Tag Archives: Student life

Celebrating Oxmas!

Continuing our festive theme from last week, in this week’s blog post, Emma (first-year undergraduate at St Hilda’s College studying German and Linguistics) tells us all about Oxmas!

Due to the shorter 8-week terms at the University of Oxford, students head home for their winter vacation on the first weekend of December. Although this might be reason to believe that the festive period doesn’t overlap with term time, ‘Oxmas’ is Oxford University’s popular take on the festive season. Oxmas allows staff and students to come together and celebrate over the final week or two of Michaelmas (Autumn) term. The events act as a guiding light to help everyone over the finish line of what has, no doubt, been a tiring couple of months.

St Hilda’s Christmas tree

On a surprisingly mild November evening, as 6th week was drawing to a close, staff, students and locals gathered along the High Street in Oxford to watch the Christmas lights get switched on. Twinkling stars, snowflakes and sheets of golden light now illuminated Oxford as darkness began to fall earlier each day. It was at this point in term that wonderfully decorated and beautifully coordinated Christmas trees were starting to pop up, as if by magic, by some of the University’s many departments and in all of Oxford’s 39 colleges.

Christ Church main dining hall

For me, Oxmas truly started on Monday 21st November, when I was lucky enough to go to Oxford University German Society’s Christmas Dinner. As a German and Linguistics student, I have been attending German Society events all term, including the college bar crawl, Kaffee und Kuchen and Oxtoberfest – Just to name a few! German society at Oxford is a lively hub of community spirit and cultural celebration, brought to life by native Germans and German enthusiasts alike. The events offer an opportunity for people learning the language to fully immerse themselves in fast-paced German conversation and are a time for native speakers to chat to others about shared experiences of coming to study in the UK. The Christmas Dinner was held in the McKenna Room of Christ Church College and included a festive drinks reception and a delicious three course meal, followed by coffee and chocolate. Weihnachtslieder were interspersed between each course: Everyone joined in with renditions of the classic German carols ‘O du fröhliche’, ‘Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht’ and ‘Alle Jahre wieder’. After the meal, we moved across to Christ Church’s main dining hall (used as inspiration for The Great Hall in Harry Potter) and ended the evening with some Christmas Poetry, read aloud in German.

St Hilda’s Anniversary Tower

On Friday of that same week, the Linguistics students at my college were invited to a ‘Chrismukkah’ get-together. This was a chance to celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas whilst catching up with fellow Linguistics students and tutors about the joys and challenges that Michaelmas term had brought so far. An inviting spread of doughnuts, stollen, nibbles and drinks awaited us in St Hilda’s Anniversary Tower, which was lit up by a colourful light display.

The final week of term soon raced around and was jam-packed full of Oxmas spirit. Carols rang out across the city: Choirs performed in the University Church and in each of the colleges. St Hilda’s hosted their very own ‘Carols on the Stairs’, where members of the college came together on a crisp winter’s evening to enjoy festive treats while the talented choir put on a brilliant performance. Each college also celebrated by holding an Oxmas-themed formal dinner; students and staff dressed up in formalwear, pulled Christmas crackers and were served tasty food. Tickets for these formals sold out within seconds, which led to festivities being extended to a further Christmas lunch on the final day of term in many of the colleges, such as at St Hilda’s. What better way to mark the last day before saying goodbye to your friends for the winter vacation!

Perhaps the strangest aspect of ‘Oxmas’ is that students arrive home on the first weekend of December brimming with Christmas cheer… Only to find that everyone else has just begun their advent calendars!

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We wish all our readers a wonderful break with friends and family over the festive period – see you back here in the new year!

Studying Languages at Oxford: Expectations vs Reality

In this week’s blog post, first year French and Modern Greek student at St Peter’s College, Reuben, shares his experiences of starting his course at Oxford and how closely they matched his expectations. Over to you, Reuben!

After a year out of education to decide what I really wanted to study, I could not wait to begin my dream degree course at the University of Oxford. How has the degree lived up to my expectations however? What is the first term studying languages really like? Read on to find out.

View of St Peter’s College from a snow-covered New Inn Hall Street. Copyright © University of Oxford Images / John Cairns Photography — All rights reserved.

Hello readers. My name is Reuben Constantine, I’m a student ambassador for the Faculty of Modern Languages and a first year student of French and Modern Greek at St Peter’s College. I am now at the end of my first term in Oxford and in this article, I intend to compare my expectations of study here with the realities I have experienced. 

I will provide first of all some context so you can better understand my situation in relation to my experience at the university. For my A-Levels, I studied Biology, Chemistry and French. An ‘eclectic mix’ I have been told, and a mix of subjects which left me unsure of what to pursue post-18. For various reasons I decided to take a ‘gap year’ in which I would decide what I was going to do. University was a possibility, but I was unsure of which subject to study. I had enjoyed biology and chemistry, and many people told me I should pursue a career in the medical sector.

I had, however, another passion which seemed to be pulling me – languages. During my studies of French, I fell in love with not only the French language but the process of language learning itself. I had plenty of free time during lockdown and so decided to begin teaching myself a second and  eventually a third foreign language. By the end of my gap year I could confidently converse in French, Modern Greek, Spanish, Italian and even German. I was totally addicted to language learning and so (with the encouragement of some friends who had noticed my apparent enthusiasm) I decided to follow this newfound passion and study languages at university. Which university would I choose? My dream was Oxford: a university with a great reputation and the only university that offered a degree in my favourite language, Modern Greek.

I must admit however that it seemed a long shot. I had not studied any essay subjects for A-Level and I had heard that Oxford degrees were very literature-focused. Would I be the sort of student they were looking for? Nonetheless I was convinced that this is what I wanted to do, and couldn’t believe my luck when I found out I had been offered a place!

How has my first month been then? Frankly, it has been fantastic. However I must admit, it hasn’t been how I necessarily expected.

Copyright © University of Oxford Images

What elements have I enjoyed most about study here in Oxford? First of all, the professors are experts in their subject areas and it is a real privilege to be taught by them – especially in the ‘tutorial system’ which allows for very small class sizes. I have been immensely satisfied with the number of contact hours I receive weekly. On an average week I will spend 12-15 hours in lectures, language classes and tutorials. This means that the timetable is nicely structured and I feel like the professors really care about me and my progress. This contrasts with the experience of some of my friends who study languages in other institutions who receive very few contact hours and are often left to their own devices. At the same time, for a language lover like myself this number of hours does not feel overwhelming and I am comfortably able to support the workload (typically with 1 or 2 essays and 1 translation to do outside of lessons per week).

I must admit, however, I have been surprised by the approach to literature. As mentioned, I was aware that literature constituted a large part of the degree but I was still not quite prepared for this. The texts we examine in are often very thought provoking, but I was quite shocked to find out that the essays we write about these texts are in English and I have sometimes been left feeling as if I were studying a degree in ‘English Literature’. The focus seems to be more what certain writers thought about certain issues rather than the language in which it is written. I can’t say that this isn’t interesting and I know that many of my fellow students love this aspect of the degree. However, for me personally the essays written in English (about French theatre for example) have at times seemed quite distant from my love for languages themselves.

I acknowledge, however, that culture and language are inseparable; a good understanding of societal issues in the lands where the language is spoken is vital to truly master a language. Moreover, in subsequent terms and years, students have greater control over their modules and papers and are thus able to focus their study onto the aspects which are more interesting to them. For me this may well include the linguistics and evolution of the language with lesser focus on literature but time will tell.

Is an Oxford Modern Languages degree for you? If your only goal is to become fluent in a foreign language, then I would think again. This can be achieved without needing to invest in a university degree. Oxford language degrees feature much more than language acquisition itself.

However: If you really love the culture and literature of the languages you wish to study, then Oxford may indeed be for you. The resources available in the libraries and support from tutors make it one of the best places in the world to study. If you want a timetable packed with classes and lectures from tutors who’re often experts in their field, then once again, this may be the degree for you. Be prepared however for doors to be opened to various avenues that you may be surprised to see feature in a ‘modern languages’ degree (such as theatre or poetry).

Copyright © University of Oxford Images

To conclude, I must add that my experience of student life has been fantastic: it is easy to get involved in a range of extracurricular activities from sports to societies, and I have already formed many treasured friendships. I enjoy every day living here and I am learning a great number of things, even if not all of them are directly related to ‘languages’ as I had imagined. I am extremely grateful to the university for the opportunity to study here and cannot wait for the coming months and years.

A huge thank you to Reuben for those invaluable insights into starting a Modern Languages degree course here at Oxford, and the ways in which his initial experiences have differed from his expectations.

What would you tell your 17 year-old self?

Every year, we recruit a group of current undergraduates studying Modern Languages to support us with our work with schools.

These students, also known as Student Ambassadors, are integral to our outreach work since they can share first-hand experiences to support the advice and guidance we offer young linguists and prospective applicants. They also act as role models, helping to motivate, encourage and inspire young people through their current and future studies. The presence of Student Ambassadors at events and during our activities is vital to ensuring that the pupils we work with can make informed choices about their futures.

This year, we’ve taken on 15 wonderful new Student Ambassadors from across the different languages we offer at degree level. As part of their core training, we asked them the following question, just to get them thinking about the kind of wisdom they can pass on to pupils over the next academic year:

What would you tell your 17 year-old self before applying to university?

The image below showcases a selection of their responses. We found them useful and inspiring and thought you might too – happy reading!

Advice from our current undergraduates to their 17 year-old selves. Original graphic image by rawpixel.com on Freepik.

Tip: It might be easier to read the image if you open it in a new tab!

FROM AN APPLICANT TO A STUDENT AMBASSADOR…

…MY JOURNEY WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF MEDIEVAL AND MODERN LANGUAGES.

This week, we hand over to Jasmine Kaur, second year BA German and History student at Exeter College, to tell us about her experiences of being a Student Ambassador for Modern Languages here at Oxford over the past year.

My work as a Student Ambassador for the past year has been a great learning experience. I clearly remember how, when I was applying to Oxford for modern languages, I could never have imagined to one day be able to sit on the other side of the table and actually become an inspiration for countless young minds out there (let alone be accepted into the University). Knowledge grows by sharing it. And I firmly believe in this. The more I have shared my journey, my learning experiences and my stepping stones with other students, the more I have gained and learned from them. Each session I had the honour to be a part of, whether in person or virtual, has made me more confident and curious about my own subject.

Jasmine Kaur, second year BA German and History student at Exeter College, MML Student Ambassador

As a Sikh international student from India, languages have been ingrained in my upbringing. I was 4 years old when I could speak 4 languages. Currently reading History and German at Exeter College, University of Oxford, I noticed how much languages impact our daily lives. By being a polyglot, I was able to fit into societies I never encountered before, I was able to bring across my message to a much larger audience and could lend an empathetic listening ear to people from various cultures and backgrounds. Through my ambassador work, I wish to tell every child out there that languages are a powerful tool to connect with the world, to communicate your story, to inspire others but on a more practical side, to also get into a good university and find excellent employment.

In the past year, I participated in two open days and countless school workshops where I noticed how distant certain students feel when they look at an Oxford college and how many misconceptions they carry regarding modern languages. Throughout all the Q&As and presentations that I lead, I recognised how all those barriers were slowly melting down.

MML Student Ambassadors at our Year 9 Languages Day

One of the most memorable moments of my ambassador journey took place during the Year 9 Languages Day at Queen’s College. Over 70 school students attended the day and I recall how a young girl came up to me and pointed out how happy she felt to meet a girl in Oxford who looked like her and also had long braids. She instantly felt more confident and actively participated in all the workshops that day. Looking at her felt like looking at my younger self and I felt happiness knowing that I’m inspiring change but much more than that – I was inspiring hope and confidence. The day ended with everyone being soaked in the study of languages and, in my case, with a full jug of squash, which I managed to spill all over me while transporting it from one workshop room to the other!

Every journey requires mentorship and a support network. I would like to shoutout to all my fellow ambassadors and students I have met on this journey – I loved meeting and greeting each one of you. I would also like to thank the Department of Medieval and Modern Languages, especially Nicola Brown, for everything they have done for ambassadors like me and the next generation of linguists. Their consistent and passionate work will inspire many more students to come!

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If you’re an MML student at Oxford and would like to be a Student Ambassador for the Faculty, you can apply here. The application deadline is Thursday 3rd November (tomorrow!) at midday.

5 Reasons Why I Love My Joint Schools Degree…

…and Why You Might Too!

2nd year Spanish & History student at Balliol College, Georgie, explains why she loves her choice of degree course and why others might want to follow in her footsteps. Take it away Georgie!

At the age of 15 or 16, I’d always feel a mild degree of panic when asked the question “What do you want to study at uni?” It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the various subjects available to study at university, especially if you enjoy a wide variety of the subjects you take at school.

I studied the International Baccalaureate in Sixth Form, in which you take six subjects, so the thought of narrowing down to a single specialism felt very alien to me. But I soon came across the option to study a Joint Schools degree (also called a “Combined Honours” degree at some unis), and this seemed like a very attractive deal.

At Oxford, it is possible to take a Modern Language alongside a Humanities subject – Classics, English, History, Philosophy or Linguistics. This is a four-year course, with one year spent abroad, in which prelims (the first year) doesn’t count towards your degree, and your final exams take place at the end of your fourth year.

Balliol Hall from Fellows’ Garden – taken from Balliol’s website

I’m midway through my second year at Balliol studying History and Spanish, and I absolutely love my degree, but I still believe that Joint Schools studies are notoriously mysterious. Read on as I try to bring some clarity to the subject…here are 5 reasons why I love my Joint Schools degree:

1. Breadth of Study

Taking a Modern Language and a Humanities subject means you take roughly half of the courses that a single-honours language student takes, and half the courses that a single-honours humanities student takes. Your modules are taken from the two distinct schools. A first-year taking History and Modern Languages, for example, would study two history papers, two foreign literature papers, and two language papers.

Studying two subjects automatically doubles the number and variety of modules available to you.  The courses for both languages and humanities are extremely rich and there is a huge degree of freedom to explore your interests and choose your specialisms.

As a joint-schooler, I can access all the History modules offered to single-school students, and, since I take half of what they do, I do not have bend my studies around period or geographical requirements.

Photo by Benigno Hoyuela on Unsplash

While straight History pupils must, at some point in their degree, study both “British Isles” and “European and World” papers from a range of different historical eras (early modern, 20th century, early medieval, etc.), joint schoolers have more freedom to choose not to study certain periods or geographical areas. As a joint-schooler, it is possible, for example, not to study a British History course during your entire time at Oxford.

2. Studying One Enriches the Study of the Other

While modules are taken from the two distinct schools, and do not explicitly blend the subjects, studying one subject really enriches the study of the other. The skills learnt in taking a modern language, such as rigorous literary analysis and attention to detail, can be applied to great benefit in the study of your other subject. Equally, studying humanities modules can bring perspective to your reading of foreign literature, as well as greater awareness of socio-political concerns.

It is possible to choose modules from different subjects which complement each other. To give two concrete examples:

A Classics paper, “The Latin Works of Petrarch”, could be taken alongside “Medieval Italian Literature: 1220-1430″.

Or a History paper, “Enlightenment and Revolutions: 1650-1850″, could be taken alongside the French “Modern Prescribed Authors I”, specialising in Voltaire and Diderot.

The lateral links to be made in blending the two schools are extremely exciting.

3. It’s Impossible to be Bored

As you might have guessed by now, it is virtually impossible to be bored! If you are the type of person who likes to have multiple subjects to focus on at one time, Joint Schools are perfect due to the breadth of study and the freedom to tailor your course to your interests. It should also be said that the Joint Schools courses are carefully designed so that you have a normal workload! You won’t be bored but you also won’t have unmanageable amounts to do!

In the same day, I might translate a passage from a modern Latin American novel, read up on early medieval representations of gender, or complete an essay analysing a Spanish Golden Age ballad. There is always more to learn and read about; Joint Schools degrees can make you think in new ways and broaden your world outlook.

Photo by Redd on Unsplash

4. You Meet a Wider Variety of People

As a second year, my regular weekly timetable consists of: a history tutorial and/or a literature tutorial, a language tutorial, two language classes, two lectures, and (for this term only) a history seminar. This is the biggest workload I have had so far, and schedules vary greatly over the three years spent in Oxford. 

Classes and lectures are run through the Modern Languages Faculty, and, through these, it is possible to meet students from all over the university. Tutorials may be held either through the college or at another college, where your tutorial partner/s come from a different college. Taking more classes, from different schools, widens the variety of people with whom you interact and makes for a very interesting set of daily conversations!

5. The Year Abroad

A huge attraction for taking Modern Languages is, of course, the Year Abroad. Usually taken in your third year – apart from students of Beginners’ Arabic or Beginners’ Russian who go in their second year – the Year Abroad offers the opportunity to spend some time working in industry, teaching, or studying in a foreign country.

Edificio Metropoli, Gran vía – Madrid, Spain. Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas on Unsplash

When studying Modern Languages at Oxford, the norm (but not the rule) is to take two languages. As a joint-schooler taking one language alongside a humanities subject, you can devote your entire year to immersing yourself in your single target language; the opportunity to improve your language skills and culturally enrich your life is unparalleled. When you get back to Oxford, by fourth year, you will have a wealth of experience and cultural knowledge from which to draw upon in your studies!

I can honestly say I love my degree. Studying two subjects – in my case History and Spanish – has meant I’m never bored of work, especially because I can productively spend time searching for places to go on my Year Abroad! If I were to go back in time about 3 or 4 years, I’d tell my past self to stop worrying about trying to choose a single specialism. Each subject offers such a broad variety of choice and an incredible degree of freedom to tailor your studies around your interests.

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Thank you Georgie for that wonderful insight into the joys of a Joint Schools degree course!

A reminder that we are still taking bookings for our Italian and Russian & Slavonic Languages Open Days, both taking place on Saturday 5th March. You can book your place here – don’t miss out on the chance to learn more about these exciting courses!

A Very Merry Oxmas!

1st year English and French student Holly Milton-Jefferies reflects on a festive end to her first term at Oxford.

Celebrating Christmas Day… on the 2nd of December? Yes, that’s right – here at Oxford, we do Christmas properly! Because our terms are only eight weeks long compared to the usual twelve, we end up spending the month of December largely at home, so Oxford festivities start as early as November. I never thought I’d be going out to buy an advent calendar on the 1st of November, but as this term has shown me, taking part in Oxford traditions, however strange, is usually a lot of fun.

Christmas dinner at Queen’s College – Holly Milton-Jefferies

I go to Queen’s College, who put on a lovely Christmas dinner for us. Not only did the hall look beautiful, decked out in full with a huge Christmas tree squeezed in the corner, and festive candles burning, but our college choir (the best in Oxford of course!) also came to sing us a few carols while we ate. I know everyone always says it, but my college has really made my experience at Oxford so far. Queen’s has such a friendly atmosphere; big enough that there are all kinds of different people to chat to, but small enough that whenever you walk around you’ll always get a smile from someone you know. It really does feel like home, and I think that’s one of the biggest benefits of the college system.

Snow in New College cloisters – Holly Milton-Jefferies

At the start of eighth week, we were lucky enough to get some snow in Oxford, which felt like a celebration of work winding down for the term. I was in the middle of writing my last essay in the library when I saw it through the window. There was something a bit magical watching the tired eyes of burned-out students be lit up with excitement. My friend and I took the opportunity to visit the cloisters at New College, which are famously featured in the Harry Potter films, and we certainly felt like we were at Hogwarts!

This term has definitely been a steep learning curve for me. It took me a while to get back into the swing of studying, with our A Levels so disrupted by the pandemic, but by the time the last week of term came around, I was feeling a lot more confident. I was particularly proud of the last translation I did, having spent the weeks prior to it grappling with the ever-tricky question: how much of this do I keep very literally translated, and how much can I take some creative liberties? I decided to be less strict with myself, choosing what sounded right to me over diligently sticking to the original, and the risk paid off! Walking out of my last tutorial on the way to do some Christmas shopping, with the sun setting over the beautiful buildings, I was very much getting into the festive spirit, and feeling proud of myself for navigating a difficult but fulfilling first term here.

Sunset over the dreaming spires – Holly Milton-Jefferies

Joyeux Noël et bonne année à tout le monde !

Student Snapshot

Over the last few weeks, we have shared with you some of the material we would normally tell you about at an open day. Dr Simon Kemp, Tutor in French and Co-Director of Outreach, gave us a video overview of what it’s like to study modern languages at Oxford… but do the current students agree?

We asked three current undergraduates to tell us a little bit about their experience of studying languages with us: Dalveen is in her first year studing Spanish and Linguistics; Alex is in his second year studying French and History; Charlotte also studies French and History and is in her final year. Here they give us a glimpse of what Oxford has been like through their eyes.

Student Q&A

Today would have been an Oxford open day, a date we look forward to every year as a chance to meet lots of prospective students and tell them why we think studying languages at Oxford is special. This year, that open day sadly can’t go ahead but some of our current students have come to the rescue!

We know that meeting the undergraduates is one of the best ways to really get a feel for what it’s like to study at Oxford, to feel part of the community and to hear from someone who has been in your shoes not so long ago. We asked eight of our current students some questions that we are frequently asked at open days. They are studying different languages, are at different stages in their degrees, and are at different colleges – we hope this will help you to get a sense of the variety of student experiences here at Oxford. And, of course, we do hope to meet you one day!

A Chilean Year Abroad: from terremotos to chilenismos

This post was written by Hector Stinton, a third-year Spanish & French student at Keble College.

As an undergraduate reading French and Spanish, I have chosen to spend my year abroad working in Santiago de Chile (August 2017 – June 2018) and Paris (July – September 2018) as a British Council English teacher and Assistant Film Producer, respectively. In the summer before starting the Spanish half of my year, I set myself three main objectives: to enhance my understanding of Hispanic culture, to improve my Spanish, and to challenge myself professionally.

Being embedded in life and work in Chile has given me great insight into Latin culture. For example, in England, flying or wearing our flag is uncommon and has nationalistic associations, even on St George’s Day; whereas in Chile, La Estrella solitaria is seen far more frequently, especially on Independence Day in September. Dig a little deeper, however, and you find that it is still a legal obligation, though rarely enforced, to fly a flag from every house or tower block – a hangover in the constitution written by Pinochet, demonstrating his pervasive legacy. At the other end of the spectrum, and typifying the wry sense of humour, the beverage of choice – a litre of sweet fermented wine with pineapple ice-cream – is called a terremoto (‘earthquake’), despite the fact that tremors regularly raze towns and villages, and have left the capital without any pre-modern architecture.

It is said that if you can speak Castilian in Chile, you can speak it anywhere in the world, since Chilean Spanish has a fearsome reputation for its thick accent, fast delivery, and plethora of peculiar idioms and neologisms, known as chilenismos. Separated from Peru and Bolivia by the Atacama Desert to the north, from Argentina by the Andes to the east, and surrounded by ocean to the south and west, Chile’s geography has seen its language develop hermetically. Even when Chile became more accessible, wars with her neighbours, and continuing mutual suspicion, have made the distinct speech a point of national pride. For this reason, Chilean vocabulary has been particularly enriched by its immigrant and native communities: ya (‘yeah’) from the German ja, ¿cachai? (‘you know?’) from the English ‘to catch one’s drift’, cancha (‘field’) from the Quechua kancha. The grammar, too, prefers the Italian ai or ei ending to the Iberian as or es when using the informal tu form in the present tense, and rejects completely the peninsular vosotros ‘you plural’. Acquiring all these subtleties, and many more besides, has made me a more complete linguist.

Professionally, working at the biggest language school in Santiago, the Instituto Chileno-Británico de Cultura, has presented its own set of challenges. On Friday evenings, I teach an advanced one-on-one student who happens to be the philosophy chair at the top university, and is preparing to deliver a series of lectures at Yale. A few hours later, on Saturday mornings, I go from feeling more like a tutorial student with the aforementioned academic, to helping a class of six-year-old girls colour and annotate big A3 sheets with titles like ‘My Zoo’ and ‘My Favourite Food’. ‘Variety’ is certainly the watchword at the ICBC, because every day I engage with and adapt to a huge range of different ages, backgrounds and abilities.

Thus far, I would go as far as to say I’m meeting or exceeding the objectives I set myself at the beginning of the year, thanks to an opportunity in Chile made possible by the British Council and Instituto Británico. Now I might even have time for some of my secondary objectives: learning to dance, learning to cook, and learning Portuguese…