by Martin Yip
Would you agree with the claim that all freshers are fortunate?
Each year, about 3200 undergraduates are admitted to Oxford, which comes to a 17% admissions rate. That percentage is slated to decrease, as the number of applicants has been increasing over the last few years, while the number of places has been more or less constant. In other words, getting a place is in itself a monumental achievement, even though we might not recognise this after settling in.
Naturally, getting a place is not the same as keeping it. Stories of essay crises and problem sheet perils abound. Any form of intellectual stimulation becomes hard to endure when it feels out of your depth and possibly insecure or incompetent. “Are we really good enough for this?” we ask ourselves; as does everybody else who seems to be living the life, managing to juggle the many priorities that every Oxford student has.
I wonder if you have come across the infographic series, If the world were a village of 100 people, by Hong Kong based designer Toby Ng. (The series is accessible online at http://www.toby-ng.com/works/the-world-of-100/.) Consider that only 1% of the world population has had a university education – and not only are we part of that 1%, we are having the best university education there is. 48% cannot “speak, act according to their faith and conscience due to harassment, imprisonment, torture or death” – and we have the time and freedom to argue over whether the Union should let the likes of Alice Weidel and Steve Bannon speak. By these measures, anybody reading these words (and thank you for doing so!) can be thought as fortunate.
Or can they? Unwelcome things may be happening to our countries, our cities, our families, and even ourselves. For those who cannot plausibly return home over any given weekend, life may seem disjointed, not unlike Wreck-It Ralph who finds himself in a video game he wasn’t designed for. If I am fortunate by being part of the world’s best university, am I not unfortunate by being in a less optimal family or society?
Ultimately, it might be a matter of perspective. Whilst talking to people who have finished their undergraduate degree, I noticed a curious coincidence: they were all very confident that whatever problems I thought I had were bound to be much more trivial than I perceived them to be. The cognitive dissonance is real. Yes, the pleasant melodies from the music room, the fragrant smells from the kitchen, or the mere sight of Hassan’s in the distance late at night – these are all very nice. But they are as real as the red crosses on problem sheets, or the anxious feelings incurred when reading perplexing textbooks.
What is certain is that we can control our perception of life, even if life itself is slightly more unyielding. There are as many opportunities for us to ensure our time here is rewarding and fulfilling as we can grasp. For that, we are truly fortunate. Next time, before you lament your misfortunes, remind yourself to muster a bit of serenity and courage to make changes for the better.