club fairs and study abroad

The women’s team posing after playing at indoor regionals.

Sign Yourself Up, A Few Hundred Times

When enrolling directly in a university, you are essentially starting out as a first-year student – at Oxford, this means you are included in “fresher” activities. While you do not need to participate in every activity geared towards first-year students, many of these events are quite useful. One I found especially worthwhile: the club fair. This is where I learned about the ultimate frisbee team, a highlight of my time at Oxford!

Oxford has over 400 clubs and societies covering a wide variety of interests – from Oxford Climate Society to the Oxford Gregorian Chant Society. This is not unique to Oxford – schools across England and the world have a myriad of student clubs and societies. Though there were an overwhelming number of options, the club fair was organized by category. All the sports were together, as were the music groups and academic-oriented organizations.

There are also some clubs specifically geared towards visiting students! The Democrats Abroad UK chapter hosted many screening events throughout the term so American students could stay up to date on election and debate coverage. Attending the fair was also practical – I left with maps of the surrounding areas, free membership cards, and coupons for local businesses.

Like you probably did when you were a first-year at your home university, you will sign up for too many things, receive roughly 80 emails the next day, and decide what to prioritize. Going through this process a second time is just as exciting, and it gives you the chance to try something new.   

The whole team after one of our first tournaments in Reading.

Going Direct

A quick segue from club fairs. Why? To understand the benefits of attending a club fair, it’s helpful to understand the nature of direct enrollment programs. Direct enrollment typically allows you to attend classes, socialize, and live with current students at a university, providing a truly immersive experience. It is also a daunting experience because direct enrollment can be isolating at times – and this can be especially true of Oxford, where you often study and meet for classes solo, per the tutorial system. As I learned in my first week tour of Worcester College – one of 39 residential colleges at Oxford – Worcester’s predecessor was originally a college for Benedictine monks, founded in 1283.

As a college student at Oxford today, your lifestyle need not be monkish. In fact, the independence afforded by direct enrollment can allow you to form very strong relationships, especially if you are proactive about joining campus groups. In addition to meeting other direct enrollment students, I also suggest befriending students who have attended the university for a few years – consequently, those who have already established routines and social groups.   

The Main Quad of Worcester College, one of 39 residential colleges at Oxford.

Attend Regularly

The place to meet other students? Club meetings and practices. Once you have tested out the waters in a few student clubs, select a few and commit! I knew I wanted to continue to play ultimate frisbee while abroad, so I committed to attending the practices four days a week. Even if you are unsure where your interests lie, try to regularly attend the meetings of at least one student club. The perks of doing this: you will form deeper relationships with club members, recognize people around campus, and fully understand what it means to be an undergraduate student at your university.

Being committed to a club doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to just the one. While I was at Oxford, I was a member of the ultimate frisbee team, varsity table tennis team, 180 Consulting chapter, and attended a few Democrats Abroad UK meetings. Some clubs even provide the opportunity to stay involved once you are back on your home university campus – for example, 180 Consulting is an organization that has student chapters at universities around the world.

Travel with the Team

While the walk to and from ultimate frisbee practice familiarized me with many places around Oxford, I would also recommend seizing opportunities to travel even farther with student organizations. Midway through the term, I was able to travel with the women’s team to a tournament near Gloucester. This trip allowed me to further bond with the team and see a different part of the country, devoid of tourism.

It was also an inexpensive trip – we all stayed in a “scout hut,” a moss-covered dome built into the English countryside. My teammates and I all brought sleeping bags, and when we woke up the next morning the view did not disappoint – complete with a sunrise, cattle and sloping hills. The shared car rides and games gave me the chance to talk to more people on the team – a group of very fun-loving and interesting people.   

The women’s team at one of many festive dinners around the holidays.

Christmas Traditions

I loved not only attending practices and matches, but also social events. Oxford is a bit Christmas-crazed – in fact, since students are released for break before the holiday officially begins, they’ve invented their own celebration: Oxmas. The season of Oxmas begins a month earlier than Christmas but shares the same festivities and traditions. My last few weeks in Oxford included quite a few Oxmas dinners, but the one with the ultimate frisbee team was especially fun.

The social captain reserved a table at a nearby pub and we all crowded around. It was a silly event – we each wore our own versions of the infamous “ugly Christmas sweater” and brought homemade Secret Santa gifts. It was also an excellent way to end the term – surrounded by many of the people who welcomed me to Oxford, and with whom I had become close friends.   

Zoe Pharo is a Political Science/International Relations major at Carleton College and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of Oxford in Fall 2019.