Through the looking glass: Lessons from my year as a Master’s student in Oxford

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Being one of the most renowned universities in the world, the University of Oxford is a dream school for many. So how does it feel to live and breathe the Oxford life? Having recently completed her coursework at the university’s Master of Science in Law and Finance program, contributor Naila Rahmania is here to tell you. From embracing a steep learning curve to cherishing Oxford’s stunning campus, read her story below.

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After spending a year in Oxford, I now understand why Lewis Carroll came up with the idea for Alice in Wonderland in this city. When you live among the dreaming spires, gardens and libraries of the University, it truly does feel like you are transported into a strange bubble within this world.

Much like Alice, I was fortunate enough to have my own adventure through the looking glass during my studies here for my Master’s in Law and Finance (MLF) at the University of Oxford. As my time here comes to an end, I’d like to share some of the most important lessons and impressions from my Master’s journey (and also a little bit about my wonderful degree program!).

  1. Dealing with impostor syndrome

In the MLF program, I was very much a small fish in an enormous pond. Without exception, my classmates all had stellar CVs; I sat among high-flying attorneys and graduates of world-class universities. It was very hard for me to get used to the idea that I deserved to be in the same room as my classmates. For the first few weeks after I arrived, I had a nagging fear in the back of my head that the admissions committee made a huge mistake and that I’ll subsequently be told to leave; after that fear subsided, it morphed into an anxiety that I’m not bright enough to comprehend the coursework.

Now, I won’t say that I magically got over this fear or that the coursework turned out to be easy. What did help, however, was engaging with my classmates and actually taking the time to work and study with them. By doing this, I discovered that the degree was challenging to even those with the most illustrious credentials. Almost all of my classes in the MLF program have a groupwork component to it, and among my fondest memories of this past year was sitting together and tackling difficult concepts with my friends, which I would not have managed to do by myself. I learned to be grateful for the fact that I was far from the smartest person in the room; it just means that I had so much more to learn.

Inside the iconic Radcliffe Camera, home of the Radcliffe Science Library at the heart of the University of Oxford
Inside the iconic Radcliffe Camera, home of the Radcliffe Science Library at the heart of the University of Oxford
  1. Getting out of your comfort zone

The MLF program is unique in that it blends the teaching of legal concepts at the Faculty of Law with finance and business modules by the Said Business School. I had no background in economics or finance and last studied mathematics for my undergraduate degree entrance examination; some of the material I had to learn during my Masters’ course was very far from my existing professional and academic background.

Academics aside, for the first time in my life I experienced what it was like to be the only person of my nationality in the room – my class had roughly around 30 nationalities represented within it, but I was the sole Indonesian. My classmates would ask me all sorts of things about our culture and it reminded me on how little I actually know about our rich heritage, with all the good and bad aspects that come with it.

As time went by, I enjoyed this stretch out of my comfort zone. My turning point was when I realized that being the “odd one out” means that I was one of the few of my background with the privilege to have had this experience, and because of that, my experience would be all the more valuable once I return home and share it with my colleagues, family and friends in the hopes that more Indonesians will be able to come here and experience the same. I now also have more confidence in my ability to undertake and accomplish challenging things, and to be less intimidated by these challenges before making an attempt to tackle them.

  1. Making the most of your time

Every student in the MLF program has the option of being assigned an alumni mentor who will provide guidance via emails and chats from time to time. When I asked my mentor what he and his classmates regret the most from their time in Oxford, I was surprised when he answered that many of his classmates wished they had spent less time studying!

Of course, that is not to say that studying is unimportant or that the program is a “leisure Master’s”. I think the MLF program requires a fair bit of effort to complete, but the non-academic aspects of my year formed an equally important part of the experience. Oxford has so many interesting traditions, and if I had the space I could go on for pages about it; the College system, Matriculation day, bonding with friends over formal dinners, floating on the River Cherwell on punts, and walking through the gardens of Lady Margaret Hall are some of my most cherished experiences. All of these experiences expanded by perspectives and (I hope) made me a more well-rounded individual.

One of many unique things Naila experienced during her time in Oxford: light show outside the Pitt Rivers Museum
One of many unique things Naila experienced during her time in Oxford: light show outside the Pitt Rivers Museum

I was lucky that I realized the importance of the non-academic parts of my year early on, and that I prioritized accordingly. When in-person events were cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I was able to look back and think that I did most of the things I set out to do during the year instead of regretting the chances I did not take.

All in all, this has been a most extraordinary year – and now, all I can do is look forward. As Alice herself said, “[…] It’s no use going back to yesterday, as I was a different person then.” I hope to emerge from my time here transformed, as Alice had after her trip to Wonderland.

 

 

Photos are provided by author.