Category Archives: Studying at Oxford

Open Days – what to expect

Last month, we brought you news that our open days are coming up in the next few weeks and months. As a reminder the dates are:

You need to book a place for all the open days above in February, March, and May, but you do not need to book for the July and September dates. You can make a booking here.

But you might be wondering what can I expect from an open day? How can I make the most out of my day? Which kind of open day is right for me?

Summer Open Days

Last year, we gave a detailed overview of the university-wide open days in the summer, which you can read here. Most of this advice will also pertain to the 2020 open days in July and September (although note that the dates are different from last year!). This is the right open day for you if you want to explore a few different colleges in one day, or if you’re not sure which subject you’re interested in, as most colleges and departments will be open on these dates. There’s a real buzz around these events but we highly recommend planning your day in advance as the city gets very busy!

Alex, who is currently in his second year of a degree in French and History, has this piece of advice for students coming to the summer open days: ” One piece of advice I have for prospective joint schools applicants would be to research which colleges do not offer your preferred combination before you attend a university-wide open day. That way, you’ll be able to prioritise visiting just the colleges which offer your degree, saving time on the open day and hugely simplifying the daunting college selection process!”

Language-specific open days

However, the Modern Languages-specific open days in the spring are a little different…

First, they include more academic content than a wider open day: because the smaller open days are so focussed in their scope, they can spend more time exploring a subject in depth. So, for example, on the German open day you can have an introduction to German film, linguistics, or different types of literature. On the Spanish and Portuguese open day, you can explore women’s writing in both languages, as well as begin to explore other peninsular languages like Catalan and Galician. The Italian open day will introduce you to one of Italian literature’s biggest names, Dante, and on the Slavonic languages open day you can learn about Czech pop stars!

While the bigger open days will provide a wealth of information about the courses we offer, as well as offer a fantastic opportunity to meet our students and tutors, the sheer scale of these bigger events limits the time and space we have to get stuck in academically. That’s why, if you already know you’re interested in a particualr language, we would encourage you to come along to a language-specific event if you can, as it will really give you a flavour of what it’s actually like to study at Oxford.

Second, the pace of the smaller open days is a little slower. While on the big summer open days you might find yourself rushing around the city, trying to fit in visits to three or four colleges and a couple of departments, the smaller open days are more measured and you will be escorted from one venue to the next. This gives you the time to have in-depth conversations with current undergraduates and tutors and to take in your surroundings.

Nadia, a current student, says: “I went on a Modern Languages Open Day. I found it very useful in giving me useful information on the course structure for both single and joint honours and helpful towards giving advice for the Oxbridge process for the admissions testing and courage to take my subject beyond the classroom. It was useful to also have taster sessions, which I found really enjoyable. It is an encouraging experience, so I would tell students on edge on whether to apply to go to these days as it will give you a gist whether the course and the place is the ‘best place’ for you.”

The general Modern Languages open day

If you’re interested in more than one language, or in studying a language in combination with another subject, you might consider coming to our general Modern Languages open day in May. The advantage of this event is that it offers both a wide overview of Modern Languages at Oxford in the morning, witha chance to ask questions about admissions, and plenty of time to speak to tutors from each language in the afternoon. You can therefore be exposed to more than one language but avoid the time pressures that can sometimes affect the summer open days.

So, if you would like to know more about several languages but you’re not able to attend more than one language-specific open day, this event will be a good opportunity for you to explore different options. There is also a separate Q&A especially for parents.

Fred, who is in his first year studying French and Linguistics, says: “I attended the Modern Languages open day in the May before I applied. I found it useful to understand how the individual subjects that interested me fit into the faculty as a whole, and how the faculty fit into the wider university. As someone applying for a more obscure subject (linguistics), the open day was a good opportunity to find out about the specifics of the course (how the teaching works, what module choices are available in second year) and meet the tutors in a more intimate environment.”

We hope that has given you a sense of which kind of open day might be best for you. Our top tips for any open day are:

  • plan your day in advance, particularly your route to and around Oxford. The city is not very car-friendly and open days can be congested so you will want to research transport options well in advance.
  • research the degrees ahead of time. The University outlines its courses online. Come to an open day with a list of questions to make best use of your time spent with the tutors.
  • talk to our current students. They have been in your shoes in the last couple of years and they remember what it’s like to be making a big decision about your future. Their advice will be friendly, honest and a fair reflection of what it’s really like to study at Oxford.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The tutors are very happy to talk to you about the degree, the way they teach, and how to apply. If something is worrying you or you’re not sure, we would much rather you ask for clarification or advice. As always, we’re happy to answer any questions about the degree(s) we offer and the admissions process if you email schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk

Hope to see some of you at one of our open days very soon!

Received an offer from Oxford? Here’s some pointers.

This post was written by Ben, a first-year student in French and Spanish at St Hilda’s College. Reflecting on where he was a year ago, at which point he had just received his offer from St Hilda’s, Ben has some handy advice forYear 13 students who have received an offer to study at Oxford.

With a history spanning longer than that of the United Kingdom, a rich diversity of colleges each functioning in a slightly different manner, and the bragging rights of being known as the ‘place where Harry Potter was filmed’, the University of Oxford might appear to be shrouded in mystery and magic. Perhaps it’s for this very reason that all those on the inside (myself included) are consistently asked variations on the question, “what’s it like to be an Oxford student?”.

In a somewhat ironic turn of events, it’s this very question I found myself pondering about this time last year. Following the eternity that the month or so awaiting a response after interviews seems to last, I received that fateful email confirming my place to study French and Spanish at my current college, St Hilda’s. Relief, joy, excitement, uncertainty, a faint nervousness – these are all emotions I would use to describe my reaction to that moment, and emotions I’m certain that some of you kind enough to be reading this blog will be all too familiar with right now, offer obtained, yet unsure as to what to expect.

Photo by Sidharth Bhatia on Unsplash

Thankfully, help is at hand. Now a term into my first year, perhaps the benefit of hindsight will help to shine some light on the process of receiving an offer from Oxford. Here are ­­four pieces of advice if you do so happen to be about to embark on your journey with the University.

1. If you have been made an offer by a college different to the one you originally applied for, don’t sweat it. Whilst it is true that each has a different atmosphere, every student I have spoken to in the first year already cherishes the college that they have ended up at. And this isn’t just smooth phrasing copied and pasted from the university website, no – I’m speaking from personal experience. I myself originally applied to another college, and if I can settle in perfectly, you most certainly will too.

2. Keep an eye on your inbox. Oxford’s team of tutors and academics will often give you advice and support from the moment you’re made an offer – be that in the form of answers to any academic questions you may have, or reading lists to prepare you for the course. If you haven’t turned on notifications for your email app, now’s the time.

3. Go to an offer holder day. Many colleges will run a day specifically designed for the incoming year group. Meet others you may well be sharing a tutorial with, grill those already on the course, perhaps even just get to know the college a little better – regardless of how you spend it, it’s an event well worth attending.

4. Join Freshers’ pages. Oxford students come from a wide range of different places, yet that distance is nothing social media can’t handle. Prospective language students’ group chats are particularly lively, and a great way to meet people if talking to those on the offer holder day is just too twentieth century.

To finish this blog, whilst it may seem daunting at first, arguably the most important piece of advice is that of not panicking. Both your college and other students are fully aware that everything is novel, and that the jump from Sixth Form to university requires some getting used to. Surprising though it may sound, Freshers’ Week is in this sense far more than a social event: it will give you all the valuable information you could possibly need, settling any doubts whose answers you haven’t already found.

And so for now at least, as the expression goes, ‘keep calm and carry on’.

Oxford is open!

If you’re considering your university choices, one of the best ways to get a feel for different universities is to visit them. To that end, we offer a number of open days for propspective students – a chance for you to meet current students and tutors, look around the facilities, find out about the course and the lifestyle, and get a taster of what it’s like to study a particular subject at that university.

In the Medieval and Modern Languages Faculty at Oxford, we organise several different kinds of open day: some are small open days for individual languages, where you can attend sample lectures and immerse yourself in a specific language; we also run a big open day in May which covers all of our languages in one day, offering an overview of Modern Languages at Oxford and Q&A sessions for the different languages and joint degrees; and finally, there are University-wide open days in the summer when most of the departments and colleges are open so that you can get a sense of the University as a whole.

Below you will find the dates of our 2020 open days. You need to book a place on the language-specific open days and on the main Modern Languages open day, but you do not need to book for the university-wide summer open days. You can book here.

  • German, Saturday 29 February
  • Spanish and Portuguese, Friday 6 March
  • Russian and other Slavonic Languages, Saturday 7 March
  • Italian, Saturday 14 March
  • General Modern Languages (all languages we offer and joint schools), Saturday 2 May
  • University-wide open days, Weds 1 and Thurs 2 July, Friday 20 September

Programmes for each of these open days are available here. Please note that there is no specific open day for French: students interested in French should attend the open day in May or one of the open days in July or September.

Stay tuned for more posts about open days – what to expect and how to prepare – but, in the meantime, if you’d like to meet us in person do book a place on one of these events. If you have any questions please get in touch at schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk and we look forward to meeting you later in the year!

German at Oxford: Learning more than the language

In past weeks we have heard from two of the inaugural Lidl prize winners for German, Anna and Cecilia. Today we hear from a third winner. Rachel studies German and History at Merton College. Here she tells us what it’s like to study German at Oxford and how the linguistic and literary sides of the degree intertwine...

A common misconception about studying languages both at school and university is that its sole function is to learn the language in question. Although this may be the case at GCSE, A level students will soon discover that culture, identity, politics and history come hand in hand with any linguistic studies. These themes become far more prominent at degree level, and I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that languages at university is an incredibly exciting and varied area which encapsulates all humanities subjects.

Although the importance of multilingualism in business and diplomacy is often (and rightly) emphasised in the promotion of language learning, studying German at Oxford has so far taught me that a language degree offers even more than these highly employable skills. As a joint schools student studying History alongside German I have always seen the main focus of my degree as culture; the combination of linguistic and historical awareness is what gives us the greatest understanding of societal and national identities. Oxford’s emphasis on literature as a way of accessing foreign culture is incredibly powerful, as it not only explores the use and intricacies of the language, but also addresses the country’s history and art. This became particularly evident to me during our term of studying German poetry, which explores history and philosophy through methods whose effects would be completely lost in translation. The depth of literary study at Oxford can be daunting given the limited experience A level offers in this area, but the support given through lectures and tutorials means that even the most impenetrable novels can be discussed and appreciated as gateways to foreign language and culture.

The most important thing my first year has taught me is that languages at Oxford does not demand heavy pre-reading and prior knowledge; I had only read two German books before and had never even considered being able to read any pre-twentieth century literature! Understanding of the language and methods comes with time, but is made easier by enthusiasm and an open mind to the history and ideas which it is trying to share.

At the Library door in Oxford: an imaginary interview between a Librarian and a Philanthropist

We have an unusual post on this week’s Adventures on the Bookshelf, but one very much in keeping with the blog’s name as today’s post touches on both adventure and bookshelves! Last week, Frank Egerton gave us a brilliant introduction to the Modern Languages Library at Oxford, the Taylor Institution. Now, continuing the theme of libraries, we are pleased to feature an imaginary interview with Sir Thomas Bodley, founder of Oxford’s Bodleian Library. This interview comes once again courtesy of Frank, who has imagined Sir Thomas’s responses to some probing questions about his life and his library.
The interview has been published in English on the blog Clio – la muse de l’histoire, and Francophiles among you will be pleased to hear that it is also available in a French translation on the blog Le mot juste en anglais. Many thanks to Jonathan Goldberg for inviting us to reblog this fascinating creative insight into the library at the heart of Oxford.

The Bodleian Library

“There are few greater temptations on earth than to stay permanently at Oxford in meditation, and to read all the books in the Bodleian.”
— Hilaire Belloc

The Bodleian Library (“Bodley” or “the Bod”) is the main research library of the University of Oxford and is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. It is second in size in the United Kingdom only to the British Library. It serves principally as a  reference library. Formally established in 1602, it bears the name of Sir Thomas Bodley, a fellow of Merton College, one of the 38 colleges making up the University. In 2000, a number of libraries within the University of Oxford were brought together for administrative purposes under the aegis of what was initially known as Oxford University Library Services (OULS), and since 2010 as the Bodleian Libraries, of which the Bodleian Library is the largest component. Over its various sites the Bod keeps 12 million printed books and allows access to more than 80,000 electronic journal titles. It also keeps ancient documents, manuscripts, papyrus, cards and sketches.  Much of the library’s archives were digitized and put online for public access in 2015.

The Interview…

Frank: Don’t ask me how this works but it does. Hello, Sir Thomas.

Sir Thomas: Hello, Frank. It is an honour to meet you.

Frank: The honour’s all mine Sir Thomas. So, for the benefit of our audience, it’s with great pleasure that I’m here to interview Sir Thomas Bodley, after whom the world-famous Bodleian Library was named. Sir Thomas personally paid for and masterminded the library’s refurbishment, the original building having been abandoned and its book collection destroyed during the English Reformation. An outstanding achievement, Sir Thomas, for which the world will always be grateful.

Sir Thomas: It’s kind of you to say so.

Frank: I should mention that earlier I took Sir Thomas on a tour of the library as it is now. First impressions, Sir Thomas?

Sir Thomas: Still recognisable – and I’m always pleased to see the extension at the western end. That happened after my death. It balances the building and provides lots of additional space. I’m intrigued by the glowing glass windows that readers look into on the desks. I’d like to find out more about those and these ebooks you mentioned. No swords, of course.

Frank: No, I think they were banned quite some time ago. No coffee in this part of the building either. And definitely no smoking anywhere. But perhaps—

Sir Thomas: I like to keep abreast of new things. I may not have caught up with ebooks but coffee – well that only came in fifty years after my time. And smoking – I remember Sir Walter [Raleigh] persuading Her Royal Highness [Elizabeth I] to try some. Clouds of smoke and everyone coughing. I think she saw the funny side in the end.

Queen Elizabeth I, Unknown continental artist, oil on panel, circa 1575. National Portrait Gallery.

Frank: Now, Sir Thomas, as you know, we’re particularly interested in languages and European culture here – as well as books and libraries —

Sir Thomas: All interconnected.

Frank: Quite! Your experience of Europe came at an early age, Sir Thomas, didn’t it?

Sir Thomas: Yes. I was born on 2nd March 1545 and my first journey to Europe was undertaken in 1555. Dad was a merchant in Exeter who had strong Protestant faith and who’d helped pay for the suppression of a Catholic rebellion in the west country. When Queen Mary [Tudor] came to the throne, our family fled, initially to Frankfurt and from thence to Geneva, where Dad set up a printing business – that must have had some influence on my love of the printed word! Europe seemed then to be the heart of Protestantism – at least where we were. We were with John Knox in Frankfurt and at Geneva I studied Divinity at the feet of Calvin himself – a tireless worker and an inspiration to us all. I also studied Hebrew and Greek. And of course, we were surrounded by people speaking different languages. After Mary died we returned but by then my west country childhood was but a distant memory.

Frank: What memories of Europe you must have had, though.

Sir Thomas: True, but there was something frustrating about being so close to European culture and yet cut off from it by the discipline of the school room. I vowed to go back.

Frank: But first to Oxford, the city that became synonymous with the name of Sir Thomas Bodley.

Sir Thomas: No sooner did we return than I was an undergraduate at Magdalen College. Back on English soil in September 1559 and a matriculated student before the year was out. My studies at the Geneva Academy stood me in good stead. I did well and in 1564 I became a fellow of Merton College. I was its first lecturer in Greek a year later. For a time I thought my career would begin and end in Oxford. But, there’s this restlessness in me – perhaps it was being uprooted at a tender age then glimpsing how huge the world is. Questing, questing – I always wanted more. I tried many different things. Languages were at the heart of things – don’t get me wrong – Greek and in particular Hebrew, the study of which I and another fellow promoted energetically, opening up the knowledge contained in texts written in that language. But then there was a string of other posts alongside my academic life – college bursar, garden master, deputy public orator. What opportunities there were!

Frank: And friendships,

Sir Thomas: Certainly – one especially. At Oxford I got to know Sir Henry Savile – a cultured and steadfast man who would teach me so much when I started the library project at the end of the century.

Frank: But before that, travel and diplomacy.

Sir Thomas: Travel, yes. I’d never forgotten the vow I made when I returned in 1559. Here’s what I wrote in my autobiography: “I waxed desirous to travel beyond the seas, for attaining to the knowledge of some special modern tongues, and for the increase of my experience in the managing of affairs…” I journeyed to France then to Germany and Italy, learning French, Italian and Spanish. I spent over four years in those countries. The languages fascinated me but so too did new skills I could use in the service of our nation. Under the patronage of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and Sir Francis Walsingham, I became a gentleman usher to the Queen and a member of parliament – though the latter was, sad to say, the least well executed of my duties. From 1585 until 1598, when I threw in the towel, my life was devoted to diplomacy and discrete negotiation—

Frank: Spying?

Sir Thomas: We never thought of it in those terms. Not like your James Bond—

Frank: James Bond?

Sir Thomas: I told you I like to keep up with things – though there are so many..

Frank: So not quite James Bond.

Sir Thomas: Though I did have an impact on world events, I like to think, at least to begin with. When I was sent, alone, with letters from the Queen to Henry III of France after he had been forced to flee Paris, I was charged with “extraordinary secrecy”. Though I say it myself – and I did say it in my autobiography – the outcome benefitted not only Henry but “all the Protestants in France”. If only things had continued that way. There was meeting Ann, of course, and getting married, which were the greatest events of that period but then for nine years I lived in the Hague, not always with Ann beside me, endlessly trying to persuade the United Provinces first to support the Queen’s war with Spain and secondly to pay her vast sums of money for the privilege. Neither side would give way. I was caught between a rock and a hard place. Talk about the woes of being a middle manager!

Frank: I know just what you mean!

Sir Thomas: Listen to this – one of the Queen’s secretaries writing in 1594: “…her majesty hath had just cause these many years to have expected a grateful offer from the States of some yearly portion of the great sums by her majesty expended…” She wanted a return on her investment, and they claimed they thought she’d simply been doing them a good turn. It was impossible. And then there was the intrigue at court. I couldn’t abide it any longer.

Frank: In your own words, “I concluded…to set up my staff at the Library door in Oxford; being thoroughly persuaded that…I could not busy myself to better purpose than by reducing that place (which then in every part lay ruined and waste) to the public use of students.”

King Edward VI, after Hans Holbein the Younger, oil on panel, c. 1542 , National Portrait Gallery

Sir Thomas: I’d been lucky to escape with my head! And so I turned to a project that I’d had in mind for some years. When I was at Oxford as a student and young academic, there was no university library – the manuscripts that Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester, had donated had all been snatched under a law passed by King Edward VI and scattered to the four winds. Imagine that. Many were said to have been reused by bookbinders to cover less “superstitious” publications. They were priceless classical texts. Because I’d been most fortunate in my marriage – Ann was a widow, whose first husband made millions at today’s prices out of buying and selling pilchards—

Frank: Pilchards?

Sir Thomas: Like sardines, only tastier. We didn’t have children, so it seemed only right that the money should be used for the good of future generations of students. With invaluable advice from Sir Henry, I arranged for the old building to be refurbished and persuaded my acquaintances to donate books and bought others through booksellers who travelled to Paris and Frankfurt – and even to Italy – to find them. As Sir Francis Bacon said of the library, it was an  “Ark to save learning from deluge”. We collected European texts mainly but also books in Arabic and Persian – one two in Chinese, though no one could read them then.

Frank: People considered Chinese books to be curiosities, didn’t they, and of no real value?

Sir Thomas: I didn’t – someone had taken all that trouble to write those characters, and someone else had paid them to do so. Who could know what wisdom the books contained? But I did know that one day a scholar would come to Oxford who would unlock their secrets. Soon we had scholars visiting from beyond our shores – twenty-two in the first two years. In 1610 I made an agreement with the Stationers Company, whereby they would give the library a free copy of every book they registered.

Frank: Which is still in place today – though many of the copies are now given as ebooks.

Sir Thomas: Ebooks again! Well, like every library, we were soon running out of space, so I had to pay for an extension. A proud moment in the library was when King James visited – I’d been knighted for my services the year before. But towards the end of the project and before the next, much bigger extension could be built, I knew that my time was near and I passed over on 29th January 1613. And here I am.

Frank: And here you are indeed. And very much still here in Oxford is your library for which the whole world thanks you. Sir Thomas Bodley – library legend!

Sir Thomas: Thank you for inviting me! It’s been a pleasure. Now, when we get to the green room you must tell me about these ebooks…

Author Bio:
Francis (Frank) Egerton is an author and a librarian and manager for the Bodleian libraries (Oxford). He also teaches and tutors on a number of University of Oxford creative writing programmes. He has a BA (Hons) Oxon and MA Oxon (English Literature and Language). His original qualification was as an Associate of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, but he abandoned his job as a land agent to read English at Oxford. He reviewed fiction and non-fiction for newspapers including The Times and the Financial Times from 1995–2008. His first novel, The Lock, was published in paperback in 2003 and his second, Invisible, in 2010. The ebook version of The Lock reached the finals of the Independent eBook Awards in Santa Barbara in 2002. In The Times [of London] review of Invisible, Kate Saunders commented on “the author’s lively wit and acute understanding of the emotional landscape.”

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