It was a tiresome day after a trek back from the ‘Emerald Lake’ in Mustang, Nepal. I threw my backpack on the sofa, relieved that I could finally rest my exhausted body. Then I turned off aeroplane mode on my phone – and there it was – a message from Oxford Admissions.
My heart pumped in an unrecognised rhythm, my face all red and flustered. I opened the email. To my surprise, I had been accepted to Oxford. The very fact that I was surprised says a lot about how I perceived myself back then. But there was no time for calmly perceiving anything in that instance. I could only scream, and did so at the top of my voice – so loudly that it alarmed my poor aunt, who was about to call the police in panic, oblivious as to what had happened. When the news became clear, there were lots of tears and smiles – I had made it, as many would say, to the best university in the world.
Getting accepted filled me with an abundance of confidence. But alas, sunny days don’t last forever, as any Brit knows all too well. The excitement faded away when I started imagining the next couple of years of my life in Oxford. I posed myself a set of very bizarre questions: Was I worthy of Oxford? This thought lingered even as I walked to the porters’ lodge to collect my keys for my new home and life in Oxford.
Following goodbyes with family, I felt like an imposter merely mimicking the life of an Oxonian. But this perception gradually shifted during Freshers’ Week. I had to wear sub-fusc to attend some of these events. I wore the Harry Potter-esque gown and walked past the beautiful castle-like buildings. Seeing the friendly faces of other students wearing the same gown while sitting in our flashy hall, I spotted that they, like me, were equally nervous. I was now able to identify with them. As the drinks in our student bar gradually disappeared, the connection deepened. We talked about our travel histories and research histories, an exchange which required several paradigm shifts. As scripted as these conversations were, they nevertheless allowed me to realise our commonalities and the shared passion to bravely bring something new to the academic table. I realised that I was not an imposter.
The individual events and interactions which forged attachments in my freshers’ week prepared me to feel at home in Oxford, and so cannot be reduced to their isolated instances. Rather, I would argue, wearing my anthropologist hat, that these events were what I shall call ‘Oxonian rites of passage’. The events processually shaped my ‘habitus’ – in other words, my conditionings and propensities. With each interaction, my posture slowly became more confident, and my voice more alive.
I hope that future events shall further deepen this sense of belonging. And if not, I shall remind myself that I am not the only Oxonian to doubt my sense of belonging. In knowing this, I shall find solidarity, normalise my imposter syndrome and question what ‘deserving to be at Oxford’ even means. I hope you will reflect on these too, if you ever feel displaced in this mysterious realm.