The first post in this two-part series is here. In this post, I talk about all the things I did after my finals, and about my results!
The day after my final exam, I went home for two days. At the time no one thought this was a good idea, because I was ill with fatigue and exhaustion, but the deep sleep as a result of the quiet of my family home and the mental release that came from the change of scene brought me out of exam mode much faster than any relaxation in Oxford would have done.
I came back after very little time spent at home because my German tutor hosts a dinner at her house every year for her students in first, second and fourth year. The finalists are relieved to be finished, the second years are about to depart for their year abroad, and the first years are nervously awaiting their preliminary exams. It becomes a tradition over the years, and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. My tutor and her husband had moved into a beautiful new house that year: they’re excellent cooks and hosts, so it was a pleasure chatting to them and to the other students, especially the first-years, whom I hadn’t spoken to properly this year. I value my relationship with my German tutor really highly, because she’s only ten years older than me and went through the same exams at Oxford, meaning she totally understands the pressure you’re under, and she’s very pragmatic about academia and the hope for a research career. I’m at such a tricky junction in my life right now that I try to actively seek out those who have already experienced similar things, and ask them for as much advice and guidance as possible.
My boyfriend was very busy with his dissertation and a conference he was running, which I attended to see him speak at, but we enjoyed catching up on lost time together. One of the days the following week was deliriously, beautifully sunny, so he took me for a long walk out of East Oxford and down to Donnington Bridge to stroll along the Thames. It was a magnificent day and I savoured every moment I could spend in the sunshine, not worrying about having to work. It’s a sad fact that you spend four years constantly feeling like you should be working – during finals this becomes particularly extreme, to the point where you feel guilty for eating, showering and sleeping instead of revising – and that can take a very long time to disappear, so I wanted to actively get rid of that feeling by enjoying myself as much as possible.
We also attended a tour of the Lincoln Senior Library, which contains some really, really old books – I think at Oxford I’ve become quite immune to the charms of old libraries, but it was great to lose myself in the elegant handwriting and aged pages of the centuries-old Bibles and account books at Lincoln. Something hugely unexpected but incredibly enjoyable was a very spontaneous theatre trip when I managed to get hold of two free tickets to Brideshead Revisited for that very evening – we had a brilliantly unplanned evening with dinner at Thaikun and then the Oxford Playhouse, and it was amazing being able to spontaneously draw up new evening plans without worrying about revision! I spent a lot of the week immediately following Finals catching up with friends – new and old – whom I hadn’t been able to see for ages before that. In hindsight, I probably packed a bit too much into my days, and didn’t give myself the chance to fully relax and recover, meaning I was still struggling with the effects of the fatigue and stress for longer than I ought to have been. Yet I don’t regret this, because this was my last chance to see a lot of people who were leaving Oxford for good, and I didn’t want to let that slip by!
One pretty exciting event was my best friend’s trashing: he finished the week after I did, and it was wonderful to finally celebrate with him, as he couldn’t stay at my trashing for very long or come to my celebratory meal afterwards. I was delighted to be one of the first to see him as he left his final exam and then to spend the evening hanging out on the sunny Magdalen lawns and at GBK for dinner – it was extremely chill, which is just what you need when you’ve finished a gruelling exam schedule! I was also really happy to be there, because at that point I felt like we’d been through the whole journey together, from interviews back in 2011 to finishing our degrees, so it meant a lot to me.
The following day, we attended something called “Schools Dinner” (I’m not quite sure where the apostrophe is meant to go there, as everyone writes it differently!), which is a formal dinner for you, the people from your subject at your college, and your tutors. By this point, you tend to know and get on with your tutors extremely well, and it was such a lively evening that it continued into the night, and it was with a shock that I realised it was approaching midnight and I had to leave! I adore all my tutors – including my future supervisor at Merton who couldn’t make it that night – and it was so much fun being able to hang out with them in a non-academic setting, as well as all my tutorial partners. While I spent a lot of time hanging out with friends who lived or studied in Oxford, I also took the opportunity to spend time with a few academic figures whom I admired. One was the Visiting Fellow at New College, the German author whose work I’d looked at in the translation workshop just before Trinity started: we went to the New SCR (Senior Common Room, like an extremely fancy staff room) and talked about everything from academia to xenophobia. I ended up signing up to babysit her mischievous daughter and arranging to translate a new, untranslated, but pretty complex text of hers about racism and belonging – that will be another of my huge projects for the summer! I also went for a drink with a really enthusiastic, inspiring early career researcher whose lectures I attended, and who was one of my examiners in my Spanish oral exam. I confessed to her that I wasn’t sure how it had gone and that I wasn’t very confident in my speaking abilities, and she gave me a bit of a funny look – at the time I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret that.
The Spanish Faculty organised some casual drinks at Hertford College, but I couldn’t stay for very long because I had to go to Wholeway Hall the same evening – I actually ended up wishing I’d stayed at the drinks instead, because the college-wide dinner to celebrate finishing was completely underwhelming. The food in particular was pretty terrible, which is a sure-fire way to ruin a night for me! Another not-so-nice turn of events which I found pretty tough to deal with was my boyfriend leaving for a conference in New York – I find being in the house by myself for extended periods of time really tricky, and it can leave me feeling really depressed and demotivated. I still haven’t learnt to tackle this, and I’m considering going back to see a counsellor to talk about it.
Luckily, I had a few things to look forward to. One major bright spot in my week was the Ertegun Garden Party at Ertegun House. Ertegun is the name of my graduate scholarship for next year – it’s a little like the Rhodes scholarship in that you have a house and a cute named community, but much smaller in size! There are 16 new scholars starting in October, of whom I am one (and I think there are only two people every year who were already at Oxford). It’s ridic competitive – I think this year there were something like 1500 applications?! – so I feel nothing but fortunate and grateful for this opportunity. The House is getting a new admin and a new director, so the garden party was a chance to chat to them a little bit more (I’d already met the new director and the temporary admin the previous week when activating my card), as well as a chance to meet some of the continuing students. The current Scholars were so unbelievably friendly – after the party, they went for food at a pub in North Oxford and this might sound silly, but I was genuinely so surprised to be included, as I’m not exactly used to easily fitting in with any group of people! Not only were they really welcoming, they were also seriously intelligent and dedicated – I expect it will be a challenging environment, but in a good way. I’m already really excited to be working on a conference with one of the current Scholars – although I don’t feel like I’m contributing very much at the moment – and definitely need pushing out of my comfort zone, so I’m looking forward to meeting the other newbies who will be arriving in October.
Then, of course, there was the ball – the Magdalen Commemoration Ball, to be precise. I had felt extremely nervous about it in the weeks leading up to the event, as I really do not feel comfortable in environments that are heavy on the alcohol. I had admittedly been easing myself in as much as I could – my friend and I spent an evening at Be At One, a cocktail bar in Oxford who had invited me to their birthday celebrations after finding my blog, which I would never normally do but ended up really enjoying, mainly because my friend made it really comfortable for me! Still, it was a significant source of anxiety because I’d heard so many ball horror stories, and while my best friend/ball date did everything he could to reassure me everything would be fine, I still had nightmarish visions of being abandoned and having a miserable time. Luckily – and in no small part thanks to my best friend – it turned out to be a truly amazing night. I felt really comfortable in my dress and loved the music, and any bumps along the way were smoothed by having my best friend next to me all evening – I didn’t feel awkward or out of place, and that meant a ton to me. I could see how it could have felt really overwhelming, and I was so relieved and grateful that it didn’t, meaning I could focus on enjoying myself in the beautifully-lit college grounds. I really ought to have photographed my little ball programme to show you all the millions of things going on at once during the night, from food stands and fairground rides to high-profile musical acts and a ceilidh! We ended up bailing a little after 4am, just as the sun was rising, as my poor friend had to work that day… In any case, it was a huge confidence boost to successfully navigate something that had caused me so much worry, and it’s definitely made me more likely to go to college balls in the future!
Those of you who follow me on social media will know that, just a few days later, I departed for New York – but there’s definitely no room in this post to talk about my trip! Do let me know if you’re interested in seeing a (shorter!) separate post about my impressions of the Big Apple – but, for now, I’ll just include a fairly big event that came about when we arrived back in Oxford after our trip to America. We were jet-lagged and exhausted, and fell into bed in the middle of the day to have a nap. When I woke up a few hours later, I saw a message from my tutorial partner telling me that exam results were out several days early. I won’t describe how I felt at that point – only that the shock at the early release meant it took me a very long time to absorb the fact that I’d earned a Congratulatory First in my degree, with (and get this) the department prize for the best performance in the Spanish oral exam. The SPANISH ORAL. My nemesis.
No wonder my examiner looked at me all funny when I earnestly told her that I couldn’t really speak Spanish. No one will ever take me seriously again when I say that.
Sometimes the irony just gets too much. Oh, and to boot? I found out that my German Paper X, the one I cried after, was the best script of my whole cohort. Like. I scored better in that than in any other of my literature papers, and I’m confused as anything. Luckily I’d already had this chat with my college mother, who had a similar confusion when she received her own results the previous year and they were pretty much the opposite of what she’d been expecting, so the idea wasn’t new, but it was still strange.
The main feeling I had was relief – I will now be able to take up my scholarship and begin my Masters in October without any problems, which I’m hugely grateful for. Slowly, the shock and disbelief began to abate and I was able to feel genuine joy at such a positive result. Whether I’ll carry on feeling like that in the face of an academic environment that’s becoming tougher by the day is another issue entirely, but for the moment I simply allowed myself to enjoy the happiness of those around me, and felt pride at closing this big chapter of my life like this.
I hope you enjoyed this post! I’m thinking of writing an entry on how to survive final year for all those nervous second- and third-years, so let me know if this is something you’d be interested in! I’m going to have a break from the diary-style posts but will pick up again soon in a different format. In the meantime, leave your comments below or on Twitter/Instagram (@carambalache) or Snapchat (@oxfordlinguist) – I love hearing from you, and I especially love the amazing comments on here and the emails you send me, so don’t ever stop!