Category Archives: Student life

Testimonial: from Open Day attendee to current student!

On the blog this week, first-year student ambassador, Laurence, describes his experience of attending our Modern Languages Open Day in 2022, and how it led him to where he is today.

I feel so grateful to be where I am today, a student of Philosophy and French at St John’s College. My journey into university language study began at the Faculty Open Day in May of 2022, when I was in Year 12. A couple of months prior, I had woken up one day and decided that I could not graduate with a law degree at 21, start training for the world of work, and never broaden my horizons beyond that. French was my favourite subject at school, and I had a passion for literature and culture as well as a budding desire to travel. I switched my application preparation towards languages, and the Open Day was my first port of call.

As an Oxford Bursary recipient from a state comprehensive in Coventry, I remember feeling awe when I arrived with my mum at the Exam Schools, where we listened to a range of different talks. It was refreshing to talk to other young people who had a passion for languages: MFL learning in my school had suffered from a chronic lack of interest. I particularly enjoyed the variety of sessions at the Open Day, from talks on French specifically, linguistics, and Italian, another language I was considering. Talks from tutors were highly informative regarding the literature/language balance as well as studying a language with philosophy, with personal touches about their own research interests that could not be so easily gleaned from the university website. I loved the excitement in the atmosphere around the Open Day, even the sun was out on the High Street!

The Examination Schools in the sunshine at the 2022 Open Day
Photo by John Cairns

I decided that a languages degree was for me, and after further discussions with ambassadors (French and Philosophy is a great combination, they said), we headed home. I remember on the train we even met a woman whose daughter had just graduated in French, it seemed like a sign! I would certainly say that the Open Day stoked my interest in languages further and convinced me, through the emphasis on literature and culture as well as the sheer range of degree options available, that it was a better option than Cambridge or any other university.

Laurence with two other prospective students at the 2022 Modern Languages Open Day
Photo by John Cairns

I have now finished two terms as a student here, and the experience has been everything that the Open Day promised, and more. I believe that the tutorial system is especially well adapted for subjects like English and languages because both tutor and student can pore over the text together. I think the Faculty does well at advertising this as what sets Oxford apart from other universities. 

I have enjoyed much of the early modern content, including Montaigne and Racine, which may be the focus of my Authors Paper next year – although with the input of the philosophy side, Diderot and Pascal also sound tempting. I’m also excited to look into potential linguistics or cinema papers later in my degree. The language side of the degree has also been engaging: the expertise of my native speaker teachers has shown me a new way to reach fluency beyond learning cast iron grammar rules, namely a sensitivity to context, culture, and idiom.

I feel like I have personally travelled a long way since the Open Day, now a languages ambassador myself. Grateful for the opportunity to help others to discover languages too, getting to give back through this outreach work is the greatest privilege.

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You can still sign up to attend our Open Day on Saturday 11 May! The programme and booking link can be found here. The deadline to register your place is 8 May – don’t miss out!

We’re in Baltic business, people! The *new* beginners’ Russian year abroad

In this week’s blog post, third-year French and Beginners’ Russian student, Catrin, tell us all about her year abroad spent in Tallinn, Estonia!

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the beginners’ Russian cohort spends the year abroad in Tallinn, Estonia, engaging in an intensive language programme for eight months. At first, it disappointed me that I would not experience the legend that is the traditional Russian ab initio year abroad to Yaroslavl’ (seriously, it’s described like folklore in the department), spending a long winter only 270km outside of Moscow with a firm and matronly ’babushka’. However, this disappointment was of course dwarfed by the gravity of the situation in Ukraine and my sympathies for those living through the atrocities.

When I left the UK for my first semester, with two large suitcases and no expectations, I was yet to know the magic of Russia’s tiny neighbour; I was yet to learn the intricacies and nuances of life in a post-Soviet country, and I was yet to feel that I had truly built a life and home for myself abroad. All these things had become true as my time in Estonia came to an end in May of 2023.

The language course provided by the organisation ‘LanguageLink’ in Tallinn is the same as the one previously given in Yaroslavl’. There are daily lessons in literature, translation, grammar, essay writing and speaking. The lessons take up half a day, in a morning or afternoon slot, and in them we covered a wide range of themes. The courses are all provided by native Russian speakers, but what made the lessons all the more interesting and unique was the politicised lens through which Russian as a language is considered in Estonia. In 2011, nearly 50% of Tallinn’s inhabitants spoke Russian as their first language and the vast majority of Estonians are fluent in, or can at least understand, Russian. Relations with the language were already strained after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the re-adoption of Estonian as the country’s official language and were then made even more precarious following the invasion of Ukraine.

Our teachers had very personal stories and interesting views on their relationship with Estonia and the Estonian language: some had lived and worked in Estonia their whole lives, and others had moved to Tallinn more recently following the start of the war. A particularly memorable lesson included a discussion about the implications of displaying a destroyed Russian tank in the capital’s ‘Freedom Square’, with plaques in Estonian, Russian and English explaining the choice to put it on show. We pondered the task of translating and conveying the message in three different languages in such a tense political climate.

I loved the afternoons and weekends we spent in Tallinn, and given that our classes only took place in the morning, we had lots of free time to fill with many cultural activities… and cinnamon buns. Tallinn itself is very architecturally interesting, like a cultural canvas onto which various eras of history have been painted and blended together. You can spend hours wandering around the picturesque medieval Old Town and traditional wooden houses in the neighbouring creative district, or get swept up in the remains of the Soviet era the traces it left (including the derelict Linnahall, which for you Christopher Nolan fans, is used in the film ‘Tenet’).

Alternatively, you could lean into a more modern, slightly Scandinavian way of life. All of this together is what makes it Estonian. Some of my favourite habits included a weekly trip to a coffee shop with a friend after our Friday morning class, taking turns to pick a new café and explore new districts by the very efficient Tallinn public transport system, as well as a Sunday afternoon trip to the sauna to go ice-swimming in the capital’s seaplane harbour.

Many of us lived in the east of Tallinn in Lasnamäe, often called ‘the Russian ghetto’ given the high number of Russian speakers living in the area. Many lived with babushkas, but a friend and I lived with a man who trained Ukranian soldiers and ran a metal-for-furniture business on the side (whatever floats your boat?). We enjoyed conversations about his work and his family, which was spread between Estonia and Ukraine. His mother came to stay with us for a month from Kyiv, and we really enjoyed learning about her life and interests in a mishmash of Russian and Estonian, which she was learning at the time.

However much I loved Tallinn, one of the best things about it was how easy it was to leave. As in, it has excellent (and cheap) transport links to many parts of Estonia and other capital cities. The ferry trip to Helsinki is around £25 and takes two hours, other Baltic capitals are easily reachable by bus- although the overnight trip home from Vilnius to Tallinn is not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had. One reading week at the end of March was enough time for a whistle-stop tour of Scandinavia by train: a friend and I interrailed from Helsinki to Kemi in the north of Finland, across the north of Sweden, before seeing Trondheim and Oslo in Norway, finally making our way down to Copenhagen. Many of our classmates travelled further afield to Georgia, Uzbekistan and Hungary during these reading weeks.

Although not what I expected when I originally applied to study Russian at Oxford, my time in Tallinn was formative, fulfilling and most importantly, fun. The beginners’ Russian year abroad seems highly structured, with little space to make it your own, but all our cohort came home with different experiences, stories and memories. Looking back, I realise that Tallinn to me was originally a ‘plan B’, an alternative, and a place I never would have considered home. How wrong I was!

Catrin, French and Beginners’ Russian

You can read more about Catrin’s year abroad experiences in Estonia here on the blog.

Lincoln College Study Days

Lincoln College is delighted to announce another year of in-person Study Days for Year 12 students from UK state schools . These Study Days are designed to support students from non-traditional Oxbridge backgrounds who are on track to achieve high grades and potentially make an application to a selective university.

Lincoln’s Study Day programme is designed and delivered by academics and staff at the College in Oxford, with great opportunities to engage with tutors and current students. It will give prospective students a real flavour of life at Lincoln and what to expect from studying at Oxford University. It will also help them to develop relevant academic skills such as essay planning and critical thinking, and the admissions workshop and mock interview will help participants to make a competitive application to Oxford when the time comes.

Lincoln’s Modern Languages Study Days will take place on August 8th to 10th.

Accommodation will be provided free of charge, onsite, in Lincoln College rooms, alongside breakfast, lunch and dinner in the Dining Hall. The College can also offer support with travel via a reimbursement scheme.

To apply and see an outline of the programme, follow this link. The application deadline is Friday 24 May at 12 noon.

Modern Languages Summer School

Applications are now open for Wadham College‘s annual five-day Modern Languages Summer School. The residential will take place at the college, based in the centre of Oxford, from 19th to 23rd August 2024.

Summer schools are designed to give UK pupils studying in Year 12 a taste of what it’s like to be an undergraduate studying at the University of Oxford.  Pupils will take part in an academic programme, live in College, meet student ambassadors studying at Oxford, and receive information, advice and guidance on applying to university. Wadham’s Summer Schools are free and the college will provide financial support to pupils to cover their travel costs.

We’re delighted to be able to run these events in-person allowing participants the best experience of life at the university.  The feedback from last year’s Summer Schools was hugely positive with over a third of participants subsequently securing offers to study at the university.

“After the summer school I am much more confident that I would fit in at Oxford and feel like I am more ready to move away from home”

Summer School participant, 2022

For Modern Languages more specifically, pupils will engage in a seminar series led by Wadham’s language tutors, including language classes in their selected language of study (French, German or Spanish) with opportunities to try other languages as beginners (including German, Portuguese and Russian). Students will complete an assignment on a main topic with feedback from tutors. Pupils will also be able to receive support from current undergraduates and from the College on making successful applications to top universities.   

For more information and to apply, click here: Wadham College Summer Schools. Pupils should be studying French, German or Spanish at A-level or equivalent to apply. Applications close at 5pm on 3rd May.

If you have any queries, please contact access@wadham.ox.ac.uk

Study Day at New College

On Saturday 8th June 2024, New College will host a study day for Year 12 state school students who are interested in pursuing a degree at a Russell Group University in either:

  • Modern Languages
  • English Literature
  • A combination of the two
New College Front Quad

This cross-curricular study day will explore the following essay question:

“In reading the literary works of the past, to what extent should we judge them according to our own moral and literary standards?”

The study day will include academic sessions, an essay writing session, lunch in the dining hall, and a tour of the college.

Up to £100 in travel expenses will be paid for by New College.

Following the event, attendees will be encouraged to enter an essay competition which has a £500 cash prize.  In addition, £250 worth of books will be donated to the winner’s school library. 

In order to apply, you must be a Year 12 student in a UK state school or sixth form college.  You should also be considering a degree in either Modern Languages, English Literature or a combination of the two at a Russell Group University.  

You can find out more here and submit your application via this online form.

Applications close at midday on Wednesday 1st May 2024.

Modern Languages Study Days

On the blog this week, we take a look at the exciting Study Day opportunities for budding linguists coming up this summer!

Study Days are a great opportunity for prospective applicants to experience life as an Oxford student for the day. Study Days will always include taster sessions for the subjects which you are interested in studying at university, but often involve information sessions on admissions, a chance to talk to current undergraduates, and a tour of the College.

Study Days are free of charge with some colleges offering additional financial support to attendees. They are open to students at UK state schools, but places are sometimes prioritised by measures of socio-economic disadvantage.

We would very much recommend applying to any of the opportunities below!

Exeter College – Thursday 25th April

Each year, Exeter College hosts a series of subject days for Year 11 and Year 12 students attending UK state schools. These aim to provide tailored support for students interested in exploring a range of subjects at University level.

The Radcliffe Camera from Exeter College

The College’s Modern Languages Study Day will be taking place on Thursday 25th April.

You can register your interest here. The deadline to sign up is 5pm on Monday 18th March.

Balliol College – Monday 3rd June

Applications are now open for an in-person Modern Languages Taster Day at Balliol College in Oxford!

This event is designed for Year 12 students from UK state funded schools who are currently studying a language at A-Level or equivalent, and who intend to apply to study French, Italian or Spanish, or Modern Languages and Linguistics as a single or a joint-honours degree at Oxford University.

The Taster Day will include academic sessions, admissions information and a demonstration interview. You will have the opportunity to speak to tutors and current undergraduates. 

Balliol College chapel

To apply for a place at this event, please complete this form.

Please note, we will prioritise applications from disadvantaged students and from groups which are underrepresented at the university. Before submitting an application, please ensure you can attend the day in its entirety. This will be in-person at Balliol College in Oxford. 

The deadline for applications is 5pm on Friday 17 May 2024.

St John’s College – Wednesday 12th June

St John’s College is pleased to welcome applications for our Year 12 Modern Languages Study Day. The Study Day is open to all Year 12 students currently attending a non-selective state-school in the UK.

Inside St John’s College chapel

What does the day involve?

  • Academic taster sessions led by Oxford Modern Languages tutors
  • Information on applying to, and studying at, Oxford University
  • A Q&A session with current Modern Languages students and tutors
  • A tour of St John’s College and lunch in Hall

To sign up, please complete the application form on our website. All events and resources are free to qualifying pupils. Travel grants are also available for eligible participants.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please do get in touch with us at access@sjc.ox.ac.uk.

Make sure you apply to these exciting opportunities before the deadlines!

Modern Languages Residential Opportunity

Oriel College is excited to be hosting four one-night Residential Programmes over the Easter holidays!

Their Modern Languages and Linguistics Study Day, aimed at students considering degrees in various combinations of Modern Languages or Modern Languages and Linguistics, is taking place on 25-26th March.

The programme is designed to support Year 12 students from non-selective state schools in the UK who are considering degrees at highly selective universities like the University of Oxford. Participants will experience subject sessions, applications workshops, and opportunities to work with academics at the University of Oxford.

All expenses (accommodation at Oriel, meals, and activities) will be funded by the college. Reasonable travel costs to Oxford to attend a residential programme will also be reimbursed.

Oriel College

Who can apply?

Residential Programme applicants must satisfy all of the following criteria:

  • Currently in Year 12 at a UK state school
  • Predicted A-Level grades equivalent to the University of Oxford’s standard offer for the relevant course (see the university website for full details)
  • Interested in studying a degree level course in Modern Languages or Modern Languages and Linguistics.

Previous programmes have been oversubscribed, so applications will also be prioritised based on the following criteria:

  • Studying at a non-selective (comprehensive) state school
  • Studying at a school with limited history of progression to Oxbridge
  • Home postcode
  • Receipt of Free School Meals/Pupil Premium

Applicants are also welcome to notify the college of any other relevant personal circumstances in the sign-up form.

Apply now!

The application form is available here. The closing date for applications for is midnight on Saturday 9th March 2024.

If you have any questions about the programme, please email the Outreach Officer for Oriel College, Arron O’Connor, via outreach@oriel.ox.ac.uk.

BAME HUMANITIES STUDY DAY 2024 – APPLY NOW!

Following a successful four-year run, Oxford’s University College, Magdalen College, and the Faculties of History and Modern Languages are delighted to announce that the virtual BAME Humanities Study Day will return for 2024 on Thursday 4th April!

This event offers UK state school students with Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) heritage an exciting opportunity to engage with academic taster sessions from across the Humanities subjects, and also to access insight into Oxford student life and support with the admissions process.

This year, the day will open with a welcome and an introduction to the humanities subjects from current students followed by the opportunity to attend two humanities subject lectures. Students will learn more about the Oxford application process in our subject-specific admissions workshops. The day will conclude with a live student life Q&A where you will have the opportunity to ask your questions to current Oxford students from BAME backgrounds.  

Screenshot of the Q&A with undergraduates from the 2021 Humanities Study Day

For the academic lectures, students will be able to choose from the following subjects: ClassicsEnglishHistoryHistory of ArtModern LanguagesMusicAsian and Middle Eastern StudiesMusicPhilosophy or Theology. You will be able to specify your preferred subjects on the event’s application form below.

Last year, students chose to attend academic taster lectures on fascinating topics such as:

  • Myths and Counter-Myths: Roman Imperialism and French Colonialism in North Africa (Classics)
  • Orientalist painting and how to write it (Medieval & Modern Languages)
  • Popular Music: History and Interpretation (Music)
  • The Shock of the Nude:  Art, Science, and the Racial Imaginary in Modern China (History of Art)
  • The Spirituality of Black Lives Matter: The Enduring Truth of Black Liberation theology (Theology)
  • Mathematics, Magic and Mongols: the forces that shaped medieval Islamic astronomy (History)

Before attending the subject day, I had no prior ideas about attending Oxford, nor was I really interested. This was mostly because I thought Oxford was an unreachable place for someone like me, a coloured girl who does not come from a highly prestigious background, which I believed Oxford to be the opposite. Attending the study day made me realise Oxford is actually a very accessible and open place for someone of my background…

–  2023 Study Day participant

Eligibility Criteria

Students must be…

  • Currently in Year 12 (or equivalent)
  • Identifying as having Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic (BAME) Heritage 
  • Attending a UK state school (unless you have extenuating circumstances or meet several of the priority criteria listed below) 
  • If spaces are limited, priority will be given to students who meet one or more of the following: first generation in your family to attend university, have experience of being in care, are a young carer, are eligible for Free School Meals/Pupil Premium, are from an area of deprivation or area with a low rate of progression to university.

To sign up, complete this application form. If you are unable to attend live on the 4th April but would like access to the recordings and resources, then please still submit an application via the form. 

Applications will close on 25th February 2024. We cannot guarantee every applicant a place but are aiming to accommodate a large number of students.

If you have any questions about this event, please email us at outreach@magd.ox.ac.uk

MODERN LANGUAGES OPEN DAY – Bookings Now Open!

We are delighted to welcome prospective students to Oxford on Saturday 11th May for our annual Modern Languages Open Day. The event will be held from 10.30am-4pm at the Examination Schools, located on the High Street.

Modern Languages Open Day 2022
photo (c) John Cairns

This event is a fantastic opportunity for students who are interested in learning more about our language courses, or who are still considering their options, as this Open Day will cover ALL of our languages: French, German*, Spanish, Italian*, Russian*, Portuguese*, Modern Greek*, Czech*, and Polish*. Most of our Joint School degree subjects – English, History, Philosophy etc. – will also be represented at the event.

*All of these languages can be studied here at Oxford from beginners’ level. 

Modern Languages Open Day 2022
photo (c) John Cairns

Our Modern Languages Open Day is aimed primarily at Year 12 students and their parents/guardians/teachers, but Year 11 students who are starting to think about university study are equally welcome to attend.

The Open Day will offer an overview of our Modern Languages courses and a general Q&A for prospective students in the morning*, with individual language sessions and a parents’/guardians’/teachers’ Q&A session occurring in the afternoon. Tutors and current students from the Faculty will be available throughout the day to answer questions from prospective applicants and their companions.

*Please note that, due to restricted places, only one parent/guardian/teacher may accompany each student for the morning session.

You can view the full event programme here.

Modern Languages Open Day 2022
photo (c) John Cairns

Booking your place at this event is compulsory – you can register your attendance here. Bookings will close at midnight on 8th May 2024.

We look forward to seeing lots of you in May and welcoming you to Oxford!

New Year, New event!

The Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages is delighted to announce a brand new event for the 2023/24 academic year – a Beginners’ Languages Taster Day!

Alongside our usual Modern Languages Open Day (which will take place on Saturday 11th May), this year we will be running an event dedicated to our beginners’ languages courses. This new event offers students from UK secondary schools in Year 12 or equivalent an opportunity to gain greater insight into our beginners’ languages degree programmes at Oxford. Students in Year 11 who are starting to consider their options for university are also welcome to attend.

The Taster Day will take place on Saturday 2nd March in our main Faculty teaching spaces – the Taylor Institution Library and 47 Wellington Square. After an information and Q&A session in the morning, students will have the chance to attend taster sessions in two of our beginners’ languages.

Photo taken from our Modern Languages Open Day 2022
photo (c) John Cairns

The following languages will be represented at the Taster Day, with academics and current undergraduates present to provide further information about the course(s) and to answer students’ questions:

  • German
  • Portuguese
  • Italian
  • Russian
  • Czech (with Slovak)
  • Modern Greek
  • Polish

The provisional event programme can be found here.

To register for the Taster Day, students should fill out this form by 10am on Friday 23rd February so we know who to expect at the event. Please note that spaces will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, and the form will close once our maximum capacity has been reached.

We are also pleased to be able to help students who are in need of additional financial support with reasonable expenses such as travelling to and from Oxford for the event. There is a space to include this information in the registration form.

Photo taken from our Modern Languages Open Day 2022
photo (c) John Cairns

Our beginners’ languages courses offer an exciting and rare opportunity for students to engage with a new language and culture for the first time, or to pick up languages they studied at GCSE. The courses are challenging yet rewarding, with many designed to bring students up to A-level standard within the first year. Therefore, we would love to welcome students who are strong linguists and/or who are looking for a new challenge at University to this event.

As well as alongside a post-A-level language, most of our beginners’ languages can be studied in conjunction with subjects from the Humanities such as English, History, Linguistics, or Philosophy, for which applicants do not need to be studying a language to A-level or equivalent. With this in mind, we would also welcome students of Humanities subjects who are interested in picking up a language at University.

For further inspiration and information, below are some links to content from our tutors and undergraduates about why taking a language from scratch is so worthwhile:

  • Blog post Why study Czech?
  • Video – Branching Out: Picking up a language from scratch
  • Video – Studying German for Beginners at Oxford:

We look forward to seeing you on 2nd March!