Oxford is one of the few English cities foreign people have heard of apart from London. Manchester is usually greeted with a vague1 look and sometimes a comment about football, but the word Oxford is recognised by almost everyone, and immediately linked to its main institution – Oxford University.
Oxford is the oldest university in England, and dominates the city, drawing visitors from all over the world. University buildings are everywhere in the city centre, and when the students are on holiday the city feels deserted2. Almost everyone is connected to the university in some way, whether they are teachers, administrators, students, shopkeepers, or people who work serving the millions of tourists that love to come and see the ancient university. Many of England’s most famous writers, philosophers and scientists studied or worked at Oxford, including Lewis Carroll, CS Lewis3, JRR Tolkien4, and the scientists Watson and Crick, who discovered the structure of DNA5.
The university is made up of a lot of different colleges, each having between 200 and 400 students. College is the centre of any student’s life. It is here that you have your room for working and sleeping, a dining hall to eat all your meals, and meet most of your friends. Every college has a bar for socialising6 with friends in the evenings, and a Junior Common Room where you can go during the day to read newspapers, watch television, drink coffee, and chat. Colleges also have sports teams which play against each other regularly, and clubs and orchestras for its members to take part in. Colleges also organise ‘Bops’ – these are like discos, but usually with a theme, and lots of people dress up in costumes7 and dance – a good way to relax after a hard week of work! Lots of colleges also have a ball every year, or every few years. This is a formal occasion when people dress up very smartly8, and eat, drink and dance all night. Each college has a different atmosphere, and a different speciality: St Edmund Hall (Teddy Hall for short) is known for its very strong rugby team, for example, and Balliol is known for having lots of students interested in politics (Tony Blair studied here). My college is called (a bit confusingly9!) University College, and is right in the middle of town on High Street. It is one of the biggest colleges in the university, and the oldest. Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea both studied here, and it is particularly strong in Law and Russian. Last year my college won rugby ‘Cuppers’ – a competition for all the colleges.
As one of the most famous universities in the world, the academic standards at Oxford are very high. Students choose only one or two subjects to study at university, but in very great detail. Some of the most popular subjects are Law, Medicine, and PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics), but there is a wide range of different subjects.
Foreigners are very surprised that our terms only last for 8 weeks – that is only 24 weeks of study per year! These 24 weeks are very intense, though, and everyone has to do work during the holidays – reading books and preparing for the next term – in order to keep up with the fast pace.
Work is divided between lectures and tutorials10. Lectures are sometimes with several hundred other students, and a professor reading out information about a particular topic. These are organized by the university, and have students from all Oxford’s colleges. Tutorials are what make Oxford different from other universities. In a tutorial there is one professor and a maximum of 3 students. These are organised by the individual colleges. The professor is often an expert in this particular aspect of the subject, and all the students have prepared by writing an essay of about 2000 words. One student usually reads out their essay, and then there is a discussion, where the professor not only says what he thinks, but asks the opinions of the students and makes them think about the topic themselves. There is often only one tutorial, lasting one hour, per week, but the students spend hours in the library reading about the topic and then writing their essay beforehand.
Exams are also very intense for students in Oxford, and there are lots of traditions surrounding them. At the end of their degree, students have up to ten exams, which are each usually 3 hours long. Students have to dress in special clothes for exams. The outfit is called ‘sub fusc,’ and consists of smart clothes, with a white bow tie, a gown11 over the top, and a special hat called a mortar board, that you are not allowed to wear before you graduate, but have to carry with you for all exams. All candidates wear a flower for their exams: a white flower for the first exam, a pink flower for the next exams, and a red flower for the last exam. This is supposed to signify the spilling of blood during the exams! Most exams are during the summer, and after the last exam all your friends gather to meet you, spray you with champagne, sometimes throw eggs or flour at you, and take you to the pub to relax after all the hard work.
Oxford University has a big rivalry with Cambridge University, and the students of each university hate the students of the other. There are sports fixtures12 each year between the two universities, the most well known being the boat race on the River Thames in London, and the rugby match at the national stadium. Whoever wins these fixtures claims to be the best university for at least the next year. This year Oxford won both competitions!
Despite all its traditions, and the thousands of famous people that have studied at the university over the centuries, Oxford is a lively, modern city, and a very interesting place to live for 3 years whilst completing a degree. The long holidays and all the opportunities for relaxing after lessons make all the hard work worthwhile!
1 vague – неопределенный, смутный
2 deserted – безлюдный
3 CS (Clive Staples) Lewis – английский писатель (1898-1963), автор более 30 книг в разных жанрах («Хроники Нарнии», в том числе)
4 JRR (John Ronald Reuel) Tolkien – английский писатель (1892-1973), автор романов «Хоббит» и «Властелин колец»
5 DNA – ДНК
6 socialise – общаться
7 costume – маскарадный костюм
8 smartly – (зд.) изящно
9 confusingly – внося путаницу
10 tutorial – консультация, семинар
11 gown – мантия
12 fixture – спортивное состязание
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