My first term as an Oxford history student; a rollercoaster!

     I can now walk into our college JCR and make conversation with whoever is there, something I wouldn’t have dared to do at the beginning of term.

cd people emma parker

Emma Parker is a first year BA History students at Regents Park College.

I hate rollercoasters. I don’t like the unexpected or change. This is a story of just that, but ultimately it is a story of growth. When I get off a rollercoaster, other than feeling sick, I feel more accomplished and experienced than that same person who was queuing for the ride 20 mins ago. Similarly, I have grown and learnt more in the last term than I have in the last few years of my life.


Journal entry from January 2022:

“I got into oxford!!! Yayyyyy! I’m not 100% sure how I feel. I’m happy and excited but also worried about: the workload, making friends and getting the grades to actually get in.”


First Day:

I was very nervous, as I'm sure was absolutely everybody! I had been telling myself for the last few weeks that “I was fine”. However, If I'm being honest, I was petrified.  I was mainly scared about making new friends. I’d had the same group of friends since I was 11 so the prospect of meeting new people who I hoped would become ‘friends for life’ was nerve racking.  

Some people I met on the first day appeared so confident; they could strike up conservations with strangers effortlessly and, seemingly, without an ounce of nerves. I, on the other hand, just didn’t believe I could do this.  This was the beginning of a feeling I became very familiar with throughout the term: imposter syndrome!

I’d also argued with my mum before she left which put me in an odd mood for the rest of the day. I called her later in tears and we patched things up, but in reality, I know it was all due to a build-up of a lot of emotions and feeling anxious and overwhelmed. I was in a new place, with new people, new responsibilities, and a new routine – that is a lot of change!

Despite all of this, it did ultimately go well!


First Week:

Something I didn’t expect to encounter while at university was FOMO. If I was ever on my own, especially in the first week, I felt I should be socialising, or I would miss out on important bonding opportunities. This feeling didn’t really leave throughout the whole term and made it quite difficult for me to ever relax.

Additionally, I felt homesick when I was alone. I vividly remember sitting with a group of friends in someone’s room talking about home and hoping I would feel comforted by a shared experience of missing it. However, everyone said they hadn’t felt homesick at all. This felt quite isolating as, for a while, I thought I was the only one experiencing this; something that turned out not to be true at all!

The dreaded Imposter Syndrome also reared its head again, now within my academics as well as the social sphere. I sat in my first class believing that everyone else was more articulate and knew loads more about history than me. I chatted to people thinking they were all experienced at socialising; they all knew about famous theories (such as Oedipus, who I learnt about from friends during fresher's week); they were all confident and they weren’t homesick. I felt I was the only one unable to do these things.  However, as the term progressed, I learnt to deal with these feelings and realised they weren’t true.

Although these were difficult emotions to handle, it was an exciting week that was overall a positive experience. This was my first time having proper Independence. It felt quite freeing: ‘I'm in a big city and can do whatever I want whenever I want without having to ask permission.’ I also met some incredible people.


2nd and 3rd Week:

These were my favourite weeks of the whole term! They were honestly really fun; my lessons were absolutely fascinating, I loved learning about aspects of history I had never heard of before. I was enjoying socialising and making new friends and I felt I was getting better at it. I enjoyed clubbing, thought the city was beautiful and loved being independent. All in all, I felt very grateful to be here. Going to see fireworks with friends particularly sticks out in my memory as a truly happy time.

This was also the time I revelled most in the experience of being at Oxford. Being surrounded by history, leading academics and ambitious people makes you feel like the world is your oyster. This feeling never fully goes away, (or still hasn’t yet). I love the idea that I can literally do anything I want and keep trying out different experiences until I find the ones that work for me. I started rowing, singing and applied to be JCR secretary. I could also tailor my long course reading lists to my interests, focussing on keeping it varied whilst also only reading about parts of history I was genuinely interested in (so no economy if I could help it).

I could see I was getting better at dealing with the feelings of imposter syndrome. I was still stressed about them but the perceptible improvements over time gave me comfort.

That’s not to say that these weeks were perfect. My self-Image in social situations and perceived lack of identity particularly worried me at this time. Everyone (especially at Oxford I think) seemed to own their individuality.  In comparison, I didn’t feel I had much of a personality, having always tried to conform to general trends and personalities at school, often agreeing with others for fear of confrontation. Every time we chatted in someone's room I felt like I just sat quietly and didn’t contribute to the conversations.  Although at the time I felt quite insecure about this; now I think it was a positive approach as it allowed me to fully assess the situation and learn about people and the dynamics of different social groups before I fully offered myself and opinions.


4th, 5th and 6th week:

They say there’s 5th week blues, mine started early and finished late.

I felt very homesick during this time. On countless occasions I would wake up in the mornings wishing I was at home.  I would usually feel better by the evening but on several occasions, I called my mum and booked a train home that day, staying for a day, only to come back on the next. In hindsight this was not a good idea as I found It hard to leave home again (especially my dog). Whereas if I had ridden it out, I think the feeling would have subsided naturally.

It was also at this point I felt I couldn’t use the excuse of being new to the Oxford learning style anymore if I handed in a bad essay. As a perfectionist, I hated handing in work I knew wasn't my best, but I had decided to prioritise socialising and developing friendships this term so had to accept this meant my essays might have to be just ‘good enough’. It was also an important lesson to learn: how to cope with stress and perfectionism!  I asked for several extensions during this period.

I was extremely fatigued during this period partly due to freshers' flu that I’d had since second week. The extreme fatigue exaggerated everything I had previously been finding hard and made it difficult to get on top of my workload. To be honest, this never really went away for the rest of the term.

Due to being so tired, I felt the quality of my interactions was not at a particularly high standard. I was also stuck in the middle of two potential housing groups and was feeling a lot of pressure to decide who to live with next year. I wanted to be friends with everyone but imagined that this decision meant I was having to choose my ultimate friends for the rest of my time here. Speaking to older students, I now know that pressure was all in my head. I also felt a little suffocated by the smallness of my college and wanted to make friends in the wider university but felt I had missed my chance. All of this combined meant that, despite being surrounded by people all the time, I felt quite lonely.

I found it impossible to focus or properly relax at university. Not only did this not help with my workload but meant I wasn’t receiving much needed time for myself.

However, despite all of this, I was starting to find myself and build an identity.  I was becoming brave enough to speak my mind. I found that when I was myself, rather than trying to be like others, people respected me more. It also made me feel more confident which consequently led to me becoming much more involved in the college community. College was starting to become my safe space.


The end and reflections:

Overall, this term was incredible! I made new friends; I was getting better at speaking to people one-on-one (something I hadn't had the confidence to do before). In fact, I often preferred these interactions as they felt deeper and more personal.

I can now walk into our college JCR and make conversation with whoever is there, something I wouldn’t have dared to do at the beginning of term.

Overcoming all these fears and constantly stepping out of my comfort zone led to rapid improvement and increased confidence in so many areas. I’m pleased to say that I have learnt so much over the last term, during my growth era.


cd people blogpost emmaparker

Journal entry from January 2023:

“I’m actually quite nervous to go back to uni. I guess it's normal as its all still quite new to me. However, I’m really grateful for all the opportunities I have next term. I’m really looking forward to seeing my uni friends again and redecorating my room. Also, once collections are finished, I can properly get excited about my next modules.”


I still hate rollercoasters. Despite feeling accomplished, by the next day that feeling has usually worn off and I may as well never have gone on it in the first place. However, the change I've undergone here I will take with me for the rest of my life.

I love university.

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