated as singing in a virtual choir from my bedroom.
There have been many challenges. For instance, technical difficulties have included an awkwardly positioned camera and people accidentally muting themselves just as they prepare to talk. Not only does social distancing mean that half of the choir is too far away to see, but it has also occasionally cut people in half on the screen.
Or, alternatively, we have been thrust outside to sing in the Autumn chill. The Matriculation ceremony this year was altered, meaning that new students were welcomed to Oxford in high resolution. However, the choir was still there to lay out the red carpet for new college members. Along with a string quartet, we braved the outdoors with only gowns to keep us warm (they may create a sense of occasion but the lack of sleeves can be frustrating).
Societies are a vital part of life at Oxford.
We, of course, are not the only group fighting to function in 2020. Other societies and clubs such as the Oxford Union are working hard to find new speakers and host online events for their members. Even our many sports societies are adapting to the new rules, unwilling to let coronavirus ruin their year.
Societies are a vital part of life at Oxford. University has always been the time to discover new interests such as sailing or aeronautics, and it still is. Although you may have to have your Liberation and Liquor meeting over Zoom, you can still join in and take advantage of the incredible student-run societies that Oxford boasts. Have fun and stay safe.