You’re finally here. After a gruelling acceptance process, including entrance tests (yes, they feel like an age ago), interviews (at least they were in person) and the shambles of A-level and IB results 2020 (unless you’re a gap year student like me), you’ve made it to the hallowed halls of an Oxford college for your fresher’s week.
But that pesky Coronavirus means you can’t spend it like you hoped. No raging parties, galivanting across into other people’s rooms and everything else you’d only heard stories about, but instead a matriculation in absentia with a welcome Zoom call. On the surface, it sounds like a massive disappointment. I must admit, I was looking forward to the Instagram pics by the RadCam. However, I’m here to point out that there are some positives to the situation that we face.
To see the how people were feeling, I surveyed 26 freshers about their thoughts ahead of fresher’s week. In doing so, I realised many of us had the same worries, but I was also enthused by the positives shared by some, as well as our collective feeling of wanting to make the most of the situation. Here’s why it isn’t so bad to be a 2020 fresher:
Lockdown – blessings in disguise
Despite anyone’s personal feelings about lockdown, there have been some unquestionable positives. First of all, it has caused a serious re-evaluation of where we place our self- worth and what we value the most. Hopefully, this will have helped us prepare for the mental health challenges associated with university. Many people struggle with homesickness, but hopefully after spending so much time in our homes of late, that will be less of an issue.
Furthermore, although the extended break from education might make us feel, it should make us more enthusiastic about learning again and appreciate the opportunity we have to study at Oxford. For those who have been out of education for 1 or more years, this will also make it more of a level playing field.
Lastly, we have gotten to know our peers better than ever before, prior to the start of our degrees. Groups on Discord, WhatsApp and even the dreaded Facebook have connected freshers across countries and time zones; even the Instagram freshers page has survived the wave of reposts by those wanting to introduce themselves to the newer members. Sure, not everyone will be in this position, but this means that hopefully it will be less of a daunting experience.
Your loss is your bank account’s gain
Yes, we all know parties and social events are typically a staple of the university experience (I was looking forward to dominating Mario Kart in the Hugh’s JCR), but financially, a lack of them works to your advantage. Many budgets are blown in fresher’s week, with booze, clubs and pubs being a major outlet for freshers. It certainly was a worry for a select few among the participants in my survey. However, with these being less of an option (particularly clubs), money should be saved.
In addition, money (and time) will be saved on travel to and from lectures (especially for Hugh’s students like me), and there’s less of a chance of people picking up new, expensive coffee shop habits. Living on a student income is already hard enough, but hopefully this year it should be a little easier.
Universities are more prepared for online learning
Not much needs to be said here. Just ask the medics who started last year.
In all seriousness, tutors and departments will be more accustomed to online teaching, having had to teach online for at least a term. As well as this, a summer worth of preparation should mean that, although not in person, learning should be as good as ever. Plus, we have the privilege of possibly having tutorials in person too, which isn’t an option at many universities.
More Meaningful Interaction
Because of the times, it is almost certain that every individual’s social interaction, or at least the number of people they meet, will be limited. However, this will mean people are more willing to open up to those they do meet, particularly in their household, allowing the formation of deeper relationships than those that would traditionally be formed.
Furthermore, colleges and JCRs are working hard to find ways to allow people to still meet other freshers, and there is always the option of using sites like lunchroulette.co.uk to find like-minded freshers to meet up with from outside your college! Many societies will also be running in some form (like The Oxford Blue!), allowing us to meet new people and try new things.
Finally, all this should hopefully result in less pressure to be sociable and allow those who just want to shut their door and spend a few hours in their room alone the opportunity to do so (where my introverts at?). And maybe, just maybe, this might increase productivity and academic output and rescue my college from the foot of the Norrington table.
This doesn’t mean we should get too comfy. Check on your friends and yourself, make the most of your time, and have fun!
And so, dear reader, I shall leave you with some of the words of students I surveyed:
“A good story to tell my grandchildren”
“Probably won’t get liver damage, save money and obviously get more sleep.”
And last but by no means least,
“It’s quite monumental to say you had fresher’s during a pandemic :D”