The most striking aspect of Oxford University is the range of possibilities: both academic and social. It soon becomes apparent after arriving that one can find anything and everything. There are limitless opportunities.
I decided soon after arriving in Oxford that I wanted to make the most of my year there. I realized that having only one year to experience the university life of Oxford meant I had to try new things and to push myself beyond my comfort zone.
The Oxford Union
The Oxford Union is one of Britain’s oldest unions, and is one of the world’s most prestigious debating chambers. Year after year it invites countless prominent celebrities, activists and politicians for intellectually stimulating (and sometimes controversial) talks and debates. I listened to as many speakers/attended as many debates during my three terms at Oxford as I could. Ultimately, I got to meet Dr. Bennet Omalu, the physician who discovered CTE, David Bradley, the actor who portrayed Filch in Harry Potter, and even Don McGahn, who was chief White House Council for President Trump; similarly I got to hear from David Chapelle and Jon Stewart, Carlos Puigdemont, as well as many other prominent and influential individuals.
As someone interested in politics, I decided to get involved in Oxford University’s prominent political scene during my time abroad. I ended up becoming a member of the Oxford University Conservative Association and the Oxford University Liberal Democrats. This allowed me to gain access to similarly intellectually engaging debates and speakers. I got to listen to debates about the need for the hunting ban on foxhunting, the future of the Conservative Party after Brexit, and whether the US and the UK would still maintain such a “special relationship” after the Presidency of Donald Trump.
Polo and Clay Pigeon Shooting
I knew that during my time abroad I wanted to take up sports to keep myself active. As someone who loves horses and has ridden since I was little, I quickly took up membership in the Oxford University Equestrian Team and the Oxford University Polo Team. I was particularly excited about polo because it was something I had always longed to pick up, and to get to learn how to play it at Oxford University (and to train in Ibiza as part of the yearly training trip), were invaluable opportunities. I also became a member of the Oxford University Clay Pigeon Shooting Team, because I love the outdoors and it seemed like someone fun and new. I ended up having the time of my life in the club, and even got to shoot at Varsity against Cambridge, as a member of the “Ladies Oxford University Clay Pigeon Shooting 2nd Team.” I was honored not just to get to shoot in a competition, but to have been selected (despite only being a visiting student) to represent Oxford against Cambridge on the “2nd” team.
I found out during my time abroad that Oxford University was one of only three universities left to maintain a “beagle” pack. I immediately became intrigued as to what exactly “beagling” meant, as it was described to me as foxhunting, but done not on foot (but rather foot) and not directed towards following a fox (but rather the layed scent of a hare). I soon became involved with the society and went on weekly hunts with the pack, making close friends with the people who ran the pack (and the dogs too). I even got to attend the “Hunt Ball” for the pack, which was my first white-tie event ever!
I had made up my mind that while I was abroad I would try to be as culturally integrated as possible. One of the ways I tried to achieve this was by trying “Scottish reeling.” I had absolutely no background in dance and did not know many people in the Oxford Caledonian Society, which ran the dance practices and black-tie balls, so I was a bit intimidated to try and integrate myself with people who had been doing these dances since they were little. Ultimately, I ended up attending the termly ball, during my last term at Oxford, and I had a wonderful time. It was so fun to just dance the night-away, doing something completely out of my element, and meeting many new friends, in an environment entirely out of comfort zone.
I did make an effort to get involved with the various societies that were geared towards the various post-graduate goals and professional careers I am most interested in. I attended various workshops and networking socials hosted by the Oxford Law Society, the Oxford Women In Business, the Oxford Finance Society, and the Oxford Threadneedle Investment Society, and the Oxford Strategic Studies Group.
Hertford College Choir
Another of my goals was to make friends not just outside my college, but also within it. I sought to foster this college spirit by becoming a member of the Hertford College Choir (despite never having taken singing lessons). It was great fun getting to sing carols during Christmas and to sing from the infamous Bridge of Sighs on May Day morning.
Past Reflection and Future Contemplation
By reflecting on my time abroad, I have realized just how vast the opportunities really are at Oxford. The seemingly infinite range of societies is truly unparalleled; whatever you enjoy, whether it’s a popular activity (like hockey) or a niche interest (Oxford Wine Tasting Society), Oxford likely has a society for it.
Furthermore, I have come to realize that it was doing particularly new (and seemingly scary) activities that I grew the most. Not only did I learn to adapt to my constantly changing environment, but, and more importantly, I learned to trust myself and overcome the nerves. I learned to go with the flow and to enjoy the moment; to live in the now, and not the future.
It is this very breadth of activities that make Oxford a genuine place not just for self-expression, but also self-exploration and I am incredibly happy I spent the year there.
Lauren Mauney is a Politics and International Affairs student at Wake Forest University and studied abroad with IFSA at Oxford University in England in Spring 2019.