Dear Future Oxford Study Abroad Student, henceforth to be addressed as Fosas, I’m writing now to inform you a bit on the first few days of your stay in Oxford. Likely, your beginnings in this new place will not be exactly similar to mine, but I thought a bit of insight into my own journey could perhaps sooth your nerves. If not, I recommend some peppermint tea with a healthy dollop of honey, or perhaps the lighting of a lavender scented candle. (Both did superb wonders for me).
Personally, I was absolutely terrified upon leaving Los Angeles for Oxford. I had dreamt for years about going to England, but in the final days before my departure, I was utterly amiss with worry. If you’d like an expansion on that, take a look at my previous post.
Right off the bat, I should let you know that the first 72 hours here are absolutely, horrendously bonkers. You will, if you are anything like me, step off the plane you have been quarantined to for roughly ten hours (and that you have unfortunately not gotten any sleep on) into a land of temperatures and currencies unknown. You will go through customs, which hopefully, will not be too rough. Thankfully for me, I was let through with relative ease. Remember to be clear about where you are studying, and what courses you plan on taking.
It may be a good idea to freshen yourself up a bit once you get your luggage. I discovered this spectacular idea while attending a bathroom near the exit of Heathrow airport, by the money exchange booth. As I entered, I saw a girl around my age washing her face and reapplying her makeup at one of the few sinks. I was initially hesitant to join in on this ritual in a public restroom, but quickly found that it was incredibly helpful in making me feel like functional human being.
After that, I exchanged a bit of money at the airport. I’m sure you’ve heard that the exchange rate there is terrible, and yeah, it is. But I personally found it comforting to have a small amount of physical pounds before doing any sort of traveling, just to ensure I could get from London to Oxford even if (god forbid) my credit card didn’t work. With any luck, you will find the bus station with the aid of the designated airport signs. Personally, I had to ask a girl at a security station where on earth the buses to Oxford were, because luck was not on my side. She kindly pointed to my left, where a whole row of buses marked with “OXFORD” in ginormous letters lay in wait. I probably would have felt stupid, but my brain was working at about 25% it’s normal speed, so I just smiled dumbly and continued on my way.
You will not sleep on the bus ride there. Or maybe you will. I couldn’t. I stared out the window, amazed by how green everything was, and by how everyone was driving on the opposite side of the street that I was accustomed to.
I will tell you plainly now that you will look like a tourist when you first arrive at the Gloucester Green bus stop. It’s inevitable and it’s okay. Once you get off the bus, you will walk through a small alley way (because a sign told you that you would find taxis at the other end), and enter a large square. If it’s a Wednesday, there will be a farmer’s market and you will probably feel overwhelmed by the amount of people there (who assumedly know you are new to town by the 50 lb suitcase, 25 lb carry on, 10 lb backpack, and 5 lb laptop case in your tow). Embrace the awkward. It too shall pass.
Afraid of looking even more tourist-y than that, I didn’t ask anyone where the supposed taxi hub was, even though I was having quite a rough time finding it. My suitcase rumbled obtusely down the cobblestoned ground beside me as I fumbled for my map of the area. Of course, I couldn’t find any street signs to orient myself, so I walked up and down the surrounding streets blindly, my cacophonous luggage serenading anyone within a two mile radius. It was a solid twenty minutes before I found the hub about 30 feet from where I started. (A note: when you get to the end of the alley, go straight and to the right. I went to the left. Whoops.)
You have two general options for when you arrive to Oxford: arrive the day they tell you to arrive, or arrive a day or two or a week earlier. If you asked anyone in the study abroad office which option is better, they probably didn’t answer you. My guess is they instead pulled the “everyone is different, do what’s right for you” card. That’s not necessarily a bad card, but it’s a bit irritating to hear that when you’re going to a foreign country and really just want someone to tell you what will make the transition easier.
In my experience, arriving a day early was incredibly helpful. I didn’t have to worry about getting anywhere by a certain time. I didn’t have to stress about whether or not I would get my key. My mother was kind enough to book me a room in a small townhouse that, without her intentional planning, happened to be situated directly across the street from Jesus College (the college I am a part of for my stay here!).
I didn’t really leave my room once I arrived to it. Beforehand, I had made a plethora of plans in my mind for what I would do my first day in Oxford. I would walk around the city romantically, stopping for coffee, and maybe going to a bookstore. Perhaps I would meet an attractive British scholar and we would stroll by the Thames as we discussed Truth and Love and Beauty. Of course, none of that happened. My exhaustion had finally caught up with me, and so I drew the blinds and took a 3-hour nap. Upon waking up, I discovered that the wifi at the townhouse did not work, so for the rest of the evening, I read and dined on leftover granola bars and tea.
The next day, I finally got my housing information and key. After ten months of vague hints of barely any information, it was nice to actually have something tangible to hold onto while a taxi drove me to my new home.
Well, dear Fosas, that’s the bulk of my first days in Oxford. And also I’m getting a bit tired of writing. After the first few days, you will start to feel a bit more functional, I promise. The jet lag will slowly wear off, and one day, you’ll find yourself waking up around 8am, instead of 6am. Still, I will leave you with a few tips, just in case you’re still a bit uneasy.
- Don’t walk around the city with your nose in your phone! I didn’t have wifi my first few days here, and while it was difficult and strange not to use google maps for navigation or yelp to recommend a cool café, there’s something intriguing around every corner here. Get a map and navigate the city yourself! I have a small map my sister printed for me and, although it’s only been a few days, I have already gotten used to the general lay of the land.
- To my fellow introverts: Consider going to a pub one of your first nights in the city. I did, and I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the persistent convincing of my roommates. You might like it, or you might not, but either way, it’s good to know right off the bat what you prefer. I think I’ve found that I like going out, but certainly not every night.
- On that note, remember also that it is okay to not go out all the time. It is okay to stay in your room reading Outlander for four hours straight until you naturally pass out around 9:30pm. The first few days will be an exhausting amalgamation of different social settings where you will feel pressured to always be at your best; always have something cool to say to make everyone like you. Take a walk by yourself. It’s okay to be alone.
- You will forget something back in the US that you are convinced you absolutely need. Take a breath. You can likely live with out it for a few days (unless it’s like… life-dependent medication or something. Maybe worry a little if you forgot that.), and you can probably find something similar here. I forgot a UK adapter and lived without charging any of my electronics for three days until I finally found one at a department store (Boswells on Cornmarket Street) for about £3.50. It’s relatively true when people say all you really need to travel is your passport.
- The rain isn’t that bad. I don’t mean that it doesn’t rain a lot. It certainly does! It probably rains at least five times a day at various intervals and intensities. What I mean is that if you prepare for it, it’s really not that horrendous. Bring some good boots, warm socks, a warm jacket (that can fit over bulky sweaters), and an umbrella, and you’re fine. If you’re from southern California (like me), it’s easy to view rain as this foreign entity with unspeakable powers and devious capabilities. It’s water from the sky. It’s magical, indeed, but it’s not unlivable.
Okay. That’s really it for now. You’ll do great.
Until next time,