Oh, the occupational hazards of being a University Student, even outside term-time. Namely, it's 4:00am and I'm still up even though I have to get up in four and half hours to go to work at 9:00. Luckily, it's only across the road, but even so, come on, Duncan!
I think before I go into any detail about how Oxford is I'll have to explain the British university system, particularly as it relates to Oxford and The Other Place
(click the link if you don't know what I'm talking about there).
The British University system is, to my mind, vastly superior to the American one, at least for someone like me. The school system generally forces you to specialise a lot earlier than in the US, which means that in University you only study your subject. There's no such thing as a major or a minor, such your degree, because you aren't doing any other subjects. In Oxford, which is full of abstruse and brilliant terminology, we refer to 'reading' something as a way of saying it's the subject you're taking your degree in: "I'm reading Chemistry". The system is the same throughout the country though. So my subject is Spanish and Arabic, or in a more general way, EMEL (European and Middle Eastern Languages).
Now to the organisation of Oxford - there is no single university building or campus, but a series of colleges. You apply to a particular college, not Oxford University, and you owe a great deal more loyalty to the college than to Oxford University itself during term-time, and often colleges have rivalries between them as virulent as the general one between Oxford and Cambridge. You live in college, eat in college, and a majority of students have their tutorials in college too. I don't - I go to a few of the numerous shared buildings, along with everyone else doing either Spanish or Arabic, for my lectures, and to St. Catherine's college for Spanish tutorials.
There's great variation in the colleges - some are large, some small, some are quite poor, and some are extremely wealthy. St. John's is the wealthiest by far, with an endowment of over £300 million pounds, and consequently it's in an excellent position to dole out money to us starving students. It also owns a massive amount of land all over the country, and overseas as well. The whole of Oxfordshire is owned by some or other of the colleges. St. John's also consistently comes near the top of the Norrington Table (the academic rankings) and has been top for several years, until last year when Merton beat it out. That's why we dislike Merton. We also dislike Magdalen and Christchurch because they're extremely posh and full of people who swan off to Dubai for the weekend on "Daddy's credit card". Grrr. We also hate Keble, which is next to John's, because we used to own their land, and still do, technically, but there's no academic rivalry with it - there'd be no point. There's even a Society For the Destruction of Keble, which advocates stealing the bricks from Keble's buildings. This has become quite a problem, it would seem.
The University's shared buildings lie outside the grounds of any of the colleges and are generally specific to a particular degree. The Taylor Institute is the massive language library with a basement full of rolling mechanical bookshelves, an upper reading room with ancient books in Old Spanish, and an entire room full of the works of Voltaire. The Oriential Institute is the centre for Arabic, Hebrew, Farsi Persian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Armenian. Both are happily within about a minute and a half of St. John's - one of the other reasons it's so brilliant.
St. John's has the best attributive adjective out of the whole lot. We are Iohannonites.
In the next installment: the academic structure of Oxford - my tutors - just what are collections? - some geographic specifics of St. Johns - the Oxford Union.