More experiences and advice from former Visiting Students

More experiences and advice from former Visiting Students

Chris Dowd, Tufts University, full year 2015-2016

The alley ways surrounding the Examination School are lined with glitter and shaving cream, the Thames River moves like a highway for Punts operated by procrastinators and adventurers alike, and tutorials are moved from department offices to the quad. I can only promise that the first two will also be a part of your Oxford experience.

Trinity term is coming to an end. With just one week left, I have tried to reflect on the people, places, and peculiarities of my experience at St. Catherine’s College which has made it one of the best years of my life, the memories of which I will always cherish.

The university, as they should, often expresses how special Oxford is by virtue of the people it attracts. This term alone, I have been addressed by the likes of Mohammad Yunus, Buzz Aldrin, John Kerry, Ingrid Bettencourt, and “Stormzy.” But being surrounded on a daily basis by some of the most curious minds and hearts I have ever encountered it was a quick and certain realization that you don’t have to attend an oversubscribed lecture at the Sheldonian Theatre to find passion and insight.

 For example, in my second tutorial in Comparative Demographics Systems, a central course to the understanding of how populations have evolved and the mechanisms they have used to control their own expansion, from isolated hunter-gatherers to the modern urban dweller, I questioned how the evolution of the internet and higher rates of connectivity between communities are challenging the field. My tutor smiled, reached for a book off his crowded shelf that he had recently published on that exact topic, and urged me to read it for our next meeting, although it was not on our planned syllabus.

Especially for visiting students, the tutorial system is one that allows you to experiment, guide your own learning, and drastically improve your writing and argumentative skills. For me, it helped to attend the Thursday evening debates at the Oxford Union to hear masterful orators at work, and try to learn from their structure and poise when tested with questions, something that often occurs in tutorials. You must not be wary of reading outside of your field, I came in dedicated to Development Economics and National Security Studies, now I’m exploring Creative Writing and the History of Architecture. Most visiting students have experienced something similar.

            When you tell students from other colleges at Oxford that you are at St. Catz, you may get one or all of the following reactions:

  1. I love Catz! They will then go on to list some some of great friends they have met at the college.
  2. You are so lucky to be next to the river and University Parks!
  3. A sense of confusion regarding the architecture at Catz, and why it doesn’t exactly fit the classical order of most other colleges at the university. They might say something like, “it’s really modern!” – coupled with a confused facial expression.

I have come to reconcile these comments: Catz is an architecturally brave college where its students reflect its spaces. The students are socially and academically adventurous, they do not accept circumstances as they are, but are always looking to improve the shared experience. This notion rings true in my mind and pocket, as my phone constantly rings with notifications from the Catz JCR Facebook Page. The page is a place for people to offer services to the community, present ideas for how we can better accommodate the various needs of the college, and post events or clever jokes.  It is one of countless ways that I see the Catz community shine as one where shared interests, selflessness, teamwork, and humor are central. A mission that everyone is proud of, and takes seriously.

            It should thus come as no surprise that the inclusive spirit of St. Catherine’s College makes it the best Oxford college for visiting students. We were included immediately upon arrival. In fact, my Fresher’s Group leader has become one of my best friends, and teachers at college.

My experience as a member of the Catz Rugby Team was an example of this to the highest degree, a sport I had never played before and one whose rules I still do not fully understand. Weekly crew dates, team dinners, and a tour to Prague over the Easter vacation, this team laid the foundation for my college pride -- I highly recommend that any visiting student who joins the Catz community to get involved in a sport or extracurricular that interests them, regardless of experience.  

Certainly Oxford can be overwhelming. Coming to a place where most pubs are older than my country, sitting face-to-face with professors who wrote the textbook I struggled with till the late evening hours, and during an evening walk back to college overhearing tour guides explain to tourists in countless languages, “in that building lies the white board where Albert Einstein first explained his Theory of Relativity,” or “this lamp post was the inspiration for the one in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia,” or my favorite, “this is the pub where Bill Clinton supposedly did not inhale.“ A place of mystery and mastery, where on a daily basis you can feel the most inspired and confused you have ever been. That is the beauty, and the Catz community will support you at every step along the way.

My best advice: make it your own.

We recently received this wonderful surprise from our Visiting Students who were here in 2012-2013. Please have a look here at their experiences since leaving St Catherine's.