image of Exam Schools, where students may sit prelims

The Chronicles of an Oxford Fresher

It’s 01:39 on 11th May, and I’ve burst into my room with the insane urge to do some journalling. Drunken scrawling follows. The words practically fall off the page. Double exclamations!! “Maybe I’m still a bit drunk,” I concede finally. Girl, I can see that. 

One page of half-legible, definitely half-developed opinions, and a flurry of interesting photos sitting dormant in my camera roll is something I can remember the evening by. Then a brisk entry the following day: “What was I even on”. But I’m quite proud of my attempt to document something – eight-week terms leave little time to reflect on what has happened; instead, looking ahead with tunnel vision emerges as a coping mechanism to fight off that ever-present FOMO.

Before arriving in Oxford, I scoured YouTube for some indication of the experiences that awaited me. One thing that stood out to me was how the vloggers themselves could later look back on their university life in an immersive way. To remember and cherish these four years of my life in the city that I had dreamt of since my childhood would not be such a bad prospect. The problem that I did not expect was the toss-up between living and remembering.

‘Make the most of it’—I absolutely lived by this motto. Life simultaneously became incredible yet extremely unhealthy when the question narrowed down to, “are you going to get some sort of sleep, or will you try to chronicle something of what happened today?”. Michaelmas: pubs, clubs, and flu. Hilary: incredibly sporadic attendance at society events, and flu. Trinity: over-enthusiasm in ball season, overcommitting in extracurriculars, and (you guessed it) underlying flu. My friends at home recommended the motto of ‘saying yes to everything’ for freshers week, but apart from the moments when I was completely and irreparably bed-ridden, this has been carried through the whole year.

That is not to say that I didn’t have my moments aimlessly wandering around Oxford, swamped in ‘I’m so lonely!’ reverberating through the echo chambers of my hollow head, with no idea as to what I should do with my time, questioning if I had made a grave mistake in freshers week, or maybe as far back as application season, and should now be regretting all my past decisions. I thought about my Australian friends, basking in the sunshine while the choppy winds of life’s calamities did divine work on my hair. If only I could have a home-cooked meal for once, pat my dog through the phone screen, hug my friends tightly…

Before arriving in Oxford, I scoured YouTube for some indication of the experiences that awaited me.

Then it’s back to being busy to keep myself from such thoughts. A long chat with friends here always helps. Journalling, on the other hand, surprisingly does not. I cannot follow my own self-produced advice to save a life. What was originally a recount of the day becomes a scribbled mess of my raw reactions. I often write with my hand over my mouth, from one of three emotions: shock, excitement, despair. 

However, reading back on days gone bys, of good and bad events—which is what has constituted my reflection on this blur of a year—fills me with happiness. Here are fragments of me who did not know this, would never have expected that, who wanted so badly to fall in a pit and die after situations of crippling embarrassment—but fortunately did not and so lives to tell the tale—who has left haphazard yet treasured tokens for me to remember myself.

Teapots and Laurence’s shelf of teas; laughter that makes you lose your legs; sleeping in the sun on second quad; when in the late night, it’s just you and your friends in the library; fresh coconut from Gloucester Green; fog on the water at sunrise; padding through Old Bod and taking out books from library shelves; wisteria; breakfast in hall; smiles and enthusiastic waves; poking tongues at each other in tutorials; this one tree in Christ Church Meadows; bells chiming, especially when not on time; variations of rule-breaking; such random minutiae that dot the pages of my journal and colour Oxford as something almost like home. Or a fever dream so grossly esoteric and puzzling, even to the writer.

Image credit: Cameron Samuel Keys