Winter Days and Nights at Oxford

December 01, 2014
Will Brantley '16

With the days getting ever shorter, Oxford seems to consciously fight off the gloom of the darkness of winter by a turning inwards to the people and activities that complement academic life. Although Oxford is structured on individual and personal learning, there is a tremendous emphasis on common conviviality and sports to provide an escape from the drudgery of studying and paper writing. Most students strike a healthy balance between school and social life that seems conspicuously absent at many American colleges.

Will and Adam at DinnerAlthough I spend most days reading books or writing papers, I look forward to the end of the day where I can go to the college bar and relax in company of my new friends. The bar offers a place not just for getting a cheap drink-the English taxpayer subsidizes drink prices-but is also a way to escape the isolation of studies in my room.  The Oxford system can encourage self-imposed isolationism, but there are also many opportunities to engage with other students. Four times a week, Worcester offers "formal" hall in which the members of the college gather in formal attire and academic robes to enjoy the best food the college offers. The food, although traditional English cuisine, is excellent as is the communal aspect of dining at a common table with all years of the college.

Will and Adam at the ThamesOther than formal halls, there are many opportunities to be active in the college and the university as a whole. Many students play some sort of sport. Although American football and basketball are available, they are played by a small devoted minority; the more popular sports include soccer, cricket, badminton, field hockey, and of course rowing. I am on my college's basketball team, which is really the equivalent of a church "rec team."  We play other colleges within the University weekly, but the "games" are not much more than pickup games. But the real sporting event is the regatta; this week Christ Church College hosted its novice race for all the other college boat clubs. The regatta has been the only time that I have seen any amount of school spirit or pride comparable to that of an American college. Today, rowers from across Oxford, including Adam Witham, donned their rowing gear and battle paint, and braved the cold and rain to race down the Isis, the name of the Thames near Oxford. Although I am not an actual rower, I am a "social rower," which means I get to enjoy the festivities of being a member of the boat club without having to get up for 6 a.m. practice.

Will in front of the UnionAlthough sports are prevalent in Oxford life, one is never far from intellectual pursuits. There are academic clubs for almost every discipline and interest one can think of. As a member of the Union Philanthropic Literary Society (UPLS) at Hampden-Sydney, I felt my joining the Oxford Union, or simply the "Union", was a necessity. Like UPLS, it hosts weekly debates that include both members of the Union and guests who are usually experts in the field of debate. For example, the first debate was "This House has no Faith in Her Majesty's Government," which was attended by five members of parliament who argued their parties' cases. In addition to debates, the Union hosts guest speakers; some of the biggest names this year have been Ian McKellan and Morgan Freeman. The Union not only acts as public forum, but also has a members-only library and bar. It has been an honor to be the part of the same organization as nine Prime Ministers and many other world leaders.

Although I have no idea where on campus I will be living next semester, I have learned that it really is not about where one lives, but about what does. My time at Oxford has been so eclectic and fun that I hope to return whenever I can.