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Navigating Oxford in a pandemic: A first-year’s experience



By July 6, 2021 No Comments

Oxford is an odd place. From the gowns to the traditions (like trashing, throwing shaving cream at people who have just finished exams), there are many quirks that seem to pervade this prestigious institution. On top of these old traditions, add the anxiety of an 18-year-old trying to navigate university life and the uncertainty and fear that a pandemic brings; now you have an accurate picture of the university experience that lay before me.

There were a lot of anxieties I had about being a first-generation student, the restrictions that a pandemic brings, the normal anxiety of moving to and navigating a new city. Being a first-generation student impacted me the most before coming to Oxford – I really had no one to turn to for advice and I had no point of reference – university was a completely new experience for me, one where I had no idea what laid before me. On top of this, I was worried about making friends, whether I would fit in, and trying to settle into a new place. While the pandemic meant in one sense that everyone was in the same position of uncertainty, it also placed an enormous amount of pressure on me. I was confined to only socialising with my household and a range of questions swam around in my mind – would they like me? Would we get along?

Despite these initial challenges and thoughts, I look back and loved the experiences I had in the first year. The friends I’ve made, the degree I study, the city I live in – I wouldn’t change anything. For anyone apprehensive, here are some thoughts on how you can overcome the challenges that face you at the start of university.

Of course, you are at university to study for a degree. Work is an important aspect, and it’s essential that you learn to deal with it effectively. One thing I wish I did was to ask for help – when I was struggling with the workload, and when I was uncertain about what to do, it would have saved me a lot of stress and time if I had just asked my tutors for a quick meeting. Your professors, tutors and lecturers are there to help you – use them.

Another source of apprehension is making friends. University is as much a social experience as it is academic, and making friends was one of the biggest worries for me. But a great way to fix this is to make friends with the people you live near – they are going to be the people you spend the most time with after all. You don’t need to become very close with them (though if you do, that is a bonus) but since it is convenient, it is a fantastic starting point – the people in my household are some of my closest friends now! Another great way is to join student societies because they allow you to meet others with similar interests. But another tip would be to apply to be on the executive committee of a society – you’ll get the chance to work in a team with others and forge close friendships, with the added bonus that you are all passionate about the same thing.

As you can see, a large part of what makes university so daunting is about social connection. In an age of COVID, where human connection is hard to gauge through a zoom meeting, it is so important that we find this social connection and form meaningful relationships. i2i is a great way to start with this – as a social media app that helps students form meaningful friendships, it is a fantastic tool. While other social media platforms can become isolating, authenticity is at the heart of i2i and empowers the individual to connect with others driven by the same values. If you are starting university soon, why not make it easier and download the app? The people you interact with could end up being your closest friends.

By Aftab Chhina, First Year Jurisprudence Student at Oxford.