I was once told: "Life mainly consists in choosing your failures, not your successes." I guess that is at least a useful way not to get disappointed and to be aware of one's shortcomings and of the unpredictable outcomes of our actions. Not so in Oxford. You rather have to choose your successes because you will not be able to get them all. In a sense this is indeed a disappointment, but rather a sweet one, believe me.
There are many things one does not quite understand in Oxford. Some are more or less positive, but most are simply surprising, and become even more surprising when you realise they are "traditions" here. Practically, it means being taken aback by "Oxford's normality" on a daily basis. For what could be more surprising than to meet the very best experts in a given subject, to chat with them about your interests until they decide to give you twice as many private tutorials as needed because you seem to be a good and interested lad; to be physically stopped on the way home from such a tutorial in the middle of Broad Street by your chaplain’s slap on the shoulder followed by an invitation for a drink, and finally to go to a Tolkien party to sing and eat like Rohirrims? All of this being only one instance of what can happen between 4.00 and 11.00 pm. I let you imagine the rest of the day. And I suppose it does not come as a surprise now if I say that in order to chat with my tutor I had to cancel a conference I wanted to attend; that in order to talk with the chaplain, I had to postpone a visit of a new exposition in the Ashmolean; and that the party had the predictable side-effect of forcing me to work until very late when I got home.
But this is only the beginning. You cannot imagine the number and quality of available workshops on every possible, dreamed or unimagined topic and the sheer enormity of stellar opportunities to meet peers and more advanced fellows willing to help. And should academia somehow become boring on one of those (rare) dark, rainy, lonely evenings when our Social Team has not organised something wonderful, it would suffice to walk ca. 120 seconds to find our very own cosy college pub, Deep Hall, usually already full of friends and ales.
In short, I am constantly surprised how successful life becomes in Oxford: it is the very best place to become good at something, happy in doing it and eager to develop yourself. I will never forget my first formal hall with this weird-looking thing they call a "gown", nor the great feeling I had as I was singing Handel's Messiah in the Sheldonian. Neither will I forget my new friends and everything I have learnt and will learn from this unique experience made possible by the Berrow Foundation.
Oxford, 30th January 2016
Solmeng is studying for an MSt in Classics and can be contacted on: firstname.lastname@example.org