I was once told: "Life mainly consists in choosing your failures, not your successes." I guess that could be a useful way not to get disappointed by one's shortcomings and to be aware of the unpredictable outcomes of our action. Not so in Oxford. One rather has to choose one's successes because one will not be able to get them all. In a sense, this is indeed a disappointment - but a rather sweet one.
There are many things one does not quite understand in Oxford. Some are more or less positive, but most are simply surprising, and even more so when you realise they are traditions here. Practically, I am 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 lad; to be brought to a halt on your way home (from such a tutorial, say), 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. Imagine the rest of the day. It should not come as a surprise then if I say that in order to converse 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 exhibition in the Ashmolean; or 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. One can hardly imagine the number and quality of available workshops on every possible, dreamed-of, or unimagined topic, and the sheer enormity of opportunities to meet peers and more advanced fellows willing to help. Should academia somehow become boring on one of those dark, rainy, lonely evenings when our Social Team has not organised anything, it would suffice to take a break and 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 by how successful life becomes in Oxford: it is one of the very best places to become academically good at something, happy in doing it, and eager to develop yourself. I will never forget my first formal hall with these weird-looking things they call "gowns", nor how I felt when I was singing Handel's Messiah in the Sheldonian Theatre. Nor 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 was studying for an MSt in Classics.