It is the consecration of a dream born more than 10 years ago in the mind of a young man from Fribourg. After a train ride from Freiburg via Paris and London on the evening of October 3rd, my gaze finally falls on the entrance of Lincoln College at Oxford University. I submitted my application there in 2020. After a long process of written exams and oral interviews, in which teachers can “pick” their prospective students, I was admitted to study Ancient and Modern Times.
The University of Oxford is made up of over 44 colleges hosting small communities of students. Harry Potter is really not far away, meals are taken in a large hall resembling that of Hogwarts, with portraits on the walls and high tables for the teachers. There is a common room where all students sleep. I chose Lincoln College because it has a special connection to our country (they celebrate August 1st and have the Freiburg flag carved on one of the college walls!). Founded in 1427, it will soon celebrate its 600th anniversary. It is one of the oldest of this university, founded at the end of the 11th century, almost 200 years before the Rütli Oath and even before the foundation of the Inca Empire!
This history can be felt on every street corner of this “city of dreamy towers”, the buildings vie for beauty and the architectural currents merge into a fascinating canvas. It is also the story of all those who have walked its streets. A few steps from my college, a pub offers to lean against a counter that Stephen Hawking, Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron, Boris Johnson, as well as David Bowie, Emma Watson, Ernest Hemingway and Oscar Wilde have all walked past . Tolkien, Einstein, Schrödinger and the leaders Aung San Suu Kyi, Viktor Orbàn and Benazir Bhutto also left their suitcases there. Every British prime minister since Churchill has studied there with the exception of Gordon Brown and Rishi Sunak, the most recent addition, is no exception to the rule, having also been a student at Lincoln College.
The University of Oxford also stands for academic rigor and a worldwide reputation. More than 160 nationalities are lined up there, students whose passports bear titles as diverse as “Federated States of Micronesia”, “Republic of North Korea” and of course “Swiss Confederation”! Academically strict after a rather quiet first week, work is coming and so are we quickly realize that the following will be intense. The rhythm is set by the “essays”, dissertations of 7 to 8 pages. I have to write one or two a week and they serve as the basis for the “tutorials”, weekly meetings with our teachers. Accompanied by a friend, we sit down with the teacher and get feedback on our analyzes and talk to the teacher about the topic in question. All of this is often (England obliges) accompanied by a cup of tea!
In addition to scientific work, sport occupies a central place. By 6am the rowing enthusiasts are already on the water, some training up to six times a week in hopes of representing the university in the big annual race against Cambridge. For my part, I will be defending the colors of Oxford during the University Climbing Championships. That aside, students remain students and the nightlife is as intense as the rest. One of the most surreal moments I’ve experienced so far was celebrating Halloween in a cave, dressed up as a pirate, alongside the future Queen of Belgium, who is also history on Lincoln College is studying to dance to Abba.
After 6 weeks in this world out of time I miss the mountains but I am happy to make this dream come true. What I like best so far is seeing the students’ passion for their subjects. A few days ago I was in a pub with some friends when a maths student was discussing with a physics student about a complex problem they had solved. The latter got up, said “I have to try,” and ran back to his room to try the problem. This passion is in every student’s eyes, in every conversation and it’s what makes me love this city a little bit more every day.