A Semester in Oxford, Mississippi.
I spent five glorious months at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, otherwise known as Ole Miss, which welcomed me with open arms and quickly left me with impressions that I will not soon forget, some of which I felt too remarkable to be kept to myself. Read on for your own miniature experience of Ole Miss!
The first thing I noticed about the university’s campus was how new everything looked, despite the university being established in 1844. The most prominent, pristine buildings were built in mock-Grecian style, which made their cleanliness seem a bit at odds with the antiquity they replicated. Fittingly, beside these impressive structures was the statue of James Meredith, the first black student to be enrolled in the university in 1962.
Having come from the multicultural city of Leeds I did notice that the fraternities and sororities I saw seemed to be one or the other in terms of race. All the B-movies are faithful to college life: sororities and fraternities saturate the campus and large white colonial mansions are lined up one after the other on exclusively Greek roads. The house I was lucky enough to be invited to had marble-esque floors which wouldn’t look out of place in a Country Life magazine. In one of the local shops I waited behind one mother who spent at least $700 outfitting her daughter with everything with her new sorority’s logo on it; stationary, cutlery, water bottles, napkins, letter paper, everything underneath the sun. Seeing almost all the girls and boys walking around in practically identical outfits was also a bit of a shock to my system, having been used to the edgy girls who flood around the Leeds union, their hipster male counterparts and everything inbetween. However, it soon became apparent why shorts and loose t-shirts were the preferred unofficial uniform for the students of the Ole Miss.
Oh my god, the humidity. Imagine having a hot, sopping wet blanket perpetually wrapped around you. Sunshine did reign 90% of the time, which was hard to complain about, but with the humidity and high temperatures came thunder, lightning and batshit crazy rains. One memory I doubt I shall forget is when I was evacuated to the back of Walmart after the current tornado threat had been upgraded to a black alert. Scary. The only thing that could come close to matching the extremity of the weather would be Ole Miss’ love for football (the American kind, obviously). The games themselves are a massive deal, but even more celebrated is Tailgating on The Grove (the equivalent of a common) where a decent chunk of the women get their hair done, dress up in heels and long ball dresses and the men bring out the three piece suits. Walking down the haphazard alleys between the gazebos erected by the sports fans, you’d come across some worthy of the Kardashian klan. Flatscreen TVs, silverware on dining tables and chandeliers adorned the tents of the wealthiest people. On the morning of a big Game Day students camped out on The Grove, reserving spaces for the gazebos, but this isn’t always out of the goodness of their hearts, as apparently students can rake in a hefty amount of cash for claiming the best spots.
My time at Ole Miss might have been filled with some occasions where I felt like a cultural alien, but the one stereotype I came to learn was utterly true was the genuine friendliness of the Americans. Whether it was being invited to thanksgiving celebrations by people I had only known for a couple of weeks, or being treated like an old friend by my brilliant Ole Miss ambassador, the only thing the University of Mississippi left me truly unprepared for was the disarming charm that I was met with every day, and it is the one thing I will never forget.
Features image from www.carmensisson.photoshelter.com.