WHAT TO EXPECT
You are usually expected to work on your own, without much supervision. This varies by program, but generally speaking, most Canadian students find the Oxford system very different from Canadian institutions. Class sizes will be smaller, less regular, and a lot of work is independent. Be prepared to manage your own time and be responsible for your own education. The grading scale is also very different in the UK, so achieving a 70% is incredibly difficult - this is one of the highest marks you can get at Oxford. Once you get into your program – be sure to ask about the specific grading methods and usual averages for students in your program from someone who would know – each program is unique and you will need to tailor your expectations to a new standard, best to start early!
Oxford is an old University and as such, it has a lot of traditions that have lasted for many years. Some of these things will be fun and quirky – some will be frustrating and confusing.
The number one most important thing you need to know: Don’t expect anything to move efficiently – this institution still has rules that were written 700 years ago… If you need information – ask someone. Your advisers, college, MCR/JCR: they are there to help. If it is urgent or you want a quick response – CALL. People in this institution get hundreds of e-mails a day. Calling is the best way to ensure an answer. Or better yet – walk over and talk to them.
England is a very different society than Canada and you will probably feel a bit displaced when you finally settle in and the novelty of it all wears off. Be sure to get out and make friends through the many clubs and societies on offer and get involved with your college community as well. The events you can attend at Oxford are endless – but the busiest social time is in Michaelmas. If you ever feel lonely or misplaced, your first stop should be a chat with a welfare officer at your college, However, we at the Canadian Society are also here to help when homesickness strikes! The open and friendly atmosphere you know from Canada is kept alive at our events so enjoy a little bit of a home retreat once and awhile with us, and all of the executives are happy to have you reach out if you really need some Canadian company.
Yes, both England and Canada speak English, and we even keep the original British spellings. Yet there will still be many times when you stare blankly at a Brit because you have no idea what they just said. There will also be many times they stare awkwardly at you because you inadvertently said something that has a different meaning across the pond. Here are a few terms you should keep in mind:
Pants = This means male underwear in the UK, so avoid using it in dinner conversations! Start learning to refer to your pants as trousers or you will get some seriously awkward moments…
Rubber = This refers to an eraser, so when someone asks you for 'a rubber', don't worry! They are not asking you for a condom.
Toilet = yes, you must say it. I know, it seems crude, but saying washroom and bathroom will just get you weird looks as the Brits wonder why you need to do laundry or take a bath.
Fanny Pack = Avoid using this term when in the UK! 'Fanny' is not just someone's bottom, it refers to the entirety of one's ladyparts, so you will get a shocked look from those around you if you say it in public!
Cheers = this generally replaces the ‘thanks’. We all put at the end of a 'transactional' moment (ie. When you finish buying something, or someone holds the door), it is less formal and therefore less awkward.
Private School/Public School = These stereotypes are reversed in the UK, as Public schools are usually better funded and have more prestige, while Private schools are seen as 'lower class' institutions. Class divisions are unfortunately still a significant part of understanding British culture and this will be very surprising to you the first time you encounter it.
Taking the Piss = Used commonly when someone is being made fun of, or taken advantage of. Sometimes it’s a friendly moment but sometimes it is serious.
You all right? = equivalent to ‘what’s up?’ or ‘How’s it going’ (Or if you are from the Atlantic, it’s the equivalent of ‘What’re you at?’. Hint: The asker never actually wants to know if you are all right in this situation and if you start taking about how you are feeling to a Brit, it will get awkward.
There are many, many more language differences which you will pick up with time. The best strategy in the beginning is if you don’t understand what happened in the mistranslation, follow the awkward pause with a stereotypical ‘right, eh?’ and it will smooth over the situation immediately as everyone chuckles at your silly accent and Canadianess.