Choosing the uncertain future: reflections on the first term

5 minute read

'You need to make the choice between a certain present and an uncertain – potentially better – future.'

Our Organisational Behaviour Professor Michael Gill stood at the front of the classroom, with a picture of an empty white room projected behind him. He’d described a scenario: what if we woke up from our life as we knew it – only to find that we’d been in a simulation this whole time? 

What if we were then given the choice to stay hooked up to our simulated lives or permanently leave the facility to see what the ‘real world’ had in store? He shared that 34% of participants in the experiment chose the simulation, an example of the status quo bias: those who are comfortable with their lives want to keep it as is.

Faced with this decision, many of us in the classroom chose to unplug. And doesn’t that make sense? After all, to come to Oxford, we’d left our friends, families, jobs, and homes – for the chance of something better.

As I wrap up my first term, here are some reflections from choosing the uncertain future.

I got the best of both worlds: the School and the broader University

Beyond the classroom, I attended incredible School events, where I heard from leaders like Unilever’s CEO and the creator of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. And I experienced amazing events outside of the School, like watching Hillary Clinton announce the historic Women’s History Chair in her name and listening to Members of Parliament at the Oxford Union. 

And day-to-day, my college has been everything I’d hoped for in connecting me to students across disciplines. I live in a Hertford College house of 12 (that’s right, 12) – and I’m the only MBA amongst graduates in environmental change, maths, international relations, archaeology, Chinese studies, and the list goes on. There was one day when I took notes in an analytics class about the clustering method in unsupervised learning. That evening, my housemate, a DPhil in Machine Learning, showed us a movie he’d coded via unsupervised learning – what I’d heard in class a few hours before.

I tried out a lot of random hobbies

I am an eternal night owl and, yet, rowing got me up at 5:30am. I biked in the bitter cold down to the boathouse and tried to ignore my numb fingers and blistered hands gripping the oar – all worth it to watch the sky turn pink over the river, and for the race we won in the Christ Church Regatta. 

I attended a polo taster session, where I managed not to fall off a horse. I took salsa classes and even made it onto the beginner’s ballroom dance team. Ultimately, I decided I couldn’t make the time – I’m slowly learning how not to overcommit!

I went to a debating workshop, where I tried to keep up with the banter of brilliant first years. And I shared my old hobbies, too: after finding others who love art, I organised a life drawing event at the Jam Factory, where I enjoyed sketching with 20 classmates.

I travelled a lot – but it wasn’t the easiest

Every time I saw my housemate in the kitchen, he’d say: 'So where are you going this weekend?' I took some weekends to explore the UK: Cornwall for surfing, Bristol for partying, and London to see friends and art museums. Other weekends, I travelled out of the country: Boston for my best friend’s wedding, Bucharest to celebrate the end of assessments, Lisbon for a friend’s 30th, and Porto for a big MBA trip. I was worried that Covid-19 and the distance to major airports would make it difficult to travel. And, to be honest, it was difficult and expensive, but doable. That being said, I recognise the privilege of my American passport, and of having the extra cash for travel and Covid-19 tests.

I had some rough days

Here’s a peek behind the curtain: many of us struggle from imposter syndrome when we first get here. I was rejected from the first two co-curricular programmes I applied for, felt timid in lively class discussions, and looked in awe at classmates who seemed to have it all together. 

I’ve joked that Oxford’s not a good place to cry on the street, because you’ll always run into someone you know. But maybe the flip side is that there will always be someone you can lean on. Because every time I shared these insecurities, I found people who related, offered a shoulder, or made me laugh. As a side note, I ended up getting into the second cohort of Impact Lab, one of the programmes I was initially rejected from! This brings me to…

I found a supportive community more quickly than I expected

During the first week, I stressed on the phone to my best friend about the struggle of making new friends. And over the weeks, whether it was between class chats, walks by the river, tipsy 3am talks, or road trip carpools, I found people I trust. 

I won’t pretend it’s the same as old friends who deeply know me, but I’m grateful for the familiarity and comfort I have with relatively new friends. These are the ones who will jump on a last-minute trip with me, who always respond to my needy messages, who cook fresh pasta for me, who go for walks to heal our heartbreak, who are down to half-study, half-gossip at Gail’s, and who party a little too hard with me.

So here we are, at the end of Michaelmas. Almost one year ago, you’d have found me vacationing in an upstate New York cabin, living in my certain present – family within a few hours’ drive, friends I’d known forever, a supportive partner, a busy freelance career and a nice NYC apartment. You’d have seen me on my laptop, sitting across the large wooden table from my partner, as I put down my credit card for the deposit to officially accept my offer.

Three terms left, and I’ll keep pursuing the possibilities of this uncertain future – soaking up the exhilaration of new experiences, trying to temper the emotions that accompany change, and staying open to the surprises yet to come.