Worcester’s college bar is well decorated. This is not a good thing, because usually when I go there I wind up awkwardly staring at the walls rather than talking to people. The pictures of the “Worcester College dart’s team / drinking legends” are always entertaining, as are the pictures of each year’s “beer boat”—senior rowers who don’t have time to practice prior to races (but make time to drink). My personal favorite, though, are the yearly photos of the second year class in “fancy dress,” which is Britglish for “costume.” In 2008, students came as Oompa Loompas, ladybugs, bananas, Legos, Marmite jars, a box of Crayons, the Ghostbusters, the Mario Brothers, and the Jamaican bobsled team (complete with blackface, naturally—“PC” is not in the lexicon here).
Oxford undergraduates definitely love costumes. Although the city of Oxford is best known by tourists for bearded professors bustling around in billowing robes, on any given night, a pedestrian is more likely to encounter twelve drunk Charlie Chaplin doppelgangers or an army of penguins. In Michaelmas, it was announced that the theme for my first “crew date” with my rowing team was “tight and bright.” I showed up in a pink button down shirt, only to discover the entire rest of my team in neon spandex with matching tank-tops and headbands. People go similarly all-out for “bops” put on the Junior Common Room. I was in the college bar with a few grad student friends last term when all of the sudden the space was invaded by eighteen-year-olds wearing leopard-print body suits and safari-hats wielding elaborate cardboard chainsaws.
All of this, though, pales in comparison to the no-effort-spared costumes I saw this weekend. It was Midway, a Worcester-only celebration for second year students that happens on the fourth week of the middle term of the year (get it?*). Tragically, I arrived too late to see the group photo, but I did manage to get a flavor for the costumes as they wandered off: there were Star Wars stormtroopers, trolls (as in, the horrible 1980s dolls with colored hair), pterodactyls, PacMan and friends, several generations of iPods, all of the important X-Men, and Kiss. Sketchy as I felt—by merit of being a graduate student, of course—I couldn’t help but snap a few surreptitious photos. Afterward, I wandered back to the college bar, where the Teletubbies and some other assorted students were watching Scotland play Wales in the Six Nations Rugby Tournament. I learned a fair bit about how rugby is played (it’s quite entertaining), and also that the English hate the Welsh more than the Scots, which was somewhat surprising.
My afternoon spend with the “undies” (as my graduate-student idol Tom from the Princeton Band calls them) made me realize how little I actually know about what it means to be an undergraduate at Oxford. I have no idea what it’s like to attend a tutorial, and I have not a clue what they are talking about when they say they have a “tute sheet” due the next day (actually, I can’t even work through my friends’ accents half of the time). There are moments when I think the undergraduates here work a lot harder than American undergrads, and then I hear tales of Sunday-night clubbing expeditions and I am not as sure. At other times, when I think about the absurd traditions each Oxford college has accumulated, I am convinced that students here are simply a lot cleverer than we are—and then I think of the Princeton band making a double entendre on erectile dysfunction and early decision at Columbia. I’m lucky to be rowing, because otherwise I would never hear about collection exams and kakui club, but still—just eight months after getting my diploma—the difference seems almost unfathomable.
In the end, all I really know about them is that most of them hate Wales, and they all love fancy dress. And they’re awesome.
* Hint 1: Most Oxford degrees take three years. Hint 2: There are three terms per year. Hint 3: There are eight weeks to a term.
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Jukebox: David Matyas – Hook’s Last Laugh